Vito Pugliese · Thursday September 26, 2013
A few topics have been making the rounds the last few weeks, and have otherwise dominated the discussion of NASCAR’s not too distant future, instead of the 2013 Chase — which we’re now already 20% through.
First of which, is the notion of Cup drivers competing in the Nationwide Series. Yes, NASCAR needs a feeder Series. The Nationwide Series was traditionally seen as that venue, where aspiring drivers would be able to learn how to handle NASCAR-style cars, speeds, tracks, rules, and learn from the few veterans who would be sprinkled throughout the field in companion events. That changed around the 2004-2005 seasons, when suddenly it was all Cup, all the time, with drivers flying cross-country to make it in time for what was once something to watch before Happy Hour practice.
Second-tier series my foot.
Back then the idea was to get some extra track time on Saturday, and acclimate to the tire NASCAR was running that weekend. Cup teams with Cup technology were hard to handle, and was a great way for a driver to make some extra cash, sell some die casts and t-shirts. Attendance was never an issue those days, with the remark often being, “quite a crowd for a Busch (Nationwide) race…” Times have changed, and so has the taste for the product when there are no Cup drivers in the field. Rookie Ryan Blaney won in only his second start at Kentucky Speedway this weekend, but if a tire blows in the forest, does anyone hear it?
The attendance figures for the latest lackluster lap logger at Kentucky are shown as “not available” – which is appropriate since there didn’t really appear to be anyone there in the stands.
While the Nationwide Series has begun to build its own identity by running Camaros, Mustangs, and the late lamented Challenger (seriously Dodge…nothing?), going north of the border, and running more road courses, it still can be a tough sell if there’s not Cup drivers in the field. The Nationwide Series has also become the new Truck Series, as it has become a bastion for former Cup drivers who couldn’t cut it the first time, and are hanging around, staying relevant and biding their time until they can possibly land another ride in the Sprint Cup Series. The Truck Series was once the Seniors Tour for NASCAR, but now it is the showcase for up and coming young talent – - which may be starting a new identity crisis for the Nationwide Series.
Which after 2014, will no longer be called the Nationwide Series. Rumor has it that Anheuser Busch may return as the title sponsor, which would make sense; most of the fans who regularly watch and show up still call it the Busch Series anyway.
There have been rumblings that there may be a shake-up in the Sprint Cup schedule for 2014. Bruton Smith squashed most the popular ones last week, when he didn’t seem to enthused about trading dates with Darlington to give the Southern 500 its Labor Day spot back. His main mission in life still seems to be ending the season in Las Vegas, which while attractive for media exposure and the local economy, isn’t exactly the action track that one would associate with a facility built behind where the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds are based.
What is needed is to rotate new tracks in and out of the Chase – as well as the regular season schedule. Many tracks are getting a little long in the tooth, much the same way that The Price Is Right models should be subbed in every decade or two. There was a time when NASCAR would visit a track twice a year – because there weren’t that many places that could hold a Cup Series event. The day of the 1.5-mile track as the fan favorite have long passed with the advent of aero-depedency and 210mph corner entry speeds.
Fans used to revile road courses as some sort of Eastern European communist conspiracy, but since they have become the new short track of stockcar racing, are among the most anticipated events of the year now.
Nobody is going to build a racetrack for stockcars in this economy – The Circuit of The Americas in Austin, TX could host a NASCAR event, as it was purpose built to bring Formula One back to the United States. Time to start traveling to different tracks, expose the Series to new fans and parts of the country that don’t get the luxury of two dates a year.
A track no longer needs to seat 150,000 comfortably anymore – if you can sell out the place with 60-70,000 people, that looks a heck of a lot more compelling on TV than a bunch of aluminum glistening in the sun.
As for The Chase – starting off in Chicago sounds good on paper being a major market, except for one thing: it’s Chicago. It’s week two for the NFL, NCAA football is in full swing, and if the White Sox are making a run down the stretch (God forbid…), NASCAR is going to take backseat to all three there – rain or no rain. What’s wrong with kicking things off at Charlotte or even Martinsville? The deer aren’t moving yet at Road America this time of year either – toss a road course in the mix why don’t we? It was bad enough the owner of the Series was arbitrarily throwing teams in and out of the playoffs to kick things off, to follow it up with two snoozer races was not the way to usher in the much ballyhooed playoffs.
Speaking of which, if there was a time to axe the Chase with what went on at Richmond and the events thereafter, now might be the time to do. If we were still using a season-long cumulative points system rather than the Mario Kart points payout we have now, here’s how things would break down:
1. Jimmie Johnson 922
2. Carl Edwards 911 -11
3. Matt Kenseth 903 -19
4. Kyle Busch 896 -26
5. Kevin Harvick 894 -28
Three of the first four drivers have won the most races this year, with Edwards and Harvick there on a pair of wins each, and consistent finishes. I’ve never understood how being 12th or 13th in points qualified a team as Championship Material; all it means is that 30% of the field has done better than you for half a year.
The NFL Players Association is investigating why Oakland Raiders QB Terrelle Pryor was allowed back into the game this week, after suffering a concussion Monday against the Denver Broncos. Perhaps they can take a look at Kasey Kahne, after he smacked the inside not-a-soft wall at Loudon last weekend — and then was back in the car and on track shortly after it had been repaired. He has since said his mannerisms during the awkward post-accident interview were the result of just being frustrated and upset about being out of the race.
After seeing how he got out of the car and stared at the ground, he must’ve been pretty mad at his Nomex footies too. “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Enumclaw anymore…”
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