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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Happy Hour: Fontana Won’t Be The Last

It’s fairly easy and sometimes fun to fire both literary barrels at the governing body of NASCAR. Heaven knows they make easy targets of themselves. The brass makes weighty decisions that are often detrimental to the sport (although they are never penalized for it under 12-4-Q or whatever), and their “innovations” don’t often endear them to fans. I’ve been known to say more than once that I’d be willing to pay more for a race ticket to send Brian France on a permanent vacation to Bermuda or somewhere.

Still, a columnist doesn’t want to keep grinding out the same stuff all of the time. It’s negative, for one thing, and our editor-in-chief Tom Bowles has asked us all to try to be more upbeat about the sport occasionally. He has a point. Certainly so, in my case.

But the events of last Sunday and Monday even got his goat, and I thought that, downbeat as this column may be, it’s sort of a look at things to come. Sometimes, it’s difficult to find something positive to say. Besides, it was news.

The California race this past weekend demonstrated NASCAR’s lack of foresight on many levels, but most of it was the logistics involved in California being the second race of the season. No East Coast fan wanted to watch a race at 2:00 a.m. Nor did the people present – and give the California fans credit folks, a lot of them stuck it out – want to sit in the cold rain for 10-plus hours for nothing.

BOWLES: CALIFORNIA JOKE TESTS NASCAR PASSION

But the main problem, for East Coasters at least, was the starting time. I didn’t have a problem with it initially, because I understand that the West Coast has NASCAR fans, too, and we’re three hours ahead. I get that.

But then NASCAR did everything they could, including ignoring safety concerns, to get the race completed on Sunday, keeping East Coast fans up late into the evening on a school night. Then, the race was postponed anyway, and restarted at 1:00 Eastern time the next day! Well, hell’s bells! If the race has to start at 4:30 on Sunday, making it tougher to watch for East Coast people who have to work the next day, why in tarnation is it running at 1:00 on Monday, when everyone, especially the West Coast crowd, is actually at work? The teams and drivers have all been inconvenienced anyway; why not throw a bone to the viewers?

Well, as Tom explained, this was of NASCAR’s own making. Sorry, Auto Club Speedway attendees, and God bless you for sticking out that mess, but Fontana should lose a race. At the very least, their first event shouldn’t be right after Daytona.

But the real kicker is that the California debacle probably won’t be the last this year. Take a look at the Sprint Cup 2008 schedule. The green flag will not wave before 2:00 p.m. any Sunday in 2008, unless I’m reading it wrong and MRN radio doesn’t start covering the race until about 40 laps in. Not just for West coast races; for all 36 of them. Remember Kansas last year? What happened at Fontana isn’t likely to be an anomaly.

What demographic is NASCAR trying to reach? People who go for an early Sunday drive? People who won’t give up their Sunday brunches for NASCAR? Late churchgoers? Is a plan for “Monday Night NASCAR” in the works? (Uh oh, now I’ve done it.)

West Coast people tolerate football games starting at 10:00 a.m. Why wouldn’t they watch NASCAR races then? Is NASCAR an inferior product that must be tailored for the West Coast? It certainly wasn’t before the whole sport was turned upside down. It still isn’t. (Hey, I said something positive!)

Here’s a novel idea: just put out a decent product and don’t worry about anything else. That will improve the ratings. People will watch good racing at 1:00. People on the West Coast will watch good racing at 10:00 a.m. NASCAR did just fine before when they were dropping the green at 12:30, better than they are doing today starting at 3:00.

I guess I shouldn’t be making such a big deal out of this. I’m just irritable because NASCAR has thrown another wrench in my Sunday afternoons, at a time when I’m really not in a mood to put more effort into being a fan. I don’t want to open another beer after a certain time on a Sunday, because I have to wake up early and start a five-day work week the next day. I don’t want to be eating dinner while the race is still on. I don’t want to sit through a meaningless two-hour pre-race show (and then sometimes not even see the results afterward).

Maybe it works for some, but a late start makes the race less enjoyable to me. I loved when the pre-race show started when the sun was at its highest point in the sky and lasted just a half hour – followed by the green flag dropping – and it was still daylight when the checkered flag flew. It was a damn fine way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

But I’m just a fan, what does NASCAR care.

Kurt’s Shorts – Friday, February 29, 2008

  • I know I’m not the only one who’s noticed, but it’s been a long time since we’ve seen the Interstate Batteries No. 18 running this well. That car hasn’t been challenging for wins since Bobby Labonte was driving it, and even his last few years in it weren’t spectacular. For a guy who once said the new car “sucks,” Kyle Busch seems a pretty capable pilot.
  • I am still waiting to see if NASCAR has informed ACS to get its proverbial feces in one spot, not just because of the “weepers,” but because of all the trash flying around the track and occasionally clogging up the grills and overheating the racecars. It happens at every Fontana race; that ought to be completely unacceptable. So far, I haven’t heard a word, at least not publicly… why is this place so sacred? Charlotte wouldn’t have gotten away with all of that last week.
  • I can’t help but think about the possibility that Casey Mears or even Dale Earnhardt Jr. may miss the Chase by the margin of points between what they scored at California as opposed to what they would have scored on a dry track (without “weepers”). If Junior falls a few points short of the playoffs, you can bet that race two will be back open for discussion.
  • This week’s Top 10 list had been casually written by me in response to the announcers and others starting to compare Fontana to Darlington. That’s like saying the Chase is starting to become like the classic points system. Want some flies with that?
  • I didn’t get to see the race on Monday; however, when things were running smoothly, I was able to check on the Internet to see what’s going on. It’s actually not very different from watching on TV. You find out what’s going on intermittently, with long breaks in between; you don’t see very much action; and at the end, you see who won but you don’t get the results. No wonder Brian is convinced that people are getting their fix from the ‘net.

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