NASCAR Race Weekend Central

10 Points to Ponder… After the 2008 Best Buy 400 at Dover

1. Are They Baaack? – Television ratings for NASCAR have seen resurgence this race season after experiencing at least two years of declines. The Memorial Day weekend Coca-Cola 600 tallied a 4% boost over last season’s telecast, and posted the first increase in viewer numbers in three years. But the 4% improvement, though noteworthy, is less than the 5% increase that FOX TV has seen in its race broadcasts for the season to date.

Puzzling… wasn’t there a mass defection of race fans that could no longer tolerate NASCAR’s disregard for its racing roots, mass commercialism, Hendrick Motorsports drivers, the CoT… and the France family’s role in political unrest in the Middle East, etc…?

2. Coming On Strong – The Indy Racing League has got to be ecstatic over their improved television rating numbers, as well. Though trailing the Coca-Cola 600’s 4.7 rating (7.6 million viewers), the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500, with a reunified field and three women competing – including media-darling Danica Patrick – earned a solid 4.5 final rating. In fact, some speculate that had the Indy 500 been run during primetime, as the 600 was, the open-wheel classic could have very possibly surpassed the ratings numbers that NASCAR managed. Overall, the IRL boasts that TV ratings are up 28% this year, merchandise sales 23%, and visits to the official website have increased an impressive 90%.

Could it be that NASCAR’s unquestioned domination of the U.S. motorsports scene may be in jeopardy?

3. Ahhhh, Come On Honey… Can’t A Man Change His Mind? – Speculation that billionaire Bruton Smith, the head honcho of Speedway Motorsports Inc., would buy Pocono Raceway and redistribute its two race dates to his Las Vegas NASCAR venue and Kentucky Speedway – which is in the process of being purchased by Smith’s company – seems to have hit a snag. “It never was available; it never will be available,” said Rose Mattioli, wife of Pocono board chairman Dr. Joseph Mattioli. “My husband has stated that over and over again. That’s it.”

Then again, Smith has denied even speaking to the Mattiolis on the matter, let alone making an offer… yet.

4. A Garage Rat – Before the Coca-Cola 600, someone in the garage area tipped off NASCAR officials that Haas CNC Racing’s No. 66 (Scott Riggs) and No. 70 (Johnny Sauter) had illegally mounted rear-wing mounts. The cars were quickly confiscated prior to the race, forcing both drivers to compete in backup Chevrolets; and as a result, NASCAR has issued the stiffest fines and penalties yet involving illegal alterations to the new generation Sprint Cup racecar. Each team was docked 150 driver and owner championship points, and not only were both crew chiefs suspended until July 9th from race events, but both car chiefs as well. Additionally, the crew chiefs for each car were fined $100,000 each. The No. 70 team, competing without a full-time driver, is now 43rd in owner points. Following the points adjustment, Riggs’s No. 66 dropped from 26th to 34th in the points standings… but only five championship points from falling out of the Top 35. Riggs proceeded to fall out of the Top 35 after getting caught up in the Big One Sunday and finishing 39th.

As harsh as those fines and penalties might be… it could be worse. Haas CNC Racing owner Gene Haas is serving a two-year term in federal prison and was ordered to pay $70 million in fines, interest, and back taxes after pleading guilty of “doctoring the books” to avoid paying taxes.

5. We Ain’t Whistlin’ Dixie, Here! – California native Scott Speed won the Craftsman Truck Series AAA Insurance 200 Friday evening at Dover International Speedway in only his sixth CTS attempt. Speed, who left the Formula 1 circuit after a not-so-good 2007 campaign, is expected to eventually compete in the Sprint Cup Series with strong financial backing from Red Bull. The 25-year-old, who has a home in Fusel am Sec, Austria, is known for his continental flare in fashion; sporting designer clothes, painted toenails, and sunglasses that even Elton John might consider a little over-the-top.

LUNKENHEIMER: TRACKING THE TRUCKS AFTER DOVER

And, oh yes… man bags. That’s right… man bag-toting stock car drivers may be the wave of the future!

6. Don’t Beat Yourself Up – The four-year wait for Joey Logano, whom Mark Martin proclaimed ready for “primetime” at age 14, is over. In Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at Dover, the Joe Gibbs Racing development driver drove capably and up front most of the day before finishing sixth in his series debut. Logano, who celebrated his 18th birthday just last week, chauffeured the JGR No. 20 Toyota that is leading the series owner championship points standings after having won six times this year with the JGR trio of Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart behind the wheel. “It ain’t much in my book,” offered Logano on his impressive performance against a host of NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers competing in the Heluva Good! 200.

Perhaps not, Joey… but it ain’t bad, either!

7. Some Guys Just Weren’t Meant for Cup Racing – Even before NASCAR issued penalties for Charlotte, the Haas CNC No. 70 car was struggling to perform on the track and was well outside the Top 35 in owner points. Ever since releasing Jeremy Mayfield, the No. 70 has been driven by a host of drivers, including Sauter and Ken Schrader. At least while the finishes haven’t been stellar, the car has made the field for every race this season.

But that all changed this weekend, when perpetual Cup failure Jason Leffler was one of only two cars to miss Sunday’s show. Leffler drove the No. 0 for Haas in 2003 and did nothing in the car; in 2005, he got the keys to JGR’s No. 11 and burned out quickly. Why Haas CNC chose to give Leffler another shot in Cup when the No. 70 is fighting to race week in and week out is a decision that has to be questioned, especially when Sauter and Schrader both had proven able to get the car in the field.

8. How the Mighty Have Fallen – Early in his career, Stewart all but owned the Dover International Speedway. From 1999 to 2004, Stewart scored two wins at the Monster Mile, and finished outside the top 10 only once (that was an 11th-place run). Since then, the Monster has gotten the best of Smoke, as Stewart was caught up in a hard crash early in the going of Sunday’s event, relegating him to a 41st-place finish.

Stewart’s latest struggles at Dover marked the seventh consecutive race that he has failed to score a lead-lap finish on the high banks; it was also his fourth crash in his last five Dover starts. The Monster has definitely gotten Stewart’s number, and is taking him to task for his early career success at the track.

9. Statistics That Mean Nothing – Every time Kevin Harvick’s No. 29 Chevrolet appeared on camera scarred by crash damage and missing its front end, it prompted the FOX crew to comment on how Harvick had been running at the finish for 50 some odd races, and was closing in on breaking his own record in that category. One would think there was a separate points fund for running at the finish after the kind of air time Harvick’s streak got.

What a worthless factoid. What difference does it make whether Harvick was running at the finish or in the garage? He finished 38th, 75 laps down! Consecutive races running at the finish is one of those stats that may sound impressive, but Dover exposed this measure for the nothing that it is.

10. O Sponsor, Where Art Thou?Travis Kvapil’s stark white car got plenty of air time again this weekend at Dover. Kvapil spent the entire day in the top 15, giving eventual top-10 finishers – including Jimmie Johnson, Dave Blaney and Jamie McMurray – fits all day long. Kvapil’s 11th-place finish moved him to 18th in the driver standings, and yet again saw this unsponsored team running competitively and making enormous strides from last season. The only thing missing? The same thing that’s been missing since February: A sponsor.

And why can’t this team find one? Despite the nation’s current economic struggles, sponsors are stepping up to the plate. CJM Racing in the Nationwide Series signed America’s Incredible Pizza Company. This weekend, Truck Series regular ThorSport Racing signed Bobcat to its No. 13 truck. Even Kvapil’s Yates Racing teammate David Gilliland has gotten expanded help from early season sponsor FreeCreditReport.com. Kvapil’s team has done everything that can be expected of an unsponsored team… someone with some bucks step up!

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