NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? NASCAR 1-Hit Wonders, Potholes Pan TV Ratings & Karma Bites a Start-And-Parker

Did You Notice? Jamie McMurray is the most PR-friendly driver to win the Daytona 500 since Michael Waltrip several years ago? Not only is he a fresh face atop the NASCAR world, but his pure excitement in winning NASCAR’s Super Bowl shines through in everything he does. And whether it’s schmoozing with Regis and Kelly or conducting an interview with the hardcore NASCAR media, the once-introverted McMurray is suddenly none too shy about being himself on camera – the perfect antidote to NASCAR’s dose of political correctness spoon-fed to the nation over the last decade.

Just take a look at some of these heartwarming McMurray quotes so far:

“But, you know, my dad and my wife, I mean, when you – you do something that you love, you know, you want to share that with the people you love (tearing up).” – emotional in the media center after his win.

“I’m not quitting again, just so you guys know. I’m staying. (laughter ensues)” – McMurray to Felix Sabates and Chip Ganassi, referring to his four-year departure from the organization to Roush – a move he realizes now was a mistake.

“I woke up this morning, and first thing I was hoping was that Danica wasn’t going to be on the cover of the paper…” – The day after his win.

“To be honest, I was thinking, ‘You need to stop crying and answer the question.'” – McMurray’s answer during today’s teleconference as to what he was thinking in victory lane.

Notice that nowhere in there do you see repeated mentions of sponsor Bass Pro Shops, or a desire to thank every single sticker that’s plastered on the side of the No. 1 car. And you know what? Those companies are still OK with that, knowing their exposure naturally increases with both every McMurray appearance and last lap highlight reel shown on TV. Now, if only the rest of the field could “let go” (Jimmie Johnson, are you listening?) we might have ourselves a series filled with quotable drivers once more.

Did You Notice? The Daytona 500 never serves as a true indicator of who’s going to make the Chase? Sure, drivers like Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and yes, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had great runs, but that means nothing considering this package is used for just three regular-season races out of 26.

With that in mind, let’s look at how many top-10 finishers at Daytona’s first race have gone on to make the Chase in the last six years:

2004: 6
2005: 5
2006: 2
2007: 3
2008: 5
2009: 2
2010: ??

Surprising, huh? I think this year’s field will wind up being in the 5-6 range, as a low attrition rate kept several top drivers in the thick of things until the end of the race. But look at all the preseason championship favorites and where they finished Sunday: Kyle Busch (14th), Denny Hamlin (17th), Jeff Gordon (26th), Johnson (35th)… do you really think that’s a sign they’ll fail to make the Chase?

So let’s wait 3-4 weeks, ladies and gentlemen, before making any serious judgments. We are an instant gratification society… but I think you need to take Earnhardt’s run especially with a grain of salt. A 30th, 25th and 35th at the next three races (all intermediate tracks) would erase all the momentum from his performance in a heartbeat.

Did You Notice? That despite one of the best Speedweeks in years, the ratings were down 16% for the 500? Turns out that pothole did a whole lot more damage than to just turn 2. As it is, thousands of fans in the stands that attended were already cold from unseasonable Daytona weather, and a two-hour, 25-minute red flag was just too much to bear.

It’s a darn shame, because the racing itself was more than worthy of their attention. One suggestion was that Valentine’s Day had a lot to do with the decline; after all, once you get to 6:00 ET you can only keep your significant other waiting for so long, right? Many people had dinner plans or other pre-planned activities they just couldn’t put off, the reason we have these standardized times in the first place.

With that said, I also believe the ratings speak to the razor-thin line NASCAR walks with fans heading into 2010. Once the first red flag happened and the excuses mounted, Twitter was ablaze with jokes mocking the sanctioning body for yet another mistake. At the time, there were rumors the race would be called, and all of us cringed at the reaction of what was building to be a colossal comedy of errors. But while we were joking, fans were smoking mad and simply unable to give the sanctioning body the benefit of the doubt. Showing there’s absolutely no margin for error, they voted with their remotes that any type of slip-up from the powers that be is simply unacceptable.

That had to be it, because I haven’t met one fan yet who was upset with the quality of racing. Heck, NASCAR even broke ranks with the Indianapolis debacle of 2008, taking full responsibility for the problem after the race and giving a detailed report of what they did to fix it. In that sense, they’re making the right choices.

But those ratings send a clear message that fans don’t want to be bothered with issues, period – a scary thing for a sport that now knows it needs to score 100% on every test, every week, to keep a lot more from walking away. And now that we’re heading to one of the shakier venues on the circuit in Fontana, with weather in the forecast… man, does that make me nervous we may end the month of February with no momentum whatsoever.

Did You Notice? That for Joe Nemechek, karma comes back around? He was involved in a serious incident during the 500, one in which he claims Sam Hornish Jr. took air off his spoiler in causing his No. 87 to lose control and tear his primary car to shreds.

“Sam Hornish needs his brain examined,” he said after the wreck. “It’s a product of he’s four laps down and I don’t know what the hell he was thinking. Something’s wrong.”

But Nemechek wasn’t exactly a role model in his own right. His decision to pull Jeff Fuller from the lineup in the Nationwide race, taking a “bribe” from Jack Roush, reportedly earned him close to $50,000. Add in an outright start-and-park from a second Cup car, Fuller’s No. 97, during the Duels on Thursdays, and he earned over $70,000 for bringing second cars to the track that had no intention whatsoever of competing.

It was all part of a business plan to get ahead; instead, they’ll be spending that money just to break even and rebuild their totaled No. 87 Toyota.

Did You Notice? Some other quick hits from the 500:

  • What the heck is with the new FR9 engine? No driver from the trio that ran it finished higher than eighth (Matt Kenseth). Elliott Sadler’s overheated en route to a 24th-place finish, and Bill Elliott complained all week about not having enough horsepower under the hood. I was skeptical for months after listening to Ford officials’ concerns about a short-term rollout… now, I’m completely on board. Don’t expect the full use of the engine until midsummer.
  • What’s with Harvick angering half the field with his antics late in the 500? He probably would have won the thing if he didn’t turn his Chevy into a personal battering ram.
  • Ever so quietly, Bobby Labonte was 21st with the No. 71 TRG Motorsports car. Considering they made the Top 35 in owner points last year despite failing to qualify for the 500, I’d expect nothing less the second time around.
  • AJ Allmendinger would have been an automatic top five, if not your Daytona winner, without that ugly spin off turn 2. And he knows it. Still, expect great things from the No. 43 team the next few weeks. There’s a chemistry within that group that clicked the second they switched to Ford.
  • Carl Edwards breathed a sigh of relief Sunday, with his future daughter giving him the wonderful Valentine’s Day present of staying inside his wife’s belly. The hope is wife Kate delivers the baby sometime this week; if not, Erik Darnell has been hired as a backup in California and Las Vegas should Carl have to jump on a plane and head home.

Did You Notice? How much everyone likes Timothy Peters? The Truck Series Daytona winner seems to have the best of both worlds inside the garage; many view him as one of the most talented drivers coming up the ranks, and he has a winning personality to boot.

“From my perspective, it’s got absolutely nothing to do with his racing,” said Todd Bodine when I asked him why Peters is treated with such respect. “If you stand and talk to that kid for five minutes, you’ll understand. He’s a good Virginia boy that was raised right in the country, knows his values, treats people with respect and is polite. I mean, I really like the kid.”

“Then you go out and race with him, and he races hard. Man, that kid will race hard. But you know what, he races you with respect, too. That’s a hard combination to find.”

So you’re telling me there’s a Truck Series and Cup Series winner that’s a breath of fresh air? It’s the best-case scenario in a Speedweeks that should have dazzled.

Stupid pothole!

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