NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Chase Tweaks, Junior’s CC & Revisiting Mikey’s Tweets

I hope you’re enjoying the off-week before the off-weekend (which precedes the off-week after the off-weekend). Plenty of diverse topics this week, so let’s not waste time. And I realized I don’t mention it enough, so let me take a moment to say thanks for the dialogue — this column wouldn’t exist without it, and my week would certainly be a little less entertaining without your thoughts.

Q: Matt, once again, Bumbling Brian is more worried about ‘creating excitement’ that rehabilitating his audience. Unless I missed something, the crapshoot format hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in attendance or TV ratings. Wouldn’t it be more productive to find a way to get fans interested in the first 2/3 of the season, then the final 10 races would sort of take care of themselves? If he was really interested in what the fans think, he would be scrapping the stupid ‘playoff’ and go back to what worked for NASCAR for 50 years. More lip service to ‘the fans’ while he does what suits him. — SallyB

A: I hear ya, Sal. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback, read a lot of message boards and talked to a lot of colleagues — hell, even heard the drivers chime in — about these possible Chase tweaks, and to steal a line from “Hammer of the Gods,” it’s going over like a lead zeppelin. I think we need to keep in mind that France sends up these trial balloons (which, by the way, was the most-used expression in the NASCAR media this past week) each July at Daytona. This year’s ideas were just a bit (read: a lot) more radical than usual.

If NASCAR is basing its decision on feedback and public sentiment, I don’t see how it can make the asinine changes suggested. Anyway, I summed up my thoughts last week in this column, which you can read here.

Like most presidents, I think France is looking for a doctrine; his granddaddy founded NASCAR, his daddy made it a billion-dollar enterprise… my belief is that Brian’s preoccupation with the Chase is him searching for a legacy of some sort.

Hey, I’m all for swapping some tracks in and out of the 10-race lineup, but the more I hear of 15-man fields and eliminations, the more I cringe as “the sport” devolves into “the show.”

Q: After the heartbreak rollercoaster of getting in the Chase one race (with a mid-pack running car) and bumped out with a car that drove EVEN WORSE, will Rick Hendrick drop Lance McGrew for a better crew chief anytime soon? Doug Richert comes to mind!!! — Chuck Ellison

A: Well, Richert and the Earnhardt family have quite a history in that Dale Earnhardt Sr. won his first title in 1980 with Richert as his crew chief. As for Junior and McGrew, I really don’t see a change being made before the end of the season. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of the media types that pleads with their readers to “just give the Junior/McGrew combo time.” Sorry, time’s up. That said, in the absence of the steepest nosedive since Labonte left Gibbs, I don’t see Hendrick pulling the trigger on a change. Junior — at least publicly — is very supportive of McGrew, and vise versa.

Now, were I Mr. Hendrick, I’d tell Tony Eury Sr. that, “Pops, I need your help bringing that No. 88 team into contention. Although I am only asking for it, I fully expect you to agree to terms by the end of business tomorrow and get to work.”

Pops may be PO’d about it for a while, but he’d come around.

The word “chemistry” is tossed around so often that we rarely stop and appreciate how imperative it is. Jimmie Johnson and Chad have it; it appears Kurt Busch and Steve Addington have it; Smoke and Zippy had it; Matt Kenseth and… uh, nevermind. Point is, Junior and Pops had it — or at least Junior had someone he trusted, someone that served as a security blanket. When all else fails, start over and go back to what worked.

Q: Any truth to the rumor of Las Vegas replacing Homestead as the final race of the season and then having the banquet that week? Make sense to me. More people will come out for three reasons: The race, the banquet and because IT’S VEGAS BABY! — Madison in S.F.

A: I’ve heard the same rumors, but I don’t see it happening. For one thing, Vegas is an SMI-owned track and Homestead an ISC venue. You think the Frances are going to give Bruton Smith the season finale? I don’t.

Also, I believe Ford’s contract with Homestead extends through 2014 as the sponsor of “Ford Championship Week.” There’s some big bucks tied up in that deal (Ford reportedly ponied up $25 million for the first five years of that contract, which ran from 2005-09) and I can assure you, NASCAR will not do anything to jeopardize the next five.

Although some don’t agree with me (I’m talking to you, tweeps), I think the logical spot for a second Vegas date is in the Chase’s first weekend. Nothing against the fine folks of Loudon, N.H., but that’s not the ideal locale for NASCAR to kick off its all-important Chase. If the sanctioning body wants to get some pub, take the week after Richmond off and ship the show to Vegas where it can have a glitzy two-week buildup. Will it be overkill and shamelessly over-hyped? Hell yeah. Will the on-track product fall shy of said buildup? Probably. But like you said, “It’s Vegas, Baby!”

And while we’re on the subject, I’d like to see the champion crowned somewhere other than the Gateway to the Florida Keys. I know weather is a major factor, but a more traditional flavor (Charlotte, maybe? Atlanta again?) would suit me.

And last, my boy Eric wraps this column up with what our favorite agitator, Mr. Jeff Meyer, referred to as “from the I-couldn’t-have-said-it-better-myself” file:

Q: Since Michael Waltrip is such a supporter for unnecessary late-race cautions for the sake of an exciting race I believe NASCAR should have thrown one for him with about two to go. — Eric Barnett, Kentucky

A: Ladies and gentleman, that is funny stuff. Eric and I used to sit on the wooden bleacher seats at Kentucky Motor Speedway outside of Owensboro, Ky., on Saturday nights, sneaking beers in the field outside of turn 1 that served as a parking lot. Good times.

To see the old joint, check out the video clip of the week. This is where the Waltrips, Greens and one infamous Mr. Mayfield all got their starts. It ain’t fancy, but it’s home.

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