The small crowd this past weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway should not be too much of a surprise. In many ways, it should have been expected. The track has faced difficulty filling its stands for a few years now, and being given a race date with unpredictable weather offered no favors.
So what is going on?
There’s a couple ways to think about the issue (and that’s just for starters). The one that would seem obvious is that NASCAR is down on Atlanta and that it is looking to remove it from the schedule. That the track used to hold two Cup races and now just one, combined with the ever-shifting date recently signifies this sentiment. So maybe the hope is that Atlanta falls by the wayside and another bright, new, shiny track in some other market will get the opportunity. That game has been played before, right? (Side note, for an excellent piece on North Wilkesboro and its raceway, check out this piece.)
Here’s a different take: Perhaps Atlanta just is not much of a sports town. The stellar Braves teams of the past had problems filling their park. The Atlanta Thrashers, the second hockey team the city had (after the Flames), left after failing to garner a sustained fanbase. The Falcons, who play in that most-loved of sports in football, also had its issues. So what makes NASCAR immune to the trends of an area that seems to have adopted an attitude of indifference towards professional sports? Maybe traffic really is that bad.
Whatever the reasons may be at this juncture, something must be done about getting the race date changed. Kudos to the diehard fans who attended, but there was nothing that looked enticing about sitting in the stands on a damp, gray, overcast day and watching Jimmie Johnson add to his win total and, oh yeah, make the Chase (Yes, ugh, those kind of proclamations can already be made). So while the drivers may rave about driving the Atlanta track, some kind of initiative must be taken to entice the fans. Or maybe not. Depends on what NA$CAR’s thinking.
On to some happiness.
Happiness Is…The Rules Package. A lot was made of the changes in the rules package for the 2015 season – the reduction in horsepower, the lower spoiler, the new rockers, the adjustable trackbar in the car. Net result, as predicted in this column last year: zero. The changes are barely changes. Strike that, the changes are, in fact, changes, but not in a way that is significant to bring about any real change. Ha. Therefore it’s not really a surprise to see the Hendrick Motorsports crew hanging near the front. Or that the Team Penske duo is strong. Or for the Joe Gibbs Racing gang to be looking solid.
So what was the big deal? About the only thing that the new rules package seems to have done is to make Roush Fenway Racing worse – which for a team with its resources seems altogether surprising. The question that should be asked then is what was the point of the changes? If it was to bring about passing, it doesn’t look like that effect is there. If it was to provide a new challenge, that didn’t work. At this point it looks like change for change sake, but looks like replacing the design of the dollar bill with one that looks a lot like the original.
Happiness Is…Safety. For all of Jeff Gordon’s accomplishments, like 65 second-place finishes or 79 poles, the one statistic that he is positively owning the past few years is number of non-SAFER walls hit. Sure, that statistic is not officially kept by NASCAR but there’s no way that anyone else has a higher number. Showing his adept skill, Gordon made sure to find another one at Atlanta, this one coming after track officials and NASCAR made statements about safety and taking care of the drivers. Tom Bowles already touched upon this matter, but the reality stands that it is easy to make these comments but the tracks better actually be doing something about it. We all know that the concept of a driver’s union has been considered and struck down more than once, but isn’t this situation one where they should band together and make some kind of statement?
Safety continues to be one of the key talking points in motorsports, and the less injuries the better. But back in the day the drivers wore open-faced helmets, didn’t have HANS devices and all this fancy stuff that the drivers of today do. It’s the wussification of the sport, just like what’s happening in football. It’s quite possible those drivers were insane. And hmm, Happiness Is likes the athletes to be healthy. To whit, Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso will be sitting out the season opening race in Melbourne to assure his safety after (possibly, details are sketchy) concussing himself a week ago. There are only 20 races on the 2015 F1 calendar, which means that sitting one out is quite a statement, especially for a top driver like Alonso. But even better to avoid the necessity to start.
Happiness Is…Las Vegas. Blimey, is it already time for Jeff Hammond to put on some dorky Vegas costume, or for Darrell Waltrip to talk in gambling cliches the whole race? Time, you cruel beast! Too bad FOX won’t break up its broadcast booth and switch some other aspects about before the race (or seemingly ever).
It may seem early – OK, it is – but this second 1.5-mile race should offer the backing evidence to what was offered in Atlanta with regards to the pecking order. It’s difficult to think that there’ll be much change. But hey, maybe that Gordon guy will finish a race for the first time in this young season.
Happiness Is…XXXX. In a travesty sold to the American people, Foster’s beer is marketed as being the notable Australian brew. The problem with that is that Foster’s is a last resort when down under, instead Coopers, XXXX, Tooheys or VB are the ones to go with for the authentic experience. And while V8 Supercar racing is the local motorsport, Formula 1 will be gracing the country this weekend to kick off the season. Mercedes looks tough to beat once again, so maybe the race is for who will stand third on the podium. Regardless of that aspect, it will be interesting to seem in Williams, Ferrari or Red Bull have closed the gap at all. And hats off, Marussia, now that Manor Racing is supposed to be on track. We’ll see.
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