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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Frontstretch 5: Things That Make You Go… Huh?

Welcome to the Frontstretch Five! Each week, Amy Henderson takes a look at the racing, the drivers and the storylines that drive NASCAR and produces a list of five people, places, things and ideas that define the current state of our sport. This week, Amy is scratching her head about some of this year’s events.

1. Those Chase Waivers

NASCAR has long needed a system that allows a driver to miss a race or two due to illness or injury and not have his championship hopes dashed because of it. A driver who’s not 100% on the racetrack is a danger to himself and those around him. However, NASCAR has been handing out waivers to anyone and everyone, for any reason. Never mind why a driver missed races or how many he missed; it’s been a case of waivers for all… and that’s just not right.

When Brian Vickers was out for the first two races following heart surgery, that was the situation the waiver, which might be the only really logical part of the new Chase, was meant for. Vickers needed to sit out a couple of weeks for a legit medical concern. If he’d been able to stay healthy and had won, a Chase berth would have been the right thing to do.

But what about Kurt Busch‘s waiver after a three-race suspension by NASCAR? Doesn’t that completely defeat the purpose of both the suspension and the waiver? In Busch’s case, it’s more likely NASCAR realized the mistake it made suspending Busch in the first place, before there were definitive charges against the driver instead of just allegations.

It sets up a slippery slope in the future. Will a driver suspended for a positive drug test be given a waiver if he completes the Road to Recovery program? What about one suspended for conduct? NASCAR started down that road, and now the sanctioning body either has to back up or face some music later on.

And as for Kyle Busch, well, I feel for him as a driver. His season in Cup, for all intents and purposes, was over before it began. But if he comes back in early July, as has been speculated lately, he’ll have missed more than half of the qualifying races. If he can grab a win and squeeze into the top 30 in 10 weeks, that’s a nice accomplishment for Busch. But should he be given a Chase spot after running only 10 or so races over a driver who ran 26 races and would have otherwise gotten in on points? That hardly seems fair. One or two races missed is one thing but half a season is something different entirely. There should be a hard line here, such as three races, not just an indefinite number determined on a case-by-case basis.

2. Shorter Races

Brian France said this week that NASCAR is open to shortening some Cup races. To an extent, it’s possible to see his point, but really, he’s missing the point. Part of racing at the sport’s top level involves the endurance and strategy that 500 and 600-mile races force teams to develop. Shortening races seems more like a capitulation to the ADD Generation than to tangibly improving the sport as a whole.

That said, it would be a positive move not to have two races of the same length at any track in a season. But that doesn’t necessarily mean shortening one race; it could mean lengthening one. Pocono, for example, should feature one 500-mile event (as the track used to host) and one 400-miler as that would force teams to use different strategies for different races. Dover, perhaps, should add 50 miles to one of its events, New Hampshire stretch one race to 350 miles, and so on. Variation would be a good thing for the racing; tracks with lights should be allowed one night race per year, not two, for the same reason. It makes teams change their game and has the potential to change some results. But shortening races to appeal to casual fans who just aren’t that into it? That would be a long-term mistake.

3. Cost Cutting

In general, cost cutting is a good thing as, at least in theory, it should help level the playing field and allow the smaller teams to be more competitive. But you have to wonder about how NASCAR goes about it. The single-transmission rule just passed is an example. While it does cut out the use of separate drive trains each week, it penalizes teams that make changes for legitimate reasons, including the ones it was meant to help.

But the real issue is that cutting costs here and there doesn’t really do much to help the small teams and does nothing to bring the big ones back into line. The big teams still have the big sponsors, and money still buys speed. What the small teams need is exposure… and NASCAR has done little to nothing to make sure they get it.

One rule that does help the single-car teams, though not the multi-car organizations among the underfunded, is the testing rule that allows an organization to send just one car and driver to NASCAR’s open tests. For the multi-car teams, that means each driver is limited in the tests he can attend, while a single-car operation can send their driver to multiple sessions, which allows them to draw more information.

4. Brian Vickers’s Future

With the announcement that David Ragan will take over the No. 55 for the remainder of 2015, the question of Vickers’s future is both clearer and more complicated. After a third bout with blood clots, it has become apparent that at least for now, Vickers’s health issues are going to be ongoing. Having Ragan, a veteran racer, in the car allows the team to move forward. It’s a contract year for sponsor Aaron’s, and it’s understandable that the sponsor would want some stability… and the opportunity to audition Ragan for the future.

Still, it’s a difficult truth for Vickers and his fans. He’s done everything right and was just coming into his own as a driver in recent years. And he’s only 30, far from what should be the twilight of his career. If he should be healthy enough to return to the driver’s seat, he’s got no seat to return to. It was not the happy ending the racing community wanted to see, and it’s looking more and more like that happy ending just isn’t going to come.

5. My Fantasy Team

Frankly, this might be the biggest mystery of them all. To put it bluntly, my fantasy teams invariably suck. Usually a pick by me is the kiss of death for a driver on any given weekend. I more or less got roped into playing in the Frontstretch league this season, and for reasons I do not understand, my team is second in the standings (fell from first, but hey, not being in the bottom of the barrel is a big deal) and in the top 2,500/99th percentile overall. Out of, like, a bajillion people. As far as I can tell, the odds of this happening should be approximately 374,594,293 to one or something. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. I guess sometimes it really is better to be lucky than good…

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19 thoughts on “The Frontstretch 5: Things That Make You Go… Huh?”

  1. As to shortening races, since a plate race really comes down to who is lucky enough to vibrate to the front in the last few laps why run the first 450 miles at all? The Daytona 5! Has a ring to it doesn’t it and is sure to attract the “I’ll watch something for 5 minutes before my attention drifts back to my cell phone” crowd the Brian France sees as the future of NASCAR fandom.

  2. Shortening races is a foregone conclusion, mainly because both TV and the millions who watch on TV will demand it. And the dollars that the “short attention span crowd” spend are just as valuable to Nascar as a 20year fans.

    • The question is, will the short attention span crowd that NASCAR is going to cater to buy tickets to races, buy NASCAR merchandise, or actually watch the races when they are on. If not, then explain where the “dollars” to which you are referring will be coming from.

      • If I remember correctly the sale of Nascar merchandise, by anybody, hasn’t exactly been setting the world on fire for quite some time. As for tickets, if they don’t then the fat lady can start warming up, because the older fans increasingly won’t be able to.

        • Seriously, when is the last time you saw someone out and about in a NASCAR t shirt. On the rare occasions you do the shirt is probably from the late 90’s. TV has to be what keeps Nasbarge afloat.

        • The short attention span crowd doesn’t spend as much money on the sport as the long-term fan does, because they don’t stick around.

          • And the older fans, and I’m one of them, are unfortunately increasingly unable or unwilling to attend races. Nobody lives for ever either. Every year there are less of us who remember Richard Petty’s heyday, orBobby Allison, etc. And thats not going to change.

  3. While I feel badly for Kyle Busch, he was injured running in a race in the Xfinity series, not Cup. Seems to me that is one of the hazards of choosing to compete in non Cup events. Maybe that possibility should be taken into consideration before choosing to run in them. If he comes back, wins a race and can get into the Top 30, then bravo to him. Otherwise, that’s just the risk one takes running so many races.

    As far as shortening races, am I to assume there will be a matching reduction in ticket prices, say 20%? I didn’t think so.

  4. If the races are reduced in length does that mean a reduction in network fees?

    Imagine four hours of commercials in a three hour window.

    Would there be a two hour pre-race show?

    But it would mean less of Darrell, Darrell II and Larry.

  5. Amy, think outside the box a bit. NASCAR has already set a precedent for adding an extra team to the Chase when they added Jeff Gordon as the 13th driver a couple years ago. They could add Rowdy as No. 17 without denying the top 16 their chance. Then it would only be a matter of deciding in which round to eliminate 5 instead of 4 drivers. However, as I posted before, the Chase is a farce, so I don’t personally care if he is waived in or not. I just want to see him back in the race car to spice up a horribly boring season.

  6. So, we are talking about a “slippery slope” when talking about waivers for the latest farce of a Championship? Please, that ship sailed when the original Chase got instituted. The latest version just finished the job.

  7. Hmmm…a lot is being made of the short attention crowd…by the not watching or watching the last 20 minutes crowd. Intereresting.

    I prefer the endurance races myself, and I suspect the clamour of shortening them would die down if the racing was better.

  8. Nascar jumped in too quick on the he said/she said play it safe judgment the judge made on the restraining order – so the waiver is justified. Kyle has been out to long and giving him a waiver serves nobodies interest except for possible TV drama time.

    Aaron’s karma is coming back to haunt them.

    Funny how millenials in my family can sit through baseball/hockey/soccer games…..but can’t sit through a Nascar race????? Maybe they are smart enough to see through the Nascar created drama?
    Old time fans put up with the stupidity. New fans find something else to do — or try to time the last 20 laps. That’s not ADD that’s being smart enough not to do the Nascar Hustle.

  9. It blows my mind at all the things that Brian France has tried to do to this sport to get people to watch. He completely fails to realize or just doesn’t care maybe, that if he would improve the on-track product, alot of other problems would take care of itself. To see all the pundits fall all over themselves trying to give solutions to Nascar problems is quite comical. Especially when it has been right there in front of them all along.

  10. Chase Waivers, well, obviously people can point to when France allowed Gordon into the chase as the 13th driver so as I said before, its his bat and ball, he’ll do whatever he wants regardless. Like salb, though, while I feel sorry for Kyle B, he wasn’t injured racing in Cup, he was double-dipping so to speak and for heaven’s sakes, he will have missed almost half the season. Just seems crazy to me.

    Of course if we weren’t under the stupid win and your in/crapshoot format, it wouldn’t matter anyway. It would all work out over the course of the entire season, but that was too simple for Brian.

    If the races were fun to watch, the question of shortening them wouldn’t even come up – other than to fit into a TV timeslot. Since the races have become far more boring to watch at least until the “exciting” finish that NASCAR will force by having: a caution with X laps to go so there can be either a double file restart with mayhem resulting or a GWC, again with mayhem resulting. That way NASCAR and some fans will focus only on whatever happened during the last few laps and forget that most of the event was worthless.

    As far as trying to catch the short attention crowd, well, it seems to me that Brian’s plan was to have all fans become casual fans. However as others have pointed out, do casual fans spend as much $ as the long time fans did? I think not, based on the numbers and major loss issues that whatever the souvenir business seems to have had for quite some time. Certainly I am not collecting any NASCAR stuff – not even with Gordon’s retirement imminent. Over the years, I’ve bought my share of hats, shirts & jackets – that I now seldom wear because we aren’t going to races much any more and wearing my gaudy jackets out just gets funny looks from people. When I was willing to defend the sport, well, that was fine but now, I don’t feel like I can actually do that because from my point of view, it has gone down the wrong road.

    I don’t plan to watch the entire Dega race, although I usually tune in for the last 10 laps since like a train wreck, I can’t not watch. It is too much of a crapshoot and too much of a wreckfest.

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