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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is… Sayonara, Hurricane Joaquin, and Money

The changing of the calendar comes across as an appropriate thematic concept for what is currently happening in NASCAR. With October letting its presence be known again, it marks the beginning of the sunset of the season as just eight races remain on the Cup schedule. So for all of our collective griping, enjoyment, haranguing, wonderment and frustration at what happens both on and off the track in this sport, it will soon enjoying its hiatus.  

For four drivers their season, in many ways, ends this weekend at Dover. With Clint Bowyer’s appeal being denied, he’s certainly one of those in that situation unless he suddenly finds the speed he’s been missing all season and steals a win. (No basis to the idea that the governing body went after Bowyer in some kind of retribution to Rob Kauffman.)  

Not to be mean-spirited but Paul Menard, thanks for playing. You’ll likely be exiting the championship picture by the time the weekend is up. Did anyone really notice he was in it to begin with? Sure, there have been a few mentions, but the decidedly slanted TV coverage doesn’t even cover the backmarkers in the Chase, er playoffs, much.

What looks to be the entertaining aspect for Dover will be a four-way battle between Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jamie McMurray to earn the last two spots in the field of 12. For Harvick and Busch, their ousting would be a wipe-the-sweat-from-the-brow moment. The former has shown speed and consistency all year long and shouldn’t be derailed by the Chicagoland hiccup while Busch, with four wins, has the second most of any driver. At this point, it feels like Earnhardt and McMurray are just hanging on, hoping to eke into the next round.  

But you know who looks safe otherwise? Joe Gibbs Racing. Should Busch fail to advance, the organization will still have three cars moving forward and it continues to look like the team with the most overall speed. Sure, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski are still hanging in there and it’s not like they’ve been getting lapped every race. Rather, it just seems like Gibbs has something others don’t.

All of that means cue the theme from Jaws because Jimmie Johnson is lurking – something that should make everyone other than his fans elated. 

Happiness Is… Sayonara. Saying goodbye to September is one thing, but saying goodbye to another champion is another.  While Tom Bowles lamented and showed concern that Tony Stewart’s retirement would move the sport to some kind of crumbling point, that does not seem to be the case. Memento mori. Basically paraphrased, it means that this, too will pass. Stewart is quite the figure in the sport, known as much for his racing prowess as he is for his complicated, and often surly, personality. One last year gives him the ability to offer a nod to all of those whom he’s embraced AND pissed off during his career. Will we see the same reaction from tracks and fans as has accompanied Jeff Gordon’s bon voyage tour? Who knows.

The thing that Bowles, however, was addressing was not the retirement of Stewart as much as there have not been enough successful young drivers for fans to place any kind of social capital investment. It’s hard to get behind a “young gun” when the best he’s gotten is a ninth-place finish while continuing to show an average of 17th. The numbers may be made up but people like winners and the reason that Gordon and Stewart attracted such large fanbases is because of their victories. With Stewart leaving, it feels like the last one retiring from a vaunted draft class, meaning it’s time for other drivers to step up.

Happiness Is… Weather. Happiness Is loves to lampoon those who say things like it looks like weather is on the way; weather is approaching; or any of that kind of silliness. Weather is always happening. Don’t use weather when rain is what’s meant. This weekend at Dover, it looks like more than rain will be conspiring against NASCAR as the East coast plays cat and mouse with Hurricane Joaquin. So the first thing to mention is for everyone to be safe.  

From the positive spin department, there may be another way of looking at things. If the race is postponed from Sunday, that might mean that it’s not airing against that vaunted entity known as professional football. With the ratings continuing to be scrutinized – even though the races are shown on a network many people don’t get and go up against the NFL, both factors that kill ratings for anything – perhaps having the race run on Monday would bring a little more attention to it. That thought was a happy one until two things: 1) rain may last through Monday and 2) Dover does not have lights.

Happiness Is… Money. There’s nothing to be written about money from some philosophical perspective that hasn’t already been done. This spot will not even attempt to do so. However, the power-brokers of the sport got together this week to start figuring a way to protect their interests and ensure that even as viewership is lowered, race purses slashed and overall social appeal muted, they would still get their share of the pie.  

Sure, everyone’s favorite whipping boy Brian Z. France has been enjoying fattening his and other’s coffers, but now it’s time to spread it around. Is NASCAR headed toward arrangements that look more like F1 or is it just going to tweak things a little bit to give the owners a small percentage of the monies coming in? That’s the big mystery. The follow-up will be to wonder how it may impact the sport. Are smaller car counts in the works? More substantial changes? In many ways, it feels like NASCAR is at a moment where it may be forced to redefine many things about itself – and that will be fascinating to watch.  

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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13 thoughts on “Happiness Is… Sayonara, Hurricane Joaquin, and Money”

  1. ha, this article is so funny! “there have not been enough successful young drivers for fans to place any kind of social capital investment.” and “it’s time for other drivers to step up”.

    You do realize that it isn’t necessarily the fact that these drivers aren’t setting the world on fire that is the problem, but more that it is because NASCAR itself has become so dysfunctional and inept at being able to actually interest fans into investing the level of interest and emotion that it takes to follow another driver.

    I stopped liking NASCAR about 5 years ago. I’ve continued to follow it because Gordon continued to race. Over those 5 years, we’ve gone to fewer and fewer races, I’ve bought far less souvenir items than I had and I no longer devote my entire weekend beginning with practice thru the post-race to NASCAR. With Gordon’s retirement, my reason to follow NASCAR goes away after Homestead. While I may watch the sport as one of those casual fans that Brian was so hot to entice to follow the sport, it will be with a “who cares” attitude, rather than the interested one I once had. I know I’m not the only Gordon fan who has made the decision, there are quite a few people I know who are fans who feel the same way.

    With Stewart’s retirement, that is another sizeable fan base that MAY also walk away. Maybe NASCAR/BZF will find a magic golden egg that will suddenly make everyone interested again, but I doubt it. BZF took a sport that was in ascendance and was so anxious to put his one stamp on it that he and his minions did everything possible to drive away the “old” diehard fans because in his opinion, they weren’t the ones NASCAR wanted to attract. NASCAR reached for the casual, short attention span crowd, screwed around with the schedule, the tracks, the car and the championship and re-writing the rules on whatever whim strikes them. Of course then the races being put on obscure cable channels with the expectation that fans are going to clamor for them to be added. Ha, that’s a joke, too. The people I talk to are cutting down on their cable channels or ditching cable entirely for other less expensive ways to watch the shows they want.

    IMO, this all means that NASCAR is in a losing position. I can tell you of 3 fans that they’ve lost for sure — that’s the 3 of us in my family who — USED to go to races and spend the weekend following NASCAR. I doubt very much we will be the only ones.

    • Exactly Gina, all of the writer’s NASCAR approved talking points aside, the cars are all alike AND THEY CAN’T PASS. Oh, and the races are heavily manipulated. What exactly are the drivers supposed to do?

      • JohnQ, yes, I commented above that after reading the ESPN burning questions column yesterday, I was shaking my head in disbelief at how blind the media really all are what many fans are actually thinking.

        And I know, the drivers are completely hamstrung at this point. Another reason why it is not much fun for me anymore.

        Steve, I agree. I used to watch the trucks and the lower series until both became Cup lite. The idea that those series needed the Cup drivers to draw a crowd doesn’t hold water. If it did, attendance and ratings would be better.

        Ha, well, I can tell you that this Gordon fan is NOT going to become a Chase Elliott fan. I’m sure he is a nice enough fellow but for me, it is just a non-starter. I agree with you that it is a joke to think. Maybe once upon a time when NASCAR was actually fun to watch that would happen but as I said, NASCAR made a concerted effort to drive off the “old” fans and I simply don’t think there are enough “new” fans to make up the deficit.

    • More to your point Gina is the fact that its tough for fans to latch on to new and upcoming drivers when they finish 5th every week in the minor leagues because guys like Busch, Kenseth, Logano, and Kes are constantly taking wins away from them. And giving them a championship finishing 5th every week doesn’t do them much justice either. Does anyone really think guys like Jones, Chase Elliot and Ty Dillon are going to bring in fans to replace Gordon/Stewart. That’s a joke in itself.

  2. As far as the fans shifting their allegiances to new drivers, I don’t foresee that as being an issue. Despite the gnashing of teeth when one hero leaves, the fans quickly adapt. The thing now is that many of the new drivers haven’t had the chance to show off their talents. Nobody roots for the 20+ place driver. If you dont drive for one of the megateams thats where you will finish.
    As for the restructuring of Nascar, who knows. I can’t see the Frances giving up even a small bit of revenue if they can help it. And the teams and drivers obviously want to increase theiir share. So where is the compromise? Interesting times ahead.

    • time will tell, russ. I’m certainly not gnashing my teeth. As a matter of fact, I am reveling in the fact that I will be FREE at last from feeling like I should watch a sport I am not really interested in simply because MY particular hero is still out there in the car.

      • Me too Gina. Right now I plan on still watching a lot of the races next year but I will not pick another driver. I am looking forward to not caring what stupid decisions NASCAR makes or what ridiculous schemes they come up with for a champion. I hope to be as unvested as possible. Maybe more reliance on the DVR and zipping through the races. Maybe just tuning in for the last hour. I don’t know how that will work out because I really do have a problem with the crapshoot it has become. I am on the edge of being able to say whether it’s still a sport or if it is now reality television (and I hate reality television). At least I will be able to make that decision now without loyalty for a driver blinding me.

        • We shall see folks. Remember I was making a broad statement about fans in general. As for myself, I think David Pearson was the last driver I really followed. Now its more about the various teams to me than the drivers, but thats just me.

        • Bill B, yes that’s pretty much my plan, too. I’m sure I’ll watch more races during the months where the weather is crummy and I may already be stuck inside. Summer and fall will be for me again.

          I used to DVR the races but since most of the time, the only bit that is really important is that last 10-20 laps, it isn’t really necessary.

          Russ, I understand your point. That may be something I choose to do as well, but for me until NASCAR goes back to being more of a legitimate sport and relies less on gimmicks to attract attention, I just am not interested in anything they are doing.

          I read the ESPN “burning question” column yesterday and found it interesting that one of them said “well it must be good because “everyone” is talking about the Chase right now”. Except in my view, it is being talked about for all the wrong reasons. But again, that is simply my point of view.

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