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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Five Points to Ponder: Barren Stands at Bristol

ONE: Barren Bristol

There isn’t a cameraman skilled enough anywhere in the world that could have made the Bristol Motor Speedway stands look any better than half-full this past Sunday. And the truth is, it’s a really sad sign of the gradual but continual malaise that has plagued the Sprint Cup Series these past few years. Although attendance numbers are no longer released, the Bristol Herald Courier estimated the crowd at 90,000 – a little over half full for the huge venue. Now I’m no great mathematician but it looked significantly less than that to me. This isn’t a new phenomenon — at a track that used to be one of the hottest tickets in all of professional sport not just driving fast and turning left at a high rate of knots. Weather wasn’t a contributory factor either; it couldn’t have been a more perfect day. It was so bad that a friend of mine even texted me about it. And for the record, I have about 2-3 max friends who’ll text me about NASCAR. Compounding matters, attendance at the Xfinity Series race was paltry at best and you could count the people present at qualifying on a couple hands. All told, it’s a worrying trend for NASCAR; let’s not forget tracks across the country are slashing seats at a rapid rate. The real question, when you combine this with ever decreasing TV ratings, is when do we hit bottom in this precipitous decline. Sadly, I’d say not quite yet. And while it’s so sad to type, and very much against my optimistic nature, the worst may yet be to come.

TWO: Celebrating the small victories

One of the things I love to do with this little column and this tiny corner of the NASCAR world is to celebrate the small victories – the wins for the guys you least expect it from. And this past Sunday boy did we see that for Mr. Matt DiBenedetto who finished a career-best sixth. “That’s unbelievable for a team like to us to be growing this much and for us to get a sixth-place run,” said DiBenedetto in a post race interview. “I’m sorry I’m so emotional. It’s just this is like a win for us. I’m so excited. I see my family back here – my wife, Taylor; my brother is in town from the military and I’m so glad he got to experience this. This is just… this is incredible. I’m so blessed to be here.” Even Carl Edwards when asked about DiBenedetto’s fantastic finish commented: “Man that’s unbelievable. That’s probably tougher than what we did.” And Edwards is probably right given the disparity in resources between BK Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing. I’ll leave the last word to NASCAR’s most popular driver, as seems appropriate, who tweeted “Proud of @mattdracing. Good kid. Like seeing good things happen to good people.” Well said, Dale Jr. Well said.

(Photo: IndyCar)
Sunday’s IndyCar race went green wire-to-wire… a rare event in modern motorsports. (Photo: IndyCar)

THREE: Next Up – Richmond

Next up it’s another historic short track tilt at Richmond International Raceway and this time around it will be a day-time event, rather than a Saturday night under the lights shindig. This will be Cup race number 120 at the famous old venue; a streak that runs all the way back to race number six of the 1953 season. That inaugural event was won by none other than Lee Petty and the over all list of winners is very much a Hall of Fame Who’s Who of NASCAR. Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth won the two events held in 2015 in dominant fashion. Kenseth led a whopping 352 of 400 total laps in the fall event with Busch leading 251 of 400 circuits in the spring race. And in the final race of the 2014 season, it was Brad Keselowski who paced the field for 383 of the 400 laps. There were positive signs from the recent tire test: “Last year it didn’t seem like the track rubbered up a whole lot,” said participant Denny Hamlin. “I definitely feel like we have improvement – we got a little bit faster on the frontside and a little bit slower on the backside. So we’re very encouraged by that.” Let’s hope the JGR veteran is right and we see a better race than those in the sparsely populated Bristol stands saw this past weekend.

FOUR: Can anyone beat Joe Gibbs Racing?

With Carl Edwards’ dominant victory this past Sunday, three of the four Joe Gibbs Racing quartet of drivers (Denny Hamlin- one win, Kyle Busch – two wins and now Cousin Carl) are now essentially locked into the Chase. JGR has now one three in a row at the Cup level and four of eight thus far in 2016. And although Matt Kenseth has struggled he too, as I wrote last week, will almost certainly grab that elusive victory sooner rather than later. So the question I have right now is who can stop JGR? Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson would be two immediate answers with Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano also in equation but as of now the team that dominated much of last year looks to be the preeminent force once again in 2016. Now even with all this success, we’ve seen over the years that this is cyclical. Roush Fenway put five drivers in the 2005 Chase, let’s not forget. And for a while no one could touch Hendrick Motorsports. So for the drivers of the JGR powerhouse team the time to make hay is now. It won’t last forever.

FIVE: A green-ish tint to IndyCar In California

Finally this week, a quick word about the Verizon IndyCar Series race at Long Beach this past Sunday. It was a race won in somewhat controversial circumstances by Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, but that’s not the purpose of this last point. Rather, it was a race that went green from wire-to-wire – the first time that had happened at Long Beach since 1989. It was also the first time in the IndyCar Series since the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in August 2012 – a race, in a curious quirk of fate, won by Scott Dixon, who should probably have won Sunday’s race. And since you might be wondering, I believe the last caution free NASCAR race was the October Talladega race in 2002 won by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. I wonder when we’ll see another one? My sense is it might be some time.

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11 thoughts on “Five Points to Ponder: Barren Stands at Bristol”

  1. Amazing how everyone is so concerned about Saint Matt. You all need to give it a rest. There is nothing wrong, and Kenseth will be fine. He will win sooner or later, and will easily make the chase, thus getting revenge on that evil, sinister kid who denied him a championship run last year.

  2. NASCAR has spent the last decade making decisions that took away the kind of racing many long time fans enjoyed and while they were at it, they moved races from traditional tracks like Darlington to places like Fontana (where until recently the racing was boring beyond belief). Put out a kit car where all the cars race the same speed and don’t drive worth a darn and the put in a championship method that makes only the last 10 races “important”. On top of that they allowed much of the mainstream media (including people like Robin Pemberton & other NASCAR mouthpieces and Dave Moody on his radio show, as well as much of the print media (although there are not many of those left)) to castigate and excoriate fans who protested that they didn’t LIKE what was happening. We were all “stupid” and just didn’t “understand”. What’s not to understand? Either a fan enjoys the racing or they don’t. It’s a pretty simple deal and if your customers don’t like it and are complaining, it seems “stupid” to me to ignore them. Coca Cola was smart enough that when their customers didn’t like New Coke, to backpedal in a hurry and put Coke Classic back into the product lineup. NASCAR, on the other hand, nah, they’d rather dig in their heels and insist, in the face of all evidence, that THEY know better. How’s that working? Less people at the track, less viewership on TV, less souvenir sales. So finally after all reluctantly it seems they moved Darlington back to its original date (even though it is now a night race), changed some of the dynamics of the car handling. IMO though it is all a case of too little too late. I’m waiting to see what mark BZF finally convinces to pony up a bunch of $ to sponsor the Cup series. He seems able to sell ice to companies on a cold winter’s day so someone will probably bite on it, although I can’t imagine why.

    • “I’m waiting to see what mark BZF finally convinces to pony up a bunch of $ to sponsor the Cup series”

      I’m guessing No Doz for gray haired old fans like me and Adderall (or Ritalin) for the young ADD pups.

  3. I don’t know about anyone else, but I gave up my Bristol tickets the year after ‘the chase’ erupted on the scene. The level of politeness with no one wanting to ‘interfere’ with a chase contender took all the air and excitement out of that balloon. Now you have a system that makes 26 races basically irrelevant, so why should anyone spend that kind of money to see a race that may or may not live up to the Bristol of old? Like many do with Baseball, Hockey and basketball, just wait until the playoffs, right?

    • Lordy yes, you saw the outrage when one “raced” another, and the whiners were saying “but he is already in “The Chase” and he didn’t need “a win”, he should have let so and so “win”. The offender was hung out to public persecution as if he murdered a whole town. Nope, done with that nonsense, and feel bad for the teams that bust their ass, succeed and then the NASCAR welfare/WWE takes hold. And the biggest welfare gift of all happens at “Homestead”. Cough.

  4. Many things have contributed to the downfall . Bristol , In my opinion would still sell out had the track not been reconfigured . I can afford to go , always wanted to . But I wouldn’t attend if you gave me tickets and paid my travel expenses now . I have fallen asleep every year during that race since the repave .

    Ok , So changes I feel have ruined racing for me and most of my family .

    Lucky Dog , A handout . Getting laps back when they aren’t earned pisses me off .

    Double file restarts are nice but watching older races made me realize that drivers fighting the leader trying to get laps back was much more intense in the middle stages of the race then drivers that are first and second with nothing to gain in the early stages .

    Racing back to the flag . While I understand why they don’t do it anymore , that was exciting , and having the field frozen has caused a ton of issues of not knowing who won the race and NASCAR looking like they just pick the winners at will .

    The cars . So aero dependent . Too much side force , too stable . Very rarely do we see a driver just loose control without contact . We need crashes to bunch the field back up , not debris or moronic ideas like a caution clock . Crashes create excitement as well as revelries depending on how they happen . The bumpers not lining up has hurt racing as well . No longer can you get up under a guy and loosen him up . You have to hit him pretty hard now and no driver wants to do that . It would be obvious that it was intentional .

    Splitter . How bad it must suck knowing that if you hit grass that the whole front of your car will be torn off . Grass doesn’t need to go , the splitter needs to go .

    The chase . Although exciting during the last 10 . It makes the first 26 races more or less UN-important . If a Driver wins and is locked in , what is the point in fighting hard for win for the remaining races until the chase . After a win the mainly use the rest as test sessions .

    Last thing , Progressive banking has killed good hard racing . People like to see bumping and banging . Progressive banking keeps drivers far enough apart that they don’t need to even touch and that makes for a boring show . Look how Texas was this year . It was cold enough that only the bottom groove worked . Drivers had to pinch each other near the bottom to run side by side and it was an exciting race . Imagine if they ran up top 2 car widths away to pass . Not so fun to watch then .

    I could go in and on I’m sure . But ill leave it at that .

    • I will add some more for you.

      First and foremost even before the “Chase” was NASCAR’s Golden Ticket. The Network TV contract. That has done the most overall harm and caused Nanny Nascar for so long. We are on broadcast TV now dont you dare say shit or damn! Oh and don’t talk bad about all our stupid decisions either or we will make you pay!

      My God, they can’t even say “The Green Flag” is in the air anymore. Its the “American Ethanol Green Flag”. No one can open their mouth without spewing out an advertiser’s name. Its old and tiring. We have so many commercials its hard to follow the race, and then we have commercials IN the race as well.

      I will give you an item particular to Bristol Motor Speedway. It was one of the highlights of the weekend to hang out outside the track around turn 3 and get to see the drivers go by on golf carts or walking through, on their way to their home away from home, the gated RV community. (that’s another problem I will address shortly) If the driver took the time and you were lucky you could even get autographs with no special passes. Low and behold Bristol built the drivers a nice covered walkway to walk right over and past those pesky people paying their hard earned money to come to the races! ie THE FANS! NASCAR continues to piss on the fans and then try convince them it’s raining. TRUE FANS are fed up with it!

      Part 1 of 2 polite drivers.
      While I get the comfort of convenience the drivers have in their RV lot here in lies the problem. They are buddies and neighbors off the track. It’s hard to have on track rivalries when everybody is friends away from the track. Sure people get mad from time to time, but rarely lasts more than a week or two.
      Part 2. Cooperate Sponsorship and Political Correctness.
      These companies put out big money and therefor and rightfully so, they try to keep pretty tight reigns on their investments.

      I dont even know why they bother interviewing drivers after an uneventful race. They all the same thing, the Manufacture/Model car was strong today and I want to thank, Product A, Product B all the way through Z for all their help (money). It’s so rehearsed and homogenized.

      The car of tomorrow! One word IROC, and we all know how well that worked out!

      Lucky Dog and Wave Around. First the Wave Around. Does anyone remember WHY this rule was put in place? NASCAR didnt want to have to make the “new fans” think too hard about who was actually leading the race when cars elected not to pit to try to get a lap back. Those pesky cars on the tail end of the lead lap would just confuse everyone, so lets “wave” them around. Any gift of positions on a RACE TRACK is not racing! It’s charity in the name of simplification. Bah!

      Of course some of this was due to the no racing back to the caution. Which also spawned the “Lucky Dog” rule. The first car a lap down gets their lap back without racing for it. AGAIN, that is not racing!

      And just like Mark I could go on and on, and most if not all the main issues plaguing NASCAR right now came to be under the expert leadership of Brian France! It’s past time for him to go!

  5. NASCAR will bottom out and they’ll all be OK, just look at Indycar. BZZF and all his “partners” may have to tighten their belts a little bit but really how rich does a man have to be. The problem I have is the sport is gutted at this point. You can’t blame the decline wholly on BZF’s whoring it up but I can say for a fact it is the sole reason I’ve only watched some of Daytona and some of Martinsville this year. It seems like they are trending away from caution flag abuse with the caution clock and now heat races but they have a long way to go and a lot of the old true fans will probably die first.

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