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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Coke Zero 400 Reminder of NASCAR Plate Race Problems

The Key Moment – On the final restart, Brad Keselowski got a much-needed push from teammate Joey Logano. Behind him, the Busch brothers battled (though not with paddles, in a bottle, on poodles). Team Penske’s Logano faded and Keselowski, topping off a dominant night, went on to score his first win at Daytona International Speedway.

In a Nutshell – In the words of the late Dale Earnhardt, “I don’t care what they say, this isn’t real racing.” It’s more like a 200 mph Islip, N.Y., figure-eight chain race. As the old saying goes, “you can’t fix stupid.”

Dramatic Moment – The No. 1 car banked off the No. 42 into the No. 48 and sunk it in the corner pocket on lap 90. In all, 22 cars of the 40 that started the race got swept up in the wreck, including the sport’s perennial most popular driver (and last year’s winner of this event). A six-time Cup champion, the 2014 titlist and this year’s leading rookie of the year candidate were also involved. It was a big stupid wreck in the midst of a stupid race that might have appealed to the stupid people watching it.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

If DW openly cheering for Tony Stewart at Sonoma was irritating, having Rick Allen cheering for a crash at Daytona was nauseating. He was like a kid sitting at the top of the steps Christmas morning waiting for the Big One to happen. Fans were even told heading to break, “If a wreck happens, we’ll cut away from commercial.” No, NBC wouldn’t cut away from a break if the leader’s engine grenaded or if someone stormed from 20th to first in two laps, but daggum, if half the field got turned around, fans needed to see that because “wrecking is racing,” right? Oh, wait, that’s actually “rubbin’ is racin’.” Wrecking is just stupid. Oddly enough, when Stewart triggered a five-car incident late in the race, NBC didn’t actually interrupt their commercial break. “We’ve got it from here?” Perhaps, but I’m not sure what exactly it is they’ve got.

Seriously, I was hopeful that things would get better when NBC took over the NASCAR broadcasts. FOX had set the bar so low you’d need a shovel to clear it. About halfway through the race, though, it occurred to me… golly, another commercial break? Didn’t we just get back from one? Finally irritated into action, I used a stopwatch on my cell phone to take some measurements. (Note to my fellow Luddites: you can type “stopwatch” into your phone and one pops right up. There’s no need to download anything or sell your soul to Google. There’s not even a Coca-Cola logo in the corner.)

During green flag racing, I was able to clock one interval between commercials at four minutes and two seconds. In another within the last 20 laps of the race, the interval was down to two minutes and 57 seconds. That doesn’t work. It’s like trying to read a novel with every third page torn out of it. (Note to younger readers: we used to have these things called books.)

Using side-by-side coverage during those breaks is just a band aid on a fracture. What other sports broadcast forces fans to have 25 percent of the event missed due to commercial? I’m going to try to extend NBC the benefit of the doubt that Daytona was an aberration. I’ll watch next week’s race at Kentucky Speedway live mainly because it’s a night race; I don’t typically ride after dark anymore and it will be NBC Sports Network’s first stab at a broadcast this year. But if I’m bombarded with another fusillade of commercials like Saturday night’s commercial excess moving forward, I’ll just record races on the DVR, watch them at times convenient to me and fast forward through all breaks. There’s too many better things to do on a summer or fall afternoon (most of them involving beer, bikes and blondes) to let a sporting event aggravate the hell out of you. Note to self: pick up a 20 pack of AA batteries this week at the Piggly Wiggly.

(Photo: NASCAR)
Every fan watching NBC Saturday night has the sport’s title sponsor cemented into their memory. (Photo: NASCAR)

The primary offender in the commercial blitz was of course the race’s title sponsor, Coke. (As in Cola, though in the ’80s in Florida the other sort out of Colombia probably would have been in contention.) It’s great that ads promoting its product show such a diverse group of kids of many races and ethnicities, and there was probably even at least one transgender kid in the ad. I can’t be sure; I take my glasses off during commercials so they don’t shatter when I scream. But clearly, Coke is purposely excluding one sort of children from their ads, and it’s an outrage, practically colonialism.  Where are the fat kids with the bad teeth that actually consume their product?

You’d think after all those commercials, NBC could have stuck with the race a few minutes longer after the checkers. Yep, we all got to see the fireworks. They were lovely. Nothing like a good burnout when someone else is paying for your tires and engine, especially if you don’t know what end of a socket wrench to hold onto. But it would have been nice to get Kurt Busch’s take on what happened to him coming to the line or to simply hear a few words from the would-be second-place finisher. 

The drivers have developed such a blasé attitude toward wrecking at the plate tracks, it’s troubling to listen to. Yeah, sure, I just wrecked at 190 mph. I sort of expected it. It’s just the nature of plate racing. Yeah, OK, Bub. Better you than me. If the rest of us adopted such an attitude after our own car wrecks, the GEICO gecko would sneak into our homes and slash our arteries while we slept, all so Flo from Progressive could dispose of our bodies before dawn.

There was a major hullabaloo late last week when a Tesla driver using his car’s autopilot feature became the first documented fatality in such a wreck. Tesla folks said the driver should have been paying better attention since his car featured a beta version of the software, and the car in question encountered an unexpected challenge. (Apparently, the sensors in the nose of the car were positioned low enough they saw clear road ahead beneath the high-riding trailer that took a left in the car’s path.) Oops. Back to the drawing board. How about the folks at Tesla get tasked with fitting NASCAR entries at Daytona and Talladega to work out the bugs? The drivers would just hold their foot to the floor and the car would take care of steering and braking to avoid wrecks. If the software was developed to the point all 40 racecars could finish without a scratch on them they’d surely be road ready… and we all want that, I’m sure. At this point, I feel absolutely no personal responsibility to pay attention and focus on the task at hand when piloting two tons of steel down public roadways. I mean, what if I need to read a text to see what some buddy I haven’t talked to in a year is having for lunch?

Doesn’t it seem like teammates Keselowski and Logano don’t much like each other? Sure, both say all the right things after the race. But on track, if one gives another a timely push, soon thereafter the recipient has zero qualms about ditching his teammate. Compare that to how the four Joe Gibbs Racing cars worked together in the Daytona 500, and the contrast is pretty stark. It’s not like I condone team competition, but I’d make an exception at the plate tracks because, as I might have mentioned, I think the racing at Daytona and Talladega is stupid.

It’s a bit odd none of the drivers who finished in the top 5 in last year’s Firecracker did the same this year. Of that quintet, Denny Hamlin had the best finish in 17th. Kyle Busch is the only driver to earn top-5 results in both of this year’s Daytona points-paying races.

Kyle Busch, not the brightest guy ever born, made some rather caustic comments about the tires Goodyear has been bringing to the tracks lately after his savage practice crash Friday. Oddly enough, it was tough to find a verbatim transcript of what exactly he had to say afterward and within hours Busch himself was backtracking WFO and saying Goodyear didn’t “deserve” his comments. Why? The Holy Trinity of NASCAR is Goodyear, Sunoco and NASCAR officialdom. Thou shall not speak badly of them or ye shall be labeled a blasphemer and cast east of Eden.

In addition to race day Saturday also marked Richard Petty’s 79th birthday. The sport’s winningest driver and seven-time champion will always and forever be “The King.” Sadly, Saturday also marked a tragic anniversary. On July 2, 1964 Glenn “Fireball” Roberts passed away following complications while recovering from serious burn injuries he suffered in a horrific wreck during that year’s Memorial Day World 600. Roberts crash sped up the development of fuel cells (they still used stock gas tanks in 1964) and tire inner liners, both of which are still in use today.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

It seems some folks pick Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as the presumptive favorite every time he runs a plate race. Well, it’s worth noting Earnhardt has two DNFs and a 21st-place result at the three plate races this season.

(Photo: Russell Labounty/NKP)
Jimmie Johnson is looking for answers post-Daytona after four straight Cup races without a top-10 finish. (Photo: Russell Labounty/NKP)

Jimmie Johnson is another favorite with the handicappers at plate tracks. He’s doing a little better than teammate Earnhardt, but is still averaging a 25th-place finish in those three plate races. Is it just me, or is Johnson looking merely mortal lately, with just one top-10 result and a total of 13 laps led in the last eight races? Johnson just doesn’t seem to have been the same driver since his heralded and lauded turn as a cartoon voiceover in Bubble Guppies. Could Johnson be looking at hanging up his helmet to pursue a lucrative career in the cartoon voiceover industry? Yeah, OK. Probably not; that’s a stupid idea, though no stupider than the racing Saturday night at Daytona. (My guess is that Johnson and team are in a mode where being solidly in the Chase after two wins in the first five races of the season allows them to operate on cruise control, doing more experimenting than Bill Nye until the playoffs. Just another flaw in the Chase system.)

Kevin Harvick seemed to be taking a cautious approach to the race, riding out back with his teammates waiting for late in the event to make his charge. Unfortunately, the No. 4 team got him out of the pits too fast (well, that’s a change over its early season efforts) and Harvick found himself midpack and an innocent victim when the manure hit the oscillating blades. It’s not often a driver gets to see what brand exhaust headers a competitor uses through his windshield during the course of an event.

Kasey Kahne also got a piece of the big wreck, piling more woe on a frustrating season. Kahne has yet to lead a lap this year and currently sits 19th in the standings.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Finishing second isn’t what motivates racers but it beats not finishing at all. Kyle Busch was runner-up at Daytona Saturday and was, in fact, lucky not to have been injured in a nasty practice crash on Friday so he could race at all. After a four-race stretch of finishing 30th or worse (broken last week when Busch ran seventh at Sonoma), a second-place result isn’t that bad. Hopefully he doesn’t land a voice role as a Bubble Piranha anytime soon. 

Jack Roush saw two of his drivers, Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., finish in the top 5 Saturday. That would have once been mundane, but Roush Fenway Racing has hit some hard times over the last couple years, especially given that some of its former wheelmen who defected continue to enjoy success on the circuit. It’s the first time all three RFR machines (pole sitter Greg Biffle was eighth) ran inside the top 10 since Carl Edwards left two years ago.

Despite the typical Florida thunderstorms, NASCAR was able to get qualifying in. They just barely managed to get the track dry in time to start the race as scheduled and there were no weather-related delays despite a rainy Saturday afternoon in Daytona. Those of you who managed to stay awake may recall this race ended around 3 a.m. last year.

NASCAR NXS driver Matt Tifft underwent successful brain surgery this week to remove a brain tumor. It’s hard to feel too lucky about getting sidelined but Tifft has the blessing of youth and the fact that the growth, a low-grade glioma was caught early on his side. All of us at Frontstretch wish Matt a speedy and complete recovery.

What’s the Points?

While my esteemed colleague Mike Neff devotes much verbiage to the points, I don’t see the point, so to speak. In this age of the Chase, the points are pointless. To cite an example, if you look at the Chase standings, Tony Stewart is currently shown in 11th, the lowest of any race winner this year. But if you look at the points accrued Stewart is 30th and just three markers ahead of Brian Scott. As such, presuming neither of them lead a lap or win next week at Kentucky, if Scott finishes four positions ahead of Stewart the three-time champ would plunge from 11th to 31st in the points standings and, more importantly, at least temporarily out of playoff contention. Yep, stupid.

Chase Elliott is either eighth in the season standings or 12th in the Chase. He’s currently 77 points ahead of the 16th-place cutoff that determines who will make the playoffs. To longtime observers like myself used to calculating points under the Latford system, that sounds rather tenuous. One bad race used to be able to cost you that many points and more. But under the current points system, that’s almost a two full-race cushion with just nine regular season races left to run. Yes, conceivably the young man could still manage to miss the playoffs, but it would take a meltdown so epic Elliott would be granted a lifetime membership to the lineup of the Philadelphia Phillies. Fellow rookie contender Ryan Blaney is in a much more tense spot, just four points ahead of Jamie McMurray for the final postseason bid. He could get bumped if there’s another new winner between now and Richmond International Raceway.

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Things are also a bit tense for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who is currently slotted just 28 points above the cutline. Rest easy though, Junior fans. If there’s a risk of their most popular driver missing the Big Show, NASCAR will find a way to throw a timely debris caution flag to his benefit. It worked with Stewart at Sonoma and it will work again.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beers, with one being a necessary fix to wake fans up after the race and six being enough to keep fans bouncing off the walls for the rest of the week) —  We’ll give this one two well-dented, warm and partially flat cans of Miller Lite. One can is for the race itself with a bonus can for everyone getting to leave the track under their own power not on a gurney inside a bag.

Next Up – The circuit heads off to the newly reconfigured and repaved Kentucky track for another Saturday night event — this one on NBCSN. Consult your local listings or ask your car to look it up for you (at a red light, stupid).

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DoninAjax

Rubbin’ causes wreckin’, sometimes at 190 mph and sometimes in the future.

Bill B

Yep those RP races are stupid. I’ll just say it’s a lot easier to watch when you aren’t rooting for any particular driver. I hated the futility of watching a race where random chance had more say over a driver’s finish than how good the car was or how well the driver played the game.
You have to admit though, those cars blowed up real good.

janice

What I saw of race just helped to lul me to sleep be 9:30. Personally I didn’t like Rick Allen’s comments about breaking into commercial….

Knew Jr wasn’t going to be much of factor as he was complaining about handling of the car before the green flag dropped. He’s been running typical hr style. Cars were changed and he can’t adapt. Maybe he needs to retire and just be a spokesperson for such and such a product. Go to your neighborhood WalMart and he and his girlfriend are on the WalMart tv network hawking dome deodorant.b on race day Jr gets more tv time in the nationwide commercials.

One comment about those coke commercials. Love how they depict the drivers chugging a coke and their throats are moving while they’re swallowing. Yep the marketers think we’re stupid.

janice

Sort about the editors. I knew you’d refer to the race as firecracker.

I only had race on cause nothing else was on tv. I’ve yet to watch a race through it’s entirety this year.

spot1

Didn’t even bother watching this disaster (was out at the World of Outlaws races) although I did see the deal on the last lap where Logano (big surprise) managed to take someone out once again. If only his brain worked as fast as his right foot.

DoninAjax

I’m waiting for the Crown Royal Firecracker 400 Powered By Coca Cola. Won’t care what the “race” is like.

tcfromaz

See Ya

Sue

Matt, I agree about the over abundance of commercials. Just to set the record straight…. Kurt Busch was interviewed. I won’t go into what he said, you can look it up somewhere. You must have set on a bee hive because I have never heard you be so completely negative in everything you wrote. Wasn’t the best race but it wasn’t the worse one either.

Carl D.

Watching plate races I am reminded of the proclamation of Dark Helmet… “Evil will always triumph because Good is dumb.”

Ferris

Matt, you need to get that hemorrhoid worked on.

Talk about a trolling article………sheesh.

Ferris

Oh yeah. It seems you and several other NASCAR writers think it’s alright to make personal attacks on certain drivers. Calling Kyle Busch “not the brightest guy ever born” simply diminishes the writer of the article.

You want to complain about what the drivers say after smacking the wall at 190? He apologized afterwards and you still have to make personal attacks. You and your ilk are far worst than Kyle. He misspeaks in a moment of anger/passion. You deliberately sit down and attack with the advantage of foresight and then consciously and deliberately make personal comments that have no place in any article.

It diminishes your brand.

Ferris

Never called you a “hater” and do not need to reread the article.. Simply said I felt you should refrain from the personal attacks.

I’d take Kyle as a team mate in a heart beat. (Understand also, he’s not my favorite driver.)

By the way, I am the Dad who owns the 275 in the garage. :)

Steve

You didn’t need a stopwatch to be able to count that there were 3 very long commercial breaks in the last 20 laps. At that point, I didn’t care who won and just wanted it to be over, even though I only watched the last 50 or so laps.

Re: Jimmie Johnson, I have said this many times. Tire wear has played a major role in the races this season. Johnson just doesn’t know how to manage his tires. Its been proven over many races. He may be testing for the Chase as well, but it will be interesting to see how he does during the Chase if tire wear continues to be a factor at races during the Chase.

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