NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is…Games

What is to be made of Cup racing at the moment?  From a distanced perspective, it is a wild hodge-podge of things, full of positives that run along with various questions.  The aero package introduced this year has looked to be a wonderful improvement over the past couple years, though it hasn’t changed the fact that, at many races, a car has gotten out front and been able to maintain a sizable gap on the field.

While the cars have gotten better, it seems that Goodyear has still been playing too cautious with what they bring to the track.  When tire wear isn’t really a factor in the race, that’s a problem, as it adds both to how the drivers handle the car as well as to how the crew chiefs call the race.  To have that aspect taken out of the races is a bit of a bummer.

What continues to befuddle the whole thing is that the Chase makes the whole regular season a bit of a goofy mess.  Early wins mean that many drivers don’t really have much to race for during the regular season and can use the time to test and monkey about, while also sometimes managing to win a race or two.  

Perhaps the most curious aspect of the season is that one of the star drivers isn’t racing due to concussion symptoms.  In what is a signal to modern safety in the sport, Dale Earnhardt, Jr is sidelined and showing that perhaps drivers and the teams are coming around to being mindful of the driver’s melon.  But will a driver without his stature be able to remove themselves from the car in the same fashion?  It’s difficult to say.

As a whole, things are both good and a mess.  The drama that seems to unfold rarely comes from on-track incidents but rather things surrounding the sport.  It sure would feel better if the racing actually started being the main part of the story.  Is that what the Chase is for?  Egads.

Happiness Is… the Ratings Game.  The television ratings for the Brickyard 400 showed to be up for this past race and were NBCSN’s best yet.  Of course, most of the reports from the track at Indianapolis stated that barely anyone showed up – like numbers somewhere in the range of 50,000 at a place that seats 250,000 and can cram another hundred thousand in the infield.  So what is to be made of the contrasting interest?  

What the numbers seem to indicate is something that NASCAR as an organization seems to embrace or hasn’t quite realized yet.  That issue is that fans don’t seem to be willing to commit a whole weekend toward watching a Cup race anymore.  They’re more than happy to tune in, or DVR, or to catch it in some form of digital readership and the need to be at the track just isn’t as important.  Of course, jacked ticket and hotel prices may have something to do with the matter.  Time, however, seems to be the bigger issue.  With an economy on the mend, people are out and doing things, they just don’t want to invest in the same commitment.

Other sports, even the beloved football, don’t have the same all-weekend component.  So maybe things are working out for the networks and their desire to pump up their cable investments.  That has been the whole reason for the switch from the traditional networks to the cable enterprises, and this weekend proved to be a boon for NBC.  So good for them.  The question now, is will it be good for the sport?

Kyle Larson navigates the Tricky Triangle for the first time in his No. 42 Target Chevrolet. Photo: Anthony Lumbis Sr.
How long until Target withdraws from the Cup series? (Photo: Anthony Lumbis Sr.)

Happiness Is… Sponsorship Games.   Just what is going on with sponsorship anymore?  There’s so many one-off sponsorships that it really has become difficult to identify drivers.  Sure, the days of a brand sponsoring a car for a whole season have been extinct for quite a while, but at this juncture it’s become ridiculous.  Now there’s more to follow.

First, there’s been NASCAR shopping the naming rights for the Cup Series, with no announcement set to be made.  Then there’s the sponsors that come and go, like Dollar General leaving this year, following other stalwarts that have bowed out.  Now there’s reason to wonder about Target.  The company has decided to drop its 27-year run in IndyCar.  Regarding the IndyCar sponsorship, Senior VP of Target, Scott Nygaard, said, “the Target brand is about being fresh and new, so we felt like this was the time to make the difficult decision and expand our sports marketing platform.” But they’re still looking forward to being with NASCAR in 2017.  Well, at least that’s a good thing.  

Happiness Is… Schedule Games.  This weekend marks one of the remaining few that is filled with NASCAR, IndyCar and F1 all racing on the same weekend.  Sure, the NASCAR schedule rolls on with barely any sense of a break until its culmination sometime around Thanksgiving.  The other series like to do that thing known as take a break, or have an off weekend, or perhaps just refresh and get themselves sane in the circus that is auto racing.  

IndyCar has just four races left after this weekend’s race at Mid-Ohio.  As the season heads toward its culmination, the championship is coming into a more pointed contention.  Simon Pagenaud has led from the get-go, but Will Power has pulled close after missing the first race of the season and now sits second.  Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon are lurking, just to keep the frontrunners honest.  

Then there’s Formula 1 where the battle is between the two Mercedes drivers, leader Lewis Hamilton, and Nico Rosberg.  This race is the last before the series heads to its summer shutdown.  So while the temperatures and weather cover the nation with heat and unpredictability, it’s a good time to enjoy some air conditioning, sit back, and pick your series of racing to enjoy.  

And oh yeah, Jeff Gordon will be making another cameo appearance at Pocono.

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