Chris Buescher and Front Row Motorsports grabbed the checkers after a rain-shortened race at Pocono Raceway. Is a win for an underdog driver and/or team good for the sport/Chase or not?
Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: Absolutely it’s good for the sport. I think people like to pull for an underdog, and a winner like Chris Buescher gives NASCAR something it desperately needs and usually lacks: something different. In this case, people should be on board with Buescher’s win—he’s the type of person the sport needs, hard working and super nice to boot. Is it good for the Chase? It doesn’t really hurt anything, I guess. Do I think Buescher deserves a title? No, but I don’t think the 15th-place driver he bumps deserves one either, so it’s kind of a moot point. Buescher’s win is good for the sport; the Chase not so much. While Buescher’s inclusion, should he reach and maintain in the top 30, hurts nothing, it does illustrate how flawed the system is.
Bryan Gable, Staff Writer: Buescher’s win is good for NASCAR in terms of pure competition. On-track unpredictability is one of the factors that keeps fans engaged, and who doesn’t love a good underdog story? However, Buescher’s victory exposes yet another flaw in the elimination-style Chase. The drivers who qualify for the postseason championship battle are supposed to be teams that are worthy of racing for a title. Buescher absolutely earned that win fair and square, but one win does not make the No. 34 team a championship-caliber outfit. In the likely event that Buescher does make the Chase, he could start the postseason with the same number of points as Kevin Harvick (assuming Harvick does not win one of the next five races). It is further proof of how little the regular season matters anymore and more evidence that the elimination-style Chase is seriously lacking in legitimacy.
Aaron Bearden, Assistant Editor: As long as it isn’t happening all the time, a good underdog story never hurt anybody. Any potential driver that Buescher could knock out with the victory wasn’t likely to win the championship anyway, and now Front Row Motorsports has a chance to shine brighter than it ever has before. It won’t be bad when a few FCS teams beat their FBS counterparts during the first week of the college football season in September, and it isn’t bad that a lesser team beat the big boys now.
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: Wins by underdog/underfunded teams are always good for the sport. They are a gentle reminder of the old adage/myth that anyone can win in the closely matched and regulated world of NASCAR. The problem with many of these wins, however, is that they occur during rain-shortened events. A win is a win, but the story of an underdog’s success gets a bit tainted when folks recall the details of going from a wet-and-foggy pit road to Victory Garage. These wins are a feel-good deal for NASCAR, but they have little to no impact on the dynamics of the Chase.
The two Pocono race made history this season when both were postponed a day due to rain. What can/should NASCAR do to prevent this sort of history going forward? Are Pocono’s two race dates too close together?
Gable: Pocono does tend to have more rain issues than most of the other tracks. However, the Sprint Cup Series has raced twice a year at Pocono every year since 1982, and this is the first time that both races were postponed. Additionally, some of those early Pocono races were only about a month apart. Attempting to dodge the rain by switching around race dates seems like a waste of time on NASCAR’s part, and the closeness of the two Pocono races has never really been a big deal.
Bearden: Pocono’s in a tricky spot weather-wise. Sitting among the Pocono Mountains leaves the track vulnerable to seemingly random rain showers and other issues, and the weather seasons in Pennsylvania and existing IndyCar date don’t offer a lot of flexibility to move the track’s two dates to many other weekends. This might just be a pill NASCAR has to swallow.
Howell: As a native of Northeastern Pennsylvania, I can attest to the fickle nature of Mother Nature in that region. The combination of mountains and the not-too-far-away Atlantic Ocean put Pocono in an often-unsettled climatological position. It’s possible that putting a bigger gap between race dates might help the situation, but then you’re just gambling against other factors (too large a gap, and now you’re dealing with plunging temperatures and/or the threat of frost/snow/ice). The only way to insure good weather is to keep our fingers tightly crossed.
Henderson: The words “made history” say it all—it’s happened once in what, 40 years? No big deal. I’d kind of like to see one of the races a little later in the season, say early fall, but again, the Chase gets in the way of that. I don’t really want to see Pocono in the Chase, so not much to be done about the dates. Bill France promised the Mattiolis two dates years ago when he needed the track to host races, so they’re not going anywhere else.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has been very open about his recovery from concussion-like symptoms, both tweeting updates and covering his condition in depth on Dirty Mo Radio’s Dale Jr. Download podcast. Is Earnhardt’s openness a good thing, or is he telling fans too much?
Bearden: I applaud Dale Earnhardt, Jr. for being so open about his health. Concussions are a prominent topic throughout sports right now. That an athlete of such fame and stature is willing to be open about his recovery is inspirational and informative for the thousands of people worldwide that have or will suffer a similar injury. I hope it leads to more of the same social awareness from athletes in other sports.
Howell: Earnhardt being open about his medical condition is good on many levels. It’s a nod to the idea of transparency, especially when it comes to his recent on-track performance, and it’s a positive step in our overall attention to the plight of brain injury and concussions. This is a topic that all sports, and all athletes, have kept under wraps for far too long. Since Earnhardt has made his condition so public, there’s more attention to/consideration of what’s at risk. His dilemma is on the media’s radar, and such awareness can only be a good thing.
Henderson: I think it’s a good thing for his fans for sure—certainly better than silence, which leads to even more speculation and rumors. Earnhardt has always been good to his fans and this is just more of the same. Too much information? I don’t think so; it’s not like he’s sharing details of his latest prostate exam or something.
Gable: I like that Earnhardt is talking openly about his health. I think part of his motivation is that he wants to raise awareness for these types of injuries. Besides, Earnhardt’s discussion of his recovery gives fans a chance to go inside his head, in more ways than one.
NASCAR announced later start times of all but a handful of races in 2017 in an effort to boost attendance and ratings. Will it have an impact on either one?
Howell: The later start times are more focused on TV coverage than they are on race attendance. Fans are realistically going to arrive at a track early, so that’s a moot point. Keeping broadcasts at manageable times is a bigger deal. The telecasts need to compete with other programs, as well as with changes across time zones. NASCAR’s broadcast partners will be the ones to see the most by way of potential positive outcomes.
Henderson: I don’t see any meaningful impact at all from this move, at least not a positive one. NASCAR tried it once before and it was unpopular with fans; even if fans live an hour from the track, with traffic after a race, they’ll be lucky to get home before 9 or 10 p.m., and most work the next day. It’ll mean working ridiculously late for anyone who works in the sport, and will take a toll on everyone from media to hauler drivers as well as fans. I don’t see many fans rushing to buy tickets that would not have before, and as for more people watching, they now have two more hours after lunch to get started doing something else. Will they stop doing it to watch a race?
Gable: If NASCAR really wants ratings and attendance to improve, it must keep working on the racing product. Fiddling around with start times is like putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound.
Bearden: Attendance isn’t likely to see much of a gain, especially when so many races run on the eastern side of the United States, but ratings could potentially see an improvement with West Coasters not having to get up at 10 a.m. on a Sunday to watch a race. It’s difficult to tell for sure, and many be skewed without Tony Stewart/the Jeff Gordon return among the field next season, but it’s challenging to see this move hurting much.