Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is…Pressure, Ratings & Pocono

One event that has seemed to be a bit bizarre each summer is the Wednesday night Bristol race for the Camping World Truck Series.  It’s not bizarre in a way of goblins suddenly rushing the track or any other kind of funny business, but rather because the sanctioning body continues to condone a weeknight race.  

The NASCAR schedule is one aspect of the sport that continues to face a lot of criticism.  That little seems to change is much of the reason.  With most tracks now locked in for the next five years, there’s even less likelihood that there will be any significant alterations to the schedule.  

When some people offer one way to make some changes, moving one of the races in the summer to a weeknight sometimes emerges as a popular idea.  Then Brian Z. France or someone else in a suit says that moving a race to a weeknight is a bad idea and blah blah blah.  

But the truck series has now run two races on Wednesdays this summer, first at Eldora and now at Bristol.  So what is the real problem here?

Granted, the crowd for a truck race tend to pale in comparison to the mighty Cup series, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be tried.  If anything, the truck races serve as a de facto tryout.  Attendance at the races is one thing but TV veiwership is where things really get interesting.  Would a weeknight Cup race free it from the difficulties of going head-to-head with any of the major broadcasts?  Could a one-off weeknight race bring more attention than many of the others do.

The networks are already tinkering with the start times for races next year, a move sure to annoy a lot of people, which shows that there are small openings for change.  Some might argue that night races in general are a lackluster product, and they might be right.  But sticking with the same thing repeatedly in a move that looks obstinate and short-sighted is just as big an issue.  

Just an idea, of course. Happiness Is doesn’t run the show.

Let’s get happy.  

Happiness Is…Pressure.  Four races remain until NASCAR’s playoffs begin in the Cup series.  Prior to this weekend’s race at Bristol eleven drivers are locked in with a potential twelfth (looking at you Chris Buescher) in a position to claim a spot with a couple decent finishes.  Maybe.  That means that we’ve moved to when most people would use the cliche crunch time.  That works well enough.

For the drivers without a win and in solid position to make the Chase, they can ill afford any slip-ups or stupid mistakes.  That’s a group that is within a 52 range, though Chase Elliott sits in the best position of the lot.  Kyle Larson is the one who has the slimmest margin to work with, and for the third year driver this would be a time to shine – even if that first career Cup win has alluded him.

Photo: Zach Catanzareti
What’s under the bodywork Jimmie Johnson? (Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

As for those drivers who’ve banked wins, these last four races are a time to get things right, get everyone on the same proverbial page and hone nailing the little things.  Some teams may start running actual Chase set ups, while Chad Knaus is probably still putting Frankenstein together for Jimmie Johnson to drive.  Regardless, the off weekend primed these two groups for a stretch run, while also giving them all time to energize – meaning that it’d be wonderful if the craziness of a Bristol night race might return to some of its former glory.  

Happiness Is…Ratings.  One of the favorite targets to indicate that NASCAR is no longer worthy of attention is ratings.  According to TV viewership, everything is wrong with the sport, no one is watching, probably no one is reading about NASCAR and heck, this column should have ended four years ago when everything went belly up.  But that’s all really a shell game.  The sport moved from over-the-air channels to higher-tier cable ones, just as many sports have done, in an attempt for networks to build equity in lesser established networks.  Sure, they may have shunted fans but somewhere in their corporate hierarchy they’ve crunched the numbers and they’re happy.  

That makes watching the ratings over the next few weeks one of the more entertaining aspects of the sport.  With the monster known as football set to devour the TV the question will be focus on just what kind of drop, or not, NASCAR may face as the preseason intensifies and college games begin.  If the drop is a minute, and it very well may be, that’ll be a great sign.  

Happiness Is…Pocono.  This year Pocono may best be remembered for giving NASCAR one of its most surprising winners in Chris Buescher.  Last year, however, Pocono had the spotlight turned on it for one of the more unfortunate motorsports stories of the year when IndyCar driver Justin Wilson lost his life after colliding with a piece of debris.  This weekend IndyCar returns to Pocono.  

The championship battle looks like one between Simon Pagenaud and Will Power but really, with four races to go and double points available at the finale, to conclude it’s a two driver race is premature.  The championship aside, IndyCar recently announced that they’re making headway on designing a better racing cockpit that will protect the drivers.  Such move follows Formula 1 and their efforts to become safer – with a peculiar parallel being that neither series quite knows when they might implement such measures.  

For now, let’s give a nod to two drivers to be remembered at Pocono: Bryan Clauson and Justin Wilson.  

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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