NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Beside The Rising Tide: Bad Moon Rising

Some weeks, topics to write about after a race are obvious. Then, there are races like this weekend’s event at Kansas City, just another generic McRace at yet another one-and-a-half-mile McTrack of the sort that popped up like dandelions on a spring lawn back in the waning era of NASCAR’s Boom Years.

I’m trying to be more positive lately so let’s look at the bright side. There’s absolutely no denying the race was 267 laps in duration. Foul weather didn’t throw a wrench into the weekend plans though it threatened to late in the XFINITY Series race. A careful study of the atlas or more likely Google Maps indicates that the track remains located in Kansas, whereas most people associate Kansas City with the state of Missouri. (You could have offered a valuable geographical insight to your child in middle school noting that Kansas City is located in two states, much like Bristol which is in both Virginia and Tennessee. Then, you could have asked them to fetch you a beer, put a pot of coffee on and extinguish the burning cell phone.)

I have it on no less an authority than an episode of COPS on FOX that the Kansas side of Kansas City was the not-so-nice half of the city, home to most of the drug dealers and prostitutes in the area until NASCAR ruined the party, ironically by adding a casino. And you can argue until you’re blue in the face but there’s no way you’ll ever convince me there wasn’t a full moon at night after the Kansas race. I don’t want to hear your conspiracy theories: it happened. Watching that full moon rise Sunday night was every bit as exciting as Sunday’s race and it was interrupted by far less commercials.

Yep, as NASCAR looks for its Goldilocks Moments, perhaps last weekend’s race at Charlotte was a bit too hot with way too much wrecking going on. On the flip side, Sunday’s race at Kansas City didn’t have much in the way of action to recommend it. I’m not talking about wrecks; I’m not a big fan of those. But an occasional on-track pass for the lead is always welcome so Kansas City was a bit too cool for my tastes.

Where do we find our just right moment? 1992. That’s the last time there was a legitimate and exciting point battle going on this late in the season minus any machinations or various forms of the Chase. Back in 1992, the race immediately after Charlotte was the Rock, the good old North Carolina Speedway. (And the two races leading up to Charlotte were Martinsville and North Wilkesboro. How’d you like to be able to travel back in time, take a month’s vacation, throw your REM, Tom Petty and John Mellencamp CDs and a few cases of Coors Light in the back of a Fox body Mustang GT and hit those four races?)

(Photo: Russell LaBounty/NKP)
Single-file racing at Kansas was all too common throughout Sunday’s Sprint Cup 400-miler. (Photo: Russell LaBounty/NKP)

It seems obvious but to the people with the clout to change things it must not be. In order to stage good races, you need to hold them at good racetracks. This whole concept where ovals had to be of intermediate length with moderate banking to allow them to accommodate open wheel Indy-car style events in addition to stock cars died on the vine. IndyCar hasn’t raced at Kansas since 2010 and yet NASCAR fans are still saddled with two race dates a year at the track. (Coincidentally, I’m sure, the second Cup date there was added in 2011, the first year the open-wheel sorts stopped showing up. The track is owned by NASCAR’s sister company ISC and NASCAR must have just been feeling benevolent towards them. Certainly, there’s no conflict of interest in one family running both organizations.) Let it be said that Kansas City is one of those tracks that deserves a second date about as much as Jeffrey Dahmer.

I’m finally getting to be a higher-tech redneck though admittedly I still typically go to a buddy’s kid or one of my nieces or nephews to figure out electronic gadgets and their vagaries. Nowadays, I compose a grocery list on my cell phone rather than the traditional notepad and pen I used for years. On those rare occasions I could find the notepad I never could find a pen; people also look funny at a middle-aged guy whose grocery list is written in crayon on loose-leaf paper.

I’ve even got it set up so that four times a year without my needing to enter anything two rolls of Rolaids are automatically added to that Wednesday’s list. That’s in preparation for NASCAR’s four restrictor plate race weekends. Honestly and without the least bit of exaggeration, plate races cause me enough anxiety that my stomach genuinely does churn and for four weekends a year I know I’m going to be biting my fingernails until some of them bleed. I’m sure this challenge won’t be going on much longer, though. NASCAR said back in 1988 when they mandated the plates for Talladega and Daytona that they were a “temporary measure” to slow speeds until a more workable solution could be found. After 28 years, I’m sure they’ve almost got that new solution ready because it’s not like NASCAR is a bunch of liars or anything, right?

Odds ‘N’ Ends

Rick Allen, roused from his afternoon nap to pretend to be excited at the finish of the race, is trying to get people to adopt the nickname of “The Bull” for Kevin Harvick. I hereby go on record as saying I won’t be participating and it’s an indefensibly stupid idea anyway. Apparently this nonsense started as a result of video Harvick (who I don’t call “Happy” either) posted on some social media outlet, doubtless one favored by creepy Ken Bone. In the clip, which must have been shot at a bullfight one of the bulls gets loose and enters the grandstand doing who knows how much physical harm to the spectators. We’ll see just how amusing Mr. Allen finds it if a car finally makes it through the catchfence and the grandstands this weekend at Talladega. We’ve already had too many close calls to enumerate in that regard and even considering the carnage that could result is nauseating.

Ah, the subtle education of a rookie Cup driver. After a late-race debris caution at Michigan cost Chase Elliott a very good shot at a win (he was leading with a handful of laps to go) a somewhat cross (or as cross as he’s managed to date) Elliott said he should have known a debris caution was in the cards. NASCAR always does that late in a race to spice things up, right?

Soon thereafter, young Master Elliott apologized for that remark saying he had slipped in the heat of the moment. He was probably lucky to escape a large monetary fine for “conduct detrimental to yada, yada, yada” or “disparaging the product.” Funny thing was when Elliott cut down a tire late at Kansas and really could have used a caution, no yellow flag flew so he went three laps down limping to the pits. That happened despite markedly similar incidents in the same race which did draw a caution. As such it appears most likely, absent a miracle win at Talladega, Chase will be eliminated next week. Now if we can just find a way to eliminate The Chase entirely next year….

I’m not a network programmer. I don’t even play one on TV. But next weekend’s slate on the NBC family of networks has me a bit confused. The Talladega Cup race will run on cable outlet NBCSN. That’s no big deal. NASCAR fans have gotten used to having our races run in the 200s ghetto of “premium cable.” Meanwhile, over on the mothership, NBC the network will be covering F1, as in the United States Grand Prix from Texas. (I am toying with a short story wherein an Arcadian from rural England gets his first exposure to the United States at the Grand Prix in Texas of all places and comes away with a very skewed outlook on what America is like.) The two races will be running concurrently, for the most part.

OK, so Cup TV ratings have been dropping precipitously but NASCAR still easily outdraws the Formula One events, some of which are hosted by countries that weren’t even on the globe when I was born. To further confuse the issue, this week both the Cup and NXS races were broadcast on the mothership. The “bread and circus” atmosphere of the plate races with the near constant threat of the “Big One” is stock car racing meant to appeal to the least common denominator, the sort that actually do watch the races hoping for wrecks. Since that includes a large proportion of the non-race or casual race fan population (I won’t call them Deplorables here) usually those races get the over-the-air broadcast slots on the schedule. On a brighter note, none of the races mentioned will be on the NASCAR network because that’s not a thing, despite some fevered daydreaming by the France family a decade ago.

(Photo: Russell LaBounty/NKP)
Dominance by Cup drivers like Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson in NASCAR’s XFINITY Series has the sport looking at limiting the number of Cup full-timers that can run there next year. (Photo: Russell LaBounty/NKP)

Race car drivers in general are superstitious; some fans and even scribes can be as well. It bothered me all Saturday, like a grain of rice caught between two molars, why the car Kyle Larson was driving was giving me the creeps. In the end, it came to me. The pink and yellow paint job was too close to that of Neil Bonnett’s last ride, the Chevy he died practicing at Daytona in 1994. Meanwhile, Erik Jones might have some unhappy memories of that gaudy paint scheme as well after Larson ran into the back of him while the NXS regular was leading. Ty Dillon had to be feeling less than kindly towards Larson as well. Not surprisingly, Monday NASCAR said they are studying some ideas on further limiting the number of Cup drivers who can compete in the NXS races. (Like oh, I don’t know, not allowing any Cup driver in the top 25 in points on the Cup side to race on Saturdays?) It’s a classic case of what we used to call locking the barn door after the horse is gone. Since 2011, Cup drivers have won 70 percent (138) of 196 races in the sport’s “AAA” series.

Things are always evolving. What exists is never quite good enough and someone is always looking to improve it. Sometimes, that backfires. (Ask anyone placing their Samsung Galaxy S7 into a fireproof bag to return it. It’s new and improved with far lusher graphics. Of course it might set your SUV on fire in the driveway, kill your family in their sleep and bring down an airliner, but it does have an earphone bud!) That’s why I’m a bit hesitant about the idea of adding lights at Martinsville just about 70 years after the track was constructed.

Yes, we have had a lot of weather issues with NASCAR races this season. (And with later start times next year we’ll likely endure more.) If the lights are intended to maximize the chance that fans in the stands will get to see the race that same day, I’m all for them. On the other hand, I’d hate to see either or both of the Martinsville Cup events moved to nighttime. Yeah, things change and everything is constantly in flux, but can’t longtime fans have just two weekends a year, Sunday afternoon races that start by one and are run on little-bitty bullring short tracks in close quarters? Who cares if the track might not have the latest amenities, like, say, fireproof trash cans to dispose of your exploding cell phone?

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Janice

i think nbc is carrying f1 cause this series more or less, ends on time and nbc doesn’t want to have sunday night football kickoff screwed up with a late running dega race with it’s high possibility of carnage and mayhem to sort out. and also mother nature hasn’t been kind this year, but so far no mention of rain in alabama this weekend. however, here in west georgia we sure could use some. the drought has settled in to stay a while. i’m sure the party crowd at dega will be bumming that open burning is banned.

Mike

It’s been nearly a month since it rained in my neck of Dixie. Supposed to have better chance towards the end of the week.

Mike

Excellent as always, Matt. Oh how I miss North Wilkesboro and Rockingham. To his credit the irascible Kyle Busch mentioned in the McNews 12 Questions blurb that returning NW and the Rock would help cure the nascrap blues.

Q: Let’s say president of NASCAR was an elected position voted on by the drivers – and you decided to run. What would one of your campaign promises be?

A: This could be a sticky one in how you answer it. But I’d like to think most all of us would agree more short tracks and more road courses on the schedule would be fun. I think the fans would like to see that and I think they’d like going back to some of the venues we’ve been at previously – like North Wilkesboro or Rockingham.

When we run Charlotte, we run here three times a year. Yeah, you’re going to get people from those other areas to come watch this race, but I think if you ran at each track once, you’d probably get more people to go there than you would getting everyone to come to the same track over and over.

paltex

Though not a fan of Fox by any stretch, the NBC guys are TERRIBLE. Another reason I don’t watch nascar very much. Other reasons listed at the bottom of the first article.

Max

Matt, there is an excellent article at Autoextremist written by Pete De Lorenzo about Nascar finding a sponsor at a much-reduced rate (which is a certainty) and why.
Fact is, even though those at Daytona would never acknowledge it, Nascar is falling out of popularity with racing enthusiasts primarily due to the litany of poor and downright ridiculous decisions made over the last 10 or 12 years (read Brian France) that have hurt this series, possibly terminally.
My gut feeling is that this series is going to wind up contracting over the next several years because the money isn’t going to keep flowing like it has (especially with vastly reduced sponsor money) and reduced TV ratings as well as attendance.
As De Lorenzo states, this sport is going to return to it’s regional roots whether it likes it or not.
That may in fact be the best thing you and I could hope for.
But for sure, it is on the wane and even though I still attend approximately 5 races a year I see fewer and fewer folks in the stands. And this is at tracks that used to be overflowing.
The are few instances in the world where the stars align to the point one man can ruin and affect the fortunes of something so good so substantially that it can’t survive. Brian France has pulled it off with Nascar.

Bill B

Thanks for pointing that article out Max, I just read it. While I agree with everything in the article I feel that he neglected to, or purposely decided not to, mention the fact that a lot of NASCAR’s issues are the result of Brian deciding to go to war with his die-hard fan base. There was no mention of the 2 ton gorilla in the corner that we call the chase or any of the other rules BF has put in place that weren’t received well by the fans. Anyway, while it’s sad to see how low the once mighty NASCAR has sunk, I can’t help but feel they are getting a good dose of what they deserve. Ignoring your customers is never a good idea.
Death to the emperor!!!

wildcatfan2016

I read that article as well, thanks Max for pointing it out. Yeah going to war with your customer base and essentially telling them they aren’t needed or wanted any more is seldom a good plan. Do it long enough and people decide they don’t need to show up or tune in. Not sure if Pete just ignored that fact or not but certainly it, along with the Chase, the COT and cookie cutter tracks, are factors in why the sport lost its luster.

Dan

How about “Bonehead” for Harvick. Would fit well with all the bonehead things he’s done over the years.

Ken Smith

Any cup driver that is in the top 20 in points SHOULD NOT be allowed in any Xfinity race – period! The clowns that be keep saying they will lose fans. Have you counted the fans at an Xfinity race lately? Be pretty hard to lose any! I personally enjoy them more when there are no Cup drivers in the race – and firmly believe they would actually gain attendance.

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