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(Photo: John Harrelson/NKP)

NASCAR Mailbox: Talk About Racing, Not Events Outside of It

There is a pattern occurring in the sports world that is a bit shocking to some; one that is quite concerning, and frankly a bit absurd.

But, at the same time, the counterargument for it is reasonable.

Throughout the entire sports world, media personalities and fans are raving about athletes doing things (good or bad) outside of their respective arenas. Headlines this week include Carmelo Anthony’s private life with his wife, along with a basketball family that is quite spoiled, featuring a father who is being given a voice for no good reasons that come to mind.

Yeah, that is not what sports are about. Sports are about action and intensity on and off the playing field.

The best part about sports, however, is how athletes give back. And those are the stories that need to be talked about more often.

But this year specifically, in the NASCAR world, the talk is not about racing. It’s about Danica Patrick‘s sponsors. It’s about concussions. It’s about retirement. It’s about rules.

It’s not about the racing itself, and that is a problem.

Q: Why is all the talk this year around events happening in NASCAR and not the racing itself? – Mike L., Portland, Oregon

A: NASCAR is in the midst of a critical time. The sport has no choice other than to succeed as it continues to adjust to the Monster Energy phase.

Young faces and a new brand are just a small part of NASCAR’s new way to turn the focal point of media talk away from the competition side to the storylines off the racetrack.

However, that is not what needs to be done.

NASCAR should be basking in the success of its biggest race, the Daytona 500, this year. The Great American Race earned a five percent increase in ratings from last year, ascending to 11.9 million viewers compared to 2016’s 11.4 million. While the numbers aren’t outstanding, an increase is an increase, and that increase was not due to Monster Energy. Rather, it is due to NASCAR’s hard work at making the racing phenomenal, which it was.

The talk in the Camping World Truck Series continues to be about how great the racing is. In the XFINITY Series, it’s the opposite due to a downforce package that gives the leaders too much of an aerodynamic advantage compared to the competition.

But in the Cup Series, when is the last time you heard a driver even peep a sound about the lack of downforce in this year’s aero package? You haven’t, at least not yet, and that’s a problem.

The racing in the Cup Series is solid seven races into the season.

Undoubtedly, the stage racing that NASCAR implemented — largely thanks to Monster Energy’s focus on making things more exciting — is doing just that. We’ve seen battles upon battles to end stages at nearly every race this year, and it has lead to some fantastic highlights.

The racing at the end of the stages is exciting, featuring something that was missing from NASCAR for quite some time, and that is aggression in the middle of a race. This new format presents a challenge to drivers, and more importantly, an incentive to do well early in the contests.

But at times, the competition returns to not so much dull, but rather predictable. Excluding the Daytona 500 because of its sheer awesomeness in 2017, the number of lead changes is down this year, sitting at 89 compared to last season’s 109 after seven races.

20 fewer lead changes is a problem. If anything, that number should have increased coming into 2017 given NASCAR’s knowledge of how well last year’s package ran. The low-downforce and high horsepower package that has continuously been tested was clearly a fan favorite.

But with competition not peaking like it is capable of, the talk is being centered to events occurring off the track. It’s a good distraction for the time being while NASCAR looks to work on the aero package for the latter stages of the 2017 season.

One thing NASCAR must not do is settle. It cannot settle for this package. The racing in the middle of the field is great. There is plenty of passing and action in that part of the Cup Series. But up front, where the cameras are centered, the action is limited, excluding the end of stages and on restarts, and that needs to be fixed.

While talk in all sports will always revolve around events outside of the action because that is where the great stories truly lie, there still needs to be a nice mix of discussion on the events themselves that make these people well-known.

Ben Kennedy is getting an expanded chance to flex his racing muscle since joining GMS Racing for 12 events. (Photo: Brett Moist /
NKP)

Q: Ben Kennedy is getting at least 12 more XFINITY Series races thanks to GMS Racing. What does this mean for him? – Lindsey B., Scranton, Penn. 

A: GMS Racing should be really excited about this move. Not only does it give Spencer Gallagher a teammate, but it gives the team multiple cars for a chunk of the 2017 season.

Ben Kennedy ran very well in his XFINITY Series debut last year for Richard Childress Racing, picking up a top 10 at Iowa Speedway after setting the pace in multiple practice sessions. While he returns to RCR for nine races this year, a boost of 12 races in his schedule is never a bad thing.

Instead of sitting on the sidelines, Kennedy will be getting plenty of action in the sport’s second-tier division, even if it isn’t with the powerhouse of RCR.

Kennedy will work with a familiar face in Jeff Stankiewicz in the No. 96 Chevrolet, continuing a pairing that worked together in two contests in 2016 in the Truck Series.

But for Kennedy, this opportunity is a major one that he should do well with. Gallagher is starting to get adjusted to the XFINITY Series, with three straight top 20s entering Bristol Motor Speedway. For the organization’s first full-time season in the division, that isn’t too bad at all.

And Kennedy is certainly capable of doing well. He won his first Truck Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway last August while driving for GMS Racing in a situation that obviously wasn’t ideal. He started out the year with Red Horse Racing before making an early-season swap to GMS, where he originally swapped between the Nos. 24 and 33 trucks.

Eventually, the No. 33 became his and only his, and the Florida native set his sights on the playoffs. Kennedy continued to impress following his win, racking up a pair of top fives and three top 10s in the last 10 events.

The results were enough to give him a shot with RCR, and while the folks over there are still waiting to see what he is capable of, expectations are high after his debut went so well last year.

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About Joseph Wolkin

Joseph Wolkin
Joseph started with Fronstretch in Aug. 2014 and worked his way up to become an editor in less than a year. A native of Whitestone, New York, Joseph writes for NASCAR Pole Position magazine as a weekly contributor, along with being a former intern at Newsday and the Times Beacon Record Newspapers, each on Long Island. With a focus on NASCAR, he runs our social media pages and writes the NASCAR Mailbox column, along with other features for the site.

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5 comments

  1. Avatar

    Just look at the articles Frontstretch runs (and this not meant to single out or knock Frontstretch) Few if any are on the actual racing. They are either “fluff” pieces, or about some team getting a race sponsorship. Now that there is mandated parity between brands, you dont have arguments about spoiler height, or flexible rear glass, etc.
    Just kind of boring.

  2. Avatar

    Perhaps its just a byproduct of the digital age. There being no need to talk about the racing after the event because everybody already knows, and has analysed what happened. But it seems that what passes for racing news these days, is about a new one race wrap for the various cars, or some drivers new spaghetti recipe. Hardly the stuff to keep interest at a fever pitch throughout the year. But I suppose this where we are at now.

  3. Avatar

    In one breath you say, “We’ve seen battles upon battles to end stages at nearly every race this year, and it has lead to some fantastic highlights,” and just one breath later you add, “the number of lead changes is down this year, sitting at 89 compared to last season’s 109 after seven races.”

    How do you reconcile the shocking inconsistency between those two statements?

    • Avatar

      When I read that I wondered if the stages themselves are causing fewer lead changes. One hypothesis I had was maybe there are fewer green flag pit stops now with the predetermined cautions. Green flag stops result in a lot of lead changes as different drivers come in and others stay out for a couple of extra laps.
      So, the question I have is, are the number of green flag pit stops where the whole field cycles through down this year?

    • Avatar

      Another thought. Since you no longer get points for leading a lap there is no incentive to stay out during green flag pit stops to get a point, so maybe more guys are pitting at the same time once the first driver comes in.

      If either of those conditions are factors in the number of lead changes then all it proves is that the number of lead changes is not an indicator of how good the racing is. A lead change as a result of the leader pitting isn’t really a lead change resulting from close racing.