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(Photo: John K. Harrelson/NKP)

Beside The Rising Tide: Two Day Only!

And then, there were two. A few rambling thoughts as NASCAR heads off for Phoenix….

33% Off This Weekend Only!

After trial runs at Pocono, Indianapolis, Watkins Glen, and Martinsville, NASCAR plans to schedule more two-day race weekends starting next season. They prefer that we all refer to those shortened race weekends as “enhanced” but that sounds awkward at best.

Traditionally, NASCAR events have been three-day weekends. Qualifying kicks off Friday, a support race heads up Saturday and the Big Show comes on Sunday. Of course, traditionally the Sunday races started at 1 p.m. ET, too, but NASCAR ash-canned that tradition.

Supposedly, the shorter weekends will result in lower costs for race teams who will pay less in lodging, salaries, and meal expenses. Perhaps more importantly it gives the crew members, most of whom are burnt to a crisp by midseason another day at home. They can have meals with the family and sleep in their own beds, a rare treat with the current 38-event schedule and races having been moved from the Southeast to hither and yon.

It could even save fans some money. Unless, of course, the hospitality industry (motels and hotels) want to stick to their archaic three and even four night minimum stays on race weekends. You all know who I blame this sport’s problems on mainly but the “hospitality” industry is a close second. It remains to be seen if the tracks discount tickets to reflect the shorter weekends as well.

I’m still on the fence about the whole idea. If NASCAR wants to try it, I do hope that they move qualifying for the Cup race to after the support races. That way, a fan could buy a ticket to the XFINITY or Truck race and get to see the Cup regulars qualify as well. Typically, Saturday tickets are substantially cheaper than Sunday so that would be a good value.

What’s not acceptable is to have a situation like recently where speeds at Kansas decided pit road selection at Martinsville, a track where a good pit stall is a key advantage. NASCAR said that with the two-day schedule there wouldn’t be time between the end of qualifying and the start of the race for teams to set up their pit boxes. That’s interesting. When rain moves a Saturday race to a Sunday morning start time, somehow the Cup teams still get their pit stalls set up well before the main event begins. Yep, they have to hustle but it’s doable.

Honestly though, qualifying isn’t the draw it used to be prior to the Cup event anyway. With 40 or less cars showing up on a typical race weekend it’s rare for that to even decide which driver(s) will be sent home. Judging by the size of the Friday “crowds” on hand on a non-enhanced weekend to see qualifying I’d guess the majority of them are campers who show up for a four-day weekend and wander over to the track to see what all the noise is about.

For those fans whose life circumstances are such that they’re are able to drive an RV or tow a travel trailer to race weekends, it’s still a pleasant weekend, a break from the routine. If some of their old friends no longer attend, than perhaps the quality of the people you share the campground with is more important than the quantity.

We’ll Make it Fit… Somehow

Someone in FOX’s programming department got awfully optimistic scheduling Friday night’s Truck Series broadcast. Somehow or another, the 147-lap race was supposed to start just after 8 p.m. ET and conclude by 9:30 so that the network could switch over to college football. (And again, maybe someone was a bit optimistic thinking fans on the east coast were going to watch a three-and-a-half hour game that would conclude somewhere around 1 a.m. Saturday morning.)

Friday night’s race was slowed five times for cautions but there were no major incidents. Still, the race overshot its time slot by almost a half-hour. One of the unspoken problems that helped produce the problem is the new “segment” racing being used for the first time this year. The first two segments of the race were 37 laps each. After that, the field ran under caution for about seven laps, about typical in all three series this season to date. With a 60 mph speed limit under yellow, each lap of the one-and-a-half mile track took about ninety seconds. That’s about ten minutes and, of course, there were the two “time outs” which adds up to about twenty minutes of an hour and 45 minute race. (Green to checkers, not including pace laps, etc.) That’s way too much down time during a race and it bit FOX Friday night.

I’m told some folks like the new segment racing. Then again, I’m told some people enjoy a root canal as well.

One of Those Game 7 Moments

Game 7 of the World Series was broadcast on Halloween with a TV rating of 15 and approximately 25 million viewers (plus their really pissed off would be trick-or-treaters) watching. Game 2 of the Series, played on a Thursday night, drew 15 million viewers. (For comparison’s sake, the Martinsville race recently drew 2.8 million viewers and that was up from last year’s numbers.) So who was saying that NASCAR can’t race on weeknights because there’d be no audience for it? If you can’t beat reruns of the Big 4 networks during the summer, perhaps the problem isn’t when you hold events or where you run races but what those events are like.

A Horse is a Horse, Of Course, Of Course

After some blowback after he gave Jeff Gordon’s kids two ponies as retirement gifts to their dad, Texas Motor Speedway track GM Eddie Gossage wised up this weekend. While he had a horse paraded into the press box for Dale Earnhardt Jr., the driver merely got to name the beast, which will go on to live its life as a therapy animal. (Hopefully, not aboard any airliners.)

What is it with people giving people horses lately? After David Letterman retired, Conan O’Brien paid a very nice tribute to one of the foremost late night TV hosts so Letterman responded by sending O’Brien a horse. It was supposed to be a gag gift and returned but Conan’s wife fell in love with the animal and decided to keep it. But you know what they say about Texas. If it wasn’t for all the horse and bull crap, it would be the size of Louisiana….

Uh-oh, Better Get Maaco

Who says NASCAR plays favorites? In a not so surprising move, HMS decided to run a one-race special paint scheme at Texas to commemorate Earnhardt Jr.’s final start at the track where he won his first Cup event. But the paint scheme ran afoul of NASCAR’s rule that the left and right side of the car can’t be painted or decaled differently to avoid confusion among the spotters and scorers.

That probably means somewhere between China and Los Angeles, there’s a big ocean freighter stuffed to the gills with limited edition diecast No. 88 cars that don’t look anything like what Earnhardt raced on Sunday. (James Hylton was the first to run afoul of this rule way back in 1982 at Nashville. Never heard of James Hylton? That’s OK. He’s likely never heard of you either. But Hylton did finish second or third in the points seven times between 1966 and 1975.)

Diminished Expectations

In a (politely put) less than stellar “post-season” to date Martinsville was the one memorable race that had people talking all week debating all things short track but most especially the Chase Elliott/Denny Hamlin incident. Yes, some folks were beyond outraged. My favorite comment in my inbox this week was that Joe Gibbs ought to respond by firing Hamlin and putting Matt Kenseth in the No. 11 car next year. Not gonna happen, campers, but you get an A for originality.

To say Texas was a bit of a letdown after Martinsville is a severe understatement. Maybe with a few years of wear and weather the reconfigured TMS layout will produce multi-groove racing and some side-by-side action. But there was damn little of either in evidence Sunday as our despised nemesis “Aero Push” shouldered its way back center stage.

At least I liked the free horse part. Once upon a time, not all that long ago, the circuit would have been at Rockingham this weekend and I have little doubt the racing would have been a damn sight better. Switching Rockingham for Texas has got to be the worst deal in real estate since the Native Americans sold Manhattan.

As it stands written in the Book Of Jerry….

The bottles stand as empty, as they were filled before.
Time there was and plenty, but from that cup no more.
Though I could not caution all, I still might warn a few:
Don’t lend your hand to raise no flag atop no ship of fools.

About Matt McLaughlin

Matt McLaughlin
Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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8 comments

  1. well no 1 p.m. starts means that I’ll be a “winter only” or bad weather race viewer. 2:30 or 3 p.m. start times are a “non starter” for me in the summer. I have other/better things to do than waste a nice sunny Sunday afternoon being bored or annoyed at the racing on tv.

    LOL, I like that NASCAR prefers “enhanced” weekend. Well there are lots of things I prefer too but since they aren’t likely to happen, NASCAR can whistle for it — the correct word is “shortened” for a compressed schedule.

  2. Halloween was game 6.

    Isn’t 3 PM ET start for Sonoma a 12 o’clock start in California. Hmmmmmm! Interesting start time in California.

  3. I guess the big question is will the tracks now take 1/3 off their ticket prices since they don’t have to staff the track that extra day? Or will they raise them because they have to make up the lost revenue from that lost day?

  4. dang, no racing starts at noon or 1 pm on the east coast.

    i wonder if tracks will try to do the buy ticket for saturday (friday night) race, buy ticket for qualifying or buy enhanced ticket for the saturday activities for a combined price of what qualifying on friday use to cost plus saturday activities.

    it will still be interesting to see what the first racing season without jr in field will do for the amount of spectators in the stands.

    when i read about the hendrick cars having two different painted sides to the cars, even i knew that would not be allowed. i was just surprised they would even try something like that.

    i could see racing during the week during the summer months when kids aren’t in school, for those who travel to attend the races in person. might be a nice change up.

    oh well, the long and winding road of the season is just about over. hopefully it won’t be snowing or icing the last weekend of february when they’re here in atlanta.

  5. Agreed. If they want to make it a two day deal, then qualifying and two practices on Saturday is the best way. It’s just plain stupid to have pit stall selections be based on qualifying from the prior track. But the chase is stupid too and we have that.

    I find that when there are no cautions the segment breaks are bearable, maybe ever welcome. But when there are legitimate cautions the segment breaks just add to the disjointed feeling the race can get when there are too many cautions.

  6. Now that there is no such thing as 1pm Eastern time start, I guess we will be treated to more enhanced weekends.
    Rule of thumb: Aside from a couple of exceptions (not naming such to keep this column PG), enhancements usually mean getting less for more.