The Young Guns Need Some Wins
After a day that started from the pole, 38 laps led and a good deal of optimism, Sunday’s Bristol race saw Chase Elliott finish 11th after some crash damage. Ryan Blaney, meanwhile, led 158 laps and finished a creditable fourth — no one, by the way, has led more laps (353) in 2019 without a win.
And I can’t help but feel the future prospects, success and growth of NASCAR are linked, in part, to sustained success from the likes of Blaney and the newly minted Most Popular Driver, Elliott. This is especially the case with Elliott, who showed last season with three wins (including his first) in the final 15 races that he can get it done when it counts and also how much it meant to those in the stands.
Although I don’t have the empirical data to back this up, (for which my humble apologies) from what I’ve seen and heard, no one and nothing motivates the fan base quite like the No. 9 car winning. With the recent retirement of so many popular drivers (Dale Earnhardt Jr, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, among others) there has been something of a vacuum to fill. And the likes of Elliott and Blaney are well positioned to step up from young pretenders to legit contenders.
The question is can they? The sport of NASCAR needs them to, that’s for sure.
I only knew Darrell Waltrip as a broadcaster and never saw a lap of his 29-year, 84-win, 809-race Hall of Fame career except in re-runs and highlights. This past week, Waltrip announced his retirement from the broadcast booth at the conclusion of the FOX portion of the schedule.
“I have been blessed to work with the best team in the sport for the past 19 years, but I’m 72 and have been racing in some form for more than 50 years,” Waltrip said. “I’m still healthy, happy and now a granddad, so it’s time to spend more time at home with my family, although I will greatly miss my FOX family.”
First things first, whatever your opinion is of Waltrip as a broadcaster, there’s no question he has been an incredibly important part of this crazy sport we love. And while I’m glad there will be a shake up in the booth (Chad Knaus, anyone?) in 2020, it would be remiss of me not to take a minute to respect and celebrate an amazing Hall of Fame career.
But like everything in life, nothing lasts forever, and it feels to me that this is the right time for Fox to make a change and to bring some younger blood into the booth alongside the excellent Jeff Gordon. Enjoy your retirement, DW, you’ve earned it. I suspect we’ll be seeing you around still.
Grand Prix Number 1000
This weekend, the Shanghai International Circuit in China will represent a momentous milestone for Formula One – the 1000th Grand Prix. By the numbers those 1000th GPs total 200, 377 on-track miles, enough to circle the earth eight times, with races taking place on 72 tracks in 32 different countries. 772 drivers have made at least one start with 33 drivers or 15 manufacturers winning the title.
Autodromo Nazionale di Monza in Italy has had the honor of hosting the higher number of Grand Prix (68) with the street circuit of Monaco a tick behind (65 races). Silverstone in the United Kingdom is third, hosting 52 Grand Prix including the first official F1 race in May of 1950. For the record, that first season encompassed just six races with Italian Nino Farina winning the inaugural championship.
This is race weekend number three of 21 in 2019, and after a strong weekend for Ferrari last time out (at least in terms of pace if not actual race results) it will be interesting to see if the team has Mercedes covered again. One driver itching to take to the track will be Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc who finished third with engine issues having dominated qualifying and the majority of the race. Don’t be surprised to see the 21-year-old French driver make it to the top step of the podium for the first time this weekend.
Next up, we head to the three-quarter mile Richmond Raceway, holding its 126th Cup race, a streak that runs all the way back to 1953. Lee Petty won the first race at Richmond, the sixth of the 1953 season, and just the 108th Cup race in the history of the sport.
Richard Petty, won 13 of his 200 Cup races at the circuit with only his record at Martinsville and North Wilkesboro (15 wins each) bettering his results at Richmond. Kyle Petty also scored the first of his eight Cup wins at the track.
Kyle Busch leads the way with six victories (and most top-five finishes with 17) among active drivers, including a sweep of both races last year, while Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin all have three wins. In other news, Richmond also picked up a NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race in 2020, the first time the trucks have raced at the venue since all the way back in 2005 — a race won by Mike Skinner.
Plenty of Seats Available
Wow, wasn’t it sad to see Bristol so sparsely filled this past weekend? I’ve seen estimates of a crowd around 36,000 which is under 25 percent of the available seats for a race that used to be the hottest ticket in town. This time around the track made the decision to close the sections in and behind the corners which made a terrible turnout seem almost marginally palatable. Now some of the issue is the hotel price gouging we see each week, a point Clint Bowyer made on Twitter the day before the race.
Had some curiosity after I came back from race today. Made some calls, this is what I got.
Johnson City Courtyard =$319, but are now taking walk-ins at $105. Hampton Inn= $308. But will be back down to $133 on Monday. Reason he gave was “it’s race weekend.”
Pisses me off!!!
— Clint Bowyer (@ClintBowyer) April 6, 2019
But the reality is, as we see every race weekend, fans are just quite simply not turning up in droves. I don’t claim to have a magic bullet here and I’ve always said get someone to the race you’ll make a fan for life, but if the decline carries on like this there literally won’t be any fans left who want to attend. Among NASCAR’s many issues, this is one of the big ones and with no clear and easy solution you can’t help but feel it will get worse before it gets better. I hope some smart folks are working on this because that was embarrassing.