Thank you FOX Sports for such touching tributes to Darrell Waltrip. After last week’s article, I know I am in the minority who already misses DW. Whether you love or hate the man, there are not many opinions in the middle on old DW. If you weren’t moved by Stevie Waltrip’s “Letter to DW” segment, I worry about your humanity. If I didn’t infuriate you with my DW reverence last week (or admitting I like Nickleback) then this week I probably will with my expose about NASCAR fans.
Living Up to Stereotypes
After NASCAR beat writer Jeff Gluck released his poll results on whether fans liked or disliked the race at Sonoma Raceway, I was left with only one conclusion. This wasn’t some shoot-from-the-hip conclusion — this is something I have been living in denial of for many years. In any walk of life, there is a good reason for some stereotypes … because, while they certainly don’t fit everyone in a particular group, they got established because there is some level of truth to the stereotype about a group.
One of my joys of working across the sports and entertainment landscape with DMIC Media is that I get to interact with many non-racing and non-NASCAR fans. They are quick to let me know what the non-racing fan’s stereotype of NASCAR fans, in particular, is all about.
But look at the data about which races other than the Daytona 500 have been the most popular with fans over the past 30 years. Talladega Superspeedway turned into the Mecca of NASCAR racing for many fans after the addition of the restrictor plate. Attendance and television ratings are higher for that event than most other NASCAR events.
Need more evidence that the stereotype about NASCAR fans might be accurate? Since the reconfiguration of Bristol Motor Speedway, the actual racing at BMS has improved by almost every standard except for one … crashes. The night race used to draw over 160,000 rabid NASCAR fans who rose as one with every crash and every driver altercation. Now, with a multi-groove track at Bristol, the crashes have gone away and so has the fan base. Meanwhile, despite attendance dropping at most tracks, Talladega continues to be the big draw as fans wait for the inevitable “Big One.”
Nobody wants to see a race car driver get hurt, especially not NASCAR fans. But NASCAR fans love crashes. Look at the top rated races in Jeff Gluck’s poll and they usually have a big crash at the end that set up a crazy finish. Many NASCAR fans raved about the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL race last year and are thrilled they are going to see the carnage-filled crash-fest again. But if the changes to the track lead to less spectacular wrecks, don’t be shocked when the fans no longer love the ROVAL. Many NASCAR fans live up to the stereotypes of loving crashes, and attendance and television rating data proves it!
Editor’s Note: Dennis has officially changed his name and gone into the Race Fan Protection Program, so please put your torches and pitchforks away.
Pulling for Those Underdogs
Last week was a huge week for NASCAR fans who love underdogs. Many years ago for Frontstretch, I wrote a piece called “The Other Side of the Garage,” profiling small budget teams in the then-Busch Series after a race at Rockingham Speedway (Busch Series and Rockingham? Yes indeed I have been doing this a long time).
I was thrilled to see the connection that some NASCAR fans had with the underdog teams. Guys like Mike and Kenny Wallace had such diehard fan bases, I was impressed. But even guys like Mike Harmon, who still manages to keep things going today, had their loyal fan bases, and then of course there is Morgan Shepherd.
Nowadays, there is even a fun Twitter account to follow called “NASCAR Low Teams (@low_NASCAR)” that does a great job following the smaller budget guys. Even if you root for another driver in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series, didn’t you smile when Ross Chastain and Niece Racing got their win to earn a spot into the playoffs (barring he gets in the top 20 in points)? Weren’t you thrilled to see Matt DiBenedetto score a top-five finish at Sonoma in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for Leavine Family Racing? The driver who calls himself “Guido” because nobody seems to spell or say his last name right is much more talented than his finishes have shown, but he keeps getting the most out of his equipment.
Back in the good old days of NASCAR, this would earn him a shot with a higher-funded team, but of course, in today’s NASCAR, his job will be in jeopardy if someone else can bring more sponsorship dollars. While there will always be a huge population of NASCAR fans who are the bandwagon jumpers for the top guys in the sport, there is a certain segment of the NASCAR fan population that will always be pulling for those underdogs.
Fantasy Insight: Chicagoland Speedway
Looking Back to Last Week’s Picks
Win: Kevin Harvick– Finished sixth
Place: Kyle Busch-Finished second
Show: Clint Bowyer-Finished 11th
Long Shot: Michael McDowell-Finished 25th
Last week, I knew one of the smaller teams would have success at Sonoma, but I picked the wrong one. This week, as NASCAR heads back to an intermediate speedway, it will be tougher for the little guys to prevail.
Before NASCAR started cutting down the horsepower, we were actually seeing more unique winners by this time in the season than the last two years when only six different teams have reached victory lane. The rules NASCAR put in place to attempt to even the playing field have had the opposite effect. Ten of the first 16 races have been won by Joe Gibbs Racing. Five other races have been won by Team Penske, leaving only one race for the other teams in the garage area. There is no reason to think this dominance will change this week at Chicagoland in the heat of Summer on a slick track.
Win: Kyle Busch-It’s his turn to win again at JGR
Place: Brad Keselowski-Two wins and eight top 10s in 10 races at Chicagoland
Show: Martin Truex Jr.– Neck and neck with his teammate for best driver in Cup right now
Long Shot: Erik Jones (25-to-1 odds) Finished sixth last time at Chicagoland and races for the team that wins the most races