The Race Team Alliance purchased media outlet Speed51.com last week. What do you think will come from this acquisition, and will it help the sport?
Frank Velat: Initially, this looks like a great way to connect the grassroots level of racing with top level NASCAR. If that is one of the outcomes, great for the RTA and even better for short track racing. There is one area that concerns me, though. I wouldn’t want to see Speed51 get extensively involved with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. This sets up an avenue for teams to funnel exclusive content to Speed51. You could see drivers being told that they can’t give interviews to other outlets or even team members being disciplined for allowing anyone but Speed51 to break big stories. I hope it never comes to that.
Wesley Coburn: Censorship, and a lot of it. No, it will further choke the momentum of a receding league and form of motorsports. It won’t happen immediately, and the pressure applied by the teams on the Speed51 staff will be indirect, but that will be the overall effect.
Josh Roller: If I were an owner, I would use this platform to give my sponsors more advertising and promote NASCAR events. I’d be shocked if more content from NASCAR teams didn’t find its way to Speed51. If it is another place for NASCAR fans to keep up with their favorite organizations, it can also help the coverage of what Speed51 already covers, which can lead to increases in grassroots racing interests. This can be positive for all parties involved if handled correctly.
Mike Neff: This is a curious move for sure. I know some people in the streaming sphere and we were discussing this when the rumors first came out a week or two ago. There are a couple different angles that this could take. Should the RTA attempt to start its own series, this would obviously give them a ready-made streaming offering. This is more likely a means of monetizing the local track NASCAR offering. It will not surprise me if this group takes over the production for FansChoice.tv and a subscription fee becomes a part of that offering.
If the Cup Series didn’t have a playoff system, the top three drivers in the standings would be separated by just four points. Do you favor the playoff format, and does that point scenario affect your opinion?
Neff: I do not favor the playoff format and it makes no difference what the points are right now. I am old school. Racing is a season-long sport that does not lend itself to the playoff idea. It should reward the team that is the best all season long. The team that perseveres through adversity in the difficult races and puts together the best effort all season. Right now your champion is whoever is hot at the end of the year. We’ve talked about it ad nauseum, but if Kyle Larson makes it to Homestead-Miami Speedway, the odds he wins the title are oppressive. It should not be that way.
Velat: The playoff format isn’t the problem for me. The issue is that there are too many teams in it. 16 is nearly half the field. It’s not as big of an accomplishment as it’s made out to be. 10 is the correct number. NASCAR expanded the field too much because people had their feelings hurt when guys like Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart missed the postseason. Too bad, try again next year. After race 26, 10 drivers should be in the playoffs, and each race the lowest driver in the standings is eliminated. That way, every race is an elimination race and every race is important. No one locks in anything and there are no mulligans. If NASCAR wants drama, that’s how you do it.
Amy Henderson: The playoff format does not and never has worked the right way in NASCAR. All it has done is cheapen the title for the driver who earns it. Let’s be clear: the champions under this format did everything right and won legitimately under the system they were given, and none of this is their fault. But it’s hard to believe they’re the same as full-season titles because of the points resets. The current system is the worst of all. One race determines the champion. One. Under the seasoning system, sure, it might be decided a week early and the title a runaway. But you could always be sure that that driver earned it. Now, there are questions, and that’s too bad, because the drivers deserve better.
Roller: The playoff format has grown on me, and I have enjoyed the past few playoffs immensely. Looking back in the history books, there is no guarantee that the top three will be separated by even 10 points with four races remaining. If the playoff system wasn’t in place, would the top three have raced differently that could change that championship picture? The current overall points scenario does not change my opinion. The playoff system is a stressful environment for teams, but it benefits NASCAR, TV, the tracks and ultimately the fans consistently more than a season-long points battle could.
Coburn: I like the playoff format, because who wants to see a Formula 1 title fight that wraps up with three races to go most of the time? Sure, the classic points are close this year, but in general, it keeps the last few races relevant. However, I started keeping up with NASCAR seriously in 2006. (The playoffs does, however, need to be only 12 drivers and they need to race among themselves, running a separate event for everyone else as a warmup.)
Does Garrett Smithley deserve to be vilified for affecting the outcome of last week’s Xfinity Series race?
Coburn: Probably not vilified, but this is at least the second time this season when he’s damaged a race-winning vehicle. It isn’t fair, but given the chasm of equipment backmarker and middle-of-the-pack teams have compared to the bug guns, the rules are different. That reputation for not following his class’ rules (staying out of the way) will make it much harder to find decent rides in the future.
Roller: No, absolutely not. There are plenty of slow cars out on the racetrack each race, and they regularly don’t cause issues or wrecks. The only concern I have is that if Garrett Smithley‘s spotter communicated to him that the leaders were coming on the high side and to stay low and he didn’t get that message, whatever the issue there was, needs to be addressed.
Velat: Once is a mistake, twice is a problem, three times is a pattern. Smithley shouldn’t be completely slammed here, but he’s trending the wrong direction — and he’s out of free passes. When you’re lapped, any incident you’re involved in with the leaders is going to be blamed on you because you are expected to vacate the preferred line. Sometimes that isn’t possible given the point on the track where the leaders catch you. Smithley and his spotter need to be aware that the benefit of the doubt no longer applies.
Neff: Yep, absolutely. His issue at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was more about what the faster cars chose to do. Smithley held his line and it was an unfortunate break that Kyle Busch ran into him. This weekend it was completely on Smithley. The leaders were coming. He had plenty of warning even if he didn’t hear it. He needed to hold his line low or at least give the leaders a lane at the top. The fact that he had zero situational awareness about what was going down ultimately cost Chase Briscoe and Christopher Bell the race. Totally his fault and he deserves to be roasted.
Henderson: Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Smithley (correctly) held his line at Las Vegas and Kyle Busch ran into him. He didn’t hold it at Kansas and caused an issue. Yes, that was his fault. Yes he was a lapped car. Certainly he needs to figure out why he didn’t hear his spotter and fix that. But he’s hardly the first driver to cause a wreck and he’s for sure not going to be the last. He’s not driving slow equipment for fun; he’s out there racing what he can and trying to improve. We used to admire drivers who did that, provided they learned from their mistakes.
Ratings for the Kansas Speedway race were the largest for NBC since last year’s Homestead finale. What caused the surge in viewership, and is it fair to say NASCAR’s long decade of sliding TV ratings is over?
Neff: I can’t begin to tell you why Kansas does good in the ratings game. The race was awful except for the very end. This isn’t an isolated incident, though. Traditionally Kansas pulls good numbers, and it is one of the most confusing things in the world because its races are almost always bad. That said, the TV ratings are rising back to an acceptable level. We’ll never see the boom years again, but we are on our way up from the bottom.
Coburn: It was probably a fluke caused by less-than-interesting NFL matchups, though being on normal NBC certainly helped. I don’t know we can say the downward slide is over, because those peaks aren’t coming back, and neither are Stewart, Earnhardt, Gordon or Edwards. But a new baseline average audience might be solidifying now that Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott are hitting their stride.
Velat: Hard to say for sure. There is more uncertainty regarding who the champion will be this year. In 2018, the Big Three was running roughshod over the competition and it was a foregone conclusion that one of them would take the title. We all know how that went. Now, Kyle Busch riding one of the longer stretches between wins in recent memory and seven different winners in the last eight races has fans seeing an unpredictable championship fight. When you feel like you don’t know how something will end, it increases the desire to tune in in order to see how things pan out. Will the uptick continue? Only time will tell.
Roller: I don’t want to say the slide is over, but there have been more increases in ratings in 2019 and fewer decreases. The ratings increase is great to see, and when declines have occurred, they usually haven’t been huge dives. NBC has done a great job promoting NASCAR this year across its other properties, in general racing has improved in 2019 and the dirty news like inspection failures and complaints from teams and drivers have gone down dramatically. Those three things can undoubtedly bring people in for the first time and keep people tuned in.