What’s going on this week?
There will be some big races over the next week.
On Saturday, April 4, NBC Sports Network will broadcast its first non-NASCAR esport presentation with the running of the iRacing IndyCar Challenge race from virtual Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. This follows last week’s race at Watkins Glen International, streamed live on Youtube, which was won by Sage Karam. This week’s entry list for the race is 29 entrants long, with Jimmie Johnson once again making a guest appearance.
Saturday night will feature Saturday Night Thunder, an event only open to non-Cup Series NASCAR drivers. The event will consist of multiple heat races at Bristol Motor Speedway and will be streamed on NASCAR’s website at an unannounced time.
Sunday will once again be the eNASCAR Pro Invitational Kinda Cup Only But Landon Cassill Is Still Here iRacing Series. Unlike the first two weeks, it will not be a single race at Bristol. Instead there will be two heat races, with the top split advancing to the main event. All lap counts have not been announced. This will also only be a field of invited current or former Cup drivers, with nobody advancing from the previous night’s Thunder event.
Every night next week from Monday to Thursday, NBCSN will feature the NBC eSports Short Track iRacing Challenge, which has an interesting format.
How is it compared to the Pro Series?
Said format is a multi-day event, featuring a much smaller field of drivers compared to the Pro event.
The first three nights, there will be six car timed races. The timed idea is very interesting, because one thing noticeable as far as Fox’s coverage has been how far out of its time window the iRacing events have gotten. In theory, the timed race should keep everything perfect from a television slot perspective, but at the same time, I’m sure a lot of drivers would rather have the laps because it gives them time to think about where to make moves and make smarter strategy calls in general. There’s a reason why the Pro Series, which NASCAR is involved in running, only does laps.
Six-car fields might be pretty great. It’s hard to figure out where people are with the combination of Fox’s haphazard tickers and iRacing’s failure to make a dynamic camera that doesn’t completely focus on one driver. With just six drivers in the race compared to Pro’s 35, that really isn’t going to be a problem.
The races also have a reason building up to something. The first three nights – races at Rockingham Speedway, Lucas Oil Raceway and Myrtle Beach Speedway – will determine the field for the big race at Martinsville Speedway on Thursday, with the top two each night making up the six-car field.
The Pro Series, meanwhile, doesn’t really have anything its drivers are racing for besides pride and exposure. One thing it could do is have a big championship race at the end of the season, with only race winners being invited to it. It makes it that much more special for a driver to win one of these things, and winning means significantly more than finishing, say, third compared to real life. Parker Kligerman finished third on Sunday and it doesn’t mean much. And I know it doesn’t, because you’ve forgotten that Kligerman did not actually finish third on Sunday, Garrett Smithley did.
Where’s this money going?
So with all of this talk about iRacing and major telecasts by Fox Sports 1 and NBCSN, this fairly big unasked question remains.
We know FS1 is generating some kind of money on this. Half of the races are ads, and another quarter of them are studio people talking. Where’s the money going to? We know it’s not going to drivers. It’s unclear if iRacing is directly being paid or if they are being paid in exposure. NASCAR is probably getting a cut of the pie in some form or fashion.
Any money generated by these races should go directly to individuals either directly producing it or the people in the industry having to file for unemployment. There are a lot of teams/shops I’ve heard that are laying off at least some of their shop personnel. If racing doesn’t happen for months, as it’s threatening to be, these people are going to be hit the hardest.
It would be best for the sport at this point if the major corporations such as Fox, NBC and NASCAR to eschew payments for their corporate coffers and instead focus on the kegs in the wheel.
Is Ricky Rudd a hall of famer?
Ricky Rudd has been a perennial NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee since 2017, and while next year’s class nominees have not been announced yet, Rudd is a favorite to be on the nominee list once again.
Rudd’s stats seem somewhat pedestrian compared to many hall of fame inductees on the surface level; while he has the third most Cup starts in history, he has 21 wins in that time frame. However, that’s not the only highlights on his resume.
Two of Rudd’s biggest accomplishments came in the form of streaks.
The most obvious is the consecutive start streak. From the command to start engines in the 1981 Daytona 500 to the drop of the checkered flag of the 2005 Ford 400, Rudd never missed a race. For 25 years, 793 starts in total, Rudd was around for it all. He went from racing Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip to racing Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch.
The other streak was the consecutive seasons with a win streak, one only equaled in the modern era by Rusty Wallace. From 1983 to 1998, 16 straight seasons, Rudd won at last one race a year. Gordon, Earnhardt, Stewart and Johnson all came close but failed to equal the feat.
Any evaluation of any perspective hall of fame inductee should be the prism of their accomplishments, not just their accomplishments on a surface level.
During his win streak, Rudd drove for and won with five different owners. Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick are legendary owners, but Rudd won with both before either were able to put everything together for their first Cup championships.
During his tenure with Bud Moore, Rudd absolutely smoked Earnhardt’s record with the Ford in the two years prior. The only modern era driver for Moore Engineering with a better average finish in a season than Rudd in the No. 15 Ford was Bobby Allison, with Rudd placing ahead of other Hall of Fame inductees Buddy Baker, Benny Parsons and Dale Earnhardt.
Two of Kenny Bernstein’s three wins as a car owner in NASCAR came with Rudd at the wheel, and Rudd was able to get Bernstein his lone appearance at the award’s ceremony in New York with an eighth-place points finish in 1989.
As an owner-driver, the only two of the modern era more successful than Rudd was Richard Petty (if you want to count him) and Alan Kulwicki, and Rudd had one more win than Kulwicki in less seasons as an owner-driver. While Rudd never won a championship as an owner-driver, he finished fifth in points in 1994, a season where the top six in points weren’t nearly as close as they were in 1992.
The start streak in particular is probably a more impressive accomplishment than Gordon’s slightly better record, because Rudd had more years, drove for significantly more owners/manufacturers than Gordon, and drove in an era before guaranteed starts. Gordon’s record basically says “We didn’t have as many races in the 80’s as we did in the ’90s and ’00s,” because if Rudd Had 36 race seasons in more than just five years of his streak compared to Gordon’s 15, Rudd’s streak would be larger.
Should Rudd be in the hall of fame? Yes. The real question is if he will be the first or second most deserving of the 10-nominee modern ballot, which we’re not going to know until whenever NASCAR officially announces the nominees.