There are only so many weekends in a calendar year, and COVID-19 has tossed an Ozark into the cesspool in 2020. The various racing sanctioning bodies are doing their damnedest to reschedule their events and sometimes those schedules are going to overlap. Still, I found it a bit disheartening that NASCAR scheduled not one but two events in time slots that directly overlapped the Indy 500.
Obviously, this isn’t the first time a Cup race has overlapped in a time slot with the Indy 500. (Brace yourself kids. There was an era neither the World 600 nor the Indy 500 was broadcast live.) But that issue seemed to have been peacefully resolved when the track at Charlotte added lights in 1992 and the 600 became an evening/night race. That separation even allowed several drivers to attempt “the Double,” competing in both the 600 and the Indy 500 the same day. The logistics were daunting and no driver ever won both events the same year. But it was possible.
Tony Stewart’s 1999 attempt at the “Double” was somewhat successful. He ran as high at fifth. Famously, the only thing Stewart had to eat that day was two mini-bagels. Stewart’s only rival as far as being in poor shape back then was Jimmy Spencer. But 1,100 miles of racing in a single day was too much to handle. Late in the race Stewart became so hungry and dehydrated that he began hallucinating and saw an errant hot dog wrapper as a polka-dotted elephant, I kid you not. Somehow he still managed a fourth-place result. No pachyderms, spotted or otherwise, were harmed in the attempt.
Prior to his next attempt at the Double, Stewart did in fact work with a personal trainer. For three-and-a-half entire weeks as it turned out. He completed every lap in both events that day, finishing sixth at Indy and third at Charlotte.
What made the whole overlap situation even more bizarre was it was an in-house war between the NBC Mothership network channel and its sports affiliate, NBC Sports Network. They had to realize the two events were going to cannibalize the ratings for each.
So how did you as a race fan handle the scheduling conflict? My guess is many of you did as I did, using the remote to click back and forth between the two races. Generally I tried to switch during the commercial breaks. As such, I became increasingly alarmed, then annoyed, that both channels broadcasting the races Sunday were often in commercial break at the same time. How is it ESPN is able to provide flag-to-flag coverage of Formula 1 races live without commercial interruption but NBC can’t even make it through an entire stage of a NASCAR race without cutting to the ads? In case you missed it, Kevin Harvick left Dover with the regular season title and the 15 playoff points that goes with it.
I’ve been writing about NASCAR for many years. Since 2007, 13 years now, I’ve been writing for Frontstretch. Over the years, most of my loyal readers (and I’m grateful for all of you) have pretty much come to know what to expect of my columns, which has greatly cut down on the amount of hate mail I receive. Bill France Jr. once call me “the most dangerous idiot on the internet,” a title I was inordinately proud of despite the fact it cost me a job. But this week I received one particularly nasty bit of hate email that concluded with a wish that my 61st birthday would be my last. I’ve argued with this woman (I at least believe her to be a woman after all this time) multiple times over the years, and she’s always been a charmer. But normally she had her facts straight. What seemed to have her Irish up this week was a throwaway comment in last week’s effort that indicated while it was unlikely the “Chase” format determining the title could lead to a driver being crowned champion without winning a single race. I stand by that comment.
Let’s not forget that reigning truck series champion Matt Crafton didn’t win a truck series race last year. It’s not something he likes to discuss, as one might imagine.
In 2013, Austin Dillon was crowned NXS champion without a single win, though he did finish second at Iowa that year.
The playoff lineup will be determined after next week’s Daytona race. There are currently six drivers without a win this season that are eligible to compete for the big year-end trophy. Things get more complicated next week if a driver who has not won yet this year but is in the top 30 in points wins at Daytona next Saturday. Recall that both Cole Custer and Dillon are outside the top 16 right now but are in the playoffs having won a race. A first-time winner at Daytona next week by a driver new to victory lane this year displaces one of those six drivers currently in on points but with no wins.
Again, it’s not at all likely, but any one of those drivers who can string together consistently good finishes could find themselves arriving at Phoenix as one of the four drivers eligible to be champ if they finish ahead of the other three anointed. He does not have to win the race. My harsh critic asserted that whoever won Phoenix would be champ. Au contraire, my amigo. I believe the winner of the season’s last race has been champion every year since this dog and pony show of a title system was trotted out to loud jeers the whistles of derision many years ago. But it doesn’t have to end that way. In 2014, Ryan Newman arrived at the Homestead season finale still winless for the year. He finished second to Harvick, who won that year’s title by a single point. The margin of victory that day was half a second. That’s how close NASCAR came to having a winless Cup champion.
What about back in the days of yore? In 1960, Ned Jarrett won the title with a single race win that year. Jarrett won at Birmingham (by a mere two laps). The race was one of 52 Cup events Jarrett ran that year, but the only one he won.
In 1973, Benny Parsons won the Cup title also with a single win that season. His team was forced to piece together a thoroughly-trashed race car well enough that Parsons could make some more laps to score enough points to take the title. BP finished 28th that day, having completed only 308 of 492 laps.
There’s another asterisk beside Parsons’ title of 1973. He too only won one race that year. He drove his Chevy to victory at Bristol that summer, but he had to call on a relief driver midway through the event due to the intense heat of the day and neck pain. If you needed a relief driver at Bristol in that era, you prayed a fellow by the name of John Utsman was still available. Utsman was called upon 11 times to relieve a Cup driver at Bristol, and on eight of those occasions he helped pilot that car to a top-10 finish. Just don’t search for Utsman’s name in the record books. Then, as now, the driver who started the race gets credit for the car’s finish whether he drove the entire race or got out after the first lap.
Looking to attend a Cup race live? There’s some good news. A limited number of seats are available for the Bristol night race on Sept. 19. And there’s some bad news. There will be no fans in the stands for the Richmond race weekend. The pandemic is still too fluid a situation to accurately state which tracks will host fans and which won’t during the playoffs with any degree of certainty.
Before we convene here again next Tuesday, a momentous anniversary I fear will be lost in the pandemic amnesia will take place. August, 26th, 1996, Jayski’s Silly Season page debuted on the then nascent NASCAR internet scene. (I hope I have the date right. Dates and last names are the first thing you lose when the number of candles atop your birthday cake require you to have the local volunteer fire company on standby.) As I recall, the page began of Jay’s desire to find out where one of his favorite drivers, Lake Speed, would be driving the following year. Clear, concise, and always breaking stories, Jay’s page became a favorite with NASCAR fans. (Though not so popular with others. I recall Richard Childress once threatened to fire any of his employees he found were feeding info to the site.)
Not too long into the site’s history, Jay added a page that offered his readers links to other articles on the internet related to the Cup series. Many a NASCAR writer has to give credit to Jay’s article links page, this one included. Even writers from the big papers down south that dominated the NASCAR media back then saw their readership grow exponentially when Jay linked to their columns. It only made sense. Living where I lived (and continue to live), you couldn’t run into the Wawa and pick up a copy of the Gaston Gazette, the Winston-Salem Journal or even the Charlotte Observer. Yeah, some of the early graphics were a bit campy (though I still miss the black and yellow cars at the top of the page) but Jay turned his after-work project into the dominant NASCAR website on the ‘Net.
Jay, thanks for everything you did to help me out along the way. I miss throwing back a couple cold ones with you at the Deauville late every summer. I hope you and Peg are happy down there in North Carolina, and best wishes for your continued success.