Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? … Jeremy’s Junked Case, All-Star Ignorance And NASCAR Conservatism Kills

*Did You Notice?…* The emphasis placed on winning with the All-Star Race… sort of? On Tuesday, Sprint announced the 2012 version now consists of four segments, 20 laps apiece, followed by the traditional 10-lap Shootout that will give a $1 million payout to the race winner. Here’s the catch: the winners of each segment, one through four, will automatically be shuttled to the front of the field _before the final pit stop._

That’s right. Even though the teams won a segment, they won’t be guaranteed track position – that’s based on how each car performs on pit road. So how big an advantage will that even be? Admittedly, not much if you guess four tires when everyone else takes two. Sounds like nothing more than a giant publicity stunt to me.

Did You Notice? … A New 2013 Sprint Cup Idea, Drivers In Danger And “C-Post” Hits

*Did You Notice?…* The quirkiness of the 2012 Sprint Cup schedule? This weekend marks the third time in the first five weeks of the season that NASCAR is within the Las Vegas – Phoenix – Los Angeles area. Just 321 miles separates Auto Club Speedway from Phoenix, a five-hour drive and a little over six hours from L.A. Las Vegas, which just held a Cup race in mid-March is even closer to ACS: 239 miles and four hours. Considering the proximity of those events, if you were living in that triangle why would you spend the money to go to all three, within a month of each other? Yes, the absolute diehards might consider it, but even most normal NASCAR fans would limit their attendance, especially in this economy. Add in that Auto Club Speedway has the worst racing of the three, by a landslide, and that puts their attendance figures in unnecessary peril for the coming weekend.

Did You Notice?… New Teams “Drive” Pressure, Know Your Judges & Quirky Stats

*Did You Notice?* … The pressure to perform is getting to drivers, _not_ crew chiefs early this season? Take a look at the top 3 in the series standings. Each driver: Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, and Denny Hamlin have been working with their head wrench for less than one year. With Biffle and Matt Puccia, their marriage was formed in Loudon last July; the other two have well-publicized new partnerships with Shane Wilson and Darian Grubb, respectively, that started at the beginning of 2012. Add in Steve Addington, whose 12-Step Recovery Program from the Busch Brothers took just three races with Smoke and there’s a clear case to be made that changing chemistry on top of the pit box can work.

Did You Notice? … Great Gambles Already, Sadler’s Sudden Consequences And Quick Hits

*Did You Notice?…* That as we transition from Phoenix to Sin City, there’s no need for some teams to play craps in Vegas. The 2012 season is just a few weeks old, but their combination of winter personnel changes and in-race strategy have already left them cashing in the dough of a strong start. Who’s outwitted the casino of NASCAR luck? Consider…

*Chad Johnston.* This head wrench reminds me of the guy at the blackjack table who’ll hit on 17, just to do something different when the rest of the table is playing by the book. The crew chief of the mild-mannered, conservative Martin Truex, Jr. has played the role of a raging liberal, going against convention almost weekly since inheriting the position last June. When everyone pits for tires midrace, he’ll randomly leave the No. 56 on the racetrack. When other cars don’t think they can make it on fuel, well, they’ll be the ones to try and stretch. It’s a different approach, aimed at keeping the Toyota team on its toes and energizing them in what amounts to a contract year for Truex.

Did You Notice?…Wreckage Recovery, Why Rookies Return And “Juan” Bad Reputation

*Did You Notice?…* The alliteration for 2012 Daytona Speedweeks was Demolition Derby? From the drop of the green in the exhibition Bud Shootout, an 82-lap race that saw roughly half of its 25-car field fail to finish the return of pack racing brought with it a propensity to wreck. Here were the official DNF counts due to crashes for the four biggest events:

*Shootout* – *12* of 25 cars *(48%)*
*Truck Series* – *18* of 36 cars *(50%)*
*Nationwide* – *14* of 43 cars *(33%)* … plus several others which straggled across the finish line after a vicious, last-lap wreck that handed the win to the 11th-place runner coming off Turn 4, James Buescher
*Sprint Cup* – *8* of 43 cars *(19%)* … plus about a half-dozen others running with serious, car-is-totaled damage at the finish

Did You Notice? … Playing Cinderella, Buying Super Bowls And Keeping It Real

*Did You Notice?…* The last two 500 winners have been Cinderella stories? Jamie McMurray, in 2010 was all but unemployed after a disastrous tenure at Roush Fenway; former boss Chip Ganassi picked him up at the last minute. And who can forget Trevor Bayne’s run last year, the youngest 500 winner in history for a team in the Wood Brothers that hasn’t run in over a decade?

Well, you know what they say about how these things always come in threes (or maybe that’s just celebrity deaths… oops). But there’s plenty of other longshots this year that could turn into Victory Lane surprises in a hurry under the new rules. Let’s check them out…

Did You Notice? … Buying A Super Bowl Spot, Tweaking The Shootout And Quick Hits

*Did You Notice?…* The Bud Shootout has lost its sense of importance? It’s a topic beaten to death the last couple of years, but retaining steam after the latest, 2012 rule change allowed entry to the top 25 finishers in last year’s driver points. That means we’re going to have the majority of this year’s “locked in” Daytona 500 field, plus one or two “randoms” (Michael Waltrip, for one) that will combine for a bloated, 75-lap, increase-their-advantage test session prior to next week’s Great American Race.

I know, I know; the conflict with Coors, who sponsors NASCAR’s pole award makes it impossible to associate this race with qualifying speeds anymore. In the past, though, this event was a true sprint, just 20 laps and had a small enough starting grid (the past year’s polesitters and previous Shootout winners only) it stood out as an exemplary exhibition. Now? Drivers like Jeff Burton, who will tell you himself last year was a nightmare NASCAR season not worth living are getting the gift of entry as if those stats were special.

Did You Notice?… 6 Things We Learned About NASCAR In January, Part II

Happy Valentine’s Day! But whether you’re single, ready to toss this holiday in the trash can or planning your night with that special someone you’ve all come here for the same reason: love of NASCAR. So let’s get right to it, more off-season observations that will have your pack of Cupid arrows pumped with information, not infatuation about the upcoming 2012 season. Please use with discretion…

“_For Part I of Tom’s column about January observations, click here._”:https://frontstretch.com/tbowles/36961/

*Joe Gibbs Racing Enters 2012 Sponsored By… ????*

Catching you up on JGR’s offseason sounds like a 60-second promo before one of the latest dramas like _Shameless_ starts up on _Showtime._

Did You Notice? … Six Things We Learned About NASCAR In January: Part I

*Did You Notice?…* For everyone involved in this sport, the word “February” serves as an automatic wakeup call of sorts. Speedweeks, the sport’s Super Bowl at Daytona and the start of a daunting, 36-race regular season are now a few short weeks away, vacation over as the calendar turns towards 2012. Typically, the start of those early practices is enough time for everyone to get caught up on an offseason’s worth of news; after all, stability with the sport’s top organizations combined with an uncertain sponsorship climate have made the list of changes each season short enough to fit on those awkward, airplane napkins you get with your free drink.

Did You Notice? … Bad Boos, Crew Chief Questions, And 2012’s Top Priority

*Did You Notice?*… Regardless of your opinion on how to fix it, NASCAR’s audience and its business model are heading in two very divergent directions. Clearly, on the heels of Stewart-Edwards it seems the six-year decline NASCAR’s been involved in, through both ratings and attendance may be bottoming out. The ratings for the season finale alone, released Tuesday provided the highest viewership ever seen for NASCAR since it moved back to ESPN in 2007. With a television audience of 6,799,000, it was the perfect capper on a Chase that posted year-to-year increases in seven of ten televised events. Even if you include the rain-postponed Chicagoland event, posting half of its typical audience the ABC/ESPN numbers increased sharply from 2010 lows.

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