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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Odd Story Of The No. 11 Car

This weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, should Denny Hamlin and crew manage to outduel Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick and their crews, Hamlin would be the driver that finally came along and knocked Jimmie Johnson off his lofty perch.

Should the 11 car take the Sprint Cup, it would be a fourth title for Joe Gibbs Racing, and JGR would achieve something only Hendrick Motorsports has managed since the rise to prominence of multi-car outfits—championships with three different car numbers. Gibbs won two titles with Tony Stewart in the No. 20 and a title with Bobby Labonte in the No. 18.

NASCAR’s Late Season Swing Produces A Memorable Event – No Legislative Help Needed

Things are so rough in NASCAR these days that last week’s race at Texas had enough action and storylines to actually jar a collective NASCAR press from its habitual cynicism. Even our own Matt McLaughlin rated the race a “four-and-a-half cans of Lone Star,” quite an esteemed rating from a writer who rarely ranks intermediate races above “one can of filthy generic stuff.”

A Sneak Peek At The Future: What NASCAR Could Look Like In 2011

It would be difficult to tout 2010 as a winning year for NASCAR. Television ratings continue their steady decline, and events that at one time never saw empty seats now have huge advertising panels covering them. The playoff races especially have been whitewashed by the NFL, ratings down well over 20 percent on most weekends even as the customary points reset has somehow miraculously produced a close championship battle.

The continuing decline seems to have the sport in a mild panic. One wonders if Brian France really believes what he says about, “the racing is great and will carry the day,” which has replaced “People are watching on the Internet” as his blanket ratings comment. More changes are being discussed to spice up the package, with the hope that these adjustment will bring a new buzz to a sport decidedly lacking it at the moment— despite that very little recent legislation has helped much.

A Tale Of Two Drivers

This last Sunday, not only did Martinsville Speedway offer up a pretty good race, the fans in the grandstand and watching at home on television got to see an all-too-rare treat these days…the No. 88 car, driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr., ran up front for more than just one stay-out-while-everyone-pits lap. In fact, the green machine actually looked like it could challenge for a win that day.

You saw what it was like watching on television. Satellites linked up. Announcers were ecstatic. NASCAR execs held a rain dance in hopes of ending the race.

Junior led 90 laps at Martinsville, more than he’s led in all of the rest of the races combined this year—and it’s not even close. Only at Texas and Charlotte has he led laps in double digits.

Gateway Disappearance A Sign Of The NASCAR Times

This coming Saturday night’s Nationwide Series race at Gateway International Raceway will probably be the last. It’s good to see that the potential sale of the track has some folks there optimistic, but honestly, when the asking price from Dover Motorsports is suspected to be just $1 million, it seems more probable that the track may be sold to a land developer and turned into a mall.

The reason for the loss of Gateway from the Nationwide Series schedule, despite the protests from drivers and some fans, is simple economics. They aren’t drawing squat. If Gateway had been holding Cup races on the same weekends when the Nationwide circus came to town, things might have been different. But as much as Cup series attendance is sinking, it’s far worse for the Nationwide Series. At one point, after a power failure forced Nationwide and Craftsman Truck series races to be held during the day, the attendance was so dismal that any kind of argument to keep racing there would have been difficult.

“Have At It” Hasn’t Made Much Difference

Last night I was watching NASCAR Race Hub with host Steve Byrnes, who doubles as a pit reporter for FOX during their race broadcasts. Because of his connections, he was able to score the venerable Darrell Waltrip as a guest on his show, and D.W. gave his opinions on a couple of issues relating to the sport.

Until recently, Waltrip had not been an outspoken opponent of the Debris Caution for the Sprint Cup, but of late he’s come around to the general view of a large contingent of fans. After Byrnes put out the Richard Petty quote about his winning championships under four different points systems, D.W. reacted to that oft-repeated observation and dared to disagree with the King.

What Are They Buying With The Danica Hype?

Where I live in South Jersey, you will occasionally see billboards for upcoming races at Dover Speedway. A few days ago I drove by one with Danica’s face plastered on the billboard even larger that the words “Dover Speedway”. It’s the first time I can recall either of two things happening: a Nationwide race being advertised on a billboard, and a driver being mentioned on a billboard for an upcoming event. I’m not saying that it’s never happened, just that I haven’t seen it.

All this for a driver whose best finish in six races is 24th. Who has yet to finish a race even as much as one lap down.

What’s So Horrible About A Winless Champion?

Before going away on vacation, I was going through Jayski one lovely morning to read commentary from Citizen Journalists that I like.

Two articles in particular got my attention this morning. The first was “a diatribe from Steve Kaminski of Michigan Live”:http://www.mlive.com/autoracing/index.ssf/2010/08/memo_to_nascar_spice_up_sprint.html, suggesting to NASCAR that regardless of how it is achieved, a win should guarantee a driver’s entry into the Chase playoff. The other was “a fearful piece from Jeff Owens at Fox Sports”:http://msn.foxsports.com/nascar/story/winless-chase-winner-a-nightmare-for-nascar-officials, pointing out that Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart could very well win a championship without ever visiting victory lane.

Ol’ D.W. May Be Onto Something

Before I started toiling for That’s Racin’ and subsequently the Frontstretch, I spent Sunday evenings writing race summaries for the edification of the other members of my fantasy league. Back then I was less concerned about reigning in vitriol towards NASCAR figures, and one of my favorite targets was champion driver-turned-commentator Darrell Waltrip. I mean, admit it, even if you like the guy, he does come up with some doozies.

Nowadays I’m fond of telling league members that I yearn for the days when “boogity boogity boogity” was the most annoying thing NASCAR fans had to endure. And I actually find myself agreeing with ol’ D.W. more often than I once did. Normally he’s an unabashed ambassador for the sport, which, since they indirectly pay his probably considerable salary, I don’t begrudge him. So it was a shock to hear him openly say the Chase should be junked.

2011 Schedule Creates More Problems Than It Solves

As we all know, or at least most of us do, change is not well received by NASCAR fans. This is especially true when it comes to where the circuit holds its events.

But nothing stands still forever. Foolish though it may have been to move the Labor Day race out of Darlington, the market couldn’t support two races anymore. It may not make sense to saturate the schedule with tracks that are virtually identical, but it isn’t practical to saturate the schedule with tracks in markets where folks can’t or won’t show up either. You could say this as a reason both for NASCAR to move out of the South or back there; either choice is going to make someone unhappy.

Now that the 2011 Sprint Cup schedule has been released, it’s worthy of some analysis from the fans and critics. And while there have been some improvements worthy of mention, some pitfalls have also been created by it.

The “Epic” 12th Place Battle? Sorry, Ain’t Feelin’ It

As I write this, NASCAR.com’s main article showcases large photos of the soulful faces of Mark Martin and Clint Bowyer as the headline grabs us with the words “RUMBLE FOR 12TH”. They even provide links to Martin’s and Bowyer’s driver pages and store pages, just in case the prospect of Clint Bowyer making the Chase makes you want to buy a No. 33 T-shirt.

NASCAR isn’t the only one. Fox Sports ran an article Tuesday called “Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer In Epic Battle For Chase Berth”. On Monday, the Binghamton Press & Sun noted that Martin had moved into the 12th spot last Sunday at Watkins Glen. Racin’ Today ran a piece called “The Fight For 12th Heats Up”. And there was ESPN’s coverage of the Watkins Glen race, where several times we were treated to the graphic that showed how many points ahead Martin had moved in front of Bowyer, as the announcers intensely speculated at the earthshaking prospect of the Chase field changing.

NASCAR Vindicated On Car Of Tomorrow, Somewhat

To fully appreciate Elliott Sadler’s assertion that his crash at Pocono was the hardest hit he’d ever had in a racecar, consider his terrifying end-over-end crash at Talladega in 2003. Maybe impact-wise it wasn’t as rough, but this guy has been through some frightening stuff.

Even what we could see of Sadler’s wreck at Pocono was sickening, and part of me is glad that ESPN didn’t get a good angle on it. I wouldn’t have wanted to see it in future Pocono race promos. It also underscored the point that while racing will never be perfectly safe, NASCAR and its venues need to do everything they can to get as close as they can to that impossible target.