Race Weekend Central

Boob Tube: How Television Is Bringing NASCAR Down

You see it in the NASCAR headlines almost daily: lack of sponsorship causing teams to sit out races or fold altogether; fans are leaving, TV ratings are faltering. And there are all sorts of reasons offered for the problem. It’s the economy; it’s the boring racing and boring drivers; it’s the cars; it’s the teams’ fault. And it’s likely that all of those factors contribute. But is there another issue contributing to both the lack of sponsorship and the declining viewership? Is the television broadcast of the race each week to blame as well?

The answer is yes. And not only are they hurting the race teams, they’re hurting their own bottom line.

Safe At Any Speed? NASCAR Puts Safety To the Test at Michigan

At the conclusion of a one-day test at Michigan International Speedway, one thing is crystal clear: the track is blazing fast. Tony Stewart had the fastest lap of the day with an average speed of 201.896 miles per hour. Drivers reported reaching speeds of 218 at the end of the frontstretch. NASCAR, as always, was optimistic about the racing surface following the test.

When Tony Stewart completed the fastest lap of the day, he was going 201.896 miles per hour.

Better Days: The Role of Nostalgia in NASCAR

For some reason, I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately. I’m not sure why, but whatever the reason, I got to thinking about the first races I went to. I’ll admit that I was skeptical about the first one; despite my aspirations to cover major American sports, NASCAR wasn’t really on the radar then. It was my dad and a family friend that changed that, when they had an extra ticket to a Cup race at Loudon and decided that I was the best candidate to go along. I agreed, curious to see what the hype was about-it was nearly impossible to score tickets for a New Hampshire race in the mid 1990’s, and I figured that maybe all those people knew something I didn’t.

NASCAR’s Young Guns Are As Good As Ever, But Where Will They Go From Here?

It’s safe to say that there are plenty of young guns in NASCAR. The Charlotte Motor Speedway media center on Thursday was proof positive as the first several press sessions were dominated by up-and-coming talent: Travis Pastrana; Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.; Austin Dillon; Joey Coulter, Danica Patrick, and Joey Logano were among the steady stream of new faces. This weekend’s Nationwide Series roster reveals even more names that fans will be hearing for a long time coming, as did last week’s Truck Series event. It’s a great time for fans because there are so many new personalities in the sport. Not to mention, the talent level is exciting.

So why aren’t we seeing more of these talented newcomers?

What Makes a Great Race is a Matter of Perspective for NASCAR Fans

Friday at Darlington, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was asked in a press conference if he believed that attendance and ratings would improve if he won a few races. To his credit, Earnhardt answered the question and moved on, saying simply that it’s about more than one driver. As a question, it was awkward, and it put unfair pressure on a driver who already deals with too much pressure with grace. But it was something to think about. Because while it’s a stretch to think that one driver could influence ratings and track attendance to such a degree, it’s also a stretch to deny that drivers do influence these things. Drivers do affect the way fans enjoy the sport.

While it’s not as simple as one driver winning races being the sport’s savior, it’s safe to say that how a particular driver is faring at a given point in time does play a factor in many fans’ enjoyment of the sport. I mentioned this briefly in Big Six on Monday, but it warrants more thought. So much about racing comes from perspective.

Now or Never: Darlington Begins A Critical Stretch for Title Hopefuls

Officially, there is over a month until summer. Officially, there are 16 races before the Chase field is set. Officially, a lot of teams will tell you that they’re just worried about winning races right now; crunch time will come later.

And all that means nothing. Official or not, crunch time starts now. And by the time the summer solstice brings the longest day of the year in June, the Chase field will be all but set.

That means the next five points races-Darlington, Charlotte, Dover, Pocono, and Michigan-are critical for those teams whose goal is to make the Chase and contend for the title. While it seems early for Chase talk, with the “regular” season not even at the crossed flags, history has shown that the Chase field will be nearly set by the time the sun sets over Michigan next month.

A Sport Without Heroes, A Sport Without Identity: Four Subtle Reasons for the Backlash

We’re just over a third of the way through NASCAR’s so-called “regular season.” If you look around the landscape, it hasn’t been very pretty lately; ratings are down and complaints are up. It’s been said a hundred different ways. Depending on who you ask, there are probably a hundred reasons for the discontent: lack of close racing, NASCAR’s rules, the car and tire packages. But what about some of the more subtle changes that have crept into the sport and caused some of the things that leave fans wondering where the NASCAR they used to love has gone over the last few years?

In the end, no problem has one cause or one quick fix. But here’s my take on what’s behind the summer of NASCAR fans’ discontent…

No Matter What Bruton Does, Bristol Can’t Turn Back Time

If only it was the way it used to be.

The more things change in NASCAR, the more often you hear those words. Most recently, we all heard them, in seemingly great numbers, after a dismal attendance showing in Bristol last month. At a racetrack where season tickets were once a rarity someone might wait years for, the stands were maybe half full. Many were quick to point the finger at the changes that were made to the racing surface in 2007, which included adding progressive banking in the turns to create not just two, but three racing grooves. This adjustment created the ability to pass without using a bumper, and for a lot of fans, that just didn’t go over too well. If rubbing is racing, then Bristol was where it was at; now, it was replaced by clean and green (as in, green flag) competition.

Sunday at The Rock Proved One Thing: You Can Go Home Again

Walking through the pre-race crowd on Sunday at Rockingham, there were a lot of things that caught my attention: beauty queens handing out watermelon, vendors of all kinds hawking their wares, people with bags and coolers and the colorful t-shirts you always see at a race. The ticket lines were long, a little over an hour before race time. A surprisingly healthy number of campers dotted the landscape. The twin rocks, one bearing the names of former Sprint Cup winners at the track and a new one that bears the name of the winners of various races since the track reopened under new owner Andy Hillenburg. But the thing I noticed the most that morning was an undercurrent of something more running through the crowd like a low-voltage electric current. It was almost palpable. It was an excitement that I haven’t felt among fans for a long time.

NASCAR Hall of Fame at a Critical Crossroads

On Wednesday, the NASCAR Hall of Fame announced the 25 men and women who will be on the ballot for induction in January of 2013. 20 of those names were no surprise; they were all on the ballot last year but were not elected. The other five: Ray Fox, Anne France, Wendell Scott, Rusty Wallace, and Ralph Seagraves. Five of these nominees will be immortalized on a spire in the Hall of Honor next year, voted by a panel of insiders with a fan vote equaling one ballot as well. The challenge now is a double one: who gets in this time around and where do we go from here.

With 15 men already enshrined, the choice becomes more difficult as the years go by. The obvious choices, like the King, Richard Petty; Big Bill France and his son Bill Jr.; and the Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt are already safely inside. Though the nod has mostly been given to the sport’s pioneers, Earnhardt, Bobby Allison, and Darrell Waltrip bridge into the 1980’s and beyond, and it’s hard to argue their inclusion as three of the finest drivers to ever sit behind the wheel of a stock car.

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