Tom Bowles
Wednesday March 31st, 2010

A little luck goes a long way.

Sure, those words ring true to the 98 percent of Americans whose NCAA Tournament brackets turned to trash (including me). But for NASCAR execs facing years of declining ratings and attendance, a four-leaf clover every now and then would be nice.

Follow me here. The sport's two best races this season -- Daytona and Martinsville -- registered as instant classics, the type of on-track performances that get fans coming back for more. The problem is that they both occurred in front of a fraction of normal viewership. Daytona's infamous "pothole" caused a delay that most fans didn't come back for, helping to usher in the lowest TV rating since 1991 as the finish played out to a racetrack three-quarters full. And this week's legendary Martinsville matinee, whose ending will be talked about for years, was postponed from Sunday to Monday because of Mother Nature's wrath.

Considering NASCAR's weekday ratings history -- bear in mind that there's a reason movie matinees are cheap -- they'll be lucky to get half their usual numbers for this race. And after playing out in front of stands less than half full, word-of-mouth may be the only way to get momentum from this one. At least fans can tune in to the Cup race this weekend ... oh, wait! That's right, it's an off week.

No doubt, NASCAR's on-track product is heading back in the right direction in 2010. Now, they just need those finishes to happen at a time when everyone can see them.

OK, let's get rolling on this luck-themed edition. As always, hit me up at or Twitter at NASCARBowles if you want to chat.

In your 5 Things From Martinsville column, you mentioned Jimmie Johnson didn't lead a single lap, which I'm sure made you happy since you're so anti-Johnson. Why didn't you mention Hamlin getting lucky? When Jimmie wins everyone says how lucky he is, but if Kyle Busch hadn't crashed with only 4 or 6 laps to go, Hamlin would never have won. I'd say Hamlin got pretty lucky his teammate spun out there at the end.

-- David Harding

David, Hamlin got lucky from not only Kyle Busch crashing, but NASCAR's quick trigger on throwing the caution. As Busch spun, he was out of harm's way as Gordon was coming off turn 4 to take the white flag. Had he crossed the start/finish line, the race would have been over and it would have been No. 24, not No. 11, sitting in Victory Lane.

As you might expect, Gordon wasn't exactly thrilled with NASCAR's decision, considering their laziness on throwing the yellow throughout the day. Case in point: Regan Smith slammed the wall near the race's midpoint, which was clearly an obstacle, but officials never threw the caution as he desperately tried to limp to pit road.

"We had the thing wrapped up," he said afterwards. "It was pretty obvious to me NASCAR wanted a green-white-checkered finish. There were cars blowing tires, hitting the wall, they weren't throwing the caution. One spins out and they threw the caution in the blink of an eye.''

Gordon's comments must be tempered with the fact his winless streak is now at 35 races. For a guy who's won 82 times throughout a stellar Cup career, those types of droughts aren't easy to swallow, especially when one slips through your grasp, as it did in Martinsville. But I understand his point. NASCAR could have let Busch's wreck slide. There was minimal debris, and the car was moving slowly towards the pits at the time the yellow was thrown.

But Gordon also helped Hamlin out in a different way, nearly wrecking Matt Kenseth on the white-flag lap in a move that put the No. 11 out in front (we'll get to that in a minute). If those two don't touch, Kenseth scoots by and it's doubtful Hamlin can get past the No. 17 before the checkered.

As for your comments on JJ, I recommend reading this column on the four-time champ's unprecedented success. For someone so biased against JJ, you'd think I wouldn't give credit where credit was due, right?

OK, back to the Gordon-Kenseth scuffle for a second, the fifth major incident in four years between these two (see Monday's article for more). I asked fans to Tweet their thoughts this morning, and most thought the battle was an early season highlight. DRLDeBoer said it best:

"Loved it! More spats = Good :)"

Why is this rivalry so important? Simple: it's fueled off raw emotion. Unlike the buddy-buddy atmosphere inside most of the Cup garages, Kenseth and Gordon just plain don't like each other. It's hard to build a conflict fans believe in if both sides are playing golf and joking around seven days later, right? But you can rest assured these sour feelings will last, leaving all hopeful we haven't seen the last of these two clawing and scraping for a win this season.

Moving on...

Outstanding "March Madness" column, Tom. I have a problem I'm hoping you could shed some light on. I'm having trouble coming up with a solution that doesn't involve some of those one-horse teams merging, or NASCAR being more regulatory about the s-and-p practice. Maybe they could "suggest" that manufacturers offer a certain level of tech help to any team driving their cars? What are your thoughts?

- Terry, Casa Grande, Ariz.

Great idea, Terry, though it just wouldn't work. Manufacturers are not bound to NASCAR, so minimum-spending limits would make them A) walk away or B) prevent smaller teams they didn't want from purchasing equipment that had their nameplate on it.

NASCAR's between a rock and a hard place here, because without franchising there's honestly no way to control spending by the sport's top teams. But if you franchise, then you permanently limit owner participation while eliminating single-car teams for good. For example, there is no way Hendrick would agree to a franchising system while cutting down to, say, a two-car program involving just Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.

I agree with what you are saying, Tom. To keep things interesting I think the more successful a team is, the smaller the spoiler should be. Or something else to handicap the cars that are always winning. In football, the first place teams have to play a greater number of first place teams the following season. And last place teams get to play other last place teams to try to bring parity. Or maybe the best teams get fewer sets of tires at each race so that they have to run less aggressive setups to make the tires go longer. Or maybe the best teams have to run with a smaller gas tank. There are all sorts of ways to penalize the wealthy teams to let the underdogs have a chance. -- Gerry Smith, Tempe, AZ

Look at the Gerry/Terry Arizona combo, dominating the NASCAR mailbag this week! Again, most of those ideas involve creating a franchise system of some sort where teams are directly tied into NASCAR (that's how the MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL create parity). Right now, everyone's a private contractor, which means any Joe Schmo with the money and a NASCAR application can come in and own a race team. But that creates an "every man for himself" atmosphere, and the balance of power has shifted so much in favor of the upper class the rest are begging for scraps.

But make no mistake, Gerry, NASCAR has a hand in keeping the smaller teams down too, according to an anonymous Truck Series source this weekend.

"I can't tell you how many times a sponsor comes into the sport and they get a call from NASCAR asking for them to be 'the official sponsor of x.' And lots of times, once they give money to NASCAR they don't have anything left for the new team they were going to back in the first place."

My solution? Wish I had one. I do think NASCAR needs to put success back in the hands of the driver so that all these simulations and aero testing that Roush, Hendrick, and others do become virtually meaningless. And if you drop some of these rules that force the teams to run the same, well, everything, some of the crew chiefs on the smaller teams can come up with bright ideas the big guns won't.

All I can tell you is the supposed "parity" of the CoT has only closed the gap amongst the rich. The highest-rated single-car team right now is the No. 47 of Marcos Ambrose (widely considered a third car at Michael Waltrip racing anyways) who's 29th in owner points. Just three of those cars are inside the top 35, and none have scored a top 10 so far this season.

We'll end with a little something for you intellectuals out there...

Sounds like Brad Keselowski has a passing interest in politics. Regarding health care, please let Brad know that the April 2010 Issue of the Harvard Business Review has a series of articles on problems with health care and possible solutions. See for example the article "What Drives High Health Care Costs and How to Fight Back." Take care and have fun!

-- Eric Hiner, Plantation, FL

Consider him informed, Eric. A NASCAR driver being asked to read the Harvard Business Review ... now that's something you don't see every day!

"Bad news, guys. With finishes of 31 and 33, the black hair hasn't cut it ;) Get it! Ha... so we are going to have a shaving party before PHX."

--@scottspeed announcing how dying his hair (with blue highlights) has turned his Sprint Cup results upside down. Speed was 11th in points before switching up his look; now, he's 21st.

Have a nominee for Tweet of the Week? Email Tom at or tweet him yourself -- his handle is@NASCARBowles.

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