It's back to school and back to work for most Americans Tuesday, but the return engagement NASCAR's watching with an eagle eye looms 48 hours away: The NFL. How will a league whose Hall of Fame game preseason ratings nearly matched the Daytona 500 affect viewership heading into the Chase? A strong Sunday night show at Atlanta gives the sport much-needed momentum, but will the recent dramas and wide-open title race -- albeit still stuck with
You can bet everyone from track presidents to ISC stockholders to anxious car owners seeking sponsors are privately crossing their fingers. In stick 'n' ball sports, lasting memories come from postseason battles which shape who becomes the champions a nation never forgets. They can be enough to salvage a season in the worst of times, and at no other moment has a breathtaking title chase been needed for NASCAR in the face of not just the NFL, but college football and even the NBA and NHL starting up in just a few short weeks.
For now, though, we have one more week to ponder the playoffs while sorting out some petty regular season conflicts that need a resolution of our own. That's where we'll start, the
What has fans up in arms is outright warfare being waged by Truck Series winner Todd Bodine. After being spun out by Kyle Busch on Friday in Kentucky, Bodine was strong enough to come back and win, but then disparaged his opponent in Victory Lane. When Kyle heard those criticisms, he stopped by the Winners' Circle to cause an ugly public confrontation that pushed Bodine to "tell it like it is" from his perspective. In an
"I've walked through (the Sprint Cup) garage area," he said, boasting support for his ranting and raving, "And if there wasn't 10, there wasn't 50 that stopped me and said, '[What Kyle did] was wrong. What you said was right, and finally someone called him out... and what he did by going to Victory Lane was totally wrong.' That confirms to me that this garage is sick of it, too."
Does Bodine really have that much private support? Busch is clearly a love-or-hate individual, his own small rabid fan base overwhelmed by a majority that would rather see him kicked to the curb. From the moment he entered the sport, rising to prominence as a Cup Series rookie the same year his older brother's immature antics led to a two-race suspension from Roush Fenway Racing, he's been labeled a bit of a marked man battling back from first impressions that sometimes prove impossible to overcome. Armed with a don't-hold-back attitude that creates that type of fiery emotion in people, it's natural his mere presence in the sport creates passionate extremes on either side.
I think part of the problem for Busch in any of these conflicts through the years -- whether it's with Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, or Bodine -- is they've come packaged with the type of wannabe behavior modeled after a Dale Earnhardt mentality of "intimidation." Here's the problem: Earnhardt had multiple titles under his belt, a hard-working blue-collar background and near-universal respect when he started "pushing" guys around. Kyle has none of those bullet points on his resume, perceived as riding up through his younger brothers' coattails on a road to success that was magically laid out for him. You can't go and play the boss when you actually haven't been the boss, right?
I do think owning his own team at the Truck level has done Busch a world of good, his impending marriage also contributing to an overall growth in maturity this year. It's notable that despite all the angst, rivalries, and torn-up equipment Busch has ushered in through the years, one of the men staunchly standing in his corner is
Richard, I honestly don't think it's about winning races for Todd. Let's look at the competing situations of these two: you have Busch, coming down to NASCAR's AA level for fun, beating up on other competitors while knowing he's got a major league ride sitting in his back pocket. Mr. Bodine, a full-time Truck competitor, has no such luxury even though he's well on his way to a championship. The team has competed with patchwork sponsorship all season, struggling to pay the bills while relying on purse money every week to help it maintain top-level equipment. Wrecking out and destroying a truck is a big deal for the team,
So that's the point Bodine was trying to bring out: come play all you want, but don't make it harder for the poor people than it already is. It's already difficult enough in an environment that's slowly squeezing out all the independents making a living through succeeding in NASCAR's second-tier divisions.
Could Todd have a little bit of sour grapes over Kyle's success? A former Cup driver himself, it's certainly possible. But the guy's been down in the Truck level for nearly a decade now, winning a championship and plenty of trophies all his own. I have a hard time believing he's not comfortable with how his own career played out.
There was a lot of buzz about the debris caution on Lap 134, conspiracy theorists claiming "debris" was called to keep Earnhardt in contention at one of his best tracks. I'm not entirely sold on such a concept, especially considering the more important guy at the time to keep on the lead lap was Mark Martin, his playoff hopes hanging by a thread and NASCAR about to lose the "old veteran gets a title" storyline from the fall. In the end, both drivers wound up on the lead lap but never improved the handling of their race cars: the Nos. 5 and 88 finished 21st and 22nd, respectively, highlighting the back half of Hendrick Motorsports' struggles which could consume a whole other column for another day.
What gets fans all excited, though, is the fact NASCAR makes these calls and then fails to go back and show the debris on television. If everyone could see the piece of metal, like a penalty in the NFL, then you at least have the right to argue the call. One way the sport would dramatically improve in 2011 is by having a NASCAR official stationed by a "debris camera" for the networks, dutifully pointing out the debris so there's not a caution that goes by where viewers don't know what it was for. Until that happens conspiracy theories will continue to run wild.
Here's the difference, Mark: I'm all right with the race going green for 150 to 200 laps as long as it naturally plays out. We still need to do more to encourage drivers to run harder earlier on instead of waiting until the last 100 or 200 miles of the race, but throwing random debris cautions to bunch them up isn't the answer. I'm not out to see half the field wrecked by double-file restarts, I'm out to see good, clean, exciting side-by-side racing that keeps fans entertained throughout. Four hours is a long investment to make, and to do it people can't be sitting there smiling for only the final 30 minutes.
Another Regina Spence! We just had one in here a couple of weeks ago from New Jersey; good to know that name is sparking NASCAR obsessions all over the country. You guys should have a little "Regina Spence" tweetup at the track sometime...
Your comments, in theory, should have meant a bigger crowd at Atlanta now that the track is dropping from two dates to one in 2011. But paid attendance there was just 93,200, a drop of 16.2 percent from a year ago. While I've given up on figuring out that town (the Braves make the playoffs and they still don't sell out) it's slightly worrisome that on a night of perfect weather, great competition, and lower ticket prices the majority of the metropolitan area chose to stay home.
I would hope the tide begins to turn in 2011, because when it's right, AMS clearly gives us the best racing on an intermediate compared to any other 1.5-mile track on the circuit. It would be a shame to lose it, because fans don't come out to support it; but then again, what do us writers know? The highest-rated cable race of the season was Pocono, not Indianapolis or elsewhere, a track that's bashed as often as someone's former girlfriend's lover on the
Winooski. Hmm... that's either a really cool Eskimo town in Alaska, ripped straight out of page 69 of the
I wasn't saying Elliott should be put out to pasture, Wes, but he's already "retired" more than once. If there were other drivers out there good enough to move up to the Cup level with solid sponsorship, Awesome Bill would be sitting in Dawsonville twiddling his thumbs. He's done a great job for the Wood Brothers, but in a perfect world they'd love to return to full-time competition with the right driver and sponsor. As soon as they find one, I fully expect him to step aside. Great legends remain great because they know the right time to cut it off and walk away.
Dave, that's exactly what the Nationwide CoT is for. Check out this Friday night's race at Richmond, it's your last chance to get a sneak preview before they're rolled out full-time in 2011.
Tobey, it's an interesting idea but I honestly think the start-and-parkers wouldn't compete, citing money issues. It's a good idea in theory, but just wouldn't have enough qualifiers and fully funded deals left standing to support it.
Personally, I think it's high time NASCAR got rid of this ridiculous top-35 rule and came up with a new system that would encourage new owners to get their feet wet without the ridiculous roadblocks they have set up now to simply make the race. But you're right; that's a whole other issue all together, and we're out of time for this Tuesday.
Before we go, our "out of left field" email of the week...
I'd be happy too, Alan, giving a home to
"Just watched entourage again... When turtle is at the bar I looked up at the TV... I was leading the race at 'Dega... Crazy I caught that." -