This weekend brings a return to one of NASCAR's most historic and exciting tracks. If you missed the rain-delayed Monday race at Martinsville this spring -- and judging by the ratings, plenty of you did -- that barnburner easily qualifies as the best finish of the season.
Of course, that heart-pumping ending is one of several at the paper-clip short track in recent years, the lone remaining place on the Cup schedule that's held a race every year since the series began in 1949. Fans write every year in droves and claim if the track ever loses a date, they'll never tune into another NASCAR race again.
So why aren't they practicing what they preach? Even when Mother Nature doesn't interfere, one of the most revered tracks on the circuit sits at or near the bottom of the TV ratings chart each year. For the last three seasons, the short track has qualified as the least-watched race in the Chase, combined with attendance in recent events that has failed to fill to capacity. It's one thing if you're Michigan, where a half-filled two-mile oval still nets you 65,000 fans. But when your seating capacity is just 61,000 to begin with, just one empty seat in the hills of rural Virginia prompts the men in suits to make business decisions, not heartwarming.
It all adds up to an increasingly sad story for fans whose actions contradict their words. Five races in, the most-watched Chase event remains the much-beleaguered Auto Club Speedway, which for all its complaints of "boring" racing trailed only Talladega in postseason viewership last season. It's the type of numbers that either make you want to send Mr. Nielsen to court or raise a more intriguing question: Are a bunch of complainers causing us to miss the mark on how fans really feel?
The overwhelming amount of criticism surrounding the sport suggests we're still right in tune with what they're thinking. But for those still smarting over a wealth of negativity, if you're not watching Martinsville you're failing to indicate what changes you really want. And considering it's one of a handful of tracks on the circuit where you're all but guaranteed to get an A-level finish every time out, this is one weekend where your remote should be firmly tuned to cars going in circles, not the NFL.
On to a flurry of comments and questions this week. Per usual, email@example.com and Twitter at @
Buddy, as I explained to Dave in a hard-fought, healthy debate, the way NASCAR has set up the selection process has changed the way each five-member class is perceived. Since the Hall of Fame wasn't constructed until 60 years into the sport's existence, there's 50, 60 people out there who deserve to be enshrined right now. But by limiting each class to five per year, the sport basically tells its voting system to take that initial class of 60 and narrow it down to a ranking system each year: Who were the sixth to 10th-best people (Class 2), 11th through 15th (Class 3 in 2012), etc. Isn't that what the Hall is all about, separating the best from the best? And isn't that the best part of sports, arguing who could be ranked above who until the bar is closing at 2 am?
Several people misinterpreted that article as me saying
Also, keep in mind I'm not saying everyone with the voting panel used their heart and not their head. The difference between second-place
Dave makes mention of the fact I didn't specifically mention one voter in my column. For the record, sources on the ground tell me the group of 11 track owners combined with the eight NASCAR representatives had the least support for Yarborough and Waltrip, for whatever reasons. That makes sense to me, considering that Yarborough's "pay to play" special appearances wouldn't make me happy if I was a track owner, and Waltrip's negativity toward the sport at times in the broadcast booth isn't leaving the Frances smiling every week. I just can't name specific people if they won't go on the record because the sport doesn't release who voted for whom, similar to how college football's coaches poll used to protect its members.
Going forward, with such a small panel I think it benefits everyone involved for NASCAR to publicize those votes to the media. I understand why it doesn't happen, with fierce lobbying likely to ensue within such a small community if a finalist discovers one of their peers didn't give them support. But what have we been talking about all year concerning fans' anger over NASCAR keeping secrets instead of making decisions a matter of public record?
Let's go with Yarborough then, since it seems like DW and Ray don't really get along. Here's a man who won three straight titles in the modern era, a mark not equaled for 30 years, and has more victories than anyone except Waltrip, Allison,
When compared to Jarrett, although admirable, the numbers (83 to 50, three championships to two) just don't add up. Yes, if Jarrett had extended his career he would have more victories, perhaps up there with Pearson and Petty among the all-time greats. But if I pulled the right Monopoly piece off my chicken nuggets yesterday, I'd be sitting on an island in the Caribbean right now. My point is the Hall of Fame isn't a game of what ifs, but a reward for what was.
Oh, and for the record ... I'm a 21-year fan-turned-professional writer, attended over 100 races and counting. And I'm still in my 20s...
Miller joins Ray and several others I've seen -- professionals included -- who appear to have a personal vendetta over DW. Look, between "boogity, boogity, boogity" and some clear biases toward cheering for brother
One place you can't argue, Miller, is the statistics. Sure, DW may have been the right man with the right money at the right time for
So how could you say Waltrip isn't in the top 10 based on those stats alone, regardless of your opinion of him outside the race track? In my opinion, the answer to that question is you can't. I think it's a real shame that some who might have been personally offended by a man who has insulted them through the years chose to make a statement with this voting process.
On to other topics...
Sorry, Jeff, that's a little too gimmicky for my taste. People don't like the Chase because it's too much of a departure from the norm, so making the rules even crazier, providing the playoff drivers with a distinct disadvantage is apt to make things even worse. I totally feel you on
A question we've heard many times before, but with a nice touch at the end. How awesome would it be if you made a connection with a car you've driving on the street and the one that actually won the race? Impala owners, be honest; how many of you hit the water cooler on Monday and said, "
I didn't see very many hands go up.
Art, guess what? No one at the track saw anything serious getting picked up, either. The culprit of Saturday night's final debris caution at Charlotte was described to me as a wad of duct tape, a convenient way to bunch the field together for a finish that was going to be a natural barn-burner, anyway.
Considering Kyle's sarcastic tone after the race -- he said NASCAR threw the caution because "a mouse ran across the track or something" -- I'm sure he's a little lighter in the pocket. What I'm unsure about is when or if we'll hear about it, as ever since the secret fine incidents were revealed everyone's been tight-lipped on the subject. Turns out these fines may remain a secret after all under the right circumstances.
If you're new, Adam, I recommend anything and everything written by NASCAR's best historian,
NASCAR issues that stand out to me for 2011, in no particular order: ISC profitability (or lack thereof), the financial health of several tracks -- could we see one close?, will
That's where my mind is at right now, Adam. But we're still early.
Finally, our out of left field comment for the week...
Man, who knew how powerful that AFLAC duck could be? Not only is Carl contending for wins every week, but he's helping fans learn about the space program on the side!
'Till next time...
"Really have to thank