Like a reflection in a side-view mirror, NASCAR's problems are sometimes larger than they appear. During the past few years, criticism has rained down on a sport that's seen double-digit ratings drops, attendance declines and the dominance of a few select drivers. Case in point:
Every pessimistic article on the subject ends with the same question: How do you fix it? Saturday night provided some basic clues. Start with a classic tradition at a challenging track in the heart of NASCAR country (Darlington), take out a dominating contender in a freak accident (Johnson), add a little unpredictability (20 lead changes) and two popular veterans (
It just goes to show that with all the Nancy Negative stories out there, NASCAR fans really aren't looking for much. Give them cars racing side-by-side or a track where danger awaits at every turn, and they'll be sitting there captivated for 500 miles. Oh, and did I mention the race was a near sellout? Sometimes a history of a great race does matter when figuring out when and how to spend your cash.
On to your questions and comments for the week. Doing a little spring cleaning after all of you spent some extra time with your moms; but next week, there's no excuse for slacking off! You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at
I'd never heard this complaint, and I'm surprised it turned up now: At three hours, 57 minutes, the 2010 Southern 500 was the third-fastest 500-miler in the last decade at Darlington. But that didn't stop Victor from joining other fans and media in calling for this race to lose at least 100 miles for 2011.
I'm all about shortening certain races (Pocono, anyone?), but certain events in the sport are untouchable. In my opinion, four races in NASCAR stand out as ones drivers want to win: The Daytona 500, The Coca-Coca 600 (Charlotte), The Brickyard 400 (Indy) and the Southern 500. Would you shorten any of those first three races by 100 miles? No. Tradition and prestige outweigh any complaints over length.
Sure, the Southern 500 was moved from its traditional Labor Day date six years ago, but that hasn't diminished how drivers feel about the "Lady In Black."
"The faces on [the trophy] are unbelievable," said Hamlin Saturday night. "It's amazing. I can remember
That's not the type of quote you get from a driver after winning Fontana. It's one that commands this 500-mile tradition be respected. If anything, let's change the time of the race so drivers are running in the heat of the day, adding another element to this challenging race while ensuring everyone's in bed before midnight.
Reports surfaced last week that Childress is close to signing Harvick, with "sponsors that have never been involved in the sport" looking to align themselves with the No. 29 team. That leaves regular readers scratching their head following earlier reports
What's changed here? For both parties it's a simple case of being backed into a corner. Harvick's said he refuses to leave Chevrolet, as his own Nationwide and Truck programs currently run the Bowtie brand. But there's just no opening under the Chevy banner in Cup, except for a possible expansion at Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).
That's where everyone felt Harvick was headed for months until funding began falling apart. When Shell/Pennzoil wound up poached by Penske, Harvick's soon-to-be-former sponsor left him without financial backing to offer another program. SHR is already burdened by its own sponsorship issues (Old Spice announced Sunday it won't renew with Stewart's No. 14) and may be asked to take on Hendrick signee
That means Harvick's No. 1 option would have to possibly expand by two cars and add three primary sponsors (at least) to make everything work. So while the bridge-burning comments ring true -- my sources claim the Harvick/Childress partnership has been skating on thin ice for over a year now -- it's possible both may have no other choice. There's no better free agent available for Childress, and with their recent success there's an opening for an awkward contract extension. I still won't be on board until Harvick signs on the dotted line; but I can certainly see where and how it could happen.
As for sponsors for the No. 29 car? I'm as clueless as you are, J.A. One of the big issues in the sport right now is no new companies are giving it a look, so any outside interest is news to me.
I disagree with your point on loyalty, Brian. Check out Harvick's commitment to Chevy, or Stewart running back to the Bowties after just one year running Toyotas. A driver like
As for bodies, that's a serious issue NASCAR is looking to fix with its AAA series, introducing the Nationwide Car of Tomorrow with classic cars like the Dodge Challenger and Ford Mustang that change the body design from "carbon copy" to "cool." There's just one problem: It's coming at the wrong time for minor league programs already stretched to the financial limits. Sources tell me no fewer than four Nationwide teams went to NASCAR officials asking them to not only postpone the final test next week, but also table the car's July debut at Daytona until further notice.
Don't expect the sport to do that, though, with a car that's created some big-time buzz.
Here's to hoping you're still watching the sport by the time the car makes its way to the big leagues.
Finally, always fun to end with a random Danica e-mail...
It's been awhile since Patrick's graced the NASCAR circuit, so let's take a look at her IndyCar results this year: 15th, seventh, 19th, 16th, 11th, and 16th in points (of about 25 full-time drivers). Ouch. Whether it's a road course or oval, Patrick has endured her worst career season just months after her foray into NASCAR. That tells me the Indy 500 is clearly a make-or-break point in a career nearing a fork in the road. If she struggles there, you have to wonder how owner