Monday, February 27, 2012

Sprint Cup 2012: Monday Night NASCAR???

For the first time since the event's inception in 1959, yesterday's Daytona 500 was postponed due to rain. The original plan was to race this afternoon, but the best laid plans can wind up sopping wet. Given tight deadlines and timing with the series' next event in Phoenix, Arizona and the necessity for teams to travel back to Charlotte, load up, and head west -- delaying for another day would put teams against the wall needing to be ready to run on Friday. The Daytona 500 will run tonight at 7:00 pm. This is the first time NASCAR's top series has run in prime time on a weekday night carried by a major network.

Could this be the shape of things to come?

Some of mankind's greatest discoveries have come by accident, but clearly NASCAR needs a shot in the arm far greater than Danica-mania can provide. Monday Night Football was once a huge success which helped to propel the NFL to its current level of unrivaled popularity. The BCS National Championship, the World Series, the NCAA basketball finals all play on prime time TV. Would this work for NASCAR? What are the benefits? What might be drawbacks?

Would the TV networks, Fox in particular embrace the idea?  The Daytona 500 takes place in February during "sweeps" month. Would that be a plus or a minus. We'll call it a plus if it means one less night of American Idol! If the race started at 8:00 pm, how ridiculously late would the race be over?

For the sport's biggest event to be a prime time spectacular has the potential to be a huge success for fans at home and would generate a lot more buzz during the course of the week just the way a Sunday Night or Monday Night football game does.

The move might not be good for the gate receipts at the track.Much of the audience is there attending a destination event. NASCAR fans travel from all round the nation to attend. For many spectators, a Monday night event would mean a minimum of two days' vacation time where given the proximately of the airport, fans can make a Sunday afternoon race, a weekend's event.

Tonight's race which still has the possibility of some rain delays could help tell this story. Monday Night NASCAR? Could be? Should be? or Shouldn't be?

Fans await a good race tonight, and let's see what the followup coverage and numbers show.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Word NASCAR Does Not Want to Hear: CONTRACTION

More and more seats covered with tarps, major race teams reducing in size, fewer quality rookies banging on the door attempting to push their way into the spotlight, sponsors fewer and harder to find, racing fields filled out with teams not even equipped to complete the race, NASCAR is in a state of contraction. While the competition and the highest level is as intense as ever as drivers like Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Jeff Gordon race for championship honors, to say that there are 35 fully prepared teams deserving of being locked in on the basis of owner points is a real stretch and looking at how many rides just showed up, made an appearance, and were nowhere to be found got progressively worse as the season continued, often showing as many as seven teams “starting and parking.”

Thirty three cars start the Indianapolis 500 and there is always competition to make the field. While there is no question NASCAR is a far healthier sport than IRL, NASCAR needs to accept the current situation, cut its losses and position the sport to be ready for growth when conditions are favorable once again, but some of that favorability will be how much NASCAR improves itself. Prior to 1998, not all contests featured 43 starters. The notion of “start and park” was unthinkable as every team was looking for every advantage to make the field and push for being locked in.

On the track and in the stands, NASCAR’s world is shrinking and it’s time to respond boldly. Since 2007, attendance has plummeted and numerous race tracks have reduced their seating capacity including Atlanta (which also was cut back to one race), Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California (which has also been cut to one race), and Charlotte Motor Speedway, Chicago land Speedway, Darlington, Homestead, Kansas, Martinsville, Phoenix, Richmond, and Watkins Glen. Fifteen out of twenty five of the current facilities are reduced with Michigan reducing its seating by over 25%. There’s not a hotter ticket in NASCAR than Bristol Motor Speedway, but its Spring, 2010 race broke an astounding 55 consecutive sold out streak. Seeing an increasing amount of seating area covered by tarpaulins at Dover’s Monster Mile, a track that is fed by Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, DC surely must raise an accountant’s green shade.

In 2007, the last year before the recession hit hard, there was no such thing as “start and park,” however, a phenomenon which started off as, “Oh we’re sorry, hang in there Joe, has become a money making scheme thanks to what Nemechek turned into a scam initially feeding off the goodwill of NASCAR in 2009. Joe was a good family, a family guy. He even had U.S. Army sponsorship for awhile and his mom would be the person with the pit crew holding the stop watch and clipboard. He lost his brother, John, to a racing accident in the early days of the truck series at Homestead, Florida. Nemechek was a hugely successful Busch (Nationwide) series driver, but never got it all put together at the senior level squeezing out four wins but ten poles earning the nickname “Front Row Joe.”

Starting the 2009 season, Nemechek didn’t have a ride being dismissed by the Furniture Row operation. Courageously, or so it would seem, he decided to be an owner/driver immediately connecting him with another one of the absolute good guys in NASCAR history, Alan Kulwicki, who won the 1992 championship on a low budget. Tides of good will were his to be had wishing a fellow who had more than paid his dues over a long career. However, the season had barely started, and something happened quite regularly, by the first pit stop, where was Joe. “Front Row” Joe was nowhere to be found on the track having pulled into the garage opting out of the race, but still collecting the purse for whatever finishing position he’d  gain earning at least a cool $20,000 a race for not competing. If that were at the expense of a driver who failed to qualify but had every intention of competing, how much of a good guy, was “nice guy” Joe now.

Soon the phenomenon started to snowball. Phil Parsons and Brian Humphreys, miserable failures as owners in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series would find some starving driver, throw him in the car to do the same and entering the 2010 season, “Start and Park” became a regular feature on race day with anywhere from four to seven drivers calling it quits at most events on the schedule. Showing up and not competing has been very good for some scabs who’ve learned how to make lots of money by not racing. Imagine a football team that walks off the field after the first change of possession or a baseball team that bolts after the first half inning – instruct the first three batters to strike out, and go home. That’s what is earning a lot of money for teams who “start and park.” The only caveat is that cars are not cheap nor is transportation; however, purse money is not a team’s sole source of income; however, how many people would really want a Michael McDowell t-shirt?

The following owners earned more than one million dollars on “start and park” races. We’ve attempted to back out those races were they could argue they competed.

Owner/Car #/Drivers/Earnings

Andrea Nemechek, #87 (Joe Nemechek) -- $2,456,583.00

Phil Parsons, #60 (Michael McDowell, Todd Bodine, Josh Wise) -- $2,391,688.00

Tommy McMillan, #46 (Erik Darnell, J.J. Yeley, Scott Speed) $1,722,883.00

Michael Hillman, #68 (Dave Blaney, Landon Cassill, Mike Skinner, Todd Bodine) $1,549,476.00

Robby Gordon, #7 (Robby Gordon, Reed Sorenson, Scott Wimmer) $1,304,231.00

Timothy McSweeney, #30 (David Stremme) $1,067,310.00

Bob Jenkins*,   #55 (J.J. Yeley, Jeff Green, Travis Kvapil) $1,051,588.00

*not to be confused with Bob Jenkins, former ESPN NASCAR host/announcer; currently with NBC Sports for IRL Racing.

Just how pernicious is this practice that “nice guy” Joe has turned into a minor industry? Consider the owners listed above earned a whopping $11,543,759.00. Not only that, this scam now infects the top 35 as the #13 Bob Germain car backed out of at least three races while earning a position in the valuable top 35 in owners points guaranteeing entry into the first five races of 2012. With the contraction of fully sponsored teams which include: one entry from Roush/Fenway, car #6; one from Richard Childress, car #33; and the shut down of Red Bull Racing, cars #4, 83; the prospect of teams with no intention to compete but only to freeload off of the sport could extend into the top 35 if fledgling teams do not succeed in the 2012 season.

Forty eight cars (including those which have quit races frequently in 2011) attempted to qualify for the Daytona 500 sending five cars home; however, as the season progresses, there will seldom be many races with perhaps no more than one car in excess of the 43 to fill out the field, but as slight as entries were last year, fully sponsored cars intending to complete the race were bumped by teams that pulled off and quit.

Can anyone call this sporting?

It’s a hideous joke showing a sport that has not come to terms with its contraction.  There simply are not enough fully sponsored entries to assure a full field of competitive rides, and further, some teams that will genuinely attempt to compete for greater glory are tremendously under funded. Given in excess of 11 million dollars was wasted on do-nothing, no compete race entries, certainly fattening up the purse for real race entries might improve the quality of competition and make full-fledged, fully committed race teams struggling to take on the stellar teams.

We cannot drive home the point enough that the Indianapolis 500 only starts 33 cars in its field and it is the nation’s most prestigious race outside of NASCAR.

So what’s realistic?  A sport in decline must work aggressively to push forward. All aspects of NASCAR racing needs to be polished up and unproductive pursuits must be eliminated. We’ve identified a multi-million dollar scam that is directly decreasing the quality of competition while probably not enough spread across 36 racing dates, assuming a crowd of 60,000, that would yield only a five dollar ticket cost reduction, it is significant money that can be devoted to propping up other aspects of the sport.

Taking the case of the Indy field, ten cars fewer than Sprint Cup, NASCAR has two non-points events with much smaller starting fields, the Bud Shootout the week prior to the Daytona 500 and the Sprint All-Star Race in May the week before the Coke 600. The only fans’ misgivings over the smaller field would be if his or her favorite driver did not meet the entry requirements – though there is some excitement to reverse that when one’s favorite driver wins a pole and qualifies for the Bud Shootout or wins a race and qualifies for an automatic all-star bid. Perhaps the concept of 35 automatic entries has outlived its usefulness and there should be more motivation to have to qualify to make the field. Regardless, from every angle examined, the 53 car field is no longer sustainable and must be reduced. The start and park concept cannot be tolerated.

We’ll examine additional issues NASCAR must deal with in this age of contraction and report its progress to resolve them. Clearly when one looks at the completion of the 2011 season where the championship was not determined until the last lap of the race and the competition was so close it required a tie-breaker for Tony Stewart to overcome Carl Edwards against the backdrop of many awesome challenges, the dawn of the 2012 season certainly could seem one that confirms the Charles Dickens’ paradox, “These are the best of times, these are the worst of times.”

Stepping up with that which brings in more sponsorship support, more quality drivers fighting to enter the ranks of the elite, and more fans attending races and watching on television is the responsibility of NASCAR’s management, its race teams, and broadcasters to address aggressively as we await one of the most energy charged seasons in recent history. More story lines that bring great interest like Danica Patrick’s entry into Sprint Cup and achieving goals like winning the Nationwide Poll are certainly positive signs.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sprint Cup 2012: Race 1: Daytona 500 -- Starting Field

The starting field for the 2012 Daytona 500 looks good for Jack Roush, Ford (Roush/Yates engines) and the champ, Tony Stewart. With Carl Edwards on the pole and teammate, Greg Biffle sharing the front row, with Tony Stewart, 2011 champ, and third Roush team member, Matt Kenseth in the 2nd row, the Harley Earle Trophy might have a Ford in its future, while Tony Stewart is one of those drivers like Dale Earnhardt Sr. who wins everything in sight at Daytona except the big one, could this be his year? Meanwhile, NASCAR’s most popular driver and former Daytona 500 winner, Dale Earnhardt Jr. shares the third row with perhaps a surprise, Regan Smith. Ford engines are so strong that what is surely a start and park team, the Phil Parsons owned #98 Ford driven b Michael McDowell starts 11th. The top 11 are all Fords (5) and Chevrolets before Joey Logano shows up as the top Toyota in 12th. Marginal entry and frequent parker, A.J. Allmendinger now in the #22 Penske entry is the top Dodge in 15th.

The Lineup:
 1- Carl Edwards, #99, Ford
 2- Greg Biffle, #16, Ford
 3- Tony Stewart, #14, Chevrolet
 4- Matt Kenseth, #17, Ford
 5- Dale Earnhardt Jr., #88, Chevrolet
 6- Regan Smith, #78, Chevrolet
 7- Marcos Ambrose, #9, Ford
 8- Jimmie Johnson, #48, Chevrolet
 9- Jeff Burton, #31, Chevrolet
10- Elliot Sadler, #33, Chevrolet
11- Michael McDowell, #98, Ford
12- Joey Logano, #20, Toyota
13- Kevin Harvick, #29, Chevrolet
14- Kyle Busch, #18, Toyota
15- A.J. Allmendinger, #22, Dodge
16- Jeff Gordon, #24, Chevrolet
17- Robby Gordon, #7, Dodge
18- Ryan Newman, #39, Chevrolet
19- Jaime McMurray, #1, Chevrolet
20- Kasey Kahne, #5, Chevrolet
21- Ricky Stenhouse Jr., #6, Ford
22- Mark Martin, #44, Toyota
23- Brad Keselowski, #2, Dodge
24- Dave Blaney, #36, Chevrolet
25- David Ragan, #25, Ford
26- Martin Truex, #56, Toyota
27- Aric Almirola, #43, Ford
28- Kurt Busch, #51, Chevrolet
29- Danica Patrick #10, Chevrolet
30- Clint Bowyer, #15, Toyota
31- Denny Hamlin, #11, Toyota
32- Bobby Labonte, #47, Toyota
33- David Gilliland, #38, Ford
34- Joe Nemechek, #87, Toyota
35- Juan Montoya, #41, Chevrolet
36- Casey Mears, #13, Ford
37- Paul Menard, #27, Chevrolet
38- David Reutimann, #93, Toyota
39- Landon Cassill, #83, Toyota
40- Trevor Bayne, #21, Ford
41- Tony Raines, #26, Ford
42- David Stremme, #42, Toyota
43- Terry Labonte, #32, Ford

Did not qualify:

44- Michael Waltrip, #40, Toyota
45- Robert Richardson Jr., #45, Toyota
46- Bill Elliot, #97, Toyota
47- Mike Wallace, #37, Ford
48- Kenny Wallace, #09, Toyota
49- J.J. Yeley, #49, Toyota


2012 Sprint Cup -- Setting the Field: How Will Your Driver do in 2012?

The future could look like the past as no matter how you look at it, if Jimmie Johnson isn't the best bet, who is? How about the two guys who fought to the last lap for last year's title or the fellow who has four cups to his credit.

The 2012 Sprint Cup Season begins Sunday with the Daytona 500 as a season with numerous changes prepares to run. Mechanically, the big change is the use of fuel injection which appeared to cause trouble for one team in the twin 125’s as Kenny Wallace’s guitar lost fuel pressure, for the rest of the field, there was no apparent difficulty and possibly some advantages. The other big change is of course one of personnel including crew chief changes at the highest level with Darien Grubb leaving Tony Stewart to work with Denny Hamlin, while Steve Addington moves to Stewart Haas to supervise Tony Stewart’s crew. The Stewart Haas operation is enhanced by the addition of Greg Zippedelli who will serve as competition director and be chief for the 10 rides of Danica Patrick in the #10 car. Some drivers suffered demotions, most notably David Ragan giving up the #6 at Roush/Fenway to run for Front Row. David Reutimann was fired from Michael Waltrip Racing and will race the majority of the season in the #10 car for Tommy Baldwin. Clint Bowyer moves from Richard Childress to Michael Waltrip as does Mark Martin who will share the #55 ride with Michael Waltrip. Kurt Busch fired from Penske will race for James Finch. We’ve attempted to find a rational means to pick which drivers will be in the chase and who will win the championship. We considered a number of factors starting with last year’s results, how consistent drivers perform year-to-year, and the overall strength and resources of the ownership. A total of twenty factors were considered total. We’ll only rate the top 30 drivers since beyond that mark there are two many variables and the tams involved, quite simply lack commitment or are unproven at this point.

 Rank/Car #/Driver/Score
1- #48, Jimmy Johnson, 68 pts.
2- #14, Tony Stewart, 64 pts.
3- #99, Carl Edwards, 64 pts.
4- #24, Jeff Gordon, 64 pts.
5- #17, Matt Kenseth, 57 pts.
6- #29, Kevin Harvick, 55 pts.
7- #11, Denny Hamlin, 53 pts.
8- #18, Kyle Busch, 53 pts.
9- #5, Kasey Kahne, 45 pts.
10- #2, Brad Keselowski, 41 pts.
11- #88, Dale Earnhardt Jr., 41 pts.
12- #16, Greg Biffle, 40 pts.
13- #39, Ryan Newman, 39 pts.
14- #51, Kurt Busch, 36 pts.
15- #15, Clint Bowyer, 35 pts.
16- #31, Jeff Burton, 33 pts.
17- #27, Paul Menard, 30 pts.
18- #41, Juan Pablo Montoya, 30 pts.
19- #9, Marcos Ambrose, 29 pts.
20- #56, Martin Truex, 28 pts.
21- #1, Jaime McMurray, 28 pts.
22- #20, Joey Logano, #25 pts.
23- #22, A.J. Allmendinger, 24 pts.
24- #34, David Ragan, 20 pts.
25- #78, Regan Smith, 19 pts.
26- #47, Bobby Labonte, 17 pts.
27- #43, Aric Almirola, 13 pts.
28- #38, David Gillilland, 13 pts.
29- #13, Casey Mears, 11 pts.
30- #36, Dave Blaney, 7 pts.

Part-Time Rides (performance dependent on appearances)
1- #55, Mark Martin/Michael Waltrip
2- #21, Trevor Bayne 3- #33, Elliot Sadler
3- #6, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
4- #10 Danica Patrick/David Reutimann

The remainder of the field consists of either unproven or substandard teams, five of which could win the honor of being in the top 35 in owner's points, the importance of which will be sufficiently clear in the first five races.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

NASCAR 2012 is Here!!!

The Rightminded Fellow has been in hibernation since the end of the Ravens run to the playoffs, but the engines are fired up, the cars are shined up and 36 races await us. The 2012 NASCAR season has many questions and stories to follow.

The new face of NASCAR?

1- Danica, Danica, Danica!!!!

Danica Patrick has left the IRL for a full-time gig in NASCAR racing the full season for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Nationwide Series and ten races in the #10 car for Stewart Haas with some of the sport's most difficult courses carefully selected by her boss, the champ and former open-wheeler, Tony Stewart.

The true measure of her accomplishments will be her work in Nationwide and whether she is is top 10 or top 5 quality driver in her first full-time ride. The Sprint Cup races are truly a trial by fire. She's a master of the media, and one heck of a hard worker.

2- Fuel Injection

Gone are the days of old fashioned carburetors, distributors, and all the other gizmos in a mechanical fuel and ignition system. NASCAR joins the 21st century with electric fuel injection which might optimize performance but won't change the look of racing much at all other than all the old fuel mileage calculations are no longer relevant. The old "fuel mileage" specialists are starting fresh.  With other technology changes, history has shown some teams are ready for change and some lag behind. With the introduction of the "Car of Tomorrow" the Roush stable was not prepared and did not become competitive until almost a year under their belts.

3- Contraction

Two top teams are down to three teams with the #6 car only racing part time for Roush/Fenway and the #33 does likewise for Childress. Red Bull's two car effort is gone. Looking over the possible 2012 teams, some appear to be marginal operations some of which will surely just show up to get NASCAR welfare including the #87 Nemechek wreck on wheels and another effort from Phil Parsons.

4- Kasey Kahne and Kenny Francis Move to Hendricks

Even with the lame duck, Red Bull operation, the driver/crew chief combo of Casey Kahne and Kenny Francis provided a most competitive ride as they did when Richard Petty's operation struggled. Now they will have all the resources they can imagine with the #5 car, but they'll also share an effort with the most elite drivers in the sport, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

5- Those Naughty Busch Brothers

Younger brother, Kyle,  acted the part getting arrested driving at reckless highway speeds in a high performance sports car and then rear ended Ron Hornaday in a deliberate attack in a Truck Series race leading to suspension from his Sprint Cup ride for one "chase" race as punishment. He also angered his primary sponsor M&M candies. Nevertheless, despite all eyes on his nasty ways he won the Bud Shootout in spectacular fashion in a swing shot pass on the champ in the final seconds of the race. If this twerp ever grows up, he could be the sports' most dominant driver. Meanwhile, Kurt Busch, received national recognition from Forbes Magazine as one of the nation's top 10 most hated athletes. His temper tantrums and verbal abuse of his pit crew accompanied with rude conduct including verbally blasting an ESPN reporter led to his firing at Penske now racing for the low budget team of James Finch where there will be no margin for boorish behavior.

6- Junior Nation

This is Dale Earnhardt's year to show something. Having made the chase was the first step in the driver's recovery but now he needs some visits to victory lane. He signed a five year extension with Hendricks last year so presumably he won't be hearing the pitter-patter of little Danica feet getting ready to jump in his ride, but despite some promising races last year, there were too many that showed the same old lame excuses. Is his admiring minion of fans ready to accept, Junior might never be a true championship contender; however, to be considered a good racer, he needs to take a checkered flag here and there. The move working with Steve Letarte eliminates the support issues as he couldn't have a better leader pushing his team.