Saturday, June 2, 2012

Sprint Cup 2012: Race 13 -- the White Cliffs of Dover

They might not be the White Cliffs of Dover but the high concrete banks of Dover International Raceway provide a bold landscape for racing at its best.

"Bristol on steroids."
     -Jeff Hammond, Fox commentor - championship crew chief

In the last race of the Boogity-Boogity circuit (Sprint Cup Races on Fox) Mark Martin, the ageless wonder, sits on the poll in the #55 Aaron’s Dream Machine for tomorrow’s Fed Ex 400 for Autism Speaks on the high banked concrete monster in Dover Delaware. Jimmie Johnson, the hottest driver in the pact, holds the outside poll. Two cars, the #26 Ford and #74 Chevrolet failed to qualify with seven marginal rides that are almost certain to pull off and park not giving any measure of competition whatsoever. On a track where pit space is sparse and too much lap traffic really impedes competition – the situation is crying out for resolution, NASCAR must reduce the number of starting entries, cut their losses, trim the fat, and make the product on the track truly represent nothing but serious competition. That Dover cannot sellout in such a population rich region, a quick ride from Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and New York, Dover provides superb conditions for outstanding racing, but Brian France and Mike Helton must get serious about putting outstanding racing on the track.

Let’s be honest, NASCAR exploded in popularity in the 90’s and into the next decade but their highest peaks do not define their new norm. The decision to mandate all races start with 43 entries looked workable when started in 1998. However, when Sprint Cup lineups have entries that wouldn’t even come close to being competitive in the regional series allowing the insane start and park races where marginal under supported teams typically pocket at least $80k for just showing up, 43 starters is not realistic. Each series from the K&N Pro Series through the Camping World Trucks, Nationwide, and Sprint Cup series should feature progressively more elite qualified competition where one series prepares teams for the next level. Sprint Cup and Nationwide are loaded with a substantial number of no-compete entries. Meanwhile, Trevor Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner can’t find a full-time ride on the Nationwide level. The lower starting positions of Sprint and Nationwide should be of young, hungry driver learning the trade pushing to complete races. Clearly the market does not support 43 teams at the highest two levels and how nice it would be to see room opening up for some of the exciting young drivers in the lesser series not a bunch of also-rans and rejects. ARE YOU LISTENING BRIAN FRANCE AND MIKE HELTON???

No race better demonstrated the need for smaller starting fields and getting rid and penalizing entries who refuse to compete than today’s Nationwide race. First, only 42 cars started the race. They did not have a full field. Second up to nine cars just called it quits.

Considering the inability to field a competitive lineup the more visible issue is declining attendance at man events. Hall-of-fame inductee, Rusty Wallace, and most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. have both spoken of shortening the season. It’s hard to miss the tarpaulins covering sections of seating at Dover, but a bad race at Dover exceeds a packed house at most tracks. Much was made of the dreadful attendance at this year’s first race at Bristol. Since NASCAR events are seldom “home town” but destination events not only do higher full costs and less blow money figure into the equation, but the hotel industry in many markets charge substantially jacked up rates requiring minimum stays further impacting the fans’ ability to afford events.

NASCAR cannot stay the course and not risk continued erosion of the integrity of the sport. Leadership, owners, drivers, manufacturers, media, and sponsors need to work together and develop a blueprint for the sports’ future from feeder series to the top.

While we’re airing dirty laundry – what to do with Kurt Busch, a sociopath with a helmet? After his latest digression into disgusting boorish behavior and the terms of his handshake agreement with owner, James Finch, he was in the thick of controversy today with another spat with another driver and then cussing out an ESPN reporter. Where does it end? Perhaps inclusion in the Jeremy Mayfield Hall of Shame is not that far off.

The good news is that Sprint Cup at its highest levels produces superb competition and 2012 is no exception so far. The thin distance in points between the top drivers and number of winning drivers shows competition is red hot and real.

155Mark MartinToyotaAaron's Dream Machine158.297
248Jimmie JohnsonChevroletLowe's Madagascar158.263
339Ryan NewmanChevroletQuicken Loans158.235
415Clint BowyerToyota5-hour Energy158.047
517Matt KensethFordBest Buy157.985
629Kevin HarvickChevroletJimmy Johns157.867
716Greg BiffleFord3M / Heilind (EMD)157.839
818Kyle BuschToyotaM&M's157.839
951Kurt BuschChevroletPhoenix Construction Services157.611
1011Denny HamlinToyotaFedEx Freight / Autism Speaks157.549
1120Joey LoganoToyotaThe Home Depot157.542
1243Aric AlmirolaFordJani-King / Smithfield157.494
135Kasey KahneChevroletHendrickCars.com157.418
1424Jeff GordonChevroletDuPont157.405
1531Jeff BurtonChevroletBB&T157.363
162Brad KeselowskiDodgeMiller Lite157.343
1788Dale Earnhardt Jr.ChevroletAMP Energy / Diet Mtn. Dew / National Guard157.329
1856Martin Truex Jr.ToyotaNAPA Auto Parts157.178
1999Carl EdwardsFordSubway157.061
2027Paul MenardChevroletMenards / Pittsburgh Paints156.822
219Marcos AmbroseFordStanley156.822
2247Bobby LabonteToyotaScott Products156.781
2322AJ AllmendingerDodgeShell / Pennzoil156.637
241Jamie McMurrayChevroletBass Pro Shops / Allstate156.563
25179Scott SpeedFordTeam Kyle / Koma Unwind156.488
2678Regan SmithChevroletFurniture Row / CSX "Play it Safe"156.46
2783Landon CassillToyotaBurger King / Dr Pepper156.27
2834David RaganFordMHP / 8 Hour Alert156.216
2914Tony StewartChevroletMobil 1 / Office Depot156.121
3038David GillilandFordAutism Speaks155.723
3142Juan MontoyaChevroletTarget155.676
3230David StremmeToyotaInception Motorsports155.266
3398Michael McDowellFordPhil Parsons Racing154.912
34249J.J. YeleyToyotaAmerica Israel Racing / JPO Absorbents154.672
3587Joe NemechekToyotaAM / FM Energy Wood & Pellet Stoves154.559
36119Mike BlissToyotaHumphrey Smith Racing154.559
3733Stephen Leicht*ChevroletLittle Joes Autos154.48
3832Reed SorensonFordFAS Lane Racing154.096
3910David ReutimannChevroletTommy Baldwin Racing154.024
4013Casey Mears+FordGEICO153.866
4136Dave Blaney+ChevroletTommy Baldwin Racing153.702
4293Travis Kvapil+ToyotaBurger King / Dr Pepper153.584
4323Scott RiggsChevroletNorth Texas Pipe154.48
Did Not Qualify
4426Josh Wise*FordMDS Transport154.288
4574Cole WhittChevroletTurn One Racing154.242

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