NASCAR is losing steam. Surprise! It is not exactly news, but this week comments made by the top brass yet again reminded us of what has been going on for about a decade now. NASCAR got its big TV contract in 2001 to bring the action nationwide. It lost one of its legends in that opening race, then his son became part of a very compelling and riveting story line, and a fad was born. Everybody who was anybody jumped aboard the bandwagon. That lasted until the economic downturn following the 2007 season. The good times came to a grinding halt, and have not yet returned. As Merle Haggard used to ask, “Are the good times really over for good?”
Once upon a time, but a time not so far away, 112,000 seats surrounded the track at Richmond. Today, they number 60,000. Last Sunday, only half of them had butt cheeks draped upon them. This week, NASCAR boss Brian France says his sport is not the only one having trouble enticing fans to leave their electronic devices behind, especially those tuned into his races, to make the trek to see the action live. They are having a summit next month in Charlotte, joined by experts, to seek out some answers. Charlotte track owner Humpy Wheeler has his own answers. Get rid of the aero push, the thing that gives the leader in clean air a distinct advantage, once and for all. Do that and then see the return of on-track excitement, the return of duels for the lead, the return of rivalries, and the return of the fans. Simple solution, but one they have been unable to solve for nearly twenty years.
NASCAR was here long before Dale Earnhardt Jr. and it will be there long after he leaves. Sure sounds strong, defiant, and even true to some degree. However, compare how much merchandise Junior moves and compare it to anyone else…hell…everyone else, and you might just notice a few beads of sweat on the foreheads of NASCAR’s big shots. In the past, big stars left but it was all small potatoes back then compared to today. Dale Earnhardt died, but his son was there pick up some of the slack. Today, Junior is planning on going. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Carl Edwards are already gone. Can Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, and the Dillon brothers keep those rabid fans in tow, the ones who will hang around no matter what? That is the question.
Few tracks pretty much guarantee excitement. Talladega happily is one of them. Multiple lead changes, the potential of mayhem each and every lap, and the thrills that it brings. You do not need an Earnhardt to present that. You sure do when you go to Kansas for the next contest, and we return to a 1.5-mile oval and the same old, same old. Without the likes of Junior to cheer for, the lukewarm supporters will once again dissipate like a mist in the wind. They might return for the all-star event, they might catch the World 600 at Charlotte later this month, or next month’s road course challenge at Sonoma, then the Firecracker 400 at Daytona in July. Kansas, Dover, Pocono, and Michigan each have two events scheduled this season, with the first coming our way in May and June. Think about that, then tell me “how bad have you got it?” Exactly.
Talladega could not come at a better time. Here is to the hot action for our Hot 20 in Alabama on Sunday afternoon.
1. BRAD KESELOWSKI – 2 WINS – 327 PTS
Junior might be the current King of Talladega, but with four wins Brad is the Crown Prince.
2. JIMMIE JOHNSON – 2 WINS – 270 PTS
When did they start painting the walls to look like Junior’s car?
3. KYLE LARSON – 1 WIN – 398 PTS
“I would race a lot more if I was allowed to. That’s why I feel like I’m the last true racer.”
4. MARTIN TRUEX JR. – 1 WIN – 358 PTS
Having a decent season, but imagine how good it would be if not for all those damned penalties.
5. JOEY LOGANO – 1 WIN – 333 PTS
Joey is sad. He heard Rowdy got a commitment line penalty at Richmond. The tears are flowing.
6. RYAN NEWMAN – 1 WIN – 225 PTS
In 30 starts, just five Top Fives, with his best being third eight years ago. You can save on the suds.
7. KURT BUSCH – 1 WIN – 192 PTS
When it came to Dale Earnhardt and Mr. Busch, oh well-a bird, bird, bird; bird is a word.
8. CHASE ELLIOTT – 346 PTS
Driving for Hooters this weekend. Make up your own joke.
9. KEVIN HARVICK – 286 PTS
Bloomin’ good result resulted in Outback Steakhouse giving away Bloomin’ Onions. Really.
10. JAMIE MCMURRAY – 282 PTS
Jamie only wins on the biggest stages. This would be one of them.
11. CLINT BOWYER – 266 PTS
Not as vile as Colbert, but he can sometimes string together some hot phrases on the radio.
12. KYLE BUSCH – 235 PTS
Five minutes. No crews, no officials, no cameras. Just five minutes is all he asks.
13. DENNY HAMLIN – 231 PTS
With Kyle, Denny, and Matt all here, the lack of Joe Gibbs wins is truly a non-story.
14. RYAN BLANEY – 229 PTS
Only five points earned over the past two events, with four of the past six outside the Top 20.
15. TREVOR BAYNE – 216 PTS
Still only one Cup win to his credit, but if you have to win just one…he picked well.
16. RICKY STENHOUSE JR. – 201 PTS
Joining Martin and Sherry, along with a host of others, in Catwalk for a Cause later this month.
17. ERIK JONES – 193 PTS
Lasted less than five laps last week, earned just one point. Talladega just has to be better.
18. MATT KENSETH – 192 PTS
Richmond was a race that proved to be 237 laps too long. Before that, he had a very nice day.
19. ARIC ALMIROLA – 189 PTS
The “other” drivers with more than one win in the No.43…Bobby Hamilton (2) and Jim Paschal (2).
20. KASEY KAHNE – 179 PTS
Krispy Kasey Kahne went cycling last week and, as Gollum might say, “It burns us.”