Is NASCAR Rebounding?

Prior to the Daytona 500, and then again heading into the California race this past week, several media reporters suggested that NASCAR (and Brian France) had its head in the sand by stating that NASCAR’s off year in 2006 was a glitch.

Well, let’s look at what’s happened so far. Daytona’s TV viewership was down from last year (10.1 rating in ’07 vs. 11.3 rating in ’06) but was still one of the top five ratings in the race’s history.

Again there was no sell-out in the stands for last week’s California race — NASCAR estimated the crowd at 87,000 while California can seat 92,000 plus the suites and 2,000 RV spots (sixth race in a row that was not a sell-out) — but California officials are pleased with the crowd size, especially given the weather on Sunday.

Nielsen reports that TV ratings for California were tied with last year’s ratings (6.2 rating) but lower than 2005.

So where does that leave NASCAR? Too soon to tell but Las Vegas might be a better barometer of NASCAR’s performance.

Here’s a thought to ponder: My colleague Mike suggested that NASCAR consider moving one race each year to a track that no longer has a Nextel race — rotating once every three to four years as needed. Might spark some new interest, especially in those areas that have lost their race(s) to other tracks.
— Jon

Cheating and Toyota’s Welcome

As we all know, several teams were cited for rules infractions (AKA, cheating) at various times during the days leading up to the Daytona 500. Some of the infractions seemed to have had minimal impact and, indeed, be unintentional.

Yet, NASCAR felt obligated to penalize — and penalize heavily — five of the teams, with Michael Waltrip receiving a brutal penalty as well as being the only team specifically identified by auto manufacturer in most news outlets. In addition, no specific sponsors of the various penalized teams were identified by most outlets.

The questions that beg to be answered are (1) why mention only the fifth “cheater’s‿ auto make but not mention the others; and (2) what’s the effect on loyal followers of race drivers/teams/manufacturers when these parties are found to be in violation of rules — regardless of the severity of the infraction?

My guess?—NONE!
On a related note, a lot has been written about the negative reaction of fans (and drivers and owners) to Toyota’s entry into the Nextel series (see Dustin Long’s article on Feb. 18 in the Virginian-Pilot — http://content.hamptonroads.com/story.cfm?story=119660&ran=106342).

Doesn’t it seem (at least) a little contradictory that we purchase DW’s banner and die casts made in China, baseball caps made in Bangladesh emblazoned with American race team sponsors’ names, Ford Fusions made in Mexico, etc., and then react negatively to the entry into Nextel racing of an automobile made in the US of A?

Can we spell “hypocritical‿?
– Jon

Daytona

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” No wait, I guess it was the best of times (again).

If we could have omitted the middle 60 percent or so of this race, I think we would look back upon it as being a ‘classic’. I had earlier noted to anyone who would listen that NASCAR needed the thrill to return as a boring Daytona would not help down the line with either the fans or the sponsors.

And, of course, it delivered.

From Mr. Ghost Rider delivering the “Gentlemen, start your engines’ to that upside down Jack Daniels car (hmm…perhaps a new drink here — “The Upended Bowyer”) there were enough tingles still left to be had.

And once my wife stopped screaming in my ear, I had figured out that the Army of One had needed to be an army of at least two as the Scallop car just had too much juice. I also deduced that I wanted to have the wrecker concession at future races.

One final word, though — “You’ll get ‘em next time, Mark”.

That’s the view from Richmond …
– Mike

PS — I still think Toyota will win by Race 7, but you wouldn’t have known it yesterday.

The New Season

Top 10 Fearless (but not ones we are betting any cash on ) Predictions for 2007:

10. Staten Island – DOA; Hello, Seattle!

9. The rising cost of attending a race drives fans away.

8. Introduction of Toyota–what will be the reaction, one like Jack Roush or more like Brian France? (We know, we know, it is more of a question than a prediction)

7. New demographics– Montoya’s entree into Nextel and Busch’s points race in Canada lead to new viewers

6. COT confuses fans who don’t want IROC-style racing.

5. JPM finishes well and two more F1/INDY drivers follow.
4. New Busch Series Sponsor — big deal or non-story, and will there be a “target” on the new sponsor?

3. The fines just keep on a coming
2. Toyota wins by seventh race. (Ensuing controversy good for solving item # 9).

1. No one can replace Benny.

Big stories of the Week:
“Just in time for Valentines…The Candymen deliver”

1. David and Lazarus are appropriate monikers for the front row holders of this year’s Daytona 500. By providing Yates Racing and Masterfoods, Inc., the front row for this Sunday’s classic, perhaps the folks at Snickers can place into their rearview mirror their strange Super Bowl commercial.

2. The only question left to be answered is the “water into wine” miracle for Michael Waltrip (perhaps we should say “mystery liquid into ‘oil’ “). Hey Matt, that should show you that a few misplaced holes are not that exciting.

3. On the other front we are guaranteed that for the first time since 1963 — when Smokey Cook ran an MG (yes, you read that correctly) at Bowman-Gray stadium in a 200 lap event won by Junior Johnson — a foreign entry will run in a NASCAR points race. Wonder what took them so long?

4. James Hylton age 72 looking relaxed and … well, need we say more ?

5. New life for Chip Gnassi !

Overall: Score a -3 for the Toyotas and a +1 for candy.

— Jon and Mike