NASCAR: 2015 Is Done, Is 2016 The Year For NASCAR Excellence?

Expect Harvick to be at the front in 2016.

Expect Harvick to be at the front in 2016.

The 2015 NASCAR Cup season is over and done. Did it rise to level of excellence, no. Did it rise to level of acceptance, yes. The television ratings were down again, but not in a dramatic way, the hemorrhaging has stopped and it’s down to a trickle. That’s actually progress.

2016 will start without Jeff Gordon who gave us the modern era of top notch drivers and competition. That’s a shame, but that’s progress. We move on.

What will 2016 look like given the path laid out for the competitors to win a championship? The first thing that comes to mind is that the teams will become more savvy with how to run their in-season strategy coupled with a flow through plan for getting through each level to the final race.

The Low Down-Force cars should be a learning and driving experience for the competitors as it will more clearly define who are the real wheelmen. It may give those on lesser teams a greater chance to show their skill as aero won’t be a crutch that the teams can lean on.

Don’t get me wrong, every team will take the low down-force cars and try to wring every bit of aero out of them that they can, not to mention the mechanical grip and integration of all of these into a cohesive chassis.

Don't be surprised to see Kyle Larson challenging for wins and the Championship in 2016.

Don’t be surprised to see Kyle Larson challenging for wins and the Championship in 2016.

We shouldn’t expect a miraculous change in the drivers we know are highly skilled such as Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson. Kurt Busch and many others. They are what they are, great drivers and inveterate competitors.

As for the Chase format, it’s time to quit worrying that it seems false, it isn’t. It belongs to NASCAR, they make the rules and you can either play by them or go elsewhere. It’s up to the teams to decide if they want to compete.

I see it as no different than the NFL. The very best team doesn’t always get to the Super Bowl.

We have to realize that in the grand scheme of the sport we call auro racing, NASCAR is still the 800 lb, gorilla in the United States and will remain so for the foreseeable future. IndyCar has raised it’s game, to be sure, but it isn’t going regain the luster it once had.

NASCAR will still be America’s choice for motorsports and 2016 seems to great promise in it’s ability to deliver a very competitive and exciting product.

We may be past the days of 100,00 people in the stands, but that’s a sign of the times. People want their leisure activity on-demand and they have many choices. NASCAR will have to continue it’s digital battle to capture new fans and retain the ones they currently enjoy.

Expect to see the usual suspects fighting it out, but expect to see a more entertaining battle.

The Target Is on the Back of Logano At Phoenix

Joey Logano has to win to make the Homestead show, but with no friends and multiple enemies, it looks unlikely.

Joey Logano has to win to make the Homestead show, but with no friends and multiple enemies, it looks unlikely.

Amaze your friends and build new bridges is an old adage used in commercials of yesterday, Charlton Heston comes to mind. This, however, does not apply to Joey Logano who will have his work cut out for him at Phoenix this weekend.

It won’t be because Logano isn’t fast, he is, but making too many enemies in a NASCAR Cup field can doom your chances at making a good impression or amazing anyone. There’ll be no magic act or dancing bears.

To make the final four he will have to win and to win at Phoenix you would have to have friends or more accuratley, ‘frienemies’, to do it. He has none, including his teammate, Brad Keselowski who is also going for a spot in the big show at Homestead.

Ford may very well rally the troops who aren’t eligible for the final three Homestead spots, which is everyone except the Penske squad, but their aren’t really any strong contenders for the Blue Oval in the actual race that might make a difference.

The main players here are the Hendrick crowd. They will block and make their cars as wide as possible in order to reduce the risk to Jeff Gordon when crunch time comes in Florida. It’s not a precedent, you saw it in action when Jimmie Johnson stalked down Brad Keselowski at Texas with surgical precision.

Keselowski, Logano's teammate, may fair better at Phoenix if he can stay clear of the field. Easier said than done.

Keselowski, Logano’s teammate, may fair better at Phoenix if he can stay clear of the field. Easier said than done.

There is a true strategy in play and NASCAR knows it. The only thing NASCAR doesn’t want to see is a repeat of the Kenseth hit on Logano, other than that, they want the dogfight we would expect from this caliber of drivers.

Make no mistake, Ford will have rallied it’s teams to do whatever they can to get Keselowski or Logano into the show, but both of these drivers have the GM faction gunning for them. But wait there’s more.

The intramural rivalry between the Hnedrick and Stewart–Haas camps will be in full song as well. The odds on favorite to win at Phoenix is Kevin Harvick and Harvick needs to win just to put the final nail in the box to make Homestead. But Hendrick wold love for him to somehow not make it to the Sunshine State, though that’s unlikely.

Crashes, pit road penalties, finishing orders…all will come into play, therefore the only insurance is to win and that is where Harvick has a statistical advantage, but anything can happen as we’ve seen so far.

For Joey Logano, however, the hoped coronation may have run him right over. No cigar, no champagne and no seat at the big table. He has made many enemies in the field from all sides, including his own Ford camp.

It seems to be more likely that Ford will concentrate on Keselowski, although Logano could run up front all day unmolested, in NASCAR you never know who, or when someone may want to extract revenge for some infraction from the past or leave you alone.

Right now, Logano is the prison concierge, the piñata of the year and each and every one of his competitors know it and are apparently ready to take a swing at him.

Talladega: Is Kevin Harvick a Genius?

Mike Helton

Mike Helton

What in the Hell actually happened yesterday in that slice of unique America, perhaps more accurately a Principality, called Talladega? Forgive me, I don’t have the prose, thought process or word-smithing ability of our Ron Bottano, but I’m clueless as to why NASCAR allowed Harvick to stay out on that track in a green/white checker situation.

Let me be clear, I don’t think NASCAR manipulated the situation, far worse, they let the bear grow too big. It got away from them somehow. Have they now become a corporation where everyone involved is the smartest guy in the room?

That’s probably closer to the truth. Unless my tiny little South Carolina cracker brain is finally failing me like a pair of jumper cables at a redneck funeral, cars must be capable of maintaining a safe racing speed. I believe there is a minimum speed established for that, they must keep up with the pace car, unfortunately they seemed to throw that rule right out of the window when it came to Kevin Harvick.

Knowing that he could advance to the next round in the Chase elimination process, Harvick could be accused of deliberately crashing Trevor Bayne on the only Green/White checker opportunity that NASCAR would allow under their special Talladega rule. He has been accused of just that by everyone from the drivers to multitudes of Dale Earnhardt Jr fans.

Is Harvick really that smart? Yes he is.

Is Harvick really that smart? Yes he is.

The best read on the incident and aftermath may be by Bob Pockrass. Read it.

I’ve no reason to elaborate on what Bob wrote, but the whole incident does make you wonder just how easy it is to implement a rule or regulation only to run into the rabbit hole of “Unintended Consequences”. Did NASCAR really sit down and think this race, it’s ‘special’ rules and what permutations of consequence it might have?

It doesn’t look as if they did or they didn’t count on a driver at Harvick’s level being clever enough to pull of a frozen field scenario. I’m not saying Harvick crashed intentionally, but he’s is certainly intelligent enough to have figured it out without being outed on the radio. He is most definitely smart enough to have done so. That doesn’t mean he did. But if I were him, I would have.

I would have to say that whether he did it on purpose or not, it was incumbent on NASCAR to have forced him to the back of the line knowing that he could not accelerate and was a moving chicane in a field of wolves ready to drop the hammer.

If he did it on purpose then he’s a genius to have called that play alone in the car.

To me the big question is: Why would NASCAR allow the field to approach a start at 30 to 35 MPH? That pace car should have been pacing the field at 50 to 55 MPH on a track that size and on a green/white finish.

They didn’t, Harvick did, NASCAR lost a lot of credibility.

No one really came out a winner on Sunday.

Kurt Busch To Marry Up: Ashley Van Metre

Hopefully the incredibly talented Kurt Busch will find peace.

Hopefully the incredibly talented Kurt Busch will find peace.

It’s completely beyond anything anyone would consider normal for someone like me to attempt to get inside the head of one of the Busch brothers, especially Kurt. On the other hand, why not? Brother Kurt now has a brand spankin’ new fiance’.

Racing drivers suffer the same problems that we rank and file folk go through: Depression, anxiety, marital problems and if you’re not one of the top drivers, financial duress. Apart from that it would seem that not much is left.

However these drivers are different animals. They don’t think the way the guy who owns the corner drug store behaves. They tend to be very excitable, easy to lose their temper, sort of like those crazy neighbors that no one wants to make eye contact with.

In Kurt Busch’s case, he may very well have taken a huge stepping away from the stressful and toxic relationships and might well be on the cusp of a renaissance in his career. I know, I know, he’s third in the points, but when Chase time comes he had better be more than calm, he will have to be laser beam focused.

Take a look at his brother Kyle. Truly one, if not the best, wheelmen in the business. He got married, had a child and is ripping the tracks up no matter where they are. Kurt has always seemed a little more unpredictable, but this marriage may be the golden turning point for him.

I’ve never been married and maybe never will, my friends tell me that it will calm me down, make me more focused and I could even live longer. I’m afraid to hold my breath.

No stranger to danger, Polo can be violent, Van Metre has a handle on competition.

No stranger to danger, Polo can be violent, Van Metre has a handle on competition.

In Kurt Busch’s case, he seems to have hit the motherlode, at least in terms of pairing with a woman with exemplary life breeding. His fiancé, Ashley Van Metre, is accomplished in the art of moving in high cotton circles. Did I mention she’s an accomplished Polo player and a Ralph Lauren model? Polo is most definitely for the rich, but at least it’s highly competitive and she will have some understanding of the mindset he has.

She almost certainly has an entire dossier on Kurt Busch’s life, courtesy of the forward thinking family she has. They do, afterall put on on the Van Metre Cup. They don’t shoot from the hip, they perform their due diligence. In fact, she’s already had a calming effect on him as one can tell when he’s interviewed.

Marriage can go two ways, to Heaven or to Hell according to virtually every couple I’ve spoken to regarding the subject. Racing drivers don’t live in-between too often. They are either full gas or full brake, rarely do they sit around and contemplate life.

With Kurt, he’s seemed to have had a troubled soul for most of his adult life, but they tell me, and I did call a marriage therapist before writing this little piece, that marrying the right person is the single most defining thing a person can do.

Personally I think winning the Sprint Cup Championship is, but what do I, a confirmed bachelor know?

Her family is filthy rich. Check box one as she’s no gold digger, her gang has much more money than Busch. Check box two, she herself is an inveterate competitor and has meshed into his life without trouble. Check box three, her family knows who Kurt Busch is. You don’t retain that kind of wealth by letting you’re daughter marry down, so I would expect he has passed the Van Metre meter. Check box four, she’s drop dead, stop the trains from running gorgeous.

I fully expect that her intellect, lack of financial incentive and her understanding of finance, high brow upbringing and astonishing good looks will keep Busch in a very safe place in his mind.

The Chase is coming, Busch is in final talks to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing and he’s marrying someone every bit his equal.

Life is good at the Kurt Busch camp and good for them, everyone deserves a chance to experience a long lasting and meaningful relationship.

Maybe I do have a chance, that girl at the Steak n’ Shake drive thru is awfully friendly to me.

Extra fries, maybe I have a chance.

NASCAR: Is The Brickyard 400 Still Marquee Relevant?

The youth today have far too many avenues of consuming media for NASCAR to relax it's efforts. It's time to double down.

The youth today have far too many avenues of consuming media for NASCAR to relax it’s efforts. It’s time to double down.

The bottom line is that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is simply just another racing track. It has an undisputed storied history, but auto racing is one of those rare sports that exist solely in the moment. The here and now.

Take the marketing hype that created the sentiment off the table for a moment. Particularly for NASCAR.

How many people were in the stands? In a cavernous venue such as IMS, it looked empty even though it probably had 70,000 fans in the stands. In days past that figure was close to 200,000.

Yes it’s now in it’s third decade and will still be run, as it should, but it just doesn’t have the cache’ it once had. How do you polish this once shiny apple when almost every venue NASCAR visits faces the same problem?

Attendance in all forms of motor sport are down in double digits globally. Why? The answer isn’t so simple and it’s more than just one issue. No matter how anyone chooses to spin it, the economy is at the top of the list. It’s bad from Daytona to Oom Baba Mau Mau. That’s that.

Secondly, the television figures are down, year over year, for NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula One, NHRA and IMSA. How is that?

We are moving at an incredible rate towards too many choices and too many alternative forms of entertainment that auto racing has to face in the modern digital era.

An exciting finish and brilliant win for Kyle Busch. Empty seats are evident at the checkered flag.

An exciting finish and brilliant win for Kyle Busch. Empty seats are evident at the checkered flag.

Bruce Springsteen said it best in his famous musical lamentation, “57 Channels and There’s Nuthin On”. It was true in the late 70’s and throughout the 1980’s, only now it’s 1,057 channels and everything is on.

The clamoring for attention and the focus of each demographic has diluted the once strong and growing world of auto racing.

Case in point: “Dating Naked”? I sit back in astonishment wondering how most of these shows actually get funded. If that’s the competition, we’re doomed.

Millennials many times, probably more often than not, don’t bother with the traditional networks, they simply sit staring hypnotically at their laptops soaking up the offerings of Netflix, Hulu and God knows what else….but we can probably guess.

That’s just the truth and they are the future potential fans. Only the new, young up and coming drivers will be able to change this malaise and that’s a tall order. Every driver, crew member and concession vendor will have to be tweeting, posting, inst-grab-assing and participating in every form of digital-social interaction they possibly can.

That’s still not enough. NASCAR, to their credit is walking the unenviable tight-rope of having to keep the die hard fans engaged while trying to attract the young viewers attention. They are the future.

Despite the tinkering and wholesale rule changes NASCAR is making a truly concerted effort, whether it works or doesn’t. It didn’t really change much this past weekend at The Brickyard, but seemed to have the cars passing at the turn’s entry rather than on the straight. The results didn’t really change.

One more time: Less down-force. More drag didn’t pan out in Indy.

Improving the product, socially telling everyone from everyone and promotion to all of the demographics are going to be necessary. But one thing is certain, NASCAR needs the youth to replace us older viewers. It is simply a fact that the boomers are aging and passing on.

Funny thing about life, No one get’s out alive.

 

 

 

Danica Patrick: Different Series, Same Old…

If Patrick and Tony Stewart can't bring the level of sponsorship to the team they're used to seeing, it could spell trouble.

If Patrick and Tony Stewart can’t bring the level of sponsorship to the team they’re used to seeing, it could spell trouble.

No one can say with authority that Danica Patrick isn’t a worthy professional racing driver, she is.

However, it can be said that she appeared in her early racing career as a potential super competitor turned mediocre by today’s standards.

Auto racing as an endeavor to master machinery under stress is agnostic to color, race, creed or gender. It doesn’t care. The bottom line is all that counts.

Unfortunately her bottom line has been more monetary than on track results.

GoDaddy ultimately took her in as a potential historical racing figure in which to base it’s main marketing focus. Now, after a very long stint as her primary sponsor, they are leaving.

The question now remains: Will Danica Patrick be able to move up in stature in NASCAR or slowly grind her way back down the grid?

As it stands she shows brief flashes of skill on par with her main competitors, her teammates at Stewart-Haas Racing, but hasn’t delivered on-track as hoped. As long as the money train was in play, she was very relevant to both IndyCar and NASCAR.

In IndyCar she won one race. In virtually all of the lower formulas of her racing after Formula Ford, she was merely a few steps above average.

What she has excelled at is marketing. Other than the Earnhardt clan she may be the most marketable driver to have driven in either series.

Racing teams, racing series and corporations have flocked to her, used what they needed and either they moved on or she did. Ask Bobby Rahal how he feels.

Could GoDaddy take her back to Europe and into the WEC?

Could GoDaddy take her back to Europe and into the WEC?

Whatever the reasons, it has to be understood that all is fair in ‘Love, War and Racing’. She used whatever she needed to get where she is and no one can take that from her or fault her.

What can be taken from her is that if she can’t produce another sponsor at GoDaddy’s level, she will move further down the grid. Stewart Haas didn’t hire her for her driving prowess. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the money doesn’t get spread around the SHR camp.

However you look at it, she won’t see equipment like she presently enjoys should SHR decide to cut her loose.

I’ve no doubt that she will land on her feet, but unless she can show up with the magic funding number, she won’t get another chance. She’ll be the next single car team driver du jour.

Should Patrick fail to produce the dollars required to keep her on a top team, she may very well do herself a favor and move to a sports car endurance series such as the Tudor series or even the World Endurance Championship.

GoDaddy is on record as saying they want a more global marketing presence, which would make WEC sense, but that may not include Danica Patrick.

The bottom line? When you run out of cash, they take you out of the game.

 

The NASCAR Guard is About to Change

Erik Jones is one of a healthy crop of young NASCAR stars who are waiting in the wings for their shot at Cup racing.

Erik Jones is one of a healthy crop of young NASCAR stars who are waiting in the wings for their shot at Cup racing.

The names we’re most familiar with in NASCAR aren’t going anywhere just yet. However they’re about to be joined by familiar last names and unfamiliar first names. The new crop of drivers for NASCAR are just around the corner and many of them are sons of the current Cup crop.

Matt Kenseth’s son, Ross Kenseth, just made his Xfinity debut in Chicagoland and was more than impressive with a front row start and 6th place finish. Erik Jones, by now no stranger to those in the paddock, won the race.

Ryan Blaney was right there to take second, Austin Dillon 3rd while Brendan Gaughan interrupted the kids parade finishing 4th and Chris Buescher finishing 5th. Daniel Suarez, Brian Scott, Ty Dillon and Darrell Wallace, Jr. rounded out the top ten.

Who won? Erik Jones. A real live star in the making, as is at least 8 of the aforementioned drivers. It’s an inevitability that the guard is changing and with it the competition in the Cup series will grow even more hard to call. These boys can drive and everyone has noticed.

The health of any racing series is based on who the up and coming talent is and with NASCAR there’s no shortage of capable hard racing youth. They are the stars of tomorrow who will have the chance, en masse, to compete with their Father’s, their heroes and tighten down on the top twenty at any given race.

Darrell Wallace, Jr. may set NASCAR on the map as a success in it's Drive for Diversity program.

Darrell Wallace, Jr. may set NASCAR on the map as a success in it’s Drive for Diversity program.

Many of the current Cup drivers will still be at full bore competition when these youngsters arrive such as the Busch brothers, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and the list goes on. The Xfinity Series is proving it’s worth as the proving ground for hard upper level racing, a skill these young drivers will need.

Once they were big fish in a little pond and now, even in the junior Xfinity Series, they are big fish in a bigger pond. The lake of predators in the Cup Series awaits.

Most of these drivers grew up knowing little else other than racing cars or karts. Their Father’s and heroes may very well have been line mechanics at their Dad’s car dealerships or sweeping garages in pursuit of a seemingly unobtainable dream.

But dreams are what auto racing is made of, only bigger than most. ‘Go heavy or go home’ is a weight lifting expression but it might as well have been plastered on these kids cribs. They know only one thing, that is to win no matter how hard they have to suffer personally or on-track.

Auto racing is the ultimate in performance based careers. You either run at the front and win or you go home. Going home isn’t on these guys list of things to do. They would rather run barefoot over a bed of hot coals than admit defeat, but when they do lose they learn.

Losing is a horrible feeling, but it’s one that every driver needs to know.

You’ll never know what it’s like to win if you don’t know what it’s like to lose.

 

NASCAR: Get a Grip on Your Broadcasters!

Fox's big investment in NASCAR for content has to be promoted and easily accessible.

Fox’s big investment in NASCAR for content has to be promoted and easily accessible.

Saturday night races, Fox’s experiment, or directive, and the economy. All are playing a part in the decline of both attendance and the television viewership figures for NASCAR. The landscape is changing. 

The All-Star this past weekend was the most watched All-Star race since 2011. After that, to date, it’s been up and down for viewership and both Speedway Motor Corp. and International Speedway Corporation, effectively owned by NASCAR, no longer gives out attendance information. 

You need look no farther than your television set and into the stands to see it’s sparse. However, the term ‘sparse’ is relative. When you build facilities that can seat 100 Roman Coliseum’s, 100,000 attendees look very small to the eye. Perception is, unfortunately, reality. 

It isn’t hard for me to reason that the, allegedly, roaring economy we have has one hell of lot to do with the attendance figures at most facilities. If you don’t live within a few hours driving distance of the race, you, your wife and kids become very expensive, regardless of how much the tickets were. 

I’m not a media expert, but a solid look at the figures from Nielson tell me that Fox is migrating as much of it’s NASCAR content to Fox Sports 1 as it can, it should, it paid a helluva lot for it. If I were Fox I would do exactly the same thing. They’re growing that network and need content. 

Of course, NASCAR fans are impatient and Fox may need to consider that a fan’s attention to televised athletic or entertainment programming has a shorter shelf-life than it did a decade ago. The hard core fans will hang in there, but the fans they need to experience the show are less forgiving and serial remote control surfers. 

The perception of empty seats is being addressed by removing many of them. Television pays more and NASCAR doesn’t need the bad press. 

The empty seats can make 70,000 attendees look small in a 125,000 seat track.

The empty seats can make 70,000 attendees look small in a 125,000 seat track.

In April, William Brooks of SMI stated: “In my thoughts, we probably have two or three or maybe even four of our speedways where we have some extra seats, and we are working on some plans to adjust that excess capacity,’’ said William Brooks, vice chairman and chief financial officer and treasurer for SMI.

Marcus Smith, (Bruton’s son) chief executive officer and president of SMI, said: “We’ve got different initiatives to bring more value to the customer in different areas and, as part of that, it will probably include some reduction. When you talk about seat reduction, in our minds, we’re looking for customer enhancement opportunities – not just reducing quantity but improving the quality of the event experience for the fans. We’ve been able to do that at a few speedways, and we’re working on that at a few more.’’ 

SMI stated in its first quarter report that its “revenue categories continue to be negatively impacted by economic conditions, including underemployment and high food and health-care costs.’’

Smith was asked if SMI has seen more younger fans – Millennials – at races.

That’s the key. They have to replace fans that are not going to be around in 15 years. Millenials. It’s very, very hard to capture and retain the attention of this group of young people as they have so many choices, many more than those born pre 2000. Fighting for consumer leisure dollars has always been a challenge, but now it’s a dogfight.

NASCAR is the catalyst for Fox Sports 1’s motorsports vertical and they have to grow it quickly. That means getting the cable companies to bundle it in basic packages rather than obscure silos that have Mary Poppins movies and Feng Shui documentaries. In other words, “If we give you this great channel in the package, you have to take this cat-box programming as well’. 

I feel almost foolish in saying that NASCAR needs to flex it’s muscles at the secondary channel programmers, they did construct an unbelievably lucrative television deal. 8.2 billion dollar, 10 year deal. That draws my admiration. Whoever put that together needs to be in the HOF. 

But the tables are turned here. A sponsor spends $2 of every $3 to tell the world they spent the $1. What is Fox, NBC and others going to do after dropping that kind of cash? They have to activate it somehow, but I’m not seeing it. You can clearly see it in Formula One.

Eccelstone not only fleeces the promoters to death, he also has made many, many people wealthy on the global television deal he nurtured over the years. But their model only works if they have a great product and at the moment, they do not.

It looks as if NASCAR read from Eccelstone’s playbook and Fox and gang hasn’t seen the memo yet.

 

 

 

NASCAR Ditches “Ricky Bobby”, Welcomes Ryan Blaney

Ryan Blaney is but one of a fantastic crop of young new NASCAR drivers.

Ryan Blaney is but one of a fantastic crop of young new NASCAR drivers.

One thing is guaranteed in life. We all will get older and nobody gets out alive. After that obvious, yet morose, pronouncement there is light at the end of the tunnel, no not that light, young racing drivers coming up through the ranks and Ryan Blaney is one of those.

He’s part of the new crop of drivers that is helping NASCAR ditch the “Ricky Bobby” image and it’s a refreshing place for the Daytona group to find itself.

It’s too soon to say he’s a superstar, he isn’t, but he looks as if he will be joining the talent pool of elites along with several of his alumni.

Ryan Blaney is one of a crop of young drivers in NASCAR whose Fathers were regular competitors, in this case Dave Blaney is his Father. Blaney, the Father often had flashes of brilliance, but his son, Ryan, looks to be capable of surpassing his achievements.

It doesn’t hurt that the young Blaney was on Roger Penske’s radar and is now in the Penske stable. Yes, he drives under the Woods Brothers banner, but make no mistake, this is a Penske effort all the way.

The Woods Brothers are the oldest team still actively competing in NASCAR and with a storied history as well. But like most of the older teams, they fell on hard times against competitors the size of Hendrick. Penske intends to change that.

Ryan Blaney is a Penske driver, with a Penske crew, a Penske crew chief in Jeremy Bullins, Penske engineers and cars built by Penske. It’s a Woods Brothers effort similar to Stewart Haas, but totally run by the Captain.

Blaney has shown that he has the talent to adapt quickly, drive with intelligence, admit his mistakes and not repeat them. His performance at Talladega should confirm that. He found himself at the front in the closing laps of one of the most unusual finishes in that race’s history. It remained single file for an excruciating amount of time. No doubt Blaney would have preferred to have it end like the countless films he watched.

Don't let his youth fool you. Ryan Blaney may become one of NASCAR's elite drivers.

Don’t let his youth fool you. Ryan Blaney may become one of NASCAR’s elite drivers.

Blaney found himself having to depend on Denny Hamlin to make a move in the last few laps and he waited too late. That mistake aside, he’s presented himself as a driver who is more mature than his years.

He’s been racing since he was a child and ran his first Late Model race at age 15. His starts for Tommy Baldwin racing and Brad Keselowski in the truck series put him front and center of the eyes of Tim Cindric and Roger Penske.

He’s running a limited Cup schedule while he’s both being evaluated and sponsorship money is being pursued by Penske.

All outward appearances of his temporary tenure in the Woods Brothers car say that this is a research and development team. Blown motors at Daytona and Texas would indicate that this is the mule team for testing new components.

I would imagine that Blaney relishes this position as at his age learning all of the strange nuances of how these cars handle, what they can take and how much driver input is needed in assessing the components. Valuable information to have when you take that next step up to the varsity team.

Will Penske add a third car? Many believe that he won’t, given the success that he’s having with Keselowski and Logano. But what to do with Blaney?

No one really knows just yet, but he may very well, albeit slowly, bring the Woods Brothers car into a different position than R & D. Ford Motor Company could easily help add that third car to Penske’s stable. Why?

Get out. It’s the Woods Brothers.

Brian France: NASCAR Looking At Shortening Races, Finally

Brian France floats the idea of finally shortening some of the races on the Sprint Cup schedule.

Brian France floats the idea of finally shortening some of the races on the Sprint Cup schedule.

It may have taken more time than was necessary but I find myself less critical of NASCAR than I was 8 years ago. There’s a reason for it. The day they came out with the COT, Car of Tomorrow for those with short memories, I knew it was a mistake.

It was designed in North Carolina at NASCAR’s newly built R&D facility, it was designed by an ex-driver and by an ex-crew chief not by high-end engineers, even though NASCAR had access to them. It was a pig.

It was Brian France ultimately stating it was a mistake to build the car. He said: “Occasionally, we make a big one now and again. I would say that if there is one thing we could have done better in the last 10 years under my watch, is when we launched what we called ‘the new car.’ It is now called the Gen-5. We just didn’t get the collaboration we needed to get from the industry, the owners, the drivers, the engineers and car manufacturers. They had a voice, but they didn’t have a loud enough voice, and so we changed that.”.

I’ll argue that they wouldn’t listen to anyone else in an effort to tout their new R&D center and it’s capabilities, but that’s for another article. For now, at least, France admitted the mistake and moved on. That’s positive.

Now France has floated the next balloon which is shortening the races. It makes sense, we here at Motorsports Unplugged have been very vocal about it for over two years. Finally, NASCAR is looking at doing just that.

France recently said last week: “I think generally speaking, we want to see shorter events… not in every circumstance,… It’s no secret that attention spans, especially with the millennial fans, are changing, and we all know that. But what we like about it from our standpoint is it makes the actual racing event better because there’s no lull in between the beginning and the end, or there’s a lot smaller lull, so teams have to compete.”

He went on to say that longer races don’t really allow the drivers to relax and coast, “but they’re not as pressed to be up front at a certain time. But if you shorten it, they will, and we’ve seen that when we do shorten it,” he said.

The newest iterations of the Gen 6 car have made the competition tighter.

The newest iterations of the Gen 6 car have made the competition tighter.

He went on to say: “We tend to get better (quality of races), and we measure that by lead changes and how close the winning margins (are) and a lot of different metrics that we use. So we’ve got a pretty good handle on that, and … a 400-mile race will give us, most of the time, a better racing competition, and that’s in addition to the time spans and attention spans of millennial fans; those two go together for us to shorten it up somehow.” 

He added that shortening the races below 400 miles would: “also depend on if there are any format changes that we’d be willing to consider, that we look at all the time, that we historically haven’t done.”

What does all this mean? It means that if the competition we’ve seen so far this year is any indication of what the newest version of the Cup can do, then shortening many of the races will only enhance the show.

If by shortening some of these races it brings a greater sense of urgency to the drivers to get up front and stay there, it will have done it’s job.

The television revenues need not take a dramatic hit from going to a 400 mile event from a 500 mile event and the racing is better. Only time will tell.

What’s not to like about that?

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