5 Best and Worst of NASCAR 2013: Pre-Chase

Dale Earnhardt Junior is the face of NASCAR. His popularity never wanes. He looks to be in the Chase and the hunt.

5 Best:

(1) Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Say what you will, positive or negative about Junior, one irrefutable fact remains. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is the face of NASCAR. He’s consistently been the single greatest human asset that NASCAR has had since his Father, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. perished in the Daytona 500 of 2001. He’s a fan favorite in a motorsport genre’ that, rather uniquely, relies on it’s personalities to drive it forward. (In Formula One it’s nationalistic.)

He’s sitting in 7th place for the Sprint Cup Chase and could be locked in at Richmond. He has a lifetime career in NASCAR even if he decided to drive a Yugo.

(2) The Generation 6 Car

The Gen 6 car has produced more competitive racing and an excellent base in which to grow the platform.

Were it not for the advancement of the Gen 6 car, we would have to be chained like pit bulls to a double wide in order to ever watch an entire NASCAR race. Taking as many years to develop a car that could have, and should have, been a solid car right out of the box, the COT may have scarred many fans for life.

The new Gen 6 car is fast, handles more like a racing car should and, coupled with the introduction of the “Frankentire, it has the potential to make the series more competitive than it already is, if that’s possible.

(3) Stewart/Haas Racing

Stewart does what Stewart wants. Haas seems to do the same.

In an announcement that everyone expected, Kurt Busch managed to close down a deal that will make this team the ultimate ‘Bad-Boy’ show of 2014. Stewart, Harvick and Busch should prove out the theory, mine of course, that volatile personalities and talent will make for some of the more interesting moments in the coming season. Welcome to Formula One, American style.

(4) NASCAR’s Brilliant Television Deal

It looks like a play ripped straight out of Bernie Eccelstone’s ‘Satanic Journal of Deal Making’, though I doubt they had to go the Faustus route. The NASCAR deal is worth a whopping 8.2 Billion dollars over a 10- year period with NBC and Fox. Let that soak in. In this present economy, and don’t kid yourselves-it’s flatter than Danica Patrick’s…..performances to date,

NASCAR has managed to ink media deals that ensure it remains relevant in the public’s eye. At least it’s placed itself squarely in front of the ever-evolving fan base. It’s up to them now.

(5) NASCAR Digital Media

When NASCAR reacquired its digital media rights from Turner, it had anticipated that the fan base would be more reliant on digital media than in the past. That fan base has done just that. NASCAR has and is creating an NFL-like structure for controlling what is and is not said about them in the media.

From purely a business perspective that’s exactly what they should have done. It’s their sandbox and they can do with it what they choose. It does, of course, have one potential caveat. That’s in the next section.

 

Stewart-Haas Racing wont be in the Chase this year.

5 Worst:

(1) Tony Stewart

It is Stewart/Haas Racing, but the fans and particularly the sponsors, wanted to see Tony Stewart climb into the Sprint Cup Chase and bring a fight to Johnson and rest. It isn’t going to happen due to his extended recovery from a crash suffered while racing Sprint Cars.

Of course this isn’t news. What may very well be news is the displeasure of the sponsors that he has put into jeopardy. These sponsors have merely paid the entry ticket into what sponsorship really is. They call it “activation” and that means millions of dollars worth of promotions, public relations, corporate appearances and the value of television staying focused on the twelve drivers who will comprise the Chase. Stewart wont be attending, no RSVP.

Tony Stewart has earned the right to do whatever he wants, however, when a professional driver jumps into a sport or sports known for their danger of injury or risk of death, that driver should question whether they really wanted it bad enough, ownership aside.

More and more contracts are being crafted that limit the driver’s extracurricular activities in an effort to protect their investment. I expect an addendum of some sort may be in the works with Stewart’s major sponsors. He may not go along and still get away with it, but his posse of unlikely team-mates may not be immune.

(2) NASCAR Digital Media Consolidation

While it’s true that the consolidation of digital media in NASCAR is a distinct positive for NASCAR, will they allow the press to pontificate, as we tend to do, or will they cherry pick those media outlets that won’t oppose them? This is the potential caveat.

Look at the NFL, NBA and MLB for guidance. Those sports squeeze their assets harder than the African Rock Python, now plaguing South Florida. The biggest risk to NASCAR is that they hold them too tightly. The bloggers of the world do have something to say, whether it’s gibberish or not is up to the reader.

It appears to me, as Motorsports Unplugged deals with NASCAR Digital on a professional basis, that so far they have been friendly to those digital publications who have something meaningful to say. In short, it means one has to produce great content in order to have a seat at the table.

We can only hope that the seemingly stabilized NASCAR will allow those with points of critique to be represented. This sport is not as accessible to the average fan on the street as sandlot football, baseball or the pick up game. It has to be a spectacle that grassroots fans talk about.

Jimmie Johnson shows the challenges of road racing. This discpline should be in the Chase.

The under forty demographic sports fan lives life in 140 characters. This is the fan that NASCAR needs to grow.

(3) Another year, no road-race in the Chase

Bill France Senior, or ‘Big Bill’ as he was called, felt that open wheeled and sports cars needed to have a healthy base in order for NASCAR to do the same. Too much of one style was detrimental to the attention span of America’s gear-heads.

I couldn’t agree more. If you truly want to represent NASCAR as sport that can turn left and right with top dog drivers, you cannot exclude this highly difficult disciple from the big event. Notice the international attention that takes place when Nationwide hosts its road races.

If you’re going to have a playoff system that has flair and inclusion of beautiful skill, you need to have a Road Race in the Chase. Personally I think Mid-Ohio.

(4) The decision, or indecision, not to reduce the number of seats at the larger tracks

It’s impossible to convince a tough audience that there are more people in these stands than an NFL game.

Let’s face it, they overbuilt. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but then times were good. ISC is, of course, a public company that owns a number of the tracks as well as Bruton Smith.

Both have to realize that the perception of empty seats on television has an effect on a casual fan or someone whose just been introduced to the sport.

I stood in the infield with the late Jim Hunter. We were friends, but he was friends with everyone, though I did catch his ire at least once. In 2003, I stood in the infield with him. I asked how much more expansion they would do with that style track, his reply: “There’s no damn way we can build anymore like these, they’re 250 to 300 million dollar each.”

The economy isn’t going to roar back anytime soon and bringing down seats is expensive but you simply can’t have one hundred thousand fans attend a race and the facility still look empty. The perception is devastating. That one act alone might very well make good, and more, on the $8.2 billion dollar television deal. That is if NASCAR and ISC can agree.

The consumate competitor leaves NASCAR unfulfilled. Unless he doesn’t leave.

(5) Juan Pablo Montoya

If anyone had the credentials to make a go of it in NASCAR, JP Montoya was it. He had won in every series he’d ever participated in. But after 7 years it became painfully obvious he was not going to make it stick. The reasons can be debated forever: He never had the equipment. He had horrible luck. His temper made him no friends in the garage. He lost his passion. My sense is that it’s a combination of all and that in 5 years no one will remember the whole experiment. Whether he goes to IndyCar or, as I believe he should, go to LeMans Prototypes, it wont make a difference as he still exited with little fanfare.

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