Is Sunday still the best day to run NASCAR Sprint Cup races? Or is it time for NASCAR to admit defeat to the NFL and move the Cup races to Saturday as a writer suggested this week? Or what about mid-week races—would that work and would fans attend those events? Members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council debated those issues and last weekend’s Texas race. Here’s what they had to say:
Should Cup races move to Saturday afternoon to avoid conflicts with the NFL? Jim Utter of The Charlotte Observer, citing declining TV ratings for many Chase races, suggested that NASCAR should run those races on Saturday to avoid going head-to-head against NFL games. Fan Council members were asked about that idea:
46.0 percent said they’d rather see more Saturday night races 33.5 percent said that was a bad idea: NASCAR’s tradition is Sunday racing 14.8 percent said they’d be for some Saturday afternoon Chase races but not all 5.7 percent said Saturday afternoon Cup races was a great idea
What Fan Council members said:
• Can anyone say “duh”? While NASCAR on a Saturday night would have to fight a premier College FBS game, the decline would be mitigated to one or two regions in the country instead of nationwide.
• The problem is not going head-to-head with football, as they’ve done it before and saw huge ratings and attendance numbers. The PROBLEM IS THE RACING!!!! Why does everyone, especially in the media, ignore this fact? The “racing” is horrendous! F1 has better battles and more drama! I’ve grown up and lived in and around NASCAR and it’s sad that I’m looking more forward to the F1 race in Austin than I am NASCAR in Homestead.
• I don’t think there is any need to do anything too rash until we see what happens with the 2013 car. Regardless, if NASCAR fans are watching NFL games instead of NASCAR races then there is something wrong with NASCAR that isn’t fixed by moving race times around.
• I’ll admit I’m one of those watching more NFL this year than NASCAR. Moving the Chase races to Saturday night would be good in one way, but they would also be competing with the big college football games.
• If you really want to avoid the football conflict, shorten the season so it ends Labor Day weekend.
• Cup racing is a Sunday tradition. Leave it alone!
• Why not try it? Got nothing to lose. But Saturdays has college football, so I’m not sure what is a good time slot.
• That would put NASCAR races up against college football games and honey-do lists. I think that would cut the audience considerably. The average person spends more time outside the home on Saturday than on Sunday. Kids activities, errands, home improvement tasks, college sports and travel often consume the average person’s Saturday. Sunday afternoons are typically devoted to family time and televised sporting events. I believe there’s a better chance to get people to watch on the day of the week there are fewer distractions. I think Saturday night might offer a larger audience than Saturday afternoon, but I believe the audience would be less inclined to watch NASCAR.
• I love the idea. You’d still have college football to go up against, but most people will only watch the great CFB matchups or when their team is on—not near as much competition as the NFL poses. The only thing that gets me thinking is what about the Nationwide race? Would you put that on Sunday against the NFL and have no one watch it? Or have that in the morning/early afternoon and have the Cup race late afternoon/evening?
• Can’t compete with the NFL. Chase or no Chase, Sundays from September to February belong to the NFL. All other sports recognize this, so why can’t NASCAR? Many local tracks are done with their schedules by the time the Chase heats up. Continuing to go head-to-head against the NFL is pointless and as long as NASCAR continues to try and do that, they will always take a back seat to it as far as coverage and ratings.
Mid-week Cup races: Would you be able to attend those if the schedule changed? Some have called for NASCAR to hold a race or some races during the week instead of the weekend. If the race you were going to was scheduled to be run between Monday-Friday instead of the weekend Fan Council members were asked if they would still be able to go?
66.7 percent said No
33.3 percent said Yes
What Fan Council members said:
• I think it would decrease attendance. Not everyone can just take time off during the week. I use vacation time to go to the race, so it would not make a difference to me.
• If I’m headed to a race I’m all in, taking a week off to really enjoy it.
• Yes, BUT it would drastically decrease the amount of time I could devote to the race event. As it stands right now I only have to use one vacation day from work to enjoy a full race weekend at my local track. If the same events were held during the week it would require at least three and up to five or more days of vacation time. Since I only have a total of 10 vacation days per year, that would significantly impact my annual leave just for my local race. I love NASCAR, but I would prefer to see many races at different tracks with my time off, rather than one or two due to the time requirements.
• Nope. The ratings/viewership would really tank if they went that route. It must be on a weekend to get max viewers and attendance. Most job holders and anyone who attends school/college would be alienated. Not only that, a lot of fans attempt to make a full day or even a two or three-day weekend out of a NASCAR race. Now you’d be asking the fan to take two-three days off from work for a race in this economy? Good luck.
• Top-tier racing has always been on Saturday or Sunday. Races during the week would be a bad idea and cheapen the NASCAR product.
• I think that would be an interesting change. It might be a good idea for NASCAR, and I could see it getting higher ratings.
• Primetime during the week would be AWESOME. Daytona was fun on Monday night.
• Less likely to be able to attend live, but I would watch on TV.
• I live in Canada. Almost any race I decide to attend requires taking time off. With limited holidays, the weekend helps to maximize time off.
• Most tracks that I travel to require several hours of driving or a plane flight. I would not attend races during the week. I don’t mind giving up a Friday or a Monday vacation day for travel, but not several days out of my week.
Grade Sunday’s Cup race at Texas:
46.4 percent called it Good 26.4 percent called it Fair 21.1 percent called it Great 6.1 percent called it Poor
What Fan Council members said:
• This is honestly the first race I’d rate as “Great” I think for the whole season. Not too many wrecks, and some good old fashioned, hard, honest racing. I really enjoyed (it). Rooting for BK, I, of course, disliked the ending but it still was incredibly exciting to watch. NASCAR’s problem, which is to me the same as hockey’s, is that the sport is much better live than on TV.
• First 3/4 of the race pretty boring. Last ¼ … holly hell, that was great.
• Having the two championship finalists starting 1-2 in a GWC restart is about as “great” as a race can get. Lots of interesting racing going on throughout the pack—but we were there live so it was easier to see it. Not sure what the race looked like on TV.
• How many ways can you say boring?? Just to be sure I remembered correctly, I went back through my Twitter timeline. Not only were fans making jokes at the lack of any fun whatsoever, but the NASCAR media was asking for suggestions on making the race more entertaining. Many of the drivers’ PR people and wives/girlfriends (who usually provide updates) were discussing anything BUT the race. I think that’s a pretty good indication of what kind of race it was. The only race-related tweets were to say someone blew a tire, someone blew up or someone was sent through the grass. No mentions of passing or side-by-side racing or anything else. If there was any at all, not only did ESPN not show it, but the folks who usually tweet it didn’t see it either.
• The ending was amazing. Even if you complained about the first half of the race, you’ll admit you were glued to the TV for the last few laps.
• Unbelievably boring. For the life of me I cannot figure out why TMS has two races. I slept through most of this one.
• Excellent race. Need to make more 1.5-mile tracks 500-milers.
• The end of the race was great. I actually cheered for JJ all the way at the end, and am so grateful for the help he sent to my area for Sandy.
• Side-by-side racing, passing, beating and banging, GWC finish, fuel mileage, pit strategy, tires wearing out over the run—TEXAS is racing!
• Aside from the excitement at the end, this was a real snoozer. It’s amazing to me that we have cars that are supposed to be so close, but after 10 or 12 laps the top 10 are eight or more seconds apart. That, my friend, is not close racing.
The Backseat Drivers Fan Council was founded and is administered by Dustin Long. Fans can join by sending Dustin an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please include the following information:
Name, city, state, Twitter name, e-mail address and favorite driver.
Tony Stewart is putting together a run in NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship as impressive as any seen in its seven-year history. Stewart’s win in the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway was his fourth in eight Chase races, and finds him just three points shy of Carl Edwards as the Sprint Cup Series heads to the penultimate race of the season in Phoenix.
What is even more impressive is that until Stewart won the first race of the Chase in Chicago, he was winless in the 26-race regular season and largely dismissed as a title contender. Even Stewart, the organization’s driver and co-owner, doubted his chances.
“I’ll be perfectly honest, at this point of the deal, if we’re going to run this bad, it really doesn't matter whether we make the Chase or not,” Stewart said after the Michigan race in August. “We’re going to be occupying a spot in the Chase that somebody else who can actually run for a championship is going to be trying to take. Our stuff is so bad right now that we’re wasting one of those top 12 spots right now.”
What a difference a month makes, as 29 days and four races later, Stewart and crew chief Darian Grubb notched the Chicago win, a victory earned by saving fuel. The same events transpired the following week in New Hampshire, while a strong finish in Martinsville in the Chase’s seventh race found Stewart in Victory Lane for a third time.
Much akin to his first two victories, the last two have come in similar fashion: with powerhouse moves on late-race restarts on the high side of the track — largely considered the unconventional line.
At Martinsville, Stewart surged by five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson. In Texas, he got the jump on chief-rival Edwards with five laps remaining and stormed off to a 1.092-second win.
“We’re aggressive right now,”?Stewart said of the restarts. “I’m taking charge and trying to control my own destiny. I think the restarts today showed what our intentions are and what we’re about for these next two weeks.”
Edwards held on for second, while Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle rounded out the top 5.
“I was surprised they (the No. 14 team) were able to put together two weeks that were so good,” Edwards admitted. “That was really good work on their part. There’s nothing saying that that will play into another solid two weeks, but it very well could.
“From the way practice went and everything, I thought we’d have a little advantage tonight. They did all their jobs very well.”
The circuit heads to the newly-repaved and reconfigured Phoenix International Raceway for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500. With a new surface and on a track with a different layout than in the past, many are calling it the ultimate “wild card” race in the playoffs.
“I think that Phoenix is still a huge unknown,” Edwards said. “We really think next week has a larger opportunity, by a landslide, to change the outcome of this Chase. If Tony and I run 1-2 at Homestead, there’s not going to be much points change if we run like we did tonight, but Phoenix has the potential to be huge.”
That may be so, but judging by the last few weeks, it doesn’t matter where the series races — Edwards and Stewart have separated themselves as the class of the field. And Stewart, for one, is feeling the confidence a hot streak at just the right time is bound to instill:
“I’m pretty sure what we did on the racetrack said everything we needed to tell (Edwards) today. I mean, I don’t know how you top that. He knows. Trust me, he knows.
“The fun thing is I don’t feel like I have to say anything — I feel like I already got it done.”
From the Spotter's Stand
It was a Ford-type of evening at Texas in April. Jack Roush's Fusions took four of the top seven positions, led by Matt Kenseth, who led a race-high 169 of 334 laps to break a 76-race winless skid.
Tony Stewart put himself in position to take the checkered flag late, but was busted for speeding on pit road, relegating him to a 12th-place finish. Kenseth took it from there, leading 32 of the final 58 laps en route to his second career win at TMS.
After perfecting the Texas two-step, Denny Hamlin joined Carl Edwards (2008) as the only drivers to sweep at Texas since the track became a biannual stop in 2005. Kenseth (2), Cousin Carl (3) and Jeff Burton (2) are the other multi-win drivers in the 21-race history of TMS.
In April 2010, Hamlin beat runner-up Jimmie Johnson to the line (.152 seconds) after pole-sitter Tony Stewart (74 laps led) lost control and started a nine-car pileup that also wrecked Jeff Gordon (124 laps led).
The other boot dropped in November, when Hamlin earned his second spurred trophy and series-best eighth win of the year — leaving Ft. Worth in first in the Chase, 33 points ahead of JJ with two races to go.
Crew Chief’s Take
“Texas is all about downforce, and generating it in race conditions — with cars all over the track — is tricky, yet paramount. Speed at Texas is important, but so is a good shock and suspension package that allows the car to handle the bumps that have formed in Turns 1, 2 and 3. The exit of two and the entrance of three are the trouble spots, both from a driver’s and a mechanic’s perspective. It’s one of those places where, in my mind, strange things happen. I’m always extra wary when we go there.”
Fantasy Stall Looking at Checkers: It’s hard not to like the way Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth have performed on the big intermediates — particularly Texas — throughout their careers. Pretty Solid Pick: Denny Hamlin’s track record in Texas is good and the team is looking to finish 2011 strong. Good Sleeper Pick: Jeff Burton has two wins and nine top 10s here in 21 starts. Yippee ki-yay, cowboy! Runs on Seven Cylinders: Brian Vickers has yet to record a top-10 finish at Texas in 13 starts. Insider Tip: Sticking with Hamlin, Kenseth or Edwards is smart, but keep an eye on a surging Tony Stewart.
Classic Moments at Texas
Texas Motor Speedway’s first two Cup dates are brutal affairs. The 1997 Interstate Batteries 500 and ’98 Texas 500 are plagued by savage wrecks — one that nearly ends Greg Sacks’ career and another that sidelines Mike Skinner for weeks — and weepers that cancel practice and qualifying sessions. The mayhem even leads to whispers, though not verified, that Texas would have its single date stripped.
Therefore, following the ’98 race, track owner Bruton Smith purchases a share of North Wilkesboro Speedway to move one if its two dates to his track in Texas. He has the track repaved and reconfigured and installs a new drainage system. The results are immediate, as TMS stands as one of the great facilities on the circuit.