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The Best Seat at the Track, The Best View on the Net!
August 31st, 2011
Volume V, Edition CLXXX
by Tom Bowles
What To Watch For: Wednesday
- Matt Kenseth, this week's NASCAR Video Teleconference will visit with the media and discuss his 2011 season to date. Kenseth, who clinched a spot in this year's Chase for the Cup last week will likely have his best shot this Fall at taking the series championship since winning it all back in 2003.
- Still no word on the Dale Earnhardt, Jr. extension front but this week, the driver of the No. 88 said recently a deal could be completed "within days." So news could pop up there at any time.
Kentucky To Buy Land For More Parking, Add Infrastructure Improvements
After a disastrous debut on the Cup circuit this year, Kentucky Speedway is looking to make good for 2012. The track announced a long list of improvements Tuesday, aimed at ensuring the maximum fan experience while eliminating problems like not enough parking and traffic gridlock which caused thousands with tickets to miss the race altogether last month.
To add more parking spots, the Speedway has purchased a 143-acre parcel of land adjacent to the speedway. That will add about 11,000 additional spaces in time for the July, 2012 event; the track is also working to better the traffic flow in and around the 1.5-mile oval. In response, Kentucky state government has pledged $3.6 million to widen roadways, improving the Exit 57 ramp to the track off I-71 while widening Kentucky State Route 35 for a one-mile stretch. The state will also construct a one-mile, pedestrian tunnel to keep foot traffic off the street and help ease traffic flow during Sprint Cup raceday.
"The NASCAR race weekend this July was a huge success, but it did experience traffic problems, caused largely by inadequate parking," said Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear in a press conference. "To assure visitors have an even better experience next year, we've worked hand in hand with SMI to plan improvements that will benefit fans on race day and Gallatin County residents year-round."
All major parties involved, from Beshear to Track GM Mark Simendinger expressed confidence these improvements would minimize all problems should NASCAR release a similar slate of race dates in 2012. All indications are series officials are convinced; the sanctioning body is not expected to strip Kentucky of anything off its 2011 schedule next season.
Kevin Harvick, Inc. Makes Crew Chief Change
Add David Hyder to the long list of crew chiefs looking for work this summer. The veteran head wrench was released from his duties Tuesday as crew chief of Kevin Harvick's No. 33 Nationwide Series team, replaced by Chris Carrier beginning this Saturday at Atlanta. Carrier, who was crew chief for the No. 8 Truck team driven by Nelson Piquet, Jr. will continue in that position, too, through this weekend before being permanently replaced on the Truck side.
Harvick's Nationwide team, while challenging for the championship with Elliott Sadler has been performing below expectations with the No. 33. After three victories in 2010, they're currently winless through 26 starts although the car has accumulated ten top-5 finishes with Harvick, Austin Dillon, Clint Bowyer, and Paul Menard. Max Papis and Scott Speed have also spent time in the seat, which will continue its merry-go-round rotation of drivers for the remainder of the 2011 season.
Rumors also persist that Harvick will be making major changes to his Nationwide and Truck lineup for 2012, sponsors dictating cutbacks but nothing official has been announced.
Irene Damages NASCAR Ratings For Bristol
While Thunder Valley roared with the excitement of NASCAR competition this weekend, most of the nation's East Coast was focused on a different kind of "lightning rod" in their backyard: Hurricane Irene. As a result, Tuesday's NASCAR Nielsen ratings understandably declined in the wake of the storm, which downed power for millions or replaced the race with special weather coverage. In many cases, the Bristol event was moved from ABC to ESPN but the ratings company can only calculate who watched on one network; plus, a handful of NFL preseason games caused regional coverage to be moved to other, digital tier channels that complicates the final calculations even further.
It all adds up to a series of ugly totals for stock car racing: they pulled just a 3.0 ratings number at one of their signature tracks, with a viewership of 5.087 million. That's a decline of 14 percent from last year's 3.5; overall, ESPN's NASCAR Sprint Cup numbers have declined nine percent from 2010 with the rain-delayed Watkins Glen event excluded.
Bristol attendance at the venue, however, ticked up; the final number was at 156,000, up slightly from 155,000 the previous year.
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Today's Featured Commentary
Advertising Gone Right: Irwin Tools Night Race a Near Sellout
by Mike Neff
When the Sprint Cup Series came to the Tennessee mountains in March, the stands looked more like an afternoon at Caraway Speedway than the sellout factory that once was Bristol Motor Speedway. While the sellout streak at Bristol had been broken before this Spring, the sheer numbers of empty seats were a slap in the face to everyone in NASCAR. The discussions and debates raged on for weeks about why the fans stayed away but one thing was certain: there were enough empty seats at the World's Fastest Half-Mile to indicate a serious, downward trend for what once was the hottest ticket not just in stock car racing but any sport. But thankfully, after this past Saturday night the trend is beginning to swing the other way and, with a little luck we're going to see the stands start filling back up again.
The folks who write the big checks at Bristol tried to blame the economy for the lack of attendance this Spring and, to some extent, that was a legitimate reason. The SMI people cited the fact that a majority of the people who came to the race drove more than six hours and had to stay in a hotel. The combination of the two expenses, with gas going through the roof and three-night minimums still standard in the Bristol area, definitely had a direct effect. While gas may have plateaued since and begun to slide back down a little, the hotel/motel industry in the Bristol area still seems to be reaming anyone who wants to stay anywhere close to the track; there's little difference between the Spring and Summer, an issue which hasn't been completely conquered. So the economy obviously was a problem... but it was hardly the main reason for the decline.
Aside from the cost, there is the incessant whining that has been coming from the half to two-thirds of the fan base who insists that somehow allowing cars to pass others without wrecking them is a bad idea. There's no doubt that wrecks are exciting and the raging tempers that are associated with the aftermath make for a lot of media coverage for the weeks after races; however, cars going three-wide around Bristol is something that was so unheard of just a few years ago the fans might just not be able to comprehend the pure excitement of it yet. While some more wrecks and people moving others out of the way might add a little intrigue to the post-race activities at Bristol, the tremendous racing that is now provided by the track is certainly enough to draw in fans who appreciate racing for racing, not wrecking.
But despite all the controversy on the style, Saturday's event at Bristol improved to a near sellout crowd. So why were all of those people there if so many were still complaining? When it is all said and done, the media onslaught that SMI put on leading up to the race weekend has to be mostly credited with maintaining the race crowd. A record number of advertisements inundated both the local and national markets; clearly, Spring's weak attendance spurred the marketing department to work overtime and push their product to a wide variety of new fans.
But did those first-timers who got hooked, trying out the track get what was actually advertised? Bristol's management had commercials everywhere that showed the beating, banging, spark-flying action that was Bristol. There's just one problem with that; it isn't what Bristol is anymore, as no car even pulled so much as a 360 until Lap 298 of the Cup race. Will some fans be permanently disappointed after Brad Keselowski's clean win on Saturday night? If the number of first-timers in attendance this past Saturday matches the established Bristol fan base, somewhere around 60% of them will complain that they didn't see enough wrecking and the other 40% will think it is one of the greatest races they've ever seen.
Bristol is definitely different than it used to be, sparking debate that will continue as long as the track stays in its current configuration. But, once the final analysis takes place after the checkered flag flew there are two things unquestioned. There were somewhere around 156,000 people in the stands at Bristol on Saturday and, no matter their opinion they left talking about the race. Whether they were talking positively or negatively is yet to be determined, but they were talking ... that's more than indifference. Providing the racing continues to get better, as the drivers have seemed to feel it will be, then hopefully the fans will continue to show up in droves and the end result will be the Night Race still being the top draw in the sport.
Mike Neff is a Senior Writer for Frontstretch.com. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
Hey, Frontstretch Readers!
We know you love the roar of raw horsepower under the hood that powers 43 of the best drivers in the world every weekend, but did you ever wonder how the sponsor on top of that hood also contributes to keeping the sport moving? What about the contributions of official NASCAR companies? If you think they are simply writing checks, think again. Check out our newest feature - Sunday Money. This weekly Frontstretch exclusive provides you with a behind the scenes look at how NASCAR, its affiliates and team sponsors approach the daunting task of keeping fans interested and excited about the sport for 38 weeks of the year.
Tweet 'N' Greet
by Jay Pennell
Editor's Note: With the NASCAR Twitter community expanding by leaps and bounds, it remains a place for instantaneous news, reactions, and a whole lot of inside jokes. We understand if you don't want to join the Twitter community - but as a fan, it's important to know the news and info you're missing out on! That's why, every week, Jay Pennell will sort through the thousands of messages and give us a little taste of what's going on each Wednesday.
So, without further ado, here's a look at what those in NASCAR were thinking over the past seven days...
@keselowski (Brad Keselowski): For those asking. First time I've been able to do this since injury, Almost back to 100% :) yfrog.com/h8yx2fnj
@JimmieJohnson: PIR is a much different track now!
@matt_kenseth17: Will you have chad email me his notes tonight, please? "@JimmieJohnson: PIR is a much different track now!"
@JimmieJohnson: He smiled and said to tell you no problem. "@matt_kenseth17: Will you have chad email me his notes tonight @jimmiejohnson."
@31n2Spotter (Brett Griffin): Chase guys shouldn't be allowed to tire test at chase tracks IMO. #nascar #advantage
@mw55 (Michael Waltrip): #bristol was THE place to be this weekend. Perfect weather, great racing and @bmsupdates fans are the best. Thank you. #nascar
@keselowski: Still soakin it in here in Bristol. Season ticket q&a, miller lite ride alongs and now @bkcff race 2 recovery events. #Goodtimes
@31n2Spotter: Few things I learned from Bristol: 1. Some drivers have an awful taste in music. 2. BMS pre-race never gets old. 3. It was awesome to hear
@31n2Spotter: That many people say pledge of allegiance! 4. If ur on probation u can intentionally wreck someone w/o it being an infraction of the probation
@31n2Spotter: 5. It's harder to complete the pass than anywhere else that we race! Last year once u got outside of the guy u peaced him out. Not now..
@31n2Spotter: Have at it boys has turned into 3,400 lb sucker punches... #smh
@JimmieJohnson: I'm not sure why everyone is upside down about what goes on on pit road. This happens every week and it's why qualifying is so important.
@Tjmajors: We ALL cheat the timing lines. When you QUALIFY good you get a better pick of stalls to gain advantage. NASCAR doesn't need to change it.
@Tjmajors: And for the record, most drivers are good at timing lines but the STALL is the important part.
@Tjmajors: Here's the drawing. Description next post. yfrog.com/hsbjgngj
@Tjmajors: Since the 2 would only be speeding for a few stalls then stopping before timing line 2 for his 13+ stop his avg speed be slow between lines.
@AllWaltrip: mystery of where the timing lines are obviously has been solved, they are where they've always been at Bristol, teams just figured it out!
@JLogano (Joey Logano): Ok run we were really good at times we just lost the handle on it towards the end. Off to kingsport to run @ColemanPressley late model today
@31n2Spotter: @JLogano good hard clean racing at the end. Think I said inside for 40 straight laps.
@JLogano: @31n2Spotter held me up long enough
@keselowski: Tonight's truck race hopefully put a close to all this talk about new Bristol not as good as old bristol. #NotTheNewTracksFault
@JRMotorsports: It's official! @DanicaPatrick will be driving the No. 7 @GoDaddy Chevrolet full-time in NNS in 2012
@DeLanaHarvick: @DanicaPatrick welcome to nascar!
@KrissieNewman: Yay another girl at SHR to keep these 2 boys in check! Welcome @DanicaPatrick and I wish you luck!
@TravisPastrana: In case you didn't hear the news, postponing my NASCAR Nationwide debut until 2012 #2injured2ride
@keselowski: Interesting hearing/seeing reaction from friends, family & fans about Danica announcement. u can really read a lot into the sport's percep.
@keselowski: Most knowledgable female friends, family & fans are not happy about it. Casual female friends, family and fans, intrigued by her.
@keselowski: What does it say about her decision when those who know the sport and have faced similar challenges accordingly r against her?
@keselowski: Growing up racing against girls in quarter midgets, I have no problem with females racing. the sport has always been about mental strength,
@keselowski: And raw talent. Not gender, or freak of nature genetics. Btw, Some of the best racers I competed against as a kid were girls.
@keselowski: Although I never raced against Danica growing up I'm sure she was one of those exceptionally talented and skilled girls.
@keselowski: Watching some of those girls flame out along the way was always disheartening for me personally. As a competitor u what to race the best.
@keselowski: There were many reasons the talented girls didn't make it along the way. Some didn't like the label, of female race car driver. Others,
@keselowski: Wanted time for a boyfriend & later family. Kudos to Danica for sticking it out. Most don't. I'll always respect her accordingly.
@keselowski: All that said, her ascent up the ladder of the sport thru various branding "techniques" (swimsuit ads etc) only serves to undermine the
@keselowski: Future credibility of female racers who wish to make it based on skill, mental toughness and a never give up attitude. That to me is wrong.
@keselowski: Essentially she has opened a pandora's box for all female racers. If she doesn't succeed, no female will get a chance for years to come.
@RCR31JeffBurton: "@kingbud24: @RCR31JeffBurton what are your thoughts of danica moving over?" I'm glad she is coming to NASCAR I like her intensity and effort
@RCR31JeffBurton: It will be a tough transition but doing it full-time is the only way it will ever work. She is a smart racer and rarely causes wrecks
@RCR31JeffBurton: That will help her learn the cars and tracks. I raced against girls and my son races several girls as well. Females can be and are winners
@RCR31JeffBurton: The cup move will be a very large step. The question is, will she have the speed? Only time will tell. She will b under the microscope.
@RCR31JeffBurton: She has done a good job of surrounding herself with good people which will help. I look forward to watching as much as anyone.
Jay Pennell is an Assistant Editor to Frontstretch.com. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can also check out his work at allleftturns.com or jaywpennell.blogspot.com.
TODAY ON THE FRONTSTRETCH:
Mirror Driving: Policing Pit Road, Cooling Off Keselowski And Playing By Too Many Rules
by the Frontstretch Staff
Going To Extremes: NASCAR Ups And Downs That Have Defined 2011 To Date
by Vito Pugliese
Open To Learning: IndyCar's Duno Taking Slow, Steady Approach To Stock Cars
by Bryan Davis Keith
Top Ten Driver Introduction Songs You Didn't Hear From Bristol
by the Frontstretch Staff
Sprint Cup Power Rankings: Top 15 After Bristol-2
compiled by Mike Neff
Q: For four years (1998-2001), the now-Izod IndyCar Series held 500-kilometer races at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The races were quite competitive. however, the final event was marred by a massive crash exiting Turn 4. What happened?
11 cars were involved in the crash with at least one (Miller) going on its side while Casey Mears (running as a teammate to Unser) vaulted over another car and landed on Miller. In addition, two wheels went over the catchfence and into the stands, but luckily that particular grandstand was closed. As a result, no fans were injured, but it was a close call. Because of the memories of the infamous incident at Charlotte, in 1999, the IRL chose not to return to Atlanta after this race.
As for driver injuries, Dr. Miller was airlifted to an Atlanta hospital with a concussion; however, he was healthy enough to attempt the Indianapolis 500 a couple of weeks later (he DNQ'd). Unfortunately, this ended up being Dr. Miller's final start in the series. Buhl limped away from his No. 24, but described his injuries as simply "bumps and bruises" while everyone else walked away. The wreck, replays, interviews and conjecture can all be seen starting at the 27:00 mark of this clip, which is the entire race.
Frontstretch Trivia Guarantee: If we mess up, you get the shirt off our backs! If we've provided an incorrect answer to the Frontstretch Trivia question, be the first to email the corrected trivia answer to email@example.com and we'll send you a Frontstretch T-Shirt ... FREE!
Coming tomorrow in the Frontstretch Newsletter:
-- Top News from Phil Allaway
-- Shakedown Session by Brody Jones
-- Links to your favorite Frontstretch articles, and more!
Tomorrow on the Frontstretch:
MPM2Nite by Matt McLaughlin
As Matt continues recovering from some health-related issues, one of his classic columns will return for your enjoyment: 1313 Turkey Court.
Special Commentary by Summer Dreyer
While Jeff's Voices From The Heartland moves to Friday this week, Summer has a special commentary about who she thinks will make up the Chase field once the checkered flag flies over Richmond next weekend.
Potts' Shots by John Potts
Fanning the Flames has become Potts' Shots, and John Potts is here to answer your questions in our weekly Fan Q & A. Do you have something you'd like to ask John? Don't sit on the sidelines! Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and you just may see your question in print next week!
Fantasy Insider by Brett Poirier
Did your fantasy racing team take a hit at Bristol? Well, Brett has just what you need to know to turn things around when choosing your teams for the Advocare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
5th Column TBA by Mark Powell
Our professor of racing history "has at it" with another column pertinent to the sport at large. --
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