Thursday, February 19, 2009

Academy Award for scheduling ... NASCAR!

The next two weekends are, I believe, particularly important for NASCAR in a lot of ways.

Last year's Daytona 500 went pretty well. The season got off to a pretty good start with the 50th running of the sport's biggest race and there was some momentum as we headed out West to Auto Club Speedway and then on to Las Vegas.

Then, the California race weekend was a disaster. A combination of bad luck with the weather, bad decisions by NASCAR and just plain bad leadership by the people running the California track made for a simply awful weekend that lasted well into the evening on Monday with both the Nationwide and Cup series races being completed on that day.

Then came Las Vegas, where Carl Edwards won but then faced major penalties for a rules violation and Jeff Gordon had a scary wreck that exposed a weakness in the safety features that had been left incomplete when the Vegas track was redone. SAFER barriers were not in place on the wall that Gordon's car hit, and thankfully safety features of the new car helped prevent him from serious injury.

This year's season didn't get off to as good of a start as last year's did. The rain-shortened Daytona 500 left a lot of questions that fans would like to see answered. A lot of what happened was out of anyone's control, but the fact that the 500 started at 3:40 p.m. is not one of those things. The late start limited options on resuming the race after a rain delay and NASCAR needs to look very seriously at starting its races earlier as a result of the lessons taught by what happened Sunday evening.

That's why the start time for Sunday's race at California makes absolutely no sense. The start time is listed at 3 p.m. Pacific time, which is 6 p.m. Eastern. The green flag will probably more in the 6:15-6:20 range. That's pitiful.

There's no reason to start a race that late in the Pacific time zone, especially this weekend. The race won't be half over when the Academy Awards show comes on television. Why would Fox want to compete with the Oscars for viewers? I know you're thinking there's not a big crossover audience, but the idea of moving races around to get more viewers is to attract people who wouldn't automatically be inclined to watch. That's not happening against the Oscars.

It's like NASCAR is tone deaf. Fans are SCREAMING about the late time starts. Television networks pay a lot of money to the sport and their wishes should be considered. But those wishes shouldn't be outright commands. There's a balance and right now I think NASCAR's on the wrong side of the scale.

It's also important that we see some good racing over the next two weekends.

The car of tomorrow isn't going away, and the teams are still learning about it. But given the state of things in the NASCAR economy right now, two straight weeks of races where the leader can't be touched is the absolute worst thing the sport needs right now.

There is intrigue going into these two races. Without testing, nobody really knows how good any team is going to be. It could be that a team or two has found something in the offseason that will be so good they will even be surprised at how well their cars go. Other teams might try things that don't work. That could jumble things up, and NASCAR needs something like that.

NASCAR needs in the worst way two weekends' worth of nice weather, good racing and compelling storylines from its inital trip West this season.


Anonymous said...

How could any self respecting man turn from a Nascar race to watch the Oscars. Only if you are "that guy."

Anonymous said...

Who cares about a bunch of overpaid oversexed overhyped underworked narcissists who live in a fantasy world never knowing about real life! And by the way the same thing can be said about Hollywood too. Really folks NA$CAR doesn't give a dam about its fans. Never has never will. It's all about the MO...MO Money MO Money MO Money...The good news it will be somewhat dark in CA by the time the race ends and no one will see how many people left the building...I can't wait to hear how 90,000 fans showed up for CA. Now that's a real Oscar-worthy performance for you.

Anonymous said...

I wish all races were at night. That way I could get in a full day of activities during the Summer day & then settle into my big chair for the races that evening. Ive been a hermit all Winter & dont plan to do so in the Summer months. Oscar no Motorcycle yes!

Anonymous said...

Amen! When I saw the late start I thought it was a misprint. Not only does it go head to head with the Oscars, but it will go until 10:30 or 11 PM on the east coats. Even me out in California will get home around 9 or so.

Plus, while this isn't North Dakota or anything, it gets downright chilly here at night in February. People may leave early because of the Oscars, because the racing is boring, or because they're cold. NASCAR could easily address two of those.

Monkeesfan said...

The argument about start times centers on a myth - that if start times were put back to the 12-1 PM area then there would be a serious decline in ratings. There is no evidence to support this anywhere. Thus the networks have no basis to request late starting times.

Not having testing can never produce good racing. The COT isn't going away - yet. But the fact remains it is impossible to get good racing out of it without divine intervention. These two weekends won't give NASCAR any momentum nor give it any reason to expect that its slide in popularity will stop - not without far better racing and two major upsets.

Anonymous said...

I think that the later start times are great. We go to church and do family stuff in early afternoon. It's been so cold (global warming?) and we've been stuck in the house so long, that our family wants to stay outside as long as possible. By supper time, we are ready to settle down for the evening and watch a race. I hope it continues that way.

Anonymous said...

It was a shame that the race ended up short, but there were so many story lines. It did not take much digging to write about them.

About the COT. It's only because of the COT that lots of new teams are joining NASCAR. In these times, it saves money.

Anonymous said...

I know California Speedway has major issues with the sun when the drivers go down the backstretch. It was blinding. Is there a possibility they moved the time because of this??

Anonymous said...

I think the late starts are horrible. I want my family to eat dinner together especially on Sunday and I end up breaking my rule and getting the wife mad at me. This is because the race has about an hour or so left at 6pm EST This race forget about it!!!

Anonymous said...

Any of you people that want to watch it late ever hear of a DVR? The late starts make it hard to have much recorded before it's live and you have to watch commercials. Late starts suck.

chrispolk76 said...

I agree that the races may start a bit late, but I'm not affected as much as the average fan because I TiVo EVERYTHING, and my job prevents me from always watching live (thanks SIRIUS!).

What I wonder is - What will it look like in 5 years. I have no factual basis for this, but as technology changes, it would seem that our viewing habits may change dramatically....just a thought. You know, the only place 5 years ago that I could get a Monday morning radio interview from NASCAR was on Johnboy and look at us.

Anonymous said...

In Fontana's defense, to a point, this is probably the least attractive race date on the schedule. Problem is Rockingham didn't have the NASCAR aplogists in their corner saying it was too cold or too this or too that when it had the post-Daytona date.
Back in the day, the Daytona 500 often didn't open the season. Any thoughts to running a points race in the Super Bowl off-week, and then having an off-week after Daytona. Maybe Fontana or Phoenix or Homestead (not sure if they would trade for the last week or not? Then get rid of the Shootout and waste of time qualifying day at Daytona.
Run the Twins and set the field by that as done now. Race winner with highest race speed of the two sits on the pole and the other winner on the outside.

Anonymous said...

Anyone want to know why Fontana is maligned by the fans the way it is? Just read this...

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