Wednesday, June 4, 2014

NASCAR’s Summer Doldrums

Johnson's dominating Dover win part of summer doldrums
NASCAR’s summer doldrums are in full swing.

I’m sorry, but watching the Dover 4000 was painful.  Okay, it was only 400 miles, but it seemed like 4,000.  Two red flag periods didn’t help.  Not even a couple of naps helped pass the time - or laps.  Every time I woke up, Jimmie Johnson was leading.  Come to think of it, the same thing happened during the Charlotte race.  But at Dover, after Kyle Busch crashed out, the race ceased to be a race.  And from a look at the number of fans in the stands, plenty of people who have been to Dover in the past stayed home this time around, despite near perfect weather. 

It’s barely June and we’re little more than a third of way through the season, but NASCAR is in the midst of its summer doldrums.  I’ve resisted the thoughts in the past, but I’m starting to come around to the idea that the NASCAR season is too long and so are some of the races.  Certainly the string of 600 miles at Charlotte, followed by 400 mile races at Dover and now Pocono, is one of the more challenging stretches of the season.  Even Michigan, which follows Pocono and has been better in recent years with increased speeds, has produced some pretty lousy televised races in the past.

There’s talk again of the NASCAR schedule undergoing a major overhaul next season when the new television contracts come into play.  Let’s hope so.  It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.  At least an opportunity that won’t come around again for another 10 years.  And if nothing is done now, the opportunity may never come around again.  Rumors include at least one more road race, perhaps midweek night races in the summer, a new track or two and a wholesales restricting of the schedule.

We’ve heard those rumors before.  Let’s hope something actually happens this time.

NASCAR also is facing a value problem.  Some say it costs too much for fans to attend races.  I say it’s more a question of value than cost.  How do you provide more value?  Provide more and better racing.  Not more miles, more racings.  In this regards NASCAR may want to consider something IndyCar started last year.

At about the same time the Dover race was drawing to a close on Sunday, the IndyCar teams were starting the second of two races held over the weekend in Detroit.  Have to admit; at first I was skeptical about the “Duals” format.  But also have to admit the two sprint races, one on Saturday and another on Sunday, with support races both days, provided a whole lot more value than one long race on Sunday.  The teams hate the dual format – especially the week after Indianapolis – because it doubles the workload, but the fans seem to be warming to it.

All three NASCAR series ran at Dover.  The trucks ran Friday afternoon with no one in the stands and only a few more watching on TV.  Why?  Run a 100-mile truck race and a 200-mile Sprint Cup sprint race on Saturday and a Nationwide 100-miler and another Sprint Cup sprint on Sunday.  Might even cut down on the number of Cup drivers who race in the Nationwide series.  And get rid of one of the Dover races altogether.  Pocono too.


  1. OK. I go to the Dover race every year. We drive there in the morning and leave after the race. It's about an hour and 45 minute drive. I can assure you that if you run the part of the race on Saturday and another on Sunday I will only be there for one of the races. I will not be making that drive both days and, in fact, I might just decided not to bother with it at all.
    If I am going to spring for a hotel room and devote an entire weekend to the race then I will probably pick a track other than Dover and make it a real vacation. So, I don't think your idea would help at all.

    1. Thanks for you input. Especially important given your attendance record. Understand that you would go only one day. But if there was a 100 lap Nationwide race and a 200 lap Cup race, both on Sunday for the same admission price, you'd be less likely to go?

    2. If half the Cup race was run on Saturday and the other half on Sunday, which means that I'd be trading half a Cup race for half a Nationwide race, then yes I'd be less likely to go.
      If you are saying that the Cup race would be cut to 200 laps and run entirely on Sunday with a 100 lap Nationwide race added to replace the "lost value" then I'd probably still go.

  2. His name is Jimmie Johnson.

  3. Yeah the doldrums are definitely here. Here we go again, johnson and hendrick are on the way to number 7. Can't get more boring than that.

  4. Here’s what I’d like to see for next year:
    Feb 22----Daytona#—–FOX
    Mar 01----Homestead—FS1
    Mar 08----Phoenix——-FS1
    Mar 15----Sonoma——-FS1
    Mar 21----Texas*———FOX
    Mar 29----Bristol———-FOX
    Apr 12-----Martinsville—-FOX
    Apr 19----Talladega——FOX
    Apr 26----Fontana——–FS1
    May 02---Richmond*—–FOX
    May 09---Atlanta*———FOX
    May 24----Charlotte#—---FOX
    May 31----Dover———---FS1
    Jun 07-----Pocono——----FS1
    Jun 13-----Kansas*——---FS1
    Jun 21-----Road America-FOX
    Jul 04—---Daytona*——–NBC
    Jul 12------Indianapolis#--NBC
    Jul 19—---Loudon———-NBCSN
    Jul 26—---Iowa————–NBCSN
    Aug 01---–Kentucky*—---NBCSN
    Aug 09–---Pocono———NBCSN
    Aug 16---–Chicagoland—NBCSN
    Aug 23---–Michigan——–NBCSN
    Aug 29–---Bristol*———–NBC
    Sep 06---–Darlington#—–NBC
    Sep 19–Richmond*—----–NBC
    Sep 27–Watkins Glen–----NBCSN
    Oct 04—Loudon———----NBCSN
    Oct 11—Kansas———----NBCSN
    Oct 18—Martinsville—-----NBCSN
    Oct 24—Charlotte*——----NBC
    Nov 01–Talladega——-----NBCSN
    Nov 08–Texas———–-----NBCSN
    Nov 15–Phoenix——–-----NBCSN
    Nov 22–Las Vegas—–-----NBC

  5. Thanks Matt. Can't see anything that stands out that doesn't look right. Another road race. Move one earlier in the years, another into the Chase. Add Iowa, cut a Dover. A tough trip to Fontana and back.

  6. Art, the "doldrums" have been around for the past bunch of years, they just are getting more noticeable these days. I have opinions on what went wrong: The main reason is greed. The folks at NASCAR were not content on slow, steady growth. As a result, they have manipulated almost everything that made stock car racing entertaining. The product on track today is akin to going to a play at the theater. Well rehearsed and choreographed actors playing their roles. Excitement ensues when mechanical failure strikes. When no mechanical failures occur, NASCAR inserts manufactured ones, a piece of "debris" here, a "penalty" there. Today, we have the wave around rule, lucky dog rule, pit road speeding rules, all designed to create artificial excitement to replace the real excitement those of us who have been around a while remember. To sell this artificial excitement, the media have become snake oil salesmen in their effort to make it all look appealing to the masses who have never seen an event. Today, the pre-race festivities sometimes are a bigger deal than the actual racing event and are so designed to get people to buy tickets. Another reality today is the safety factor. I don't mean this to sound bloodthirsty, but the chances of a driver being hurt, much less killed during a race is almost non-existent because of all the safety features introduced in the last few years. A crew member, in my opinion, has a much greater chance of injury during a race than does a driver. Back when NASCAR was a growing sport, that was not the case. Draw your own conclusions. My point is that the fan now treats the sport more like a video game than a matter of life and death. All they need to see is the last 10 laps to say they "saw" the race. Back in the old days, the fans were in their seats watching, eating their fried chicken and drinking their favorite beverage during an event. Today, they are milling around out back of the grandstands, picking up some food and browsing the souvenir booths while texting their friends back home about "doing NASCAR".
    I agree with some of the suggestions posted here and suggested by the author. I think fewer events run at shorter distances would help ramp up interest again. I also think that NASCAR has got to scale back on manipulating the events and let the natural flow of a race happen. I believe that there are two many teams operating under the same roof. Too many "teammates" cast a little cloud of doubt over the proceedings. I think two car teams should be the maximum allowed. Lastly, I wish the media would turn the hype down about 85%. What Fox does pre-race has made me not tune in until the green flag is waving.