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NASCAR-on-TV in 2014? the dealing may be done, but not the questions. And the championship? Don't count out Jeff Gordon, Charlotte 500 pole winner

NASCAR-on-TV in 2014? the dealing may be done, but not the questions. And the championship? Don't count out Jeff Gordon, Charlotte 500 pole winner

Jimmie Johnson versus Matt Kenseth for the NASCAR title? Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch still hoping to challenge...and Jeff Gordon too (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   Now that NASCAR executives have closed out TV renegotiations for the 2014 season, next year's Sprint Cup schedule is quickly taking form.
   A number of tracks have made their official announcements: Dover, New Hampshire, Phoenix, California, Texas, Pocono, Michigan and Kentucky.
   And the International Speedway Corp.'s race tickets website, presumably semi-official, is filling in the blanks and shows most of the rest of the 2014 Cup calendar. Only three of next fall's final events are still not yet listed.
   NASCAR itself, though, has still apparently not put its full official imprimatur on 2014.


   Jeff Gordon, the four-time champion whose last title was in 2001, before the chase format, took the pole Thursday evening at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Saturday night's 500 miler.  

   "There's nothing better than stepping up and knocking it out of the park," Gordon said. "That's what I feel we did."

   Gordon was clocked at 194.308 mph, a tick quicker than Kansas 400 winner Kevin Harvick's 194.203.

   Gordon is 32 points down to Sprint Cup tour leader Matt Kenseth; that's approximately the difference in finishing positions. A race winner can earn a six-point bonus.

   So Gordon, like Harvick, appears in good shape to put a wrench in the Matt Kenseth versus Jimmie Johnson championship playoff scenario.

  Jeff Gordon: on the Charlotte pole, 32 points down, and on the charge with six playoff races to go (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   NBC, which is to return as NASCAR's television partner in the second half of 2015, and Fox, which is continuing its long-time partnership with NASCAR, were both reportedly set to take over the full stock car tour package in 2014, a year early.
   However, Turner's TNT division apparently didn't like all the terms of the deal, according to television sources, and that prompted NASCAR finally to plug the plug and continue in 2014 under all the current contracts.
   But with ESPN/Disney/ABC not even bidding on a renewal of its current eight-year contract with NASCAR, it remains to be seen how strongly ESPN/Disney will promote NASCAR racing for the remainder of that contract, which runs through November 2014. With questions already about this sport's 'chase' format for the championship, modest or mediocre TV promotion of the playoffs could be damaging.
   Ever since NASCAR announced its new NBC deal in July, there has been speculation about worries that NASCAR could follow the National Hockey League in noticeably declining TV visibility.
   And a report that ESPN's SportsCenter spent only about two percent of its time on NASCAR over a one-year period of observation would seem to add to complaints that the Disney operation simply doesn't care that much about NASCAR racing.
   NBC, according to industry figures, is interested in making some changes to current coverage of this sport, to jazz things up.
   Track promoter Bruton Smith has even hinted about a few dramatic changes, like moving the annual summer Sonoma race to the fall chase.
   And there were strong indications that Phoenix could wind up with the season-ending race; where that might stand now, without NBC in 2014, is unclear. Ford's long contract for 'Ford championship weekend' at Homestead is currently being renegotiated, and those discussions could be key to what happens next with that part of the schedule.


   And now comes renewed speculation that 2014 may yet indeed have a surprise championship finale, and not at Homestead.


   Daytona-to-Daytona is now being heard in the stock car garage as a possibility...in part because of the huge construction projects set for play at that facility. Construction that might not fit into a Daytona-February four-month window through Daytona-July. Hence the possibility of moving the final race from Homestead to Daytona, to open up an eight-month construction window.

   Whether or not that plays out is not clear.

    But many fans have long insisted a Daytona championship finale could be a real zinger.

    And where might Homestead-Miami fit in such a shakeup?

    One possibility thrown out for consideration -- under the lights July Fourth weekend. Couldn't be much hotter or rainier than Daytona that weekend, could it?

    It all does sound rather far-fetched, though Daytona for the final race would certainly be a crowd pleaser.


   More thinking about the future of NASCAR's three national touring series, Cup, Nationwide and Truck -- for 2015 it seems possible NASCAR may drop stand-alone events and run all three series at the same track each weekend. That could be one reason behind the cost-cutting move of 'retiring' about 55 of the sport's 100-odd inspectors.



    Elsewhere on the NASCAR front: officials are apparently considering a number of possibly significant rules tweaks for 2014.

    Among them:

   -- Elimination of the minimum height rule. That would be to end the rather meaningless post-race controversies and penalties for cars being 'too low' after a race. Some worry, though, that such a rule would force teams to discard thousands of dollars of expensive springs. However the current rules have led teams to spend huge sums on very trick springs.

   -- Adding roof 'wickers,' similar to used in years past, designed to break up air flow over the roof and presumably make it easier for a trailing car to pass.


  Goodyear's Stu Grant (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   While awaiting the arrival of Goodyear's Stu Grant for a post-Kansas tire analysis, there are grumblings in the garage that the tire raced at Kansas was not the tire the four test drivers picked as the best tire at their July night-time test.

   "When we got through testing at Kansas, we felt we had found a tire combination that worked very well," Greg Biffle said. "We all got a chance to test that combination, and we all agreed that would be a very good combination for the race.

   "We tested from 4 p.m. till midnight, and it was still hot but slick. And we found a combination that we all felt was perfect.

   "But when we came back last weekend, the first lap on the track I could tell that combination just didn't feel the same."

   However that tire combination tested in July was apparently not the combination Goodyear brought back for the 400. The tires raced last Sunday were way too hard, drivers complained.

   Some teams felt that part of the reason for the change was to force teams to have to make four-tire stops, rather than use the two-tire strategy some used in the spring 400.

   Ironically the left-side tires used in the Kansas race didn't wear much at all, and teams found they could get 80 laps (120 miles) out of a set of rights, hence leading to two-tire stops...even though some teams said their right-sides were in the cords at 80 laps.



   Among the curious storylines here this week is quite unexpected -- the Wood brothers team hasn't shown up. The Woods' shop is less than a mile away from Charlotte Motor Speedway. But lack of sponsorship apparently has Eddie and Len Wood and Trevor Bayne on the sidelines....even though the list shows only 43 teams here for the 43-car field.


   The medical update on Bobby Labonte: he says he feels fine, and he's back on his bike, a month after cracking three ribs while working out near his Trinity, N.C. home.

   Labonte's front tire rolled off when he crossed an uneven stretch of asphalt, and he went straight over the handle bars..and cracked his helmet in four places.

   "The good news is it only cost me $106 to get the bike repaired," Labonte said. "The bad news is the medical bills were over $20,000."


   Bobby Labonte, recovering from that bike crash (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



    Travis Kvapil has issued a brief statement about his arrest Tuesday night:

    "There was a domestic situation with my wife and I. I deeply regret what happened. However, this is a personal, family matter and we would ask for privacy and respect as we work through this together as a family.

   "I'm embarrassed. I'm ashamed of the situation and what happened. I certainly understand the negativity that has been brought on and because of that, I apologize to NASCAR, my team, the supporters of BK Racing, my fans and anyone else who was impacted by the events of Tuesday night."

   Police reports are that Kvapil was charged with assaulting his wife, with misdemeanor assault on a female and false imprisonment.

   Kvapil, NASCAR's 2003 Truck series champion, has been a Sprint Cup regular since 2005.

   His race team Ron Devine also issued a short statement: "BK Racing understands the severity of the situation and we don't condone the actions that Travis has been accused of.

     "We feel it's important to let the system take its course.  For that reason, we have elected to support Travis and his family and keep Travis in the car for this weekend's race.  Further comment will be available as additional information becomes available."

   NASCAR itself issued a statement too: "NASCAR does not condone the actions with which Travis Kvapil has been charged and we are disappointed to learn of this incident.

   "We have been in close communication with the race team and are in the process of gathering as much information as possible.

   "NASCAR takes this matter very seriously and will continue to monitor the situation as it moves forward."


  Travis Kvapil and his familiy, at Michigan in 2008 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Humpy Wheeler, the veteran NASCAR promoter who ran Charlotte Motor Speedway for so many years, has a new idea: to 'unite' many of the country's 1200 grassroots tracks.

   That could give them buying power among vendors.

    However Wheeler's idea isn't really new -- R. J. Reynolds used its Winston Weekly Racing Series for decades as grassroots marketing for this sport. That RJR's nationwide impact hasn't been continued has been a major downfall for the sport since the Winston-Salem NC company was forced to give up the weekly racing series in 2003.


   NASCAR Sprint Cup 2014?

   (still not official, but this according to myracetravel.com)

Feb 15     Sprint Unlimited (Sat)
Feb 23     Daytona 500
March 2   Phoenix 500
March 9   Las Vegas 400
March 16 Bristol 500
March 23 California 400
March 30 Martinsville 500
April 6     Texas 500
April 13   Kansas 400
April 26   Richmond 400 (Sat)
May 4      Talladega
May 10    Darlington  (Sat)
May 17    Charlotte All-star (Sat)
May 25    Charlotte 600
June 1      Dover
June 8      Pocono
June 15    Michigan
June 22    Sonoma
June 28    Kentucky (Sat)

July 5       Daytona (Sat)
July 13     New Hampshire
July 27     Indianapolis
Aug 3       Pocono
Aug 10     Watkins Glen
Aug 17     Michigan
Aug 23     Bristol (Sat)
Aug 31     Atlanta
Sept 6       Richmond (Sat)
Sept 14     Chicago
Sept 21     New Hampshire
Sept 28     Dover
Oct 5        Kansas
Oct 11      Charlotte (Sat)
Oct 19      Not yet available
Oct 26      Not yet available
Nov 2       Texas
Nov 9       Phoenix
Nov 16     Not yet available


Objective announcing

What we need with the new television contract in announcers/analysts that do not have ties to teams or have agendas.

Michael Watrip, FOX Sports/SPEED: co-owner of MWR and consistently hawks his sponsors during the broadcast

Brad Dourghty: ESPN: co-owner of JTG-Dourghty racing

Ray Evernham, ESPN: Hendrick Motorsports employee

Rusty Wallace, ESPN: has a son that runs in the Nationwide and Truck series

Larry MacReynolds/Darrell Watrip, FOX Sports/SPEED: are pitchman for Quicken Loans

Darrell Waltrip, has very strong ties to Toyota and hawks his brothers sponsors

We need people who are objective and have nothing to do with any team in the garage area. Have you ever heard Ray Evernham say anything bad about Hendrick Motorsports? You won't because he can't! DW seems to have a crush on Danica because in his eyes she can do no wrong. " she is still learning." And "boogity, boogity" has got to go.

I hope NBC hires new voices with objective views and noth the same old face.

I think NASCAR needs to change its race format.

I think NASCAR needs to change its race format. The race could be broken up into 3 segments.a 400 mile race should be 250 miles with the top 5 finishers in the first segment given 5 points for 1st 4 for 2nd on down to 1 for 5th. No points for the second segment and regular points for the race finish like normal.that way if someone has a bad race they can still race there way back into point contention.it would add excitement into the race also. The chase can remain the same with anyone eligible for The extra points. The wave around rule should only be used once per race per car. One point should be given for the pole also. Do away with the ride height rule all together along with NASCAR issued shocks and springs. The rear spoiler shouldn't be any higher then 3 inches anywhere. Lastly an f 1 team is suspected to have found a way around there engine rule package with hybrid technology. F1 doesn't even know how the team has did it. It should be easily done in NASCAR by any computer geek .if a single person can hack into the u.s government, how hard could it be to hack into a team's on-board icu system to add traction control or even more horsepower during a race, then return it back to stock after the race. Well that's my cure for better racing and a conspiracy theory thrown in, mike.

TV contract

Happy that Gordon is on the pole for the Charlotte race, still hoping he will win this season - hate the long dry spells.

Daytona to Daytona for the 2015 schedule? What an awful idea! Run 2 RP races in the last 10? That has to be France's idea; it's so stupid.

I see that Martinsville is on the schedule in March for 2014! Again, dumb date since it tends to be cold & rainy in the mountains. The little track that is so much fun used to have a nice date in April but NASCAR continues to try and screw with it for some reason. I see there is no fall date for Martinsville yet, too.

TV coverage worse than it already is by ESPN, hard to imagine but wouldn't surprise me. They give it the bare minimum now and concentrate on chase, chase, chase only. You can't find the Cup lite race most of the time - not that it really matters. Fox, well, let's see Fox will be moving the races to their "new" channel. I'm not really interested in the Waltrip Brothers show so I think I'll work on just using my computer for following along and ditch my cable completely.

It seems another slap in the face to the South

It seems another slap in the face to the South with the move (yet again) of the Southern 500 to April. This seems like a set up for Darlington to fail and suffer the same fate as North Wilkesboro and Rockingham within the next 5-10 years.
With Dover announcing two dates in 2014, that all but eliminates the chance for any new blood in the track mix for next year at least.
It is still strange that it's mid-October and many of the 2014 dates are still in pencil, if that. I, too, am intrigued that the dates for Homestead and the second Daytona race haven't been announced. Same with Sonoma and Watkins Glen and even the "home" of NASCAR, Charlotte.
I also wonder how much bang NASCAR has gotten from starting the Chase in Chicago the last three years. My guess, not much. Yes, the weather 2 of 3 years hasn't cooperated but I don't see the point of scheduling Sunday afternoon events in a hardcore NFL area such as Chicago.
It is already clear to see ESPN's de-emphasis of NASCAR coverage. It has shifted some of the ESPN.com writers to covering the NFL. Many of these same writers held Q&A chats, usually daily Monday-Thursday. Not so coincidental to the announcement that it was not bidding for 2015 and beyond, these chats have been almost non-existent. NASCAR Now used to be on when I came from work. Now that would only be possible if my profession was bartending.


Get the cars up off of the track so the air goes under not over the car. With the air going over the hood that makes the down force which goes away when you get behind another car. This why the first car out of the pits on the last pit stop usually wins. I know NASCAR wants the cars "sucked down to the track" to keep them out of the stands but it has ruined the racing because there is very little passing at race speed. I have been going to NASCAR races since Darlington 1955 and the racing now is not exciting because all the cars have the same top speed because of all the rules. With a lot of rules once someone like JJ and Chad find the sweet spot there is no beating them because all the cars are on the same setup springs shocks and rear gear ratio.

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