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As NASCAR 2013 opens, another one bites the dust....

As NASCAR 2013 opens, another one bites the dust....

Daytona 2013, the first day of Daytona 500 testing: weather looks great...but will these new cars really change things up for the sport?

   By Mike Mulhern

   And now it's on to a new season....
   The Las Vegas champagne parties are history, the cleaning crews have long-since mopped up. And if new champ Brad Keselowski and crew did any un-Penske things at the 2012 awards banquet, well, anything that happened in Vegas pretty well must have stayed in Vegas.
   Remember when NASCAR championship parties got wild and crazy?
   Remember when NASCAR Sundays got wild and crazy?
   Hey, what's going on here anyway?
   This past stock car racing season was pretty much eminently forgettable, except for the newest face of NASCAR.
   Sunday after Sunday too many boring laps, and little action, unless you like watching engineers calculating fuel mileage gambits.
    One can only hope that 2013 provides more fun and frivolity.


    Day Two at Daytona, and 12 cars crash while pack racing. Not an auspicious start..... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Unfortunately the sport will be played without one major figure, veteran sports journalist Monte Dutton, another victim of the long-running purge by newspaper publishers to eliminate NASCAR beats. After more than 15 years covering this sport, Dutton joins a long list of NASCAR veterans kicked to the curb. He is yet another line item in the newspaper industry's painful-to-watch suicide saga.
    Dutton, with his trenchant humor about this sport, will hopefully emerge somewhere. https://www.facebook.com/monte.dutton

   Without Dutton, who was syndicated in many papers across the country, this sport of NASCAR racing is now down to just two newspapers with a dedicated NASCAR slot, USAToday and the Charlotte Observer. Virtually every other paper in the country now relies on the AP alone for NASCAR coverage. That means independent journalistic coverage of this sport is now essentially down to three people, Nate Ryan, Jenna Fryer and Jim Utter.  
   The lingering death spiral of newspapers in the U.S., of course, is nothing new. In place of newspaper coverage of sports has come the ESPN army of web writers, the new power face of sports journalism, for better or worse. At least the Disney-ABC-ESPN empire has money to spend at this.
   However TV 'journalism' in general, is, well, a curious creature, with its own agenda.

  After 20 years in the sport, Jeff Gordon. Wonder if he and Clint Bowyer have made amends? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Meanwhile down in the NASCAR trenches....
   It's a new year and a new season.

   And Day Two of Daytona 500 testing ended early after 12 drivers got caught up in a big crash while pack-drafting. Most of them packed up and went home early. The video: Friday's Daytona crash

    Certainly both Daytona and Detroit are betting big that these new car bodies and new model stylings will change things up dramatically.
     Over the past couple of years, maybe even a bit longer, this quintessential Southern sport has become too gentrified.
    Aw, let's be blunt: NASCAR racing last season was simply an infomercial for the brand 'NASCAR,' which has increasingly lost its sports identity.
    NASCAR bosses have simply got a case of the big head. And the blind eye.

    Our view of things: HERE


  Tony Stewart: Figure 8 racing at Talladega? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Remember those heady days of the late 1990s and early 2000s?
    No, the sport didn't die that day in 2001. The death of this sport's iconic figure brought NASCAR racing to the forefront in American sports, in a sudden, albeit tragic, moment.
   And Fox and NBC, the new network TV partners, did a great job of presenting this sport to a suddenly much wider audience.
   David Hill brought in Fox' bling and pizazz; NBC brought in national sports gravitas.
   It was a brilliant matchup. Brian France's finest hour.
   And the sport thrived for a good five years in that spotlight, with reports almost weekly about new demographic numbers of fans and records set in so many cities and towns seemly not natural NASCAR territory.
    Alas, it all started going south sometime in late 2006, it now appears in retrospect. At the time the slump in popularity and viewers was blamed on soon-to-depart NBC's lack of promotion, according to NASCAR execs, who promised a revival with new fall TV partners ABC/ESPN.
    Maybe it was just coincidence, a case of bad timing, but NASCAR's ill-fated and highly-disliked car-of-tomorrow debuted in 2007, and things just haven't quite been the same since.
    Remember Kyle Busch, after winning at Bristol?
    And now, looming, the Daytona debut of the 2013s, with major redesigns, new aerodynamics, and high hopes....but with such a rush to production that many veteran stock car engineers say they are worried.     


   It still seems strange, Ford legend Matt Kenseth now driving for Toyota (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    The 2013s have been problematic throughout testing, with stock car crews -- again -- not that enthusiastic about NASCAR's own engineering concepts. As late as the October Talladega tests the 2013 project was still in disarray. Extra testing was scheduled; rules kept being tweaked; teams fumed that they couldn't start rebuilding their fleets (16 to 18 cars per driver for the season).
    This week the 2013s are at Daytona International Speedway prepping for their debut -- in the Daytona 500 season kickoff.
    Meanwhile NASCAR execs appear determined to finagle things to keep drivers from hooking up in  two-car drafts on the now super-smooth Daytona track.
    And NASCAR's marketing arm is engaged in a hard-sell of the 2013s.  
    The 2013s are being billed as Gen 6 creatures, whatever that means.
    However it is doubtful that NASCAR's problems can be solved just with new machinery.  The issues run much, much deeper.
    Consider what was perhaps the most shocking  day of the 2012 season -- Talladega, October. Now a Talladega 500 featuring lawnmowers should be thrilling. But this particular Sunday morning Talladega Blvd was virtually empty, and the stands were not filled.
   And the racing -- well, until the final moments when leader Tony Stewart decided to chop off challenger Michael Waltrip, triggering that frightening third turn melee -- was forgettable.
    If NASCAR can't put on a show at Talladega and fill the stands, there is a big, big problem.

  When Clint Bowyer stops smiling, it's time to get worried.... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Now can Brad Keselowski, 28,  help save the day?
   Keselowski's rally at Homestead to pull out the championship over Jimmie Johnson was more dramatic than it should have been, of course. But then beating Johnson isn't easy; only two men now have done that in the past seven years.
   And the Keselowski-Johnson showdown (all Keselowski had to do to win the title was finish 16th in the final race, and he struggled to do that) on ESPN didn't quite play out to a huge TV audience -- the ratings down a stunning 25 percent from 2011.
   In fact last fall's 10-race title chase was not very thrilling at all. The chase has not been all that popular in many quarters among fans, and TV ratings for the September-October-November playoffs were either flat or down. Not good.
  There are a number of reasons of course, but easily two stand out, for the whole season really -- drivers no longer race all three hours each Sunday, but rather they play to setup for the end-game. Reluctant to take chances and possibly make mistakes, drivers generally just go through the motions until the final miles.
   As promoter Bruton Smith pointed out -- in criticism of the game as it's played today -- fans and the sport need cautions, to shake things up, not because they like to see crashes but because they like to see drivers taking risks, taking gambles, trying to make things happen.
    Smith has proposed that NASCAR at least layout a few mandatory cautions each race, like other sports have TV time outs and quarters and halftime.
   France has pooh-poohed that idea.
   But if France has any better ideas on how to liven things up, he hasn't offered them.
   Why have NASCAR execs played this sport like they're deer in the headlights?
   Unless a driver dares to speak out.
  NASCAR execs, for whatever reason, have dumped on the out-spoken Keselowski too many times the past year or so. What was that, a $25,000 fine for criticizing this new electronic fuel injection system? Over the top and unnecessary, except in Brian France's eyes.
   So will Keselowski spend this season as that loveable wild-and-crazy guy so willing to speak his mind? Or will he fall in line and become just another shill for the sport?
   Maybe we ought to dig up some stories about how Junior Johnson and Richard Petty dealt with the authorities in their prime.


  The great NASCAR PR machine is in high gear already, pumping up the 2013s. But will the new iron really make that much of a difference? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Can F1 Teach Us Anything

Ok NASCAR has big problems. F1 is on the way back though. Can we learn something from them? Can the France family learn from Bernie?

No, F1 isn't on the way back

F1 is what it is and there isn't anything remotely interesting about it. There is no passing in the races, the technology arms race is more stifling than in NASCAR, and no one is worth rooting for anywhere in the series.

Gen 6 Cars vs. Cookie Cutter tracks

The real test for these new cars will be to see if the races on the cookie cutter 1.5 - 2.0 mile tracks are any good.

But realistically, the issue might not be the cars - it's probably the tracks. They're just too big and boring. Nascar & SMI screwed the pooch big time in their big build-up of all these cookie cutter tracks where you could fit over a hundred thousand people, but no one wants to go see the racing there, because there isn't any racing.

Nascar (ISC) & SMI needed to build unique, smaller tracks that put on good racing (such as Richmond, Bristol, Martinsville, Darlington [note that all 4 of these tracks are different sizes & configuration, and none are 1.5 milers). Instead, we have seven(!) 1.5 mile D-shaped tracks (8 if you count Atlanta at 1.54 miles), two 2.0 mile D-shaped tracks, and two flat 2.5 milers (Pocono & Indianapolis) -- all tracks that put on boring to sedentary races, at their best. And you can add Homestead Miami to that list as well, so that puts us at 13 tracks. And a number of those tracks have two races. So that makes for 18 races at tracks that are KNOWN to be only occasionally exciting (read that to mean on the few restarts that happen during the race). Half of the schedule is known to be boring, so who can blame the people from staying away.

Personally, I’ve decided to only watch the races that have good racing. For me, that will include the restrictor plate tracks, the short tracks, Darlington & the road courses. That means that an ardent fan who has travelled to Bristol & Talladega (along with my ‘local’ tracks of Fontana, Vegas, Phoenix & Sonoma), and who is hoping to go to Richmond this year, plans on watching only half of the season to begin with.

Read this comment, I’m not just a casual fan. My wife & I make it a point to travel to races. We own a pair of headsets so that we can watch a Fanview and talk to each other during races we attend. And we’re not planning on watching half of the season. If we’re home and there’s nothing going on, we will likely have the race on, but I won’t be investing my time in the cookie cutter races. No way.

Nascar did a pretty good job on how these cars look. Hopefully they’ll be racy too. But they need good tracks to race on, and therein lies the problem.

We’ll see what the powers that be do about this. But seeing how financially involved Nascar is with ISC, I just don’t see much hope for the Sprint Cup series. At least the Nationwide & Camping World Truck series is slowly getting back to smaller tracks with good racing.

So there’s my two cents… Thanks for asking.

Michael In SoCal

Richmond, Bristol, Martinsville, and Darlington do not put on memorable racing. Those tracks are too small, too narrow, and inherently unraceable. Of the 70 most competitive races in NASCAR history Darlington registered only one - the 1982 Southern 500. All the others were at Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte, Pocono, Michigan, and the 1982 Dixie 500 at Atlanta.

The idea that a track can be too big is nonsensical. The "cookie cutters" were built that way because they are a good competition model; they're not as good as the 2.5-milers but still good, they are far superior to these bush-league short tracks and road courses you're praising.

The issue IS the racecars. The racecars are what generate aeropush, NOT racetracks. The racecars are too fast for the racetracks; it's not the other way around. You need to better study the sport before you condemn racetracks that are better than what you think are good.

Really, bud?

And when was the last time any of the 1.5 mile tracks had a memorable finish? The only one that remotely comes to mind is when Kyle Bush passed Jimmie Johnson on the outside at Chicago in the green-white-checkered finish in 2010(?) Even with the 80's and 90's cars these type of tracks didn't produce great racing. Get real about the tracks. We don't need more 1.5 tracks, we need less. They were only built to put as many fannies in seats as possible, and those fannies ain't showin' up any more to watch the snoozefest that they produce and the TV ratings stink for the same reason.

Monte Dutton

I'm very disappointed that another great writer/person is gone from the ranks of NASCAR journalists. I meet Monte last year at the Coke 600, My sisters and I stayed at the same Hotel as he. He was more than happy to talk with us and actually give us good places to go around town. I will miss reading his articles. Good luck in your next chapter of your life..


The only football game I watch all yr is the super bowl because it\'s the super bowl.I haven\'t watched a baseball game in yrs and woulden\'t go to a game for free.I don\'t like hockey or soccer and basket ball to me is a bunch of giants who only have to jump 6 inches to make a goal.

My family has lived and breathed nascar. To me the chase is a joke.If you are only going to count honestly 10 races the rest are a waste of time and effort for those outside the top 12. Whats in it for a team or really the fan if you know the last quarter of the yr your driver will take a back seat with little if any coverage and nascar\'s relentless effort to fool people into thinking jr will one day be championship material. pushing danica to be with the elite drivers in nascar when she hasn\'t really been a threat in any series is a slap in the face to the diehard nascar fan.

If nascar feels the chase is necessary then every race needs to have a gimmick to keep fans and drivers alike interested. The leader at half way should get a championship point as well as the pole man.That puts a perspective back in qualifing up front and people will tune in for pole day.

A point for the leader at half way should put the drivers up on the wheel. If a driver has had a couple bad races then qualifying on top and raceing hard will put them back in championship chase with out the gimmick of 12 raceing for the championship.

A driver who is 5th in points and crusing only for a chase bid may find themselves outside looking in if they choose to stroke.

If nascar is serious about getting back to its roots then make them race there ass off and be rewarded for it by giving a point for pole runs and half way leadership and let the drivers and teams race there way back into the chase .If a driver has one bad race the way it is now there done but this way they can recoop a bad race by driving hard and winning poles.

This is the only way to let drivers get back into the chase and controll there own destiny and not nascar.

Right on, Michael in SoCal

Couldn\'t agree more with Michael\'s comments about the tracks. Need to only visit the 1.5 milers once with the exception of Charlotte, the home of 90% of the teams. Also need to only go to New Hampshire once. Bring back Rockingham, get Iowa on the schedule, get Gateway going again, and build another short track or two if NASCAR isn\'t willing to go back to North Wilkesboro. Whatever the subtle differences of the 1.5 milers are to the drivers, they all look the same on TV and produce boring racing for the most part. Making a visit to them once per year would be tolerable, but visiting each of them twice is not. I\'ll be the first to admit that any race track can produce boring races if there is a dominant car on a particular day, but the 1.5 milers, California, Michigan, and New Hampshire seem to produce the majority of the boring races. The cars won\'t fix that, nor will adding some flukie dirt track just to draw attention.

Monte Dutton

Wow! I had no idea Monte had lost his job. I hadn\'t been concerned when there hadn\'t been new posts recently, due to the off season I assumed.

I will greatly miss his writing. I will be watching to see where he turns up, and I am confident he will. The good ones almost always do.

I know it will sound sacrilegious to some but

I know it will sound sacrilegious to some but with the demostrated ability of the TV guys to place cameras in the right places, road races have become the favorite of this really old race fan. More action. Greater variety in potential winners... Road races and short tracks bring back old time, fender rubbing and "go for it" competition. Yeah, I know, with all the money invested in the cookie cutter tracks it'll never happen.


nascar doesn\\\'t need to define its season by the chase races.You can only talk about the top 12 so much but sense they seem to need a gimmick to draw attention to the championship so this is what they need to do.

Give a point for the pole position and do it with a 3 lap average with 3 cars at a time on the track.Qualifing will go guickly and be half way exciting instead of watching 1 car at a time.Qualify 5 cars at a time at daytona and talladega leaving togeather from pit rd.Laying back or drafting togeather to get your time could be interesting..

give a point for the half way lap.They will race there butt off all day for a bonus.

Lastly talk about the race and who\\\'s doing what and quit trying to make a champion out of the 2 media darlings .One has won 1 race in 6 yrs and the other is new to nascar and she\\\'s never seen the front in any series and won\\\'t here so quit dumbing down the sport to the people who know better.When new fans tune in expecting to see the two produce that nascar promotes so hard do nothing every week it becomes a joke to anyone who hasn\\\'t been a long time fan.

These new cars will no doubt perform better on

These new cars will no doubt perform better on the bigger tracks because they are going to have much better mechanical grip than the COT had. I for one am pretty excited about that. That being said though, the main problem is these cars have WAY too much horsepower. It's nearly impossible to race side by side at 180+ MPH corner speeds unless the banking is 30+ degrees.

NASCAR's next big project in conjunction with Detroit should be to dramatically downsize these engines, move to OHC configuration, reduce valve sizes etc. The racing would be dramatically better if the average lap speeds were 20+ MPH slower. The new Cup cars with the Nationwide motor configuration would be awesome even. But really before a manufacturer submits a new engine design and approves it, let's move on to some modern engines with less power.

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