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NASCAR's championship TV ratings down again; Middlebrook upholds title 'death penalty' for Clint Bowyer

  Car owner Richard Childress (R), ready to put the controversy behind him (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   NASCAR's championship playoffs have taken a third straight hit in TV ratings, with Sunday's Round Three of the Sprint Cup chase also down significantly from last year's race, following similar declines with the Loudon, N.H., and Dover, Del., chase races.
   While John Middlebrook, NASCAR's final judicial arbitrar, was listening to Richard Childress' appeal of a championship 'death penalty' levied by the sanctioning body on Loudon winner Clint Bowyer, ESPN was announcing the latest Nielsen TV ratings for stock car racing's playoffs: The Kansas 400 drew a disappointing 2.3, down almost 30 percent from last year's 3.2 rating.

   The reason for the precipitous decline in NASCAR's TV fortunes the past several weeks is unclear. Given the hot ratings the rival NFL is pulling, the sluggish U.S. economy doesn't appear to be a legitimate factor in the debate.
   Meanwhile Middlebrook, the veteran General Motors executive and long-time NASCAR follower, wrote the final chapter in the bizarre Bowyer case.
   Middlebrook upheld the heart of the original NASCAR penalty on Bowyer, the loss of 150 points.
   That point loss has killed any hopes Bowyer might have had of challenging for the title. His Loudon win (which still stands, under NASCAR's long-time, but increasingly controversial, philosophy) put Bowyer second in the standings. Now, with the penalty and runs of 25th at Dover, Del., and 15th at Kansas, Bowyer is in last place in the 12-man chase.
   Middlebrook did reduce the fine on the Childress team from $150,000 to $100,000, and he also reduced the suspensions on crew chief Shane Wilson and car chief Chad Haney from six weeks to four. Wilson and Haney will not be allowed back on the tour until the weekend of the Texas 500 (Nov. 7th).
   NASCAR officials again declined to specify the precise violations they say they discovered with the Bowyer car, in just one of a number of curious aspects of the strange case. The entire judicial process took place behind closed doors, as NASCAR prefers to handle such situations. So there is no transcript.
   NASCAR initially said the Bowyer car passed its at-track Loudon inspections, but three days later NASCAR announced it had found the car's body and chassis did not meet specs. And it levied the penalties.
   Childress quickly appealed, and last week a three-man NASCAR appeals committee rejected the appeal.
   Childress then appealed to the final court, Middlebrook, who heard the case Tuesday and announced his decision Tuesday afternoon:
 "After reviewing all the data, presentation and factors involved, I am ruling NASCAR was correct in its decision to levy penalties.
   "I believe that the revisions that have been made to the penalties are consistent and fair to both parties involved."
   Childress issued a brief statement that he was "disappointed that the results are not what we wanted, but I feel we received a fair hearing."
   In front of Middlebrook, Childress was allowed to question NASCAR officials. In the appeal to that three-man appeals board, such 'cross-examination' was not allowed; instead, each side made its case separately.
   Childress this time appeared ready to put the whole matter behind him, which, considering he has Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton still in the championship hunt with seven races to go, is probably good politics.
   "The final step in the appeals process is very good, and I can assure you we would not have taken our case to the chief appellate officer if the first step in the process had been as fair," Childress went on.
    "I want to thank all of the fans for their support. I'm proud to be a part of this sport and proud to represent RCR's partners. We all need to put this behind us and get back to racing. There are seven races remaining in the chase, and Richard Childress Racing will continue our focus on winning the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship."
    NASCAR's 'judicial' system has long been criticized an too 'in-house,' with all the key people selected by NASCAR executives. Others have suggested a 'jury of peers' might be a better approach.
   There have also been complaints that NASCAR's judicial events are less than transparent, particularly being held behind closed doors.
   And there have been suspicions that this Bowyer case isn't all that it might seem, that there might be much more to the entire affair.
   What little is known about the case is that NASCAR apparently 'warned' Childress that Bowyer's Richmond car was 'close to being out of tolerance,' and suggested he might want to rein in things. Just what all that might be, in specifics, is unclear; NASCAR has declined to provide any clearer picture.
   And it is not clear just how NASCAR was trying to handle that Richmond situation. Bowyer himself suggested that only when 'rumors,' as he described the reports that came out Monday after the Loudon race, emerged about his Richmond car being questionable that that forced NASCAR to hit him with the penalties. To make an example out of him, is the way Bowyer described it. And Bowyer suggested a number of rivals had similarly pushed the limits.
   One major issue coming out of this, which NASCAR has yet to address, is why it took until Wednesday following the Sunday race to decide that Bowyer's Loudon car was illegal.


  Clint Bowyer: Loudon win stained by NASCAR penalties (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)




Childress knew when to quit,

Childress knew when to quit, or either got told to shut it. You don't want to cross NASCAR, or you will wind up like Carl Long or Jeremy Mayfield. They are usually quick to remind the owners, drivers, and everyone else who runs the show.
As for the TV ratings, it's mostly the NFL. I've watched very little racing the last three weeks because my Falcons have been on at 1pm each of those weeks. But as you've stated many times Mike, the tracks in the Chase are not helping the ratings. Loudon, Kansas, and California produce boring races. The Cup series should only be visiting these tracks once per year, and none of them should be in the Chase. I'm fine with Dover, but NASCAR needs to seriously consider putting Indy, Bristol, Daytona, Richmond, and Vegas in the Chase. Indy and Vegas don't always produce great racing, but they are great venues for racing. Time to spice up the Chase, and that means breaking with some of these tracks' traditional dates and including them in the NASCAR playoffs.

It's hard to watch a race on

It's hard to watch a race on espn if you don't have cable. I refuse to get ripped off so I can't and don't watch.

The thing I want to know is

The thing I want to know is who is lying, Childress' hired engineer or NASCAR? Were they allowed to examine the car in Concord or not, etc?

NASCAR is shooting themselves in the foot with the box they've made for this COT car. It makes absolutely no sense to not be able to determine if a car is legal any way but in a closed lab 3 days after an event with the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain making binding pronouncements. Loosen it up or start over. I say go back to stock appearing cars. No wonder we are all no longer passionate about the sport...

Anonymous is succumbing to

Anonymous is succumbing to the myth that NASCAR is ahead of the teams in the technology arms race and thus can forsee cheating, never mind the fact that it's the other way around. NASCAR needs to tighten, not loosen, it up and penalties need to be far more severe to where teams have nothing to gain from cheating the cars and everything to lose.

Playoffs in other sports

Playoffs in other sports always means that teams (or individuals) go head to head with one side being knocked out. In NASCAR, nobody is really knocked out for the first few Chase races so there isn't much interest in the playoff format. Making it worse is that the tracks and races are yawners. Plus the three drivers who likely will win the Chase usually can be predicted in advance as the Chase is really just an extension of the season with the points redone. The whole concept of the Chase needs rethinking. Maybe we need 16 teams in for the first race with all the season's race winners automatically in. In race #1, two guys are eliminated. Then two more and so on. Winners of a chase race are automatically reinstated into the Chase. The overall winner is determined not by points in all races but by points obtained from top five finishes only (say 10-7-5-4-3 points for first, second, etc). Results outside of the top five don't count. All of this would mean that there would be a lot of action and drivers who finished the season outside of the top 16 and those knocked out would have a second chance thus encouraging those in this situation to go for broke. IF JJ wins another Championship, we can bet our bottom dollar that Nascar will make major changes to ramp up the excitement level and a format such as I have suggested will make NASCAR 'must watch TV' again.

The problem with the Chase is

The problem with the Chase is the Chase itself. Get rid of it! Period! There's no need to have a playoff, when in actuality, you eliminate people's interest. If Junior doesn't make it? Oh well, why watch it? The same goes for any fan's fav driver. It's bad enough now, that when you watch the race, TV is keying on mostly the Chase drivers when real competition could be upfront leading the race, like Paul Menard at Kansas.

People don't realized that Matt Kenseth was very lucky during his 2003 Championship year. He got the breaks when he needed them. The one that stands out the most for me was as Kenseth was going into Turn 11 at Sonoma, he blew a left front tire, causing a caution as he was right at the entrance of pit road. Quick thinking, he jumped on pit road when it was green or open, got serviced and outta there. He finished 14th on the lead lap, but what if that tire would have gone down 10 sec. later? He would have passed pit road when that tire failure occurred and with that road course, he either would have destroyed the chassis trying to limp around that road course or finished way down in the race. He earned 121 points that day. Had he stayed on the tail end of the lead lap, it would have been worth at least 78 points/30th position. A difference of at least 43 points. That's a big point spread, but yeah, I know, coulda, shoulda, woulda. But I say let the racin' Gods decide who win, just concentrate on the competition.

AMEN to Anonymous on Wed,

AMEN to Anonymous on Wed, 10/06/2010 - 13:07

Is it really unclear why ratings are down? Some of the ratings on Fox were up this year and the races on ABC haven't lost a huge amount. Once they switched to ESPN the ratings plunged. Over half the population of the US doesn't have cable. I can afford cable but don't see the value. GO Jimmie Johnson, win 5 in a row!!!

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