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State of the Sport? Uh, and Daytona officials are blaming the drivers?

State of the Sport? Uh, and Daytona officials are blaming the drivers?

And Daytona executives are blaming drivers for being too critical of these 200-mph crashes? Maybe they should strap in themselves (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Watch out, Tony.
   Looks like NASCAR doesn't want to hear any complaints from drivers.
   The Daytona mantra this season: Shut up and drive.
   Does anyone remember the days when Richard Petty and Junior Johnson and Bobby Allison would go nose-to-nose with NASCAR boss Bill France Jr.?
   Sometimes it seems like NASCAR officials are doing their best to emasculate the men who should be this sport's big stars.
   Star Power?
   Remember when Tony Stewart, after a crash-filled Talladega race last spring, was critical of the maddening bumper-to-bumper 200-mph racing? The fans, he said deadpan, didn't get their money's worth, because there were still cars running at the end of the race. And he added a line about maybe Figure 8 racing would be a better option.
   Now Daytona execs are trying to pin some of this sport's problems on such complaints.
   Drivers' complaining about tight racing at Daytona and Talladega, with those restrictor plates, is nothing new. However there appears no easy solution to how to race modern stock cars on 1960s race tracks.
   So drivers will crash and complain in one race, and then they'll all have almost an informal pact for the next race not to do anything outlandish until the last few laps. Not that such strategy works, as Stewart and Michael Waltrip showed at Talladega last fall.
   Whether anyone in Daytona is even bothering to talk with these drivers about all this is unclear.
   Maybe the new 2013 models will change the dynamics, maybe not.
    The state of the sport, as Daytona's SpeedWeeks approaches? One view comes from Daytona execs themselves, who are, naturally, under pressure to produce more butts in the stands and more fans on the couches in front of TVs this season.
   However listening to these execs, it appears there is still a huge disconnect between the men in suits in the corporate suites and the men down in the trenches. The suits sometimes sound too much like the blind men trying to describe an elephant.

   And these execs, in last week's International Speedway Corp (ISC) call with Wall Street analysts, made these points:
   -- Stock car racing fans, the core group, are still hurting economically, particularly in the Talladega market area. There is "concern" about those fans, and that NASCAR demographic is described as "extremely volatile," whatever that means.
   -- Sponsors, on the other hand, are not just hanging in, but some, like Toyota and Kelloggs, are "stepping up with very sizeable in-market activation."
   -- What these execs describe as "negative storylines" have had impact on fans.
   -- One Daytona exec, curiously,  even calls two-car push-drafting at Daytona and Talladega as "pathetic," trying to blame weak crowds and lackluster TV audiences on this type of racing, (even though NASCAR officials essentially banned that, with a series of rules that have had drivers watching their engine temperatures more than their competitors).
   -- Casino gambling at Watkins Glen International? Daytona execs are watching that prospect "very carefully," with New York state politicians considering gaming options for upstate.   
   -- Brad Keselowski Tweeting from his car in the Daytona 500, according to ISC boss Lesa France Kennedy, was good for the sport. (And then why did her brother Brian France, the NASCAR boss, turned around last November and fined Keselowski $25,000 for Tweeting?) Keselowski at 20, she says, is one of the sport's primary demographic markets. And 'social media' is now very big for this sport (more so with the collapse of the U.S. newspaper world, once a communications staple for NASCAR.)
    -- The new 2013 NASCAR stocker is a major marketing gambit for the sport (coming after six painful years of the disliked car-of-tomorrow, which may be one of the big reasons for the decline in popularity of this sport over that same span).  It is being billed as the 'Gen-Six,' an catchy marketing tag. The key is to reestablish brand identity with Detroit, at Detroit's behest it should be pointed out, and coming with Dodge/Chrysler's abrupt withdrawal from the sport.
   -- Ticket sales at ISC tracks was down five percent in 2012, better than the 10 percent decline for 2011.

   Analysts point to the continued "lack of spending power" among NASCAR fans as a major worry.
   On the plus side, Fox' new eight-year contract will be about $2.4 billion over that period, significantly higher than the $1.75 billion Fox is paying under its current eight-year contract.
   Analysts project that if NASCAR plays negotiations right, the next eight-year TV package overall could jump from today's $4.5 billion (Fox/ESPN/Turner) to more than $6 billion. On a yearly basis, that could pump up the sport's TV income from $560 million today to $750 million in the next period.
   How about ISC itself? Despite the U.S.' economic mess, ISC has earned $450 million in free cash flow over the last five years; this season the company should generate $65 million (even though some analysts say Kansas' Hollywood Casino is "lagging" expectations).

   More on the overall positive side:
   -- This sport has virtually no significant competition in its niche. It is second only to the National Football League in TV numbers. Its events are a prized 'live' commodity.
   -- Fan interest, at the tracks and on the couches, appears to be stabilizing.
   On the negative side:
   -- Hotel prices, typically outrageous for sports weekends, are still all-but unaddressed by the sport.
   -- Rainouts continue to be a major drag (California's rainout last spring was a classic case); Texas Motor Speedway's Eddie Gossage may have hit upon a logical answer, by offering discounted tickets to the next similar event, in case of rainout. However no one else has jumped on board.
   -- Downright bad racing, too much follow-the-leader stuff, and no caution periods to bunch up the fields, continues to be a drag.
   -- No 'star power' any more. This sport's "personalities" have been too often hit by NASCAR penalties and threats of penalties at anyone who dares criticize. The concept of drivers as "too vanilla" has become a major drag on the sport. And that problem has been exacerbated by NASCAR officials themselves by hitting drivers and others with hefty penalties for speaking their minds. To hear the recent reaction from Daytona execs to driver complaints would seem to add to that problem, with the not so subtle threat to drivers just to 'shut up and drive.'
   -- No great "rivalries" any more. No Petty-versus-Allison, no Allison-versus-Yarborough, no Pearson-versus-Petty, no Earnhardt-versus-the-world.
   -- TV ratings have steadily declined since 2006, with NASCAR execs only now finally looking to address the issues with something other than platitudes.
   All that does not bode well for NASCAR's next round of TV contract negotiations....unless the early weeks and months of the 2013 season are jammin'.

  Tony Stewart. Wonder how this three-time NASCAR champion will take Daytona's new edict to shut up and drive? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



Nothing is really being addressed. Let's just take qualifying. That's a wasted day with no one in the stands. Why not do it F1 style? Even Indy car would be an improvement. If they won't address this then they won't deal with anything.

F1 was in a similar situation a few years back and they made real changes. Now the ratings are up, The NASCAR suits are blind.

Really, NASCAR?

Let me get this straight. We have a rules package for Daytona/Talladega that restricts the engines to where it bunches all 43 cars together (when they aren't riding around intentionally to stay at the back), and it's the driver's faults when the slightest bobble or bonehead move takes out 20+ cars? Instead of shrinking the engines at these tracks or doing something else so that they can run unrestricted and spread out a little, they keep this package because they think the "fans love it". I just want to see the drivers actually be able to race on these tracks, and not have to ride around in a pack for 3 hours because they can't get away even when their car is faster.
I hope NASCAR will not throw random caution flags to bunch the field back up because the cars get spread out. It's like ref calling holding several times in football to keep the score closer in the football game when one team is clearly better. Or the umpire deciding that he's going to allow a few batters to walk so the other team can catch up because they are behind. If NASCAR wants to have pre-determined caution flags for breaks, then I'm okay with that. But quit manipulating the races by throwing caution flags when there is no reason to and saying that there is "debris" on the track. Chewing gum is not debris. Anything laying out of the racing groove is not "debris". Let the races play out as they should without any interference from the tower.

low attendance

If nascar wants to appeal to the other fans [non jr fans] they need to wake up and smell the gasoline.
nascar.com is the very worst at 'everyone loves jr' threads.

If they have a article on sponsorship, then its a picture of jr's car.

If they have a article like today's brand names being on the windshield of the cars we have a pic of jr's.

Every yr nascar.com has to write a article about 'this yr is jr's yr' or 'he has his swagger back' or his hat on backwards or he's his own man now [not quite sure on who he was before? Man, they need mike over there to actually write some good stuff instead of dusting off the yrs before jr thread changing the date and reposting it.

Nascar.com has lost it way.They need to fire half those goons over there and hire mike and some other to get that site going again.

They need to read this site and see what reporting is all about!

State of the Sport?

"...drivers will crash and complain in one race, and then they'll all have almost an informal pact for the next race not to do anything outlandish until the last few laps."

"Put a kerosene rag around your ankles so the ants won't climb up and eat that candy ass.” ― Dale Earnhardt

Nuff' said.

bruton smith

Seems Bruton and Nascar have again lost their way. Did both forget where Nascar came from, or racing in general?

People love racing because they can connect with it. Seeing Richard Petty at a stop light in Charlotte is like seeing the second coming for some. Petty connects with everything racing because he is still one of us. The Wood brothers are the same way. Leonard Wood eats at the Hardees I eat at some on his way to Charlotte. He comes in, sits down and eats his breakfast. He always is as nice as they come. People here don't crowd around the table. He is one of us.

Both Jon Wood and Adam Petty raced karts with us. people didn't bug Eddie while he was watching Jon race. Kyle came to Liberty to watch Adam race. Same thing. Some of the Cup drivers come in and run karts with and against us. There is no fan line or autograph because they are one of us.

Now I say that to actually say this 'Bruton and Nascar, don't forget your roots. The Woods haven't, and neither have the Pettys. They came from hard work and dedication, in a time when the most money didn't buy the best toys.

Tommy Baldwin is a prime example of the Nascar hard work and dedication process. He didn't come from money. He and his team are working hard to be just a blip on Nascar's radar, and building a team when sponsorship is at its worst time in the sport.

He is taking old rcr cars and redoing them to try and be competitive. He wasn't at barrett jackson spending millions on his toy collection. He was out trying to hustle enough money to get to show up and try and race. Now for his effort in trying to build a team that can actually have a chance at a top 15 or 20, Bruton and Nascar see fit to dock some of the start and park cars. Yes, some teams do it and make money, but Baldwin is trying, and for that he gets his pay cut if he doesn't have enough to run a whole race that weekend.

Nascar, we don't need another formula 1 series, where only the rich elite can compete. That's not the way racers roll and fans alike.

You see, Nascar, we are the Woods and Pettys and proud of it. We don't drink wine and dine. We drink pop and beer, and we still cheer for the little man and the underdog like Alan Kulwicki, who took nothing and made a lot. There is a reason the fans are not in the stands, but Bruton and Nascar can't see it.

We are the Woods and the Pettys. Nascar, who are you now days?

Shut up & Drive

Drivers not free to speak is choking the sport as most actually are that politically correct pretty boys (silver spoon etc) who would'nt know a wheel bearing from a timing belt.. (excludes Tony & others of the same go Brad)...If I want to see the JJ's & Jeffy's of the world I'll go watch sitcoms where every one ends up happy..As a Note Tandem Racing = No Thanks

Driver's blamed!

Well, I see NASCAR is back to its old tricks. Blame the drivers for the fans not being interested and spending their $, rather than putting the blame where it really should be - directly onto NASCAR and the poor business decisions it has made. Along with the poor TV coverage, NASCAR's refusal to do anything about the ugly car for so many years resulted in a lack of interest from the fans. Let's not forget the chase and the many 10 race trophies won by the 48 team which drove most fans (unless you were a fan of the 48) into the land of "who cares?" which resulted in less eyes on the TV set or at the track.

Then you have the high number of snoozer races where it is a 4 hr parade, followed by a trumped up double-file restart or multi-car pile up to "create excitement".

Poor TV coverage by all the networks. Fox has the Waltrip Brothers show and even with one of the best PXP guys in Mike Joy, he's not allowed to speak because Waltrip is flapping his gums ALL the time; TNT has - well, I don't know what they are doing because Adam Alexander is the most boring PXP person EVER; and then there is ESPN with it's "scripted broadcasts" and even if there is a race going on and A Bestwick is calling it, the cameras will only stay focused on whoever is "relevant" to the chase.

I can't blame the drivers for staying silent, NASCAR has shown a willingness to punish everyone who has a different opinion from their party line. I'm sure if they could find a way to penalize the fans, they would. Instead, the fans have voted with their $ and their remotes. If I had to guess, it isn't spending power that's the issue, it's lack of interest in spending hard earned money on such boring events.

We have steadily made the choice to cut back on the number of races we attend - and it is a choice. NASCAR nees to wake up and smell the coffee. I make my choice on how to spend my money based on what I see on the track or on TV, not because of anything a driver or group of drivers say. They could all join hands (and have for heaven's sakes) and sing the praises of the car, the racing, the chase, etc. and since I don't believe it based on my own experience, it's all just smoke and mirrors.

plain vanilla

well, nascar /grand am is home of the plain vanilla car!! the daytona prototype killed the grand am series (ugly as hell!!!) as did the COT (shoebox with a driver compartment). guess there just following protocol and making the drivers the same way. yes sir, no sir, keep mouth shut, drive car!!!
oh yea, and do it so its entertaining!!! they should have let clint bowyer open up a can of wup ass on gordon last year! now that would be entertainment!!!

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