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It's nearly August, and the dark clouds of the NFL are on the horizon, so NASCAR needs some quick punch, or else risk getting lost in the dust

  Ol' Smoke goes for two in a row at Pocono...and he's a great success story this season (thanks in part to GM Bobby Hutchens). But NASCAR may need more than smoke-and-mirrors to grab the nation's sports' consciousness before the NFL strikes (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   POCONO, Pa.
   Has NASCAR hit its high point of the season already?
   When the first of August rolls around, the giant shadow of the NFL appears, and NASCAR needs to grab some momentum quickly. However August traditionally is pretty slow in the NASCAR world, to be honest. A second Pocono race….Watkins Glen…a second Michigan race….not really until Bristol's night race in late August does this tour really catch its second wind typically. And even now there are good seats still available for the Bristol 500, which has been billed as 'the toughest ticket in NASCAR.'
   Yes, ESPN's Brickyard coverage was wide open, massive, and in-depth, and everyone in the booth was up on the chip.
   Still the ratings were down.
   Is NASCAR over-promoted, over-marketed? Has it lost its mystique?
   What NASCAR racing needs is a good, hard PR pop.
   To be blunt, it's going to be hard to hype the 'race to the chase.' There are basically nine men fighting for the last seven spots…and Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't one of them, and car owner Richard Childress apparently won't have any of his four in the chase.
   The two best chase stories: Juan Pablo Montoya and Kyle Busch.
   And if NASCAR execs can't get this Jeremy Mayfield case back in the basket, that legal catfight may be a bigger sports story around the country than what NASCAR drivers are doing out on the track.
    The pop NASCAR really needs? Can you say Danica?
    Put her in a car. Anywhere.
    And tell Tony Stewart to put her in a good racer for his Eldora HBO race in early September.

    Pocono is where the new double-file restart rule kicked off, and it's been a big plus. Well, maybe not among drivers, but certainly among fans.
   The new rules change NASCAR should make – public posting of all pit road speeds, violations or not, by all drivers. The numbers are all on the computer screens, individually – with each car carrying that scoring chip.
   If NASCAR wants to keep fans from questioning those speeding calls, that's a simple, easy way to do it.
   If NASCAR doesn't post all those speeds, fans have a right to raise questions.
   And the next rules change after that ought to be to open up testing again: with the real racing Goodyears at the real Sprint Cup tour tracks.
   NASCAR's testing ban hasn't stopped testing, it's just moved the whole thing underground. Nobody knows who's testing what or where.
   So NASCAR should open testing up for the second half of the season: Richmond should be first (that's a similar track to Loudon and Phoenix), and then Charlotte (which could help the racing at Kansas too) and Texas. Maybe even Homestead.
   In exchange for getting those key tests, drivers and crews would have to do a lunchtime one-hour autograph session at the track. But then let them take their souvenir haulers there too, and turn the test into a fan-fest.
    Might help ticket sales as well.

   NASCAR isn't the only racing series facing cutbacks in support from car makers. Formula One lost Honda at the end of last season, and this week BMW announced it too was leaving Formula One.
   However both Honda and BMW aren't getting out of racing; it's part of their overall marketing plan.
   So maybe there are openings for NASCAR: Honda, like Toyota, builds a lot of passenger cars in the U.S. And BMW has a manufacturing plant in the heart of stock car country, Spartanburg, S.C.; that $2 billion plant is expanding.


  Is General Motors' boss man Fritz Henderson scared to send his new Chevy Camaro up against this thing in NASCAR next season? (Photo: NASCAR)

  Ford is going wide-open in marketing against General Motors, out in the real world, trying to take advantage of the opening GM and its restructuring offers. And Ford plans to push its new Mustang heavily in 2010 on the NASCAR Nationwide tour….while GM continues to insist it won't run its new Camaro there but rather the venerable Cup-styled Impala. And that GM call looks to be a bad one, from the marketing side.
   Toyota too insists it's going to keep running its Cup Camry on the Nationwide side….another bad marketing call?
   NASCAR executives and team owners are still pondering just how to handle the new Nationwide car-of-tomorrow. In an ideal world, the new model – with a little more distinctive front nose and with the traditional aluminum rear spoiler, would kick off at Daytona in February and then California the following week, to make something happen in the Los Angeles market.
   It appears the new model, though not cheap, would be easier to introduce than the Cup car-of-tomorrow.
   So let's put some of these things out on the track and test them.
   Ford and Dodge are ready to market the 'muscle car' angle. Maybe some high-profile NASCAR tests of a new Nationwide Mustang and Nationwide Charger would embarrass General Motors into adding its Camaro to the pack. Unless Chevy racing men are afraid the Mustang and Charger might be too much to handle….

   Meanwhile, Ford keeps taking it on the chin in NASCAR this season, on the Cup side with a long dry spell since February. Rick Hendrick's Chevy teams and satellite operations are dominating the Cup tour, and Toyota's Kyle Busch is wide open on the Nationwide side.
   So when is Ford finally going to debut that new Cup engine? It was unveiled with such fanfare in January, but it has yet to show up on the track. The last report is that Ford wants to have it in some cars by late August….but likely not in the cars of its three Cup contenders, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth.
   Why keep waiting, when Chevy keeps winning? Well, Chevy's edge may not be under the hood (though it's not clear when the last time NASCAR actually checked engines on its own dynos). It's probably in the chassis suspension designed for those high-speed lefts at the end of the straights. With speeds of well over 200 mph going into these turns, Goodyear isn't the only engineering operation struggling.

No to Danifraud in NASCAR. I

No to Danifraud in NASCAR. I hear over and over how "She can bring in sponsors," yet no one can answer where these sponsors are for IRL if she's so good at that. And her talent level isn't worthwhile - she gets superb racecars in IRL and does little with them - she gets less with more than anyone.

NASCAR definately needs to drop the test ban because it hasn't worked for anything - it hasn't saved anyone any money and has crippled a lot of teams' ability to improve their cars.

Ultimately what NASCAR needs is more lead changes, more winning drivers, and more winning teams. I've long advocated plating all the tracks, going with the roof blade package, aborting the COT, bringing in rival tire companies because every time there's been a tire war more teams got more help and more winners resulted, aborting the Chase and replacing it with massive win-based/lap leader-based point bonuses, and putting in a hard contraction policy toward multicar teams. I'd even advocate banking some of these tracks to Talladega level to make them race like Talladega. Whatever will bring on more lead changes, winning drivers, and winning teams, NASCAR needs it.

yo, dude. I know where you're

yo, dude. I know where you're coming from, and I understand all that...but we're not talking racing here. We're talking marketing. You get me Lewis Hamilton and I'll drop the Danica stuff. But we're looking at the Fox TV ratings for the first half being so down, with no competition, and Indy's ratings down, and what with the NFL coming up, what is this sport going to look like in late September? Give me some suggestions. And, hey, yeah, why not Firestone and Hoosier and Michelin, but we need something, don't you agree? Maybe 400 horsepower engines, or plates or anything.

Nascar needs something

Nascar needs something because i will soon turn off the race on sundays to watch my carolina panthers and thats not a good thing for Nascar because a lot of people are going to watch the NFL. I got into to Nascar because Sundays were boring during the NFL offseason. I want to keep the channel on Nascar but the NFL is more exciting all everyone will is tune in to see how the last 20 laps unfold once the football season starts just like always. Nascar needs to step it up!

you're right. the first two

you're right. the first two hours of a nascar race, that's a good time to mow the lawn. this is like the nba -- the fourth quarter is all that counts.

Nascar's biggest problem was

Nascar's biggest problem was when it quit listening to folks in the garage. If Dale Sr. were still alive, does anyone think the sport would be in the mess that it is in today?

i agree 100 percent. and i

i agree 100 percent. and i fault jeff gordon for not stepping to the plate. but maybe he's just too rich and famous. these guys have to start thinking about the good of the sport and not just their wallets.

Oh boy. We have Cup cars that

Oh boy. We have Cup cars that look like the Trans-Am series cars from the eighties and nineties. Now we will have Nationwide cars that look like the IMSA GTU cars of the eighties. Research my claim. Does anyone recall what the attendance numbers for these two racing series were in those days? I was at the Trans-Am race at Texas World Speedway in 1991 and there were no one in the grandstands. No one. Paddock area was full, but no one was in the grandstands.

I believe the allure of stock car racing was the inherent danger everyone was in, the driver and each pit crew member.
The cars were obviously warped to favor left hand turns and more closely resembled production cars although observation alone told one these weren't production cars. Removing the obvious danger each driver and crewmember were in by instituting pit road speeds has removed any sense of danger from the equation. Adopting the Trans-Am series clones that are Cup cars today just adds insult to the fans. I recall my first Busch race at Hickory in 1989 and the level of excitement in the place was through the roof. Dozens of races and two decades later I found myself at Richmond's fall race and that level of excitement I experienced was gone. Right or wrong, good or bad, the sense of danger has been removed from Cup car racing and it shows on television and in person. How do you fix that?

i was asking some drivers

i was asking some drivers this after daytona -- are they just so brave that, with all this safety stuff in the cars and on the walls, that they think they can do anything without getting hurt or killed? NASCAR racing is very safe now, thankfully. but there is danger, as greg biffle said. i dont think it's the seeming lack of danger that is turning off fans; i think it's this new car is just such a handful that you need tricks to make it work right, and the tricks are crazy and/or expensive. can we just get NASCAR to give these guys a decent race car to run, and let them fiddle with it a little....and put some fun back into this thing. i walk around the garage and i dont see a lot of guys on teams that are very happy about anything. NASCAR has lost touch with the men in the trenches; it only listens to the three or four car owners on the 'good' list....Hey, let Robby Gordon make the rules. Let's take a look at all this from a different perspective.

Schedule changes are the

Schedule changes are the biggest thing NASCAR can do to make the ratings better overall, and in the fall. Why are they going to Loudon, Pocono, California, and Phoenix twice? Those races are yawn inducing, and three of them are part of The Chase. First, the previous venues get one date. Kentucky, Nashville, and Gateway get three of those. The fourth would go to a 3rd Bristol race, another road course race, or Iowa. That's just a start, because Michigan, Texas, and perhaps Atlanta need to be cut to one race. Fans want to see the cars at different venues, not the same old boring ones. We can handle one Pocono, one Loudon, and one Michifornia race, because it would be the only one. In essence, it would make a boring event a little special because it would be the only trip there.

Now, the next thing NASCAR needs to do is spruce up The Chase. Get Bristol in the Chase along with Richmond. 3 short track races in The Chase would get the fans to tune in. Also, make Daytona the last race. It would begin and end each season. The town had some sort of agreement with NASCAR to run the summer race there, but that needs to be compromised to make the series stronger and more exciting later in the season. You need your most exciting venues as part of your "playoffs". Here's my Chase tracks in a semi-proposed order:


Now that's an intriguing and action-packed Chase schedule. Gone are Kansas, Loudon, Texas, Phoenix and California. They are replaced with two short tracks, a superspeedway, and the track that's too tough to tame. How 'bout that NASCAR? We might actually watch that.

You've got some good

You've got some good points....maybe this is a good point to take a second look at the NASCAR schedules, Cup, Nationwide and Grand American too, and see what could be done. How to mix-and-match.
And I am still looking very closely at the Indy-car world, because to me it looks pretty shakey at the moment. Remember, the IRL plays at a number of major NASCAR tracks...and those tracks need more than just a Cup weekend or two to keep going.
Las Vegas still looks very intriguing for the chase; a lot of whoop-de-doo there.
But, hey, why not just put the 10 most exciting tracks in NASCAR in the chase? Which are the 10 most exciting?
And I still think a big bonus for winning is in order. The way it is now, a driver -- like Kyle Busch last weekend -- can take a big hit in the points on any given Sunday, but he can't step to the plate the next time up and hit a home run and get his team back in the game. So the push is to be conservative, to race carefully, to avoid problems.....Give 100 points to the winner of each race....and give these drivers some cars that aren't so darned aero-sensitive.

Whenever I watch a race on TV

Whenever I watch a race on TV from Phoenix, the cameraman and I spend much more time watching the scenic desert/mountains than the cars. It is more interesting.

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