Fans would be forgiven if they mistakenly believed that a Nationwide Series race was on the docket for the upcoming weekend at Kansas Speedway; in the short history of the track, the Cup Series has never contested a race at the cookie-cutter facility without the Nationwide stable in tandem.
But alas, while the Truck Series are getting the companion billing this coming Saturday, the same can’t be said for NASCAR’s AAA, who, only one event off their first two-week break from competition since 1996 … are off again.
There’s six off weekends over the course of the 2012 Nationwide Series schedule and the teams will have burned through 50% of them only 21% into the season by the time they take back to the track at Richmond.
This makes sense how?
Yes, such an arrangement allows for the minor-league tour to play appetizer for the Cup guys a whopping 27 times. Apart from that, the schedule makes no sense geographically. It makes no sense chronologically. And in terms of trying to build momentum to generate fan interest, sponsor interest, to get the season rolling, it makes no sense either.
A doubleheader of nap-inducing races at Texas just a week ago was the latest chapter in what’s been a quiet start to NASCAR racing in general. The Nationwide ranks saw their debut weekend at Daytona disintegrate into a demolition derby by race’s end, mere hours before all of Speedweeks endured the first rainout in the 54-year-history of NASCAR’s Super Bowl.
Elliott Sadler returned to victory lane for the first time in years at Phoenix the week after in a race that was underwhelming on every level. And though events at Bristol and surprisingly Fontana showed signs of life (hate Auto Club or not, there was a lot of racing up front there worth watching), two weeks off does a lot to cool off the intangible momentum.
There’s a definite perk and need for an early-season bye weekend, especially at the minor-league level. Even moreso than in Cup racing, finances in Nationwide competition are often far from sound when the cars hit the track at Daytona in February.
With the AAA ranks dependent on the independent and upstart operations just as much as the big boys to fill the field, it is vital to provide teams a few weeks in a chance to reassess, to take a breather from the road (hauling from south Florida to Arizona to Nevada in the course of three weeks is about as vicious a travel cycle as they come) and to have a chance to catch up on equipment preparation.
Having those opportunities three times in four weeks, well, that defeats the purpose. There’s not a whole lot of teams in the Nationwide ranks that have the personnel or stable of cars that would let them take three off weeks in four to prepare cars a month ahead of time (teams like MacDonald Motorsports and Jeremy Clements Racing have full-time staffs that take all but a handful of personnel from the shop to the track every weekend).
That rest isn’t something that can be banked, especially noting that they’re approaching a stretch of racing 22 times in 23 weeks.
What that reality entails is something else. No bye weeks for long periods of time means delays or inability to fix damaged racecars (ask Brian Keselowski or Eric McClure what it’s like to have wrecked cars just sit in a garage). It means more time on the road between the shop and track, and less time actually preparing the racecars. It means the on-track product is inevitably affected, no matter how hard a race team or driver pushes.
There’s also a larger issue outside the racing itself that makes the timing of nearly a month break in the action questionable. This is a rather busy time for sports.
In the time of this dead stretch for the Nationwide Series, March Madness concluded, Major League Baseball has returned to action, the NHL playoffs have made countless headlines for their violent start and the NFL is making plenty of noise with a schedule release and the draft rapidly approaching.
That’s not to say that the Nationwide Series, that NASCAR’s second-tier entity, should be trying to man up and face all these other sporting giants. But there’s a difference between taking a week off to avoid competing with the Final Four and literally dropping off the professional sporting map.
While the hardcore race fan will still tune into these races no matter what, there are tons of fans out there that are going to get engrossed in baseball, in hockey, in something else. That’s not good news for advertisers, sponsors, for anyone involved in the sport.
Three off weekends in four weeks are too much. Half of the season’s down time less than a third of the way into competition is a waste. And come on, that’s a whole lot of down time without Nationwide racing to watch.
Then again, maybe being off this weekend is a good thing. After all, considering how woeful last Friday’s race at Texas was, would Kansas Speedway really get fans up and excited?
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