Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: All-Star Flaws, All Hail the (Burger) King & Defense Dollars at Risk

ONE: It’s Time for the All-Star Race to Move

There is something very, very wrong when a 10-lap heat race is vulnerable to the driver up front being able to storm away, leaving an all but single-file parade in his wake.

That’s exactly how the latest misconception of stock car racing’s All-Star weekend panned out; a format that rewarded sandbagging only to yield a final sprint to the cash that was over before it started. Face it, Charlotte is another one of the cookie cutters now and the race played out just like that … nothing special.

The intermediates are far from NASCAR’s best show and the uniqueness of the Charlotte oval has been gone since 2005. In short, the racing doesn’t justify the steady home for the All-Star weekend anymore. It’s time to move.

And for more reasons than the degradation of the on-track product. There’s more to being an all-star than being able to circulate fast around a cookie-cutter oval. As important as Charlotte is to the racing community, there’s plenty of other cities out there with throngs of NASCAR fans (the ones that are left anyway).

Besides, it’s an exhibition, why put on more of the ordinary? Go race on dirt, run a race with eliminations as the event progresses, invert the field and then eliminate drivers, do something.

More of the same was a real letdown, especially for an event supposed to free today’s drivers from the pressures of points racing. But hey, considering just how much those same drivers sandbagged to get ahead, there may not be a format out there that’s going to bring about that type of racing.

TWO: Because the All-Star Race Was a Microcosm of All That is Wrong

Getting ahead by staying behind. Track position proving just as, if not more valuable, than speed on the track. Tires harder than blood diamonds. And everywhere one looked, tweak after tweak trying to make racing less risky and more inclusive of big market names.

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If the NFL Loses Its Pro Bowl, Can NASCAR Lose Its All-Star Event?

Anyone remember the thrilling conclusion to the 2005 Nextel Open, the one where Brian Vickers dumped Mike Bliss on the frontstretch coming to the checkers to race into the big show? That’s never going to happen again. No, can’t have hard racing that rewards winning and nothing else. That would get fans wondering what would happen if the points system rewarded trophies instead of consistency.

That would make people question why we tolerate the crap that constitutes the Chase for the Cup deciding stock car racing’s premier prize every year. So instead, let’s reward second place. It’s not everyone gets a trophy, but it’s closer.

And let’s make sure we have a fan vote. Got to have Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the mix, no matter the race plays out. And if Jr. qualifies, well, who could do without Joey Logano and the Home Depot employees that were all but paid to vote him in?

The Chase, the points system, everything that’s been done to make NASCAR like stick-and-ball sports has effectively neutered a sport that was once professional bootlegging. The Southern 500 was moved to California and now to a northern city in a Southern state. The Bristol night race now resembles a high-speed conveyor belt.

And the balls-to-the-wall race event that produced the “pass in the grass” and Kyle Petty’s fiercest competitive moment is now a dud, a segmented parade that did nothing more than display the same pit crews that had their own challenge earlier in the week.

Most sports treat their All-Star Weekend as a chance to get away from the grind. NASCAR’s was just more of the same … the last thing race fans need.

THREE: BK Racing Doing the Right Thing with Third Car

Despite still not having any significant source of outside funding, BK Racing announced that they will be fielding a third car for eight races throughout the rest of 2012. David Reutimann, the part-time driver of the team’s No. 93 car, will drive the new No. 73 in the races Danica Patrick will run in his primary No. 10 ride at Tommy Baldwin Racing, which will allow BK’s other driver in Travis Kvapil to keep his seat for the rest of the season.

It’s an upstanding move that the team deserves a pat on the back for. Though Landon Cassill may be the young face the team is counting on to sell sponsor dollars, Kvapil is the only driver that’s kept a team car in the Top 35 in owner points, also delivering the team’s best finish of the year with a top 20 at Phoenix. He’s done more than enough to justify staying in the No. 93 seat full time.

That being said, the team had a deal in place with Reutimann before the 2012 campaign started that allowed him to piece together a full 36-race schedule, even with Patrick swooping in for a few races throughout the season. By wheeling the third car out, all deals remain intact and Mr. Kvapil the journeyman gets a pat on the back for a job well done thus far in 2012. Whoever this ownership group is, they’re to be lauded for this move.

FOUR: Bad News With Defense Sponsorships Being Targeted

It’s perhaps ironic that a Congresswoman from a state that’s preparing to build a $1-billion stadium for the NFL’s Vikings has seemingly made a political term in office out of sponsoring bills to ban defense dollars from going to sponsor racecars and other professional sports entities, but 2012 is seeing this story play out again.

The bill, as proposed, would ban the military from spending any money to sponsor sporting events, to include their NASCAR sponsorships with Ryan Newman and Earnhardt.

It’s a tough issue to tackle. On the one hand, times are absolutely tough, the federal government needs to cut spending in a big way and NASCAR sponsorships are expensive. On the other, the military has to advertise to recruit and professional sports, including NASCAR, have long been a viable means to accomplish that.

All five of the armed forces have been part or full-time sponsors in the sport off and on the last decade. The Border Patrol saw an instant boost in applications once they started sponsoring Kenny Wallace. The Census Bureau put themselves on a car. Same with the FCC and their Digital TV transition a few years back. There’s tons of history here that demonstrates there’s an incentive to market on the track.

On the surface, this bill is nothing more than political grandstanding to try and score votes on the back of something high visibility. Let’s be clear, anyone that thinks the nation’s going to end its debt woes by cutting back on sports ads is delusional.

That being said, the federal government needs to be reviewing every dollar it spends on advertising to ensure that there is a return coming for the expenditure. And that’s where this issue gets sticky for NASCAR … more than having tens of millions of dollars on the line for two top-tier teams in the garage.

Because as much as the story will be that hard economic times forced military sponsorships to go by the wayside if the Army and National Guard don’t come back for 2013, there will be a very hard question to answer if that happens.

Namely, how the hell can NASCAR sell the viability of getting involved in the sport when two Chase drivers, one that’s won races each of the last three years and another that leads the sport in TV exposure can’t drive a return for the millions in costs?

FIVE: Brian France’s Research and Desperation Move

There’s an irony that even before Saturday’s snooze-fest, Brian France told reporters that vice president of racing operations Steve O’Donnell had been tasked at NASCAR’s R&D Center to make the racing better. According to ESPN, the move is a repurposing of the R&D center to focus on aerodynamic issues and other items plaguing the on-track product on NASCAR’s ovals.

Here’s a thought. Racing has gotten worse since the stock car was taken completely out of stock car racing. Hmmm, how about putting the stock car back in it? Rip off the front air dam, give the manufacturers some free reign to make the Fusions and Camrys of the field look like Fusions and Camrys, make the cars hard to drive, make the tires wear out and make the drivers drive the damn things.

Here’s a thought for the R&D center. Close it, take that money and use it to fill in the holes those defense sponsorships are going to leave. Just think of the headlines: NASCAR to sponsor Earnhardt’s No. 88.

It was inevitably going to happen anyway.

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