One of the easy ways to fill space in a NASCAR column for the past couple years has been to debate the role of Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series. The oft-used comparison in this argument is that drivers who dabble in Nationwide are like Major League Baseball players dropping down into the minor leagues. First, let’s ignore the fact that too many writers feel the need to compare the sport to so-called stick-and-ball sports. Second, let’s also ignore the fact that many MLB players DO spend time in the minors, either for rehabilitation purposes or for performance issues.
Now that those two points are dismissed, let’s look at another angle: The tracks need the Cup drivers to help fill the seats, and TV needs them for ratings. These are definite possibilities. But look at the numbers. The stands still look pretty empty even with Cup drivers — save for Iowa. But hey, tracks, don’t bother lowering the ticket prices so that you might encourage better fan turnout. As for TV, it’s not like a 1.1 share from Nielsen speaks volumes.
So far, too many aspects of the issue are not much to consider. Really, the one thing that seems to be missing from this debate is: Where do people think the money will go if the Cup drivers are not there? Is Ragu going to decide to sponsor some potential superstar? Probably not. Instead, it’s going to move that money to Cup, and they might not get the real estate on the hood, but they’ll still be able to use Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in their promos.
The money in the Nationwide Series is not distributed in some kind of communist manner, so it’s not like if the Cup drivers leave that the money will stay in the series. Sorry, John Richardson, Jr., you’re not getting Kyle Busch’s Monster Energy Drink sponsorship if he’s no longer able to play in the Nationwide sandbox. The situation isn’t surprising and really exemplifies the corporate world as a whole.
The real problem with the sponsorship issues is that NASCAR, as an organization, needs to stop taking away potential sponsors from the teams in all three series. Every time NASCAR adds an associate sponsor, it’s another company that will not grace the hood or quarter-panel of a race car. Greed is good, eh?
Happiness Is…The DVR. With the Cup race in Texas moved to Monday, and many of us having to go to that thing called a “job,” theDVR became an important part of race viewing. Happiness Is skipped through to the start time of the race, hit the record button and added three more hours of record-time to the machine. The funny thing that happened was that the DVR didn’t start to record at the scheduled time — it started at the beginning of the program that was on, which started two hours prior. Hence,Happiness Is did not get to see the final caution, or the re-start, or the concept of strategies for that thing that should be abolished: the green-white-checkered finish.
While this mix-up might mean that the title of this column should be changed fromHappiness Is to Idiocy Is (wait, maybe that’s next week), it did illustrate an interesting problem. First, at some point NASCAR has to consider holding Monday races. Monday, early evening? Seems like it might be a good idea. Too logical? Too problematic in that Monday night racing might become popular? Whatever. The people in charge are in a tough spot, attempting to cater to both the audience at the track and the one at home. The bigger issue that Happiness Is found was that Fox was not replaying the race until Thursday. What kind of decision making is that? For a race that many people missed because they were at work, there should be easier and more frequent opportunities to catch it. Though many viewers don’t have it, using Fox Sports 2 to give a couple re-airs would have been at least a token gesture.
Happiness Is…Will Robinson. Danger. We’re NASCAR and we’re telling you to pit because you’re in danger. So NASCAR has this fun little thing called a competition caution. Tom Bowles gave a look at the rash of them this year. The reasoning behind the competition caution is kind of anathema to actual competition. His reasoning is sound. The biggest problem, and one espoused by Happiness Is last year, is that they way they are handled is all wrong.
If the caution is to check tire wear and for teams to ensure that things are good, no problem. But don’t treat the competition caution as a normal one. Lock down the running order before the drivers pit. Mandate that all teams must change four tires. Give the teams 30 to look at the tires, converse with the driver, make adjustments, and then send them on their way. Anyone lagging past 30 seconds gets sent to the rear. Otherwise, line up the racers in the same spots they were in prior to pitting.
Happiness Is…Not Mercedes. While Mercedes drove away from everyone at the Bahrain Formula 1 race last weekend, a funny thing happened: excellent racing. In what is often a follow-the-leader series, the race featured a good deal of side-by-side racing. In fact, right now might be one of the best times to watch F1 because Ferrari and Red Bull are both struggling, which means they’ve started farther back on the grid. Of course, to make the season interesting, they need to get tuning so that they can at least give the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg some kind of competition — other than the one they have by themselves.
Happiness Is…Long Beach. Matt Stallknecht opined that the viewership numbers do not tell the whole story with the Verizon IndyCar Series. The glaring 0.6 rating from Nielsen is one that has received more attention than the race at St. Petersberg did. So perhaps using something like Google Trends might offer a different perspective. OK, that idea wasn’t such a good one either, as the chart shows, other than a spike in coverage from Dan Wheldon’s death, that there is just a lazy slope that rises just a little bit. But really, it’s all good. Make smart decisions and continue to put on decent racing (just not against NASCAR), and something is bound to happen. This week the series is at Long Beach, with no NASCAR (rain permitting) scheduled for that day. So see if you can find that NBCSN channel and throw it on, even if it’s just on in the background. Won’t hurt much. And besides, neither of the Waltrip Brothers are involved in the telecast. Happiness indeed.
About the author
As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.
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