Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is: The Magic 8-Ball Edition

One of the stories that came to light in the past couple days was that beloved NASCAR czar Brian France – or as many of his legion of followers refer to him, Brain France – is open to the possibility of cutting some of the length of the races on the schedule.

This potential change to some races is not a new idea but has continued to elicit varying opinions. France, in his comments, noted the millennial generation and their short attention spans as one reason that shortening some races would be a good move. While appealing to that market is an understandable focus, it’s doubtful that a race could be hewed down to 140 characters. Kidding, or something, hashbrown somethingwittyortrendyhere.

To the ticket-paying customer, the change represents something akin to being shorted – that is to say the feeling is that having bought a ticket to a race that removing laps in the event somehow cheapens it and should then make for the tickets being cheaper as a result. Fair enough, that’s one way of looking at it. Of course, it also goes back to an old restaurant anecdote: The food here is terrible, and the portions are so tiny. If one of the issues with NASCAR is that the racing has failed to be entertaining, does it matter if there are fewer laps of follow the leader?

A third perspective that should be considered is one of the foundations of the sport: the marriage between driver and machine. Until recently, say the past 10 years, a key component of racing was watching whether both the driver and the car could hold up against the rigors of a race. That’s not quite the issue it once was. The engineers have done a noticeable job of making the engines sound to the point of being almost bulletproof, so now that it’s other areas that are the question marks, like hoses, axles and those four rubber things that connect the car to the ground. In conjunction, the drivers as a group are in better shape now than they ever were before. The sum total of the situation is that endurance is not what it once was.

Whatever, this week the nuttiness of NASCAR heads to the questionable concept of racing known as Talladega. To match the wackiness of it all, Happiness Is will be using a Magic 8-ball to roll through this column. All 8-ball responses given in good faith.

Happiness Is… Most Likely. That’s the result the magic prognosticator gave when asked about Kurt Busch winning last week’s race at Richmond and how the PR machine felt about it. The only interpretation that can be taken from such a response is that NASCAR would Most Likely want to move on as quickly as possible from his victory, attempt to ignore it happened and if possible burn any and all footage so that there’d be no evidence for any lingering discussion. Somehow it feels like the story has already been relegated to an afterthought anyway.

That Busch won is no real surprise, considering how competitive he’s been since his return from his suspension. And NASCAR got away with one when circumstances went in its favor at Auto Club Speedway, when Busch was leading but was kept from victory lane thanks to some the conspicuous caution flags. Now he’s a Chase-bound driver that could possibly stick it to the powers that be in fantastic fashion.

Given that prospect, NASCAR would Most Likely cringe.

Happiness Is… Ask Again Later. Magic 8-ball is spot on with this one, as it hits on two parts of one story. David Ragan is a driver who fell upward this season. Having been set to drive for Front Row Motorsports, Kyle Busch’s injury gave him the chance to drive in the best car of his career, the No. 18. That stint is set to end soon and Ragan will be moving over to another car vacated by a driver with health issues, Brian Vickers.

Ragan will ride out the rest of the season in the No. 55 and continue with his attempt to show that he can be a well-regarded driver. While Ragan is just a few points behind his current teammate Carl Edwards, the question will be whether he’s a long term replacement at Michael Waltrip Racing. That will be something they will have to Ask Again Later.

As for Vickers, does he have any NASCAR career left? Ask Again Later. That MWR is basically sitting him for the rest of the year, though there’s potential for some races, is a benefit to the driver and something that should be done for him to get healthy (much in the same way that Joe Gibbs Racing should shut down Busch for the year, but that’s another topic). Vickers is an affable, seemingly decent person and with his health issues he should be looking toward the broadcast booth or being somewhere up on the box, but drivers are notorious for not knowing when to unhook the wheel and place it on the dash that final time.

Happiness Is… My Sources Say No. Talladega is frequently referred to as some kind of crapshoot, that any car can win – and on a few occasions that has been the case. Of course, playing craps involves using just two dice so that analogy is far too scant to account for 43 lunatics driving in such close proximity at 200 mph. Roulette would make for a better comparison, but that one still has just 37 or 38 markers on the wheel, depending on which country you’re playing. Both analogies, however, represent the notion that racing at Talladega has more to do with fortune than it does with any other metric associated with driving.

One of the selling points for NASCAR through the years has been that anyone can show up and try to qualify and then race. That makes for a good story when underfunded teams measure up against the big teams and their monied operations, and is what makes for Talladega being compelling because it’s one track where it’s easier to do so. But when asked whether one of the smaller outfits would win this coming Sunday, the Magic 8-ball replied: My Sources Say No. Looks like a legit take on things. Even with the assumed wreckfest set to occur at some point during the race, it won’t be enough to take out all of the well-backed cars.

That being noted, the Roush Fenway Racing cars have been so slow this season that they might be a half a lap off the pace, avoid the mess and then race home with the trophy.

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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J. Smith

The races would be shorter if they didn’t average 5 BS cautions per race with minimum 5 laps so everyone can pit and they can reset the field. I am OK with shorter race length too as I will never attend a race again. Better yet, run heat races and feature and add the trucks to give the attending fans their 3 hours.

Bill B

While I agree that most of the time the winner at an RP track is a top tier team, if you need proof that the crapshoot factor is statistically higher at RP tracks just look at the names in the top 10 for the last 10 years and then compare them to the names in the top 10 at most other tracks.


The idea that the millennial generation has a shorter attention span is an interesting one. Watching movies in the 60’s and 70’s they seemed to run an hour and 10 minutes to an hour and 20. Now, many of the movies have a run time of over 2 hours.

Many of the tracks increased the length of their races to gain some prestige. So many of the races went from the-such-and-such 400 to the such-and-such 500. I suppose it doesn’t hurt the concession sales either. :)

Whatever changes Brian wants to make, they tend to be the opposite of what’s needed. NASCAR didn’t need the Chase. NASCAR didn’t need phantom cautions. NASCAR needed to fix the cars 20 plus years ago because they were becoming too aero-dependent. Instead, they made the cars even more aero-dependent and awarded races to a bunch of new tracks that were mainly mile-and-a-half’s that encourage aero-push parades.

I’m shaking my head as I just proof read what a wrote. The only positive thing NASCAR has done lately is to remove some of the downforce and have tried to make the cars look a little bit like the ones in the showroom. They have got to go so much further with these two things I doubt they will ever get near to where they need to be.

I just don’t see how the current product would attract and keep a new fan.


maybe Brian’s “friends” or the people he pays to play that role refer to him as “Brain”. Not me. Brainless is a far more apt word to describe him, as far as I’m concerned considering the variety of things he has done that has taken a sport that was on an upward and rising trend with not only the fans who had followed it for a long time but for the “casual” fans he was trying to attract. Based on attendance and ratings for the past several years, NASCAR appears to be on a downward trend. Of course he is apparently brilliant at parting the tv people from their $.

So now after instituing the chase, the common template car and more D-shaped ovals to bore us with, NOW, the races need to be shortened to attract those with short attention spans? Wow, yes of course that is the answer to the problem. It couldn’t possibly be that the racing isn’t fun to watch any more and therefore no one is willing to sit thru 4 plus hours. Oh wait, never mind, we’ll make sure that a caution comes out with 10 to go so we can have mayhem at the end of the race! That always works – it makes some of the fans forget how bored they were for the majority of the race and just remember that “fantastic” finish with wrecks galore.

Restrictor plate crapshoot race this weekend. I plan to spend time outside in the yard. Wrecking is NOT racing.


I have no problem shortening some races. I’ve been to 500 mile races and 400 miles races and I really didn’t notice the time difference. As long as I get a good 2.5-3.5 hours of racing I’m happy. The only races that should never be touched are the Daytona 500, Coke 600 and the Southern 500. They can start by shortening the two Texas races, the Atlanta race and the Charlotte fall race to 400 miles. I haven’t heard much complaining since Pocono’s races were shortened to 400 miles.


If I’m not mistaken there was a time when NASCAR ran stock cars with souled up (old man phrase) engines. The races were long to see who of the various competitors could make an engine fast enough to win yet durable enough to finish. Since, now, all the engines come from a very few sources and are nearly identical it actually makes sense to shorten the races. Especially if in an effort to create artificial excitement you intend to manipulate the outcome of the race as it nears its conclusion. As to millennials, refusing to be bored by the increasingly bland product that is NASCAR should not be dismissed as having a short attention span.


I think you meant “souped” up engine and it’s an experienced man phrase. Back in the day they needed as many cars as they could get to start the race too because around half failed to finish. That’s not the case any more. The first Southern 500 in 1950 ( the real Southern 500 run in September) started 75 cars and around 30 finished at an average speed of 75 mph. The first Indy 500 in 1911 had an average speed of 75 mph. Johnny Mantz beat Fireball Roberts by nine laps. Imagine if The Brainless One was in charge then.


oh great magic 8 ball..
“will danica get one of those “lucky” restrictor plates this weekend?


“it is decidedly so”


lol…bet on it…bahahahahaaaa.


What else can they do to stop the bleeding? As attractive as it is to say that they just need to turn the clock back to say 2005, would that work? Drop prices? Or maybe there is some magic answer that will make it all beautiful again.

Or maybe, the vast majority of people just don’t look at the automobile the same way now. The one thing I know is that I don’t know what else they should do.

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