1. Has the Throwback Weekend Lost its Luster?
Ever since NASCAR put a good balance of its weight behind the concept of a Throwback Weekend, it was even harder to think of a race weekend at Darlington Raceway without harkening back to, “the good old days of how racing’ used to be.” Walk the track on race day, and you can feel the history. The South Carolina track has, and always will be, racing’s version of Fenway Park or Wrigley Field.
Whether it was the wardrobes by television talent, paint schemes of some sentimental value, logo branding or anything else, all efforts since 2015 at Darlington have been a step back to give a humble nod to the sport’s history.
That nod, however, has diluted a bit due to perhaps an unintended consequence of holding this weekend’s NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway.
Perhaps nothing will feel like a throwback more than going back to a track that, until its shuttering in 1996, was one of the longest-running in the sport, hanging on until progress sped away from Wilkes County, North Carolina.
This week will be an avalanche of diving deep into the sport’s history, and that’s a great thing for fans that started watching in 1997 and going forward. Somehow in all of that, Darlington, now a race in the rear-view mirror of the season, feels like a bit of an afterthought thanks to this weekend.
If NASCAR is going to continue having Darlington in the spring, a small window of the schedule may not be big enough for two doses of nostalgia.
Which brings us to…
2. There’s a Race on Mother’s Day Because Why?
Ok, NASCAR is a national sport. The hometowns of drivers and venues of races from coast to coast prove that. But a strong core of NASCAR fans value family. More importantly – Mother’s Day.
Even though my late grandparents’ first date was at a stock car race somewhere in middle Georgia a long, long time ago, the women in my family are not what you would call diehard race fans. Sure, they have a basic understanding of what goes on, but it does not go further than that.
For a good segment of people, and that group includes race fans, seeing your mom on Mother’s Day, or at least calling them, is important. However, I’m sure that call will not go over well if it’s made while screaming from the grandstands in Darlington, S.C.
As the late Bear Bryant said, “Have you called your Mama today? I sure wish I could call mine.”
For so long, I was told the answer to why NASCAR did not race on Mother’s Day or Easter was that “Mrs. France said so.” Obviously, those alleged wishes are no longer granted.
It’s a very long season for those on the road in NASCAR. The least the schedule makers could do is to give teams and families a weekend off for Mother’s Day.
Somehow, going to a race does not line up when you think of Mother’s Day. However, going to a race with your dad on Father’s Day certainly does. Ironically, the NASCAR national series don’t race on Father’s Day in 2023 nor did they in 2022.
3. How Long Until Kyle Larson’s Niceness Wears Off?
With each incident that he has with Ross Chastain, the ice appears to be getting thinner and thinner for Kyle Larson‘s patience with the driver of the No. 1 car. Between Rick Hendrick’s post-race lobs, Cliff Daniels, Larson’s crew chief, was seen chatting with team and Chevrolet officials after Sunday’s race. It’s very clear that the breaking point has to come soon. Shouldn’t it?
You can be a nice guy and win in NASCAR. Jeff Burton and Mark Martin proved you can do that. But at some point, you have to show a certain driver won’t shove you around any longer – see Bill Elliott‘s on-track run-ins with Dale Earnhardt all but ending after the 1985 event known as The Winston. The time will come for any driver where they have to show a bit of grit to throw around when needed – Chase Elliott, generally even-tempered, has resorted to that in run-ins at Bristol Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway with Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin.
Larson likely wants to take the high road, but at some point, in the case of Chastain, he may be forced to do otherwise.
4. Where’s The Accountability for Race Control?
Frankly, the snafus made by NASCAR race control this year have been too many to count. Sunday’s awarding of positions back to Elliott and Harvick was the latest gaffe. If you scratched your head for in-race calls that left you puzzled in NASCAR this year, the skin on your scalp would be raw.
Here’s the problem. If an official makes a mistake, you never get told who specifically messed up. You are never told if anyone is reprimanded or demoted. If drivers or crew members mess up? That’s broadcast all over the multiverse.
So far, the operating process has been, “Hey, we’re sorry, but too late to do anything about it now, so stuff happens.”
The more that calling of a race has issues, the more confidence of those in charge in the tower erodes. Frankly, NASCAR needs to do a better job, and if those making calls can’t stop messing up, someone else should be found who can.
5. Are Commercials Turning Off Viewers Who ‘Need to Try It First?’
I don’t personally know any devoted fans of Lainey Wilson, but I hope nobody’s opinion of them is tainted due to Dodge’s current commercial campaign.
If you watch NASCAR on TV, you know exactly what this refers to. Between the “Heart Like a Truck” commercial and Coke Zero encouraging you to “Try it first,” the lack of variety in commercials is lacking during current Cup Series broadcasts.
If the commercials were entertaining, that’d be one thing, (Where are you, ESPN ride-along commercials?).
But it’s the same incessant thing repeatedly, and if you are a first-time fan tuning in, the rotation of ads is a bit much. I don’t blame Coca-Cola and Dodge for their commercials, but in a sport with a wide cross-section of sponsors, it’s hard to believe tie-ins are not out there to be had.
For the watchability of the races, fans of the commercial-driven broadcasts could use some relief.
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