Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Is This It?

(h/t to The Strokes, though they didn’t use a question mark)

1. No One Should Probably Ever Use the Word ‘Scripted’ When Talking About NASCAR

Do you know what was wild this weekend? Cody Rhodes finally finished the story, yes. But the NASCAR Cup Series had just as much of a feel-good moment for the fans at Martinsville Speedway as WWE did at WrestleMania, albeit one that wasn’t planned that way.

Hendrick Motorsports was celebrating 40 years in the sport, complete with nifty matching paint schemes and the whole deal. Then its drivers went out and flexed on the field, becoming the first organization to ever sweep the top three spots at Martinsville.

See also
Hendrick Motorsports Celebrates 40th Anniversary With Historic 1-2-3 Finish

Coincidence? No, but not in the way the conspiracy theorists might think.

In case no one has been paying attention to the start of the Cup Series season, Hendrick has been the most dominant force so far. All four of its cars are in the top 10 in points, with three in the top six. Hendrick drivers have won half the races in 2024, with William Byron finding victory lane three times.

NASCAR doesn’t need to fix any races to have HMS smack the rest of the garage around. Yet it still makes one cringe when Jeff Gordon, Byron and even FOX Sports’ Clint Bowyer used the words “scripted” or “script” after the race.

I get what they were trying to convey. It’s hard to have arranged things any more perfectly than they turned out on such a big day for Hendrick. It was as if someone had written them that way.

It’s just not good to say it in those terms. People want to believe conspiracy theories more than ever before. It’s easy to find them on social media complaining about the NFL predetermining things, using things like the colors of the Super Bowl logo as evidence.

(No, really.)

The best way to stamp out that foolishness is just not to give observers any ammunition. Starting with not ever saying “scripted” in reference to a stock car race in any context is a good way to start.

2. A Tale of Two Chases

It’s not like Ford is out of the mud just yet. Roughly a third of the way through the regular season, there have been zero Ford Cup Series wins, and Ryan Blaney still feels like he’s battling the entire world by himself.

But Martinsville at least gave us a pulse for the Ford camp. Blaney was the highest Ford finisher in fifth, Quelle surprise, but teammate Joey Logano, who has had a 2024 to forget to this point, was right behind him. Even better, Chase Briscoe, who has been adrift in the Ocean of Obscurity (as Paul Heyman might say), led laps and finished 10th.

Given the beaten-down state of Stewart-Haas Racing, any progress by Briscoe is a positive. Fair or not, as the driver who’s been at SHR the longest of the current lineup, he’s expected to be the standard bearer, and more performances like this can only help him live up to that ideal.

Meanwhile, even though a Hendrick teammate won the race and another finished second, Chase Elliott was also in the hunt, coming home a season-best third. Elliott has been consistent all year, finishing in the top 20 in every race. But he’s now recorded back-to-back top fives and seems to be one of the few people who doesn’t mind the current state of short track racing.

Speaking of which …

3. Are We Trying to Will Improved Short Track Racing Sentiment Into Existence?

There comes a time when you simply have to accept that things are not getting any better. We’re at that point now with short track racing and the Next Gen car, with The Athletic motorsports reporter Jeff Gluck declaring after Martinsville that it’s “a full blown crisis.”

Gluck isn’t one for hysterics. The basis for his argument is that Martinsville had a reputation for putting on thrilling races that just went away after 2020. He also dismisses any notion that NASCAR doesn’t care and admits that it knows there’s a problem and is working on it.

What he questions is the urgency, and while doing so, he raises a depressing possibility: that eventually people will get so beaten down by the monotonous state of short track racing and just accept it with a “that’s just the way it is” sense of inevitability.

It’s hard to overstate how wild this would be if it came to pass. Just a few years ago, fans and teams alike clamored for NASCAR to put more short tracks and road courses on the schedule. This year I’ve argued that Bristol Motor Speedway should lose a race, and I’m considering the same thing for Martinsville.

Along the way, we seem to be grasping at any straw to convince ourselves it’s not as bad as it is. Oh, there were 30 more green flag passes throughout the field than last year! The disintegrating tires at Bristol made things fun!

The NASCAR community can’t give up. Gluck is right: it’s not enough to see there’s an issue and work on it, this should be the racing equivalent of an all-hands-on-deck emergency and the sport’s highest priority. Anything less is simply not good enough.

4. When Keeping it Real Goes … Right?

One of the fun things about NASCAR being a sport dependent on sponsors is that occasionally doing things that feel like negative publicity, when they happen, turn into something better. I was going to use Josh Williams parking his car on the start/finish line last year at Atlanta Motor Speedway as an example, but then I remembered he got suspended for that.

Nevertheless, my original thesis stands thanks to Joey Gase. You may recall that Gase got a lot of attention, even outside racing media, for throwing his bumper at Dawson Cram at Richmond after he was wrecked. In the short term, this was a positive for Cram as people learned who he was, but a negative for Gase as he was fined $5,000 by NASCAR.

Ah, but we’re past the short term now, and things are looking brighter for Gase. He’s since secured sponsorship from Bumpers That Deliver for Michigan International Speedway in August, an amazing match between company and pitchman, since he in fact delivered that bumper.

You love to see it.

See also
Xfinity Breakdown: Aric Almirola Finds Redemption at Martinsville

5. Carson Hocevar Seems Fun

Whether at the track or other media opportunities, Carson Hocevar is a driver I’ve never had the chance to interview. Some people seem a little upset with him for causing a late wreck at Martinsville.

But he’s alright in my book for getting in on the true spirit of Martinsville by autographing some of its famous hot dogs, which William Byron then apparently threw to fans. Hocevar then even checked in with the recipients on social media.

He also weighed in on Jeff Gluck’s weekly race poll to report on his hot dog hijinks and say about the race, “It was okay.”

These are the kinds of interactions that help set NASCAR apart from other major sports and can only help Hocevar as he continues his Cup Series career. Good stuff.

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Echo

Scripted is an interesting word. Last week about 4 million viewers and every sports news junkie saw replay after replay of Hamlin jumping the restart, and Nascar and Hamlin both admitted it. That is a penalty, period. So did Nascar script the ending by allowing a cheating Toyota win a Toyota sponsored race. What do you think Nick !

sb

The demise of short track excitement began with the ‘chase’ format, and was cemented when they decided that Bristol wasn’t good enough as it had sold out for years, and changed it. Down hill from there.

wildcatsfan2016

NASCAR should have acted on Hamlin jumping the restart when it happened. Instead the sanctioning body AND the driver admit it and absolutely nothing happens. Is this it? Yeah pretty much.

Short track racing was always the best IMO but NASCAR has continued down the track that BZF took them. They penalized Gase for throwing the whatever piece of the car it was at another car.Yes I realize it was a hot track & that it was dangerous unlike Hamlin’s jumping the restart which was just against the rules.

Ed Rooney

If anything is scripted it’s the Fox broadcasts. So rigid.
The stupid shots of kids in the crowd.
Stupid cutaways to Hendrick Hendrick Hendrick.
Caution? Too bad, we have a scheduled commercial break.
Time for the goofy gang to give their picks.
Time for another pre-filmed piece on Kevin Harvick.
Oh look, there’s Kevin Harkvick’s kid in the booth.
Shots of anything other than the racing as they go to (yet another) commercial).
Lingering shots of anything other than the racing when they come back from (yet another) commercial.
Somewhere along the lines the tv people assumed THEY were the show and not the race. Time for old man Mike Joy to go. Please take the hayseed Bowyer out in to the woods and leave him there. And whoever the director/s is/are, they should be fired yesterday.

As for overall lack of excitement on short tracks? We have way fewer variables in play now:
Car bodies are too good and strong….i miss dented sheet metal and cut tires….conserving bodies, bumpers, etc used to be part of running Martinsville.
The tires are too good…. conserving tires used to be part of running Martinsville.
The brakes are too good …. conserving brakes used to be part of running Martinsville successfully.
Shifting… stupid stupid stupid.
Low horsepower… stupid stupid stupid.

NASCAR might care, as Jeff Gluck says, but they’ve painted themselves into such a corner with this new car that there’s not much all the caring in the world can do about the many problems.

The old days are gone. They’re not coming back and this is just how it is now.

DoninAjax

The WWE references are very appropriate for Brian’s product since there are a lot of similarities between the “entertainment”: Very little action, a lot of talking and a LOT of commercials.

Fix Bristol by repaving it like it was before the “improvements” started.

The networks “script” the broadcast of Brian’s product in the morning meeting when they decide on who they will cover during the event.

Bill B

So far, NASCAR has been unwilling to take a big swing at fixing the car to run better at short tracks. They’ve been trying to inch their way to a solution and, IMO, their attempts have had little to no effect.
It’s time for them to try something more drastic. People won’t start accepting that it’s just the way short tracks are, they’ll just stop watching them altogether.

DoninAjax

Nobody complained about the tracks or the distances until Emperor Brian’s and his sycophants’ “brilliant” attempts to reinvent the wheel, with help from the networks and Vince.

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