If there is one universal attribute in racing that runs through the very veins of every driver, crewman, official and fan, it is passion. Passion has always run strong in the NASCAR community, passed from one generation to the next as seamlessly as water, or sometimes unexpectedly ignited in someone new at the sound of an engine or the smell of warm oil. Passion makes good drivers better. It pushes crews to find the miniscule advantage, one that mans the difference between winning and finishing second. It makes fans support their drivers from their early days, to the height of a career, then through the fading twilight into retirement with an optimism that always serves to keep them believing. The sport fuels the passion, and in turn, the passion drives the sport. It’s a part of every race, every pass, every win.
With the many annual events in the NASCAR community, there are many opportunities to connect with the sport today, from televised pre-race shows to the awards banquet, Sprint Media Tour and the annual preview event held in Charlotte. Fans can see the new race cars, meet their favorite drivers, or see an in-depth story on just about anything. The NASCAR world is at our fingertips.
But what about ways to connect today’s fans to the sport’s storied past? There aren’t that many. Save the odd feature on the pre-race show, they aren’t given many glimpses into what the sport once was. The lone annual exception is the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, just concluded for 2013. At that event, the sport’s history is revered and glorified – as it should be. Those in attendance or watching at home can hear the stories from the people who lived them, or, if they aren’t with us anymore, the people who knew them best.
The NASCAR Sprint Media Tour Hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway spent its 31st anniversary visiting with the sport’s biggest names, from team owners to drivers to NASCAR executives. Optimism abounded about the new sixth-generation race cars, while sponsorship talk was a mixed bag with some teams announcing new backers, others championed extensions with old ones while the rest revealed a number of races still unpaid for. NASCAR outlined its plans for a much faster track-drying procedure and expressed continued support of the much-maligned Chase format.
A few teams debuted new drivers, like Penske Racing’s Joey Logano; Roush Fenway trumpeted Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.’s rise to Cup and Travis Pastrana’s Nationwide presence. A few new paint schemes were unveiled, to limited fanfare while Nationwide Series drivers took on the media in some game-room challenges. All in all, there was plenty to talk about; none of it Earth-shattering, but plenty of tidbits to feed the race-starved masses in the heart of the winter offseason.
NASCAR is a sport driven by performance. What a driver accomplishes, or fails to accomplish, on the racetrack affects not only his personal gratification but his team’s — and even his sponsor’s — bottom line. Sure, some give more leeway than others, and some drivers are more likely to get the benefit of the doubt. But the bottom line is no different than that of any other employer. If a driver doesn’t live up to expectations, eventually, his job could be on the line, his failure trumpeted not just by his team but by others. Race fans can be brutal, the media can be even more relentless, and there are plenty of drivers in the garage holding pink slips and looking for work. Don’t overlook that personal desire to be competitive, either; sometimes, a driver’s worst enemy in trying to fix weeks worth of failure is himself.
One year ago, people were wondering just how crazy Clint Bowyer was. Bowyer, who had three top-10 points finishes in six full seasons with Richard Childress Racing, had announced that he would leave RCR for a third Michael Waltrip Racing car in 2012. Not only was Bowyer facing an uphill battle by signing on with a brand-new team, he was making a move to an organization that had never had anyone finish higher than 16th in points throughout its existence. In fact, in those five years, the organization had just two wins, noted more for its failures (think: 2007 jet fuel disaster at Daytona) and its uncertain future. There were rumors of sponsors leaving, and even if they didn’t, MWR was considered capable of no better than middle of the pack — period.
NASCAR and Sprint announced a brand-new format for the season-opening exhibition race formerly known as the Budweiser Shootout this week. The race, rebranded the Sprint Unlimited (an admittedly shameless plug for the cellular carrier’s unlimited data plans) will be similar to the old Shootout in its 75-lap, three-segment format, but from there what will happen is anybody’s guess.
Race fans will vote on everything from the length of each segment to the firesuit that Miss Sprint Cup will wear in Victory Lane (no, really). That includes a pit stop (or not) after the first segment, whether to eliminate the backmarkers after the second, and even how the field will be set.
_Attention, NASCAR fans… welcome to Throwback Thursday! Every week, from now until the start of the 2013 season we’ll be giving you, our readers the favorite stories we treasure from our writers over the past few seasons. Today we focus on Amy Henderson, a former NMPA Award Winner and one of the site’s Managing Editors who shares some pieces near and dear to her heart._
_From Amy: I chose this piece just because it’s one of my favorites. I think this piece shows a side of Casey Mears, as well as of Brian Vickers and Jimmie Johnson, that people might not know about, which is something I like to do._
It’s hard to believe that the NASCAR season ends in just two days-it goes by so fast, and so much has happened since the engines fired in Daytona last February. Anticipation for the end of the title hunt is in the air, but so is the realization that the engines will be silent for the winter. A lot has happened this season, and, looking back, there are a few things that I’ve been thinking about this week as the season closes on a slightly anticlimactic note, with at least two of three championships all but decided before the teams even unload this weekend.
Eight weeks into the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup and amidst flip-flops in points and favorites, one thing has remained constant: TV ratings. And the numbers aren’t pretty. In seven of the last eight races, ratings have been down over 2011 by a significant margin.
To be fair, ratings fell in several races this year, but early on, the differences were by 100,000 viewers or so if they were lower. Now, the split is much wider, up to a million fewer people watching, and despite signing a fat contract with FOX, NASCAR should be worried-they haven’t re-upped with either TNT or ESPN for an extension, nor have they signed anything with a different network…and the more the numbers freefall, the more the value of a contract stagnates.
The path has been laid for the NASCAR Sprint Cup title to be decided between just two drivers in the last three weeks as five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and first-time serious contender Brad Keselowski look to take it to the wire with just two points separating them from each other and more than 25 now between them and the rest of the pack. (Yes, there is the distinct possibility of disaster striking one or both of them in the last three races, but odds are, one of the two is going to hoist that silver trophy in less than three weeks.) Last year’s title was a similarly close one between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards, and like that one this battle is one that seems, on the surface, to be between two drivers who are almost polar opposites in most ways.
With just four races left in the season, four drivers have a realistic chance to win the title. For points leader Brad Keselowski, who holds a slim seven-point advantage over five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, as well as for Johnson, Denny Hamlin, and Clint Bowyer, the pressure to perform is intense, and it shows in the way the contenders have raced in recent weeks. Keselowski, Hamlin and Bowyer all have Chase wins, but it hasn’t been a Sunday drive for any of them. Playing the fuel strategy has bitten the group. Johnson backed the No. 48 into the wall last week, overdriving after a caution during a cycle of pit stops trapped him in the back of the pack. The Big One at Talladega hit them hard.
They’re racing with everything they have, every week.
There’s just something about Martinsville. NASCAR’s oldest track, on the schedule since 1949, has a certain ambiance that is missing at the high-banked, high-dollar speedways that take up the lion’s share of the schedule. The little track, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, seems to have been passed over by the sands of time.
But there is another reason why the drivers want to win at the little paperclip-shaped oval in the hills, and it’s not just bragging rights. It’s the trophy.
Since 1964, the speedway has handed out what is perhaps the most unique prize in motorsports, a grandfather clock, manufactured locally by Ridgeway Clocks. It’s worth a cool ten grand, but that’s not why the drivers want it. It’s different, a symbol of conquering what is still one of the hardest tracks in all NASCAR to master.