Saturday, December 29, 2007

Spin Doctors

They name streets after guys like that -- One Way and Dead End ... He's just an idiot. ~ Tony Stewart (on Greg Biffle, but it could have been any number of others)
 I don't know if someone at the Montgomery Advertiser has a sense of humor, or it just worked out this way, but they certainly put an interesting pair of articles together. Like most newspapers these days, the Advertiser has cut back on some of its coverages, particularly in the Sports section. What is amazing is that their coverage of NASCAR racing is one of the things that has taken a hit. Given that the Advertiser is published in Montgomery, Alabama, and Alabama is the home of Talledega, the Allisons, and other notables in stock car racing, this is just another indication of how NASCAR is slowing slinking into the sunset.

The nature of the stories in the Sports section was also an indication. Story number 1 was headlined, "NASCAR sees spike in accidents spins." Right next to it was "Rookies got crash course in driving." Hmmm. Seems like there might be a connection there.

In the first story, we learn that the number of accidents and spins is increasing. The Chase alone had 89 incidents (a 14.1 % increase over last year) and there were a total of 240 for the season. What's frightening about the latter number is that it's less than the number in 2005 when we sat through 253 incidents.

If you thought you were seeing a lot of yellow flag laps in the last few years, you were most certainly right. And, remember, this isn't counting those mysterious "debris" cautions.

What could be causing so many cautions? See story number two. Here are some stats to consider:

  • David Regan had 22 crashes in 36 races.
  • J.J. Yeley had nine, which was a significant improvement over the 17 he had the year before.
  • Robbie Gordon, who ain't no rookie, managed to have 16 accidents or spins.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya, who ain't no rookie except in the eyes of NASCAR, had 11 incidents.
In other words, rookies and open wheel guys don't know how to drive these here stock car thingies.

It isn't going to get any better. Next year we're going to be treated to Dario Franchitti, Jacques Villeneuve, and Sam Hornish spinning and crashing all over the place. Hornish, in particular, should have a lot of shortened races. He already drives like a loon in the Indy cars. Roger Penske managed to settle him down some, so he was able to stay on the track long enough to win a championship a couple of years ago, but don't count on him finishing many races with all his fenders on in Cup racing.

It's not like Penske isn't trying to give him a break. Figuring that Hornish will never qualify on his own, he's gotten permission to apply his owner points to Hornish's car rather than the car of Kurt Busch. What this means is that former Cup champion Busch will have to qualify on speed, while Hornish will be an automatic qualifier for the first five races next season.

After that, of course, he'll have to be in the top 35 drivers to get an automatic entry. Given his rather poor runs this past season, it's likely he won't be around for many races beginning with number 6.

Once upon a time, drivers had an apprenticeship. They raced in ARCA or ASA, often after driving local dirt tracks for a while, and worked their way up to Busch (now Nationwide) racing. They raced there for a few years until they finally looked ready to run with the big guys. Now, all they need to be is photogenic.

The Car of Tomorrow (COT) isn't going to make it any better. Take a bunch of bad drivers and put them in closer racing and what you'll get is even more wrecks. Hendricks, of course, won't be worried because somehow their COTs will amazingly go faster than everyone else's, just like their Chevrolets run faster than everyone else's Chevrolets. Everyone else, though, is going to be getting caught up in Juan's or Dario's or hot-shot-rookie-who-did-one-year-in-Busch's accident. Well, they might get caught up in David Regan's wreck or Robbie Gordon's, since those two accidents-waiting-to-happen will still be driving.

Of course, this all could be part of Brian France's master plan. After all, more cautions means more time for commercials. More commercials means more money. It could be setting the scene for NASCAR's next TV negotiations. "Hey," NASCAR reps will say, "Where else can you get a four-hour event that has enough breaks in the action for 3 1/2 hours of commercial time?"

Sounds like a plan to me.

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