Daytona Review: Boogity-Boogity-Boogity Lets go single file racing Boys...and Girl!
The Daytona 500's ratings were up 30% from last year. How'd that happen? Especially since the racing was brutal. The most compelling moment came in pre-race when FOX's Erin Andrew gave 50 Cent The Heisman...I love going to Daytona, but two of the last three events have been awful. Sitting around for 6 hours of delays to fix a pot hole in 2010 and rain in 2012 had me staying home for this year's Great American Race. NASCAR will give some of the credit for better numbers to the "Danica bounce" as more casual fans may have tuned in after she won the pole. There was probably some morbidly curious viewers checking in after Saturday's wild wreck with car parts flying into the stands resulting with injuries to over two dozen fans. The simple explanation for the spike in ratings was that last years race was rained out. It was started on a Monday night and finished (after numerous delays including one caused by Juan Pablo Montoya slamming into a jet dryer) in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.
Good TV numbers...bad race. Now I don't know what qualifies as interesting or exciting motor sports to the average male 18-34. But to me, this ain't it. Single file racing with nobody working the bottom of the track equals...boring. The only way to use the inside racing line is to team up with another car to push. The only action occurred when 3 of the sports biggest stars were taken out. 2007 Daytona 500 Champion Kevin Harvick and his pal (and the best driver to never win it) 3 time Cup Champ Tony Stewart were done by lap 31. Also caught in the accident defending Sprint Cup Champ Brad Keselowski. The guy with the best car and last year's winner Matt Kensth led 88 laps only to have the engine in his Toyota Camry expire. It was like watching a regular season NBA game you only needed to see the last 4 minutes. Dale Jr made a mad dash but came up short with another 2nd place finish. To her credit Danica Patrick ran up front all day and led some laps. But then again that's kind of what your supposed to do when you have the fastest car.
The Danica Patrick coverage will only get worse. I get it, she's hot...there's the story lines, she's dating another driver (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) she's driving for Tony Stewart, blah blah blah frigging blah. Last time I checked adulation and hype are supposed to come along with results at some point. She has 1 career victory in motor sports...1. It came in an Indy Car race in Japan by virtue of a fuel mileage strategy gamble by her crew chief. That's it. She is the Anna Kournikova of racing.
At least Dale Jr used to win races on a regular basis earlier in his career. Danica is yet to pull into victory lane at any level of racing involving cars with fenders. NASCAR drivers know she's good for business so they will all say the right things when asked about her "earning their respect". But rest assured many on pit road are already over the Danica nonsense. To paraphrase the late Al Davis "Just win something, baby".
5 Time Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson won his 2nd Daytona 500. In typical Johnson fashion he saved his car laying back for much of the race, waiting til the last ten laps to make his move. Jimmie Johnson is a good guy, with a low key style. Never puts a wrong foot forward ever. Look I'll say it... he's boring. His crew chief Chad Knaus is genius (and a cheater) his team is a Yankees like juggernaut and they make racing as interesting as watching a procedural cop drama. You know exactly how it will happen and how they will do it and what he will say in victory lane. David Pearson was The Southern version of this back in the day. But at least in The 70's the drivers were characters and had Southern accents. And The Silver Fox was really cool dude playing the rival to The King Richard Petty. Nowadays unless Dale Jr is being interviewed, everyone sound like generic pitchmen throwing out sponsors like emotionless robots.
Saturday's scary wreck at the end of The Nationwide Series race had many in motor sports circles reevaluating just how close do you want the fans to the action? The 10 car melee on the last lap sent Kyle Larson's car in the air and into the catch fence. By now you've all seen the video of fans getting drilled by a tire and other debris while the smoldering engine block came to rest inside the fence.
This kind of thing has happened before. The reason we have restrictor plate racing is because back in 1987 at Talladega, Bobby Allison's car tore up the fence and nearly got into the crowd. NASCAR's remedy was a restrictor plate to limit the amount of air into the engine's combustion chamber (where air mixes with fuel) and cuts down the horsepower. The idea is to slow the cars down at NASCAR's fastest tracks Daytona and Talladega. Without a restrictor plate, a Sprint Cup stock car could reach speeds in excess of 230mph on the straight away. Bill Elliot in the last recorded fastest lap without restrictor plates at Talladega (the same year Allison wrecked) won the pole with a speed of 212.8 mph.
So the idea is to slow the cars down and take away the horsepower. The results have been packs of race cars where one mistake takes out half the field. NASCAR has tweaked the aerodynamics over the years and the results were just as worse. Cars teaming up like pairs of love bugs in The Spring in Florida, nose to tail which for most fans didn't seem like real racing either.
The car of tomorrow (COT) was rushed into service as a knee jerk reaction to the deaths of Dale Earnhardt, Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin. The car's safety advancements along with innovations like energy absorbing foam walls known as SAFER barriers did in fact made the sport a whole lot safer. Unfortunately the quality of the racing on the track took a nose dive. Plus fans hated the way all the cars looked the same with no way to delineate a Ford from Chevy or Dodge from Toyota.
Which brings us to the Gen-6 car we saw this week at Daytona, some funky aerodynamics for the drivers to contend with but at least they look more like a "stock car" you could pick up at a dealership. Although I have still never ever seen a two door Taurus on the road...
The drivers all complained early on in Speed week about the handling characteristics of the new Gen-6 cars. But by Sunday night's post race interviews, all the drivers (especially Dale Earnhardt Jr) were singing it's praises. Safe to say the NASCAR suits told the drivers to tow the line and stop belly-aching. I guess for cruising down the track without attempting a pass these new rides are awesome.
Next week NASCAR heads to Phoenix which by Sprint Cup standards is a slower and if anything circular shaped track, so it won't be the best indicator of how much better or worse the Gen-6 chassis perform. Las Vegas is a mile and half track (March 10th) and will give drivers, crew chiefs and race fans a better idea of just how good or bad these new cars will be.
Historically NASCAR never does it's due diligence when making sweeping changes and the quality of racing suffers for it....stay tuned.