Monday, February 28, 2011

On the health of the Truck Series, aggregating win totals, broadcast quality, Jeff Gordon as the underdog, and crashing back to earth

A few notes and observations following a mildly entertaining weekend at Phoenix International Raceway...

- The Camping World Truck Series, while still not on the radar of most of the Sprint Cup garage, is in danger of transforming into another version of the Nationwide Series. Too much Cup driver involvement, too little chance for series regulars to win, and too many combination races with the Cup Series is robbing the series of its identity. For most of its existence, the series stood on its own with numerous stand-alone races in markets not touched by the Sprint Cup and/or Nationwide Series. Those days, sadly, are long gone. Unfortunately, the series is now seen only as easy pickin's for guys like Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Clint Bowyer to pad their "NASCAR national touring series" win totals.

- While on that point, we need to put an end to aggregating win totals and making it seem important. Is it impressive that Kyle Busch has 88 career wins among the Truck, Nationwide, and Cup Series? Yes it is. Does it put him in the same league as Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip, and Jeff Gordon? No it does not. He has 19 Cup wins. That's an impressive number in and of itself, but he's still 60+ wins in the majors away from joining those guys.

- Leading every lap in a race is impressive. While the action at the front of the pack wasn't always hot in Saturday's Nationwide Series race, it's too bad ESPN chose not to show any of the racing among the rest of the field. Too often NASCAR's broadcast partners choose to show the drivers in the top three, even when they're running by themselves, instead of showing us the race. Maybe NASCAR is not compatible with today's personality-driven mindset. I for one don't want to see four or five drivers all day simply because they're the most famous (or the "Fan Favorite") but I do want to see actual racing. I think it's interesting that the networks continue to show us the drivers they think we all want to see and the ratings have slipped. I have a feeling if they had showed us the racing and covered the total event instead of the drivers that fit into their pre-conceived storylines the ratings might not have dipped so severely.

- I am sure there were a lot of people watching on Sunday that never thought they would cheer for Jeff Gordon to win that were very happy with the results at Phoenix. Who ever would have thought that Jeff Gordon, once hated as the guy who wins too much, would be the underdog?

- The Big One at Phoenix? It's more likely than you think! The first 100 laps at PIR were brutal, with a lot of carnage and some contenders taken out and others left with damage. Is the way the drivers are racing each other now due to the new point system, which doesn't really put more of a focus on winning but instead puts more pressure not to finish badly? There's been a lot of hard racing both at Daytona and at Phoenix, and it will be interesting to see if it carries over to Las Vegas this weekend.

- It's funny to hear Juan Montoya say it's too far to travel between Charlotte and Las vegas as a reason for him not to pursue the $5 million bonus available to non-IndyCar Series regulars for their season finale on October 16. How many Cup drivers traveled to Milwaukee and Road America from Sonoma for a Nationwide Series race over the last five years? The mileage between Sonoma and Milwaukee is approximately 2,149. The mileage between Charlotte and Las vegas is 2,218. Next excuse please...

- It was time for some of those heartwarming stories at Daytona to come crashing back to earth at Phoenix. Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne had a whirlwind week, but his return to the cockpit was nothing but frustration as he crashed all three days - first in Cup series practice, then in the Nationside Series race, and again in the Cup race on Sunday. People forget that although he's now a Daytona 500 winner, he's still a pretty raw rookie when it comes to the Sprint Cup Series. Racing at Daytona and racing at Phoenix have zero in common, and each takes a totally different skill set. He's still good, don't get me wrong, but it could take him a while to develop at the so-called "drivers tracks," places like Phoenix, Martinsville, Bristol, etc.

- Another heartwarmer turned heartbreaker was Brian Keselowski, who went from finishing fifth in the Gatorade Duel to qualify for the Daytona 500 to DNQing at Phoenix. That's a long way to go only to turn around and head for home with nothing to show for it. Hopefully the next time Brian comes to the track he's up to speed and in the show; like I said last week the only thing he needs to get in there and mix it up with his younger brother is money.

You can follow me on Twitter @ChasKrall

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