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Hot/Not: With poor attendance, should NASCAR be at Dover twice?

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The rain held off, the rubber laid down and the Sprint Cup guys did their best slip-and-slide act Sunday at Dover. Unfortunately, not too many folks showed up to see the show. We dig into that and plenty more in this week's debrief:

NOT: It was tough, really, to see how sparse the grandstands were Sunday afternoon at Dover. The unique mile oval grew substantially during NASCAR's explosive growth in the 1990s and early 2000s, expanding to 135,000 seats in 2001. But Sunday, "just" 82,000 people were said to have showed up. (I say "just" knowing full well 82,000 folks is still a lot of people for most any event.)

NASCAR, of course, seems to always look at the glass half-full when it comes to attendance. But even those glasses colored rose don't hide the fact that Dover has lost roughly 45% of its attendance in the past five years. Dover's not alone in the battle either, as tracks across the nation have struggled to fill their gigantic grandstands built in the late-90s boom.

The reasons for Dover's drop are easy to name and plentiful — and most of them have to do with the economy. There's no secret a down economy has hurt NASCAR's base in the discretionary pocketbook, and that coupled with steep fuel prices makes NASCAR — long a sport requisite of its fans to travel hundreds upon hundreds of miles to see the sport's one event each week — particularly susceptible. And, as USA Today's Nate Ryan tweeted, the tracks with the most noticeable attendance issues in 2010 have the sparsest availability of affordable nearby hotels — a simple problem of supply and demand.

(It should be noted that TV ratings for Sunday's race were up, suggesting that while some are staying away from the track, they are not staying away from the racing.)

So what's NASCAR to do? If Dover is struggling to get much over 50 percent of its capacity in one race per season let alone two, does Delaware's concrete mile deserve two dates on NASCAR's coveted calendar? And if not, would the track be able to generate enough revenue to stay in business with just a single date?

Dover is one of the oddballs of the NASCAR calendar for a few reasons. One is that it's design is completely unique to any other track on NASCAR's circuit, providing a fresh breath away from the 1.5-mile cookie cutters. Two, it's owned by a group that isn't one of NASCAR's two main racetrack players in ISC and Speedway Motorsports, Inc., meaning its financial backing isn't near as large.

In my book, Dover's attendance problems may best be solved in two ways — adding lights for night racing and removing a date. The kicker? I'd think long and hard before transferring the weekend to another track, especially to a 1.5-mile track like Las Vegas that's been pining for a second date for years. NASCAR's schedule is arduous and long for casual sports fans to keep tabs on as it is.

Taking a weekend out of the mix — and ideally two or three more — could ignite some more urgency in competition and reduce the length of NASCAR's already too long season. And heck, a one-off night race at Dover?

I doubt we'll have to worry about slow ticket demand.

HOT: My jaw dropped when Fox premiered its first attempt at side-by-side commercials late in the going of Dover's race as suddenly and abruptly NASCAR's broadcast partner was doing something it once claimed couldn't be done. I realize there's a low, low likelihood that side-by-side commercials will be a staple of 2011's TV broadcasts. But if this means I have to support the sponsors who made it possible — notably Pizza Hut, Fedex and Sprint — by buying a pizza topped with cell phones and parcel boxes, I'm in. {ysp:more}

Plus, when TV ratings have been trending downward the past few years, isn't it smart to do something that keeps people from flipping channels?

NOT: After a second week of brutally beating a potential feud in NASCAR to a pulp in prior to the race, Fox missed again in hoping the Kyle Busch-Kevin Harvick battle would heat up. Have we not learned that drivers are smart enough to avoid tangling for about a month after their latest incident?

NEUTRAL: Regan Smith had a pretty good week after grabbing his first win at Darlington, but it didn't translate to a fun day at Dover. Smith broke a track bar mount during Sunday's race and finished 39 laps down in 34th.

HOT: NASCAR pretty effectively silenced Denny Hamlin the tweeter after fining him for comments posted on the social networking site Twitter last season. Recently, last year's Nationwide Series champion and driver of the No. 2 Penske car Brad Keselowski has stepped up in a big way to offer some great insight and opinion.

After Saturday's big wreck amongst the leaders to close the Nationwide race, Keselowski sent several tweets detailing what he thought Carl Edwards did right and did wrong — and clarified some fans along the way.

Here are a few examples:

@Keselowski: Sticking to my post race Comments. 60 ran over 20 intentionally (yes I no there was no contact, it's called an air pocket)

@Keselowski: Damn, just saw 18 incur. Even madder now! Clearly audible he gasses up and drove thru us. He has one coming from me!

@Keselowski: So to clarify, Im not mad at carl for the wreck, thats hard racin, no way 4 him 2 know outcome. Just saying he's not innocent.

Such analysis, when done right, can be second-to-none.

NOT: Speaking of that nasty crash from the race Carl Edwards won, you can check it out here. Debris from the crash — more narrowly, a spring — struck a member of Kevin Harvick Inc.'s pit crew in the leg hard enough that it required an overnight stay at a local hospital.

I'll join the chorus in saying, yep, it might be wise to place a catchfence along Dover's pit road wall. Bowyer's tumbling car could have easily leaped the wall had he hit slightly different, putting him dangerously close to hundreds of folks on pit road.

What wouldn't be wise is for NASCAR and/or Dover to say "the wall did it's job" and move on.

HOT: Marcos Ambrose ran third Sunday to tie his best oval finish ever with a team that nearly shut down in the offseason had some key folks not stepped in to save it. How cool is that?

NOT: Jeff Gordon gained spots in the point standings Sunday despite finishing 17th, but you've got to wonder if he's getting the short end of the Hendrick team swap. Meanwhile, Dale Earnhardt Jr. — paired with Gordon's old crew chief Steve Letarte — is running an awful lot like Gordon used to.

HOT: Carl Edwards, friends, is back. After two seasons of wallowing out of the hunt, Missouri's favorite son (or is that Ken Schrader? Or Jamie McMurray? Or Harry Truman? Hmm...) has a win and the points lead in the Sprint Cup Series. He finished a solid seventh on Sunday after leading 117 laps — and owns the best average finish (7.3) in Cup this year.

NOT: Remember when we crowned Paul Menard the 2011 Sprint Cup champion after his hot start? Okay, okay, we didn't go that far. But Paul Freakin' Menard (PFM henceforth) has finished decidedly like the PFM of old in the last three races, taking a 37th, a 22nd and a 24th.

HOT: It's safe to say crew chiefs have been the biggest factor in the last two races, as pit calls put both Regan Smith and Matt Kenseth ahead of those who had led all day/night and eventually into victory lane. If I'm a driver for the next few weeks, I think I'll take the advice of the guy on the box. Wouldn't you?

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