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Growth biggest issue facing NASCAR

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports
Growth biggest issue facing NASCAR
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San Francisco Giants pitcher Brian Wilson celebrates the Giants' World Series victory

Welcome to the penultimate edition of Happy Hour in 2010.

(You have to whip out penultimate whenever possible, because it's such a great word.)

We'll deliver the mail one more time this year, because, well, we have to comment on the champion's banquet, don't we?

So with that, let's get to it:

Looking ahead at 2011

Jay, now that the season is over, what do you feel are the two biggest issues facing NASCAR for next year: lack of competitiveness among the Big 5 teams and the rest of the teams, apathy among fans as evidenced by low TV ratings and low attendance, teams getting sponsorship money, or NASCAR's seeming lack of transparency regarding the rules and addressing issues for on track calls?

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Michael Koltuniak
Plymouth, Mich.

Number 1 through 100 is trying to grow the fan base. As the TV ratings stand now, NASCAR isn't going to command anywhere near the reported $4.5 billion it got in its last TV deal, which expires after the 2014 season. NASCAR has, what, two seasons to increase TV ratings before they head back to the negotiating table. They've got no ammo now. They need some.

It's because of this that Brian France is desperate for dramatic moments. He made this abundantly clear in his state-of-the-sport news conference on the Friday before the season finale when he all but said the Chase needs tweaking in order to guarantee a close (read: dramatic) finish.

You can't fault him for wanting the drama. He's in the business of gathering an audience, and the only race in the Chase where ratings were up was the finale – when the championship was on the line.

Create drama, grow your audience, get more out of your next TV deal. That's how it goes.

Now, don't get me wrong – this isn't all about putting more cash in their pockets; it's also about sustaining the sport. There's no guarantee that Fox, Turner and ABC/ESPN re-up for 2015 and beyond, even at a discounted rate. This should grab the interest of every fan, especially those who don't have cable. Because if you couldn't find the races before, try doing so when NASCAR is relegated to Versus or some other channel way down the dial.

Fans love to rip Brian France, but the reality is if he doesn't get what he wants, fans might not get what they want either. Because at the end of the day, what's good for NASCAR is usually good for the fans.


Got to wonder if Dale moving into the shop with Jimmie is to help Dale or reduce the team conflict between the 24 and 48, and tensions between Jeff and Jimmie. Think about it. Jeff and Jimmie had issues on the track, with Jeff calling Jimmie "Mr. 4 time" on the radio during a race. The 24 team was taken away and given to Jimmie so he could win the championship. During the post-race celebration you saw Tony Stewart, and Rick Hendrick, but where was Jeff, the other owner of the #48. In previous championship wins Jeff ran to the celebration and said his congratulations.

Kelly Jessop
Americus, Ga.

It's a fun theory, but I don't buy it, Kelly. First off, Jeff did congratulate Jimmie. TV cameras must not have caught it.

The real reason for the shakeup was because Hendrick as an organization struggled in 2010. Gordon, Mark Martin and Dale Jr. didn't win a single race, and though Johnson won another title, it was a struggle.

Gordon needed a change. So did Junior. Moving the drivers was a lot easier than moving the crew chiefs, because doing it this way meant maintaining the chemistry between chief and crew. Had Hendrick kept Gordon in the 24/48 shop, it would have meant bringing Alan Gustafson over, then asking him to figure out how to work with an entirely new group, all in a span of two months. The same would have been for Letarte in the 5/88 shop.

It will be a lot easier for the driver to figure out a new crew chief than it would have been for a crew chief to figure out an entirely new shop.

Whether or not it works out, I believe it was the right move, because the status quo was not working.


I just read the story regarding the "shake-up" at Hendrick. I have a way to silence all the critics once and for all. Rick should swap the 48 and 88 teams. This way we'd get a chance to see how good, or bad, both drivers really are.

Old Man Pocono
Effort, Pa.


Top story of 2010

Which would you consider the top story line of 2010: Johnson's run for five, or the San Francisco Giants' improbable run to a World Series title?

PS: if Johnson plans on keeping his beard this offseason, he better take some notes from Brian Wilson.

Kelly
Los Gatos, Calif.

Neither. For me, the two top stories of 2010 were the fall of Tiger Woods and LeBron James taking his talents to South Beach. These were the stories people were reading/talking/obsessing about, and still are.

If you're looking for the top championship story, you gotta go with the New Orleans Saints winning the Super Bowl. Not only were they huge underdogs, but it was the rebirth of a heretofore moribund franchise known mostly for fans wearing shopping bags on their heads.

As for Jimmie's beard, is there anyone outside of ZZ Top that shouldn't be taking notes from Brian Wilson?


Disrespecting Jimmie

Don't any of you consider the fact that Jimmie Johnson is working steady for 3, 4, or 5 hours straight in a car going 100 to 200 miles an hour in extreme heat. He had to do it 36 times a season. How many of these other sports people work that long and under stress. It takes men that race the Sprint Cup Series to take that physical and mental abuse. Yes Johnson is one of the best, if not the best athletes.

Dick Bovee
Aurora, Minn.

You can't argue with some people on this point, Dick. The only way to convince them is to put them in a race car and show 'em what it's about. After a few laps anywhere, even Pocono, I think you'll find them more convinced that drivers are, in fact, athletes.


Jimmie Johnson is only most dominant at the 10 final tracks of the season. Most of these tracks were 2nd visits and also the same track year-after-year. How about a road course, switching of the tracks yearly or even a new track not on the schedule (Mexico, Montreal etc.). JJ is the best, but only since the new "race for the chase" rules.

Dan Ramos
Vacaville, Calif.

I know that all roads lead to Vacaville, but come on, Dan, didn't you make the 30-minute drive to Sonoma to see Johnson win there in June?

Is he good at the 10 Chase tracks? Sure, but there's a reason for this, and let me see if I can make this clear: HE'S GOOD EVERYWHERE!!!!!

The only tracks where Johnson hasn't won are Chicagoland, Homestead-Miami, Michigan and Watkins Glen. That leaves 18 tracks where he has won. His lowest average finish among active tracks is Indianapolis, and he's won there three times.

Face it: Shuffle the tracks around and Johnson and Knaus will just gear their season toward those 10 tracks – and still be the team to beat.


Flawed system

I haven't seen anything on this, but how would Kevin Harvick have finished this year under the old points system. He did dominate the entire year.

Ken Smudzinski
Crestview, Fla.

I could tell you, but it's irrelevant. Everyone races the season the same – to be the leader after 36 races, not 26, so that's how they strategize.

That being said, if NASCAR would do the right thing, they would give a 50-point bonus for being the points leader at the end of the regular season. Had they done that, and had Harvick been the leader, he would be your 2010 Sprint Cup champion.


Hi Jay. I enjoy your columns. Now that another season is over, do you think that it's time to rework the chase to give some reward to the regular season champion? When you look at the season as a whole, Kevin Harvick had the most championship worthy season. While he had 3 fewer wins, he had 3 more Top Tens.

But these are the numbers that jump out most to me:

• Finished 20th-29th – Johnson: 4, Hamlin: 3, Harvick: 0

• Finished 30th-43rd – Johnson: 6, Hamlin: 5, Harvick: 3

When the Chase started, Harvick started in the hole, and Johnson had no repercussions for his many bad finishes.

Other sports offer byes or home field advantage. Kevin Harvick gained no advantage. While I'm okay with rewarding wins, there should be some reward for how you finish leading up to the playoffs.

Pete H.
Pennsylvania

You're preaching to the choir on this one, Pete. There are 100 good arguments why a points leader should get a bonus at the end of the regular season, zero good ones to the contrary.

I don't care what changes NASCAR makes to the Chase. To me this is the single biggest problem with the format, and until they address it, the Chase will remain flawed.


Last call …

Well the title of King is already taken, but we might consider granting the title of Emperor to Jimmie Johnson.

Dave Garnett
Lufkin, Texas