International Speedway Corporation’s stock is going to be up Monday morning because of Chase Elliott’s win at Watkins Glen.
OK, it’s unfair to pin the economic performance of a multi-million dollar corporation on a young driver visiting victory lane for the first time at NASCAR’s top level. But we’re not the ones doing the pinning. ISC is. ISC president John Saunders said earlier this summer that attendance at the company’s tracks was soft because younger drivers like Elliott and others weren’t winning races.
“Weather was an important part, but all in all, the attendance was a little bit softer than expected,” Saunders said early in July. “We still have an issue with star power and hopefully this stable of young drivers coming along will start to win and build their brands.”
Elliott already had a brand before Sunday. As the son of 16-time most popular driver Bill Elliott and the anointed favorite driver of Dale Earnhardt Jr. post-retirement, he was going to be the 2018 most popular driver no matter if he visited victory lane or not. And had established himself as an Xfinity Series champion in 2014.
But it was hard to escape the feeling that NASCAR views Elliott’s win Sunday as a breakthrough of sorts for the sport in addition to one for Elliott. Take a look at this tweet by NASCAR Vice President Steve O’Donnell that included a picture of Chase as a child with Bill.
— Steve O'Donnell (@odsteve) August 5, 2018
Elliott’s win is a feel-good story that has a lot of angles. It continues a NASCAR tradition of father and son combinations that have won races in the Cup Series. The Elliotts join families like the Pettys, Earnhardts, Allisons, Jarretts and more. His win is the first in 37 races for Hendrick Motorsports and the 250th victory for the team. It’s the first win by a Chevy driver since the season-opening Daytona 500.
But it’s hard to rationally see how Elliott’s win is a significant boost for NASCAR. Ratings probably won’t be up next week — they weren’t up for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last race in 2017 — and a new series title sponsor isn’t going to sign on just because Elliott visited victory lane.
While you’re free to revel in Elliott’s first win and buy as much merchandise as your heart desires it’s important that you don’t get carried away and think that NASCAR is somehow “saved” or that 10 years of television audience declines are suddently going to be reversed because the 22-year-old won a race on a Sunday in August.
The storyline of declining television ratings and sponsorship searches will trudge on as the season continues. Elliott’s win is a nice moment and is much more than that for himself and Hendrick Motorsports. But it’s also unfair to him — just like it was unfair to Earnhardt Jr. — to put the weight of a flawed stock car series on his shoulders.
Bill Elliott finished second eight times before he won. So did Chase Elliott. Bill Elliott won his first race at a road course (Riverside, 1983). So did Chase Elliott.
Joey Logano finishes last
Logano’s race ended within the first few laps on Sunday. He ran into the back of AJ Allmendinger as the field stacked up in turn 5 and busted a hole in his radiator. When his team took his car to the garage his race was over because the damage was from contact.
“I was trying to keep the nose on the car and was gonna try to make a run on Larson off the carousel and I was right on him when they checked up in front of him,” Logano said. “He lifted and there was nothing he was supposed to do. He checked up and I ran into the back of him and there’s just not enough bumper on the front of my car apparently and it just knocked the radiator out of it.”
Logano finished 37th. It’s the first time he’s finished last since the 2009 Daytona 500.
Suarez finishes top-five at Watkins Glen again
Daniel Suarez got his first top-five finish at Watkins Glen a year ago. He was third in 2017. Sunday he finished fourth for his fourth-career top-five finish.
“I felt like we had a top-five, top-seven car or so. The car was good, but not extremely good … Solid effort for my team. We’re getting close. This is what we need – to run top five every week and if we continue to do this, I’m going to be a happy boy.”
Suarez is 18th in the points standings and is still a longshot to make the playoffs. But after finishing second at Pocono a week ago he may be able to mount a late charge before the playoffs begin.
Bowman keeps final spot in playoffs
Nothing much happened to shake up the playoff picture on Sunday. Elliott was already in the playoffs comfortably. Alex Bowman is more than a full race ahead of
Jimmie Johnson, 563 points
Alex Bowman, 523
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., -62 to Bowman
Paul Menard, -72
Daniel Suarez, -89
Ryan Newman, -92
William Byron, -96
Watkins Glen needs a race name change
Sunday’s race was called the “Go Bowling at the Glen.” If you told someone that you were watching the “Go Bowling at the Glen” would he or she think you were watching a NASCAR race?
Go Bowling — an initiative to get more people to bowl — has sponsored races at Pocono, Kansas and Watkins Glen. Their presence in NASCAR is certainly appreciated by tracks. But at Pocono and Kansas the race name had been something like the “Go Bowling 400” to make it appear like a NASCAR race. Sunday’s race name didn’t.
As NASCAR faces declining audiences it needs to keep the race names as clear as possible.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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