The Good The Bad And The Ugly Part Two

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And now on to some of the not so pleasant story lines from the 2004 NASCAR season:

A Contrived Points System- Those who are desperately trying to claim the new points systems was a rousing success in 2004 are the same sort who would whip a dead horse on the back straight of Churchill Downs thinking the nag could still win the Kentucky Derby. "It was the closest points race ever” we are told. It was the first points race ever conducted under a new system contrived to keep the championship chase artificially close. Even at that were it not for Kurt Busch's engine failure at Atlanta the points race likely would have been a lopsided route and once again the driver who won the most races both during the regular season and during the playoffs failed to claim the title. Consistency not excellence still rules the roost. And yet we're saddled with the same bad idea at the wrong time again this season.

Lackluster Ratings- After several years of meteoric growth NASCAR's TV ratings for the most part held steady or declined in 2004. Even the first race of the new "Chase for the Championship” drew ratings equivalent to a test pattern. With the new points system the FOX half of the season is mainly foreplay and the ratings showed a loss of interest in the sport. The heck with competing against the NFL. Cup racing can't even win a duel with Sponge Bob Square Pants. Heaven help NASCAR if the Comedy Channel ever starts airing original run episodes of South Park on Sunday afternoons. Cartman and Earnhardt Jr. might both have equally foul mouths but my guess is South Park would win in a rating's landslide.

Martinsville- I hate saying anything bad about Martinsville. It is (was?) a great track and the closest remaining link on the schedule to the Good Old Days. But during the spring race the track surface came apart badly damaging the nose of Jeff Gordon's race car on a day Gordon was clearly a factor to win. The track was resurfaced prior to the fall race and the new configuration was supposed to promote better racing. It didn't. In fact the fall race at Martinsville was one of the lamest in the track's storied history. I guess we can chalk this one up to "If it ain't broke fix it. If it is broke, make it worse.”

The New Qualifying System- NASCAR has announced new qualifying procedures that amount to corporate welfare for big dollar sponsors to ensure their high-speed billboards are in the show each week. NASCAR's little understood provisional system has hit the scrap heap and now the top 35 teams in the series points each week are guaranteed a spot in each week's race. My feeling has always been the fastest 43 (well 38 would be better) cars make the show, sponsorship and personalities be damned. If you've got a high profile sponsor paying you the big bucks you ought to be able to post a decent time on Friday. Or Saturday. Or shortly before dawn on Sunday, whenever qualifying is run this season. For the most part Friday's qualifying sessions are now nearly meaningless.

TV Coverage Plumbs New Depths- TV executives are sweating bullets over the red ink that FOX and NBC continue to spew on their NASCAR coverage. They've tried hyping up the show in a desperate attempt to draw new viewers and the results aren't pretty. FOX is the worse of the two networks. Some of the "on-air” talent has apparently decided they are the stars of the show not the drivers. By late June the sound of Darrell Waltrip's voice was like red-hot needles being driven into my eyeballs by a jackhammer. Anytime the anchor said "let's go down to the Hollywood Hotel and check in” I'd prefer to have had a psychotic break into my home, open up my chest with a dull hatchet and grab my heart still beating out of my chest. As for NBC, they hyped the Chase for the Championship to the point they wouldn't have preempted New Hampshire for the Second Coming. They tried to turn a silly ten race stretch of events to decide a contrived championship into an epic battle worthy of Lord Of the Rings. Sorry guys, it was mainly sizzle with very little steak and so far this Chase deal ain't playing in Peoria despite your verbal hysterics.

Mexico- Stealing another page from CART's playbook NASCAR announced they'll be running a Busch series road course race in Mexico in 2005. NASCAR swears there are hundreds of thousands of Mexican race fans who can't wait to see the taxi cabs race but then they said the same thing about the Japanese during the ill fated post-season exhibition races in the Land of the Rising Sun. It seems a curious idea forcing the few remaining sponsored full time Busch teams (as opposed to Cup teams development teams in the Busch series) to go through the expense of building a road course car and traveling to Mexico but then there seems to be a fundamental disconnect between the folks running the Busch series and the current health of that series.

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NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2005

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