Opinion: Break Brings Time to Reflect

Bristol Motor Speedway

The Sprint Cup Series returns to action this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway. (Photo: Getty Images)


The first off weekend for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has come and gone and while there were some other racing circuits in action for the most part things are on the quiet side in the motorsports world.

But as always there are some interesting points to ponder as we count down to this weekend’s trip to Bristol Motor Speedway:

  • It will be intriguing to see if NASCAR’s first three weeks of momentum can pick back up with Sunday’s race at Bristol. The early stop of the schedule has to be viewed as a challenge for the Sprint Cup Series, which suddenly was out of the public’s consciousness last Sunday afternoon. That disappearance allowed the valued “casual fan” to find sports viewing entertainment elsewhere with the likes of college basketball, the NBA, the NHL and professional golf more than ready to welcome those eyeballs. The quirk in the schedule goes away next season when the Daytona 500 slides back a week and the season begins February 26, eliminating the need to stop before Easter weekend (which falls on Sunday, April 8 in 2012 for those keeping score at home).

  • There’s been a big dose of “But Syndrome” going on in NASCAR the last few days. That’s one T by the way and has nothing to do with anyone’s workout habits. You’ve probably heard what I’m talking about and it usually goes something like...”You know the television ratings are up for the first three NASCAR races of the season BUT there really isn’t any competition on Sunday afternoons right now and besides with no Winter Olympics like last year the audiences should be bigger.” Or the one that goes “Attendance has been really strong the first three races of the year with two sell-outs BUT Phoenix and Las Vegas took away seats so there were less tickets to sell.” And there’s this beauty..."Danica Patrick did finish fourth in Las Vegas and made history as the highest-finishing female in NASCAR BUT she did it in a fuel mileage race.” All three statements have kernels of truth sprinkled in them to be sure, but aren’t the end results most important? I’ve said it before and will say it again, of any professional sport on the planet NASCAR is by far the most scrutinized and nit picked of them all.

  • While the Camping World Truck Series gave NASCAR some exposure over the weekend with Saturday night’s trip to Darlington Raceway, the hole in the Sunday time frame without a Cup race didn’t fare as badly as many predicted. FOX aired a one-hour retrospective of Trevor Bayne’s Daytona 500 win followed by back-to-back episodes of SPEED’s excellent new series “The Ten.” Both those presentations added up to a meager 0.9 rating, but still outdrew the television audience for the Atlantic 10 basketball final on CBS while tying NBC’s Washington-Chicago NHL tilt.

  • Speaking of television there’s a furor over in the IndyCar world involving VERSUS network and its new parent company Comcast/NBC over the rights to stream races online this season. The 12 series events slated for VERSUS and all ancillary practice and qualifying sessions will not be available digitally in 2011 as had been the case in previous years of the network’s contract. The policy is being enforced to drive viewers away from their computers and in front of their television sets to watch the dozen races on VERSUS, which is about to be rebranded by Comcast in both name and an upgrade in sports programming as a competitor to ESPN. In an age when sports properties are looking for ways to get their product into more consumers’ hands digitally and online, it’s a step back for the series, which has been making progress in recent months emerging from the former CART-IRL disaster. However I understand the need for network’s to increase ratings and encourage more viewership especially in light of the paltry numbers Indy Car telecasts have generated on both VERSUS and the handful of races still carried by ABC/ESPN. The pure numbers of just how many fans were getting their Indy Car content by streaming online appear to be paltry and I don’t think this recent turn of events will doom the series to extinction as some have breathlessly pointed out. But it’s going to be a big issue in the future as technology continues to develop and big league auto racing – NASCAR included – needs to figure out how to embrace this concept sooner rather than later.

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