Texas Rear View Mirror
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on April 10, 2011 | 5:55 P.M. EST
Matt Kenseth gave owner Jack Roush his eighth victory at Texas Motor Speedway. (Photo: Getty Images)
Night time is definitely the right time for NASCAR.
Look no further than the packed grandstands at Saturday night’s Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway for proof that for NASCAR to grow more prime time events are needed.
And if the television Gods are smiling on the sport, I have a feeling the ratings for Saturday night’s telecast on FOX will also be a positive story.
As of now there are 12 events runs under the lights during the Sprint Cup season including 10 points-paying races and the Budweiser Shootout/Sprint All-Star Race exhibitions.
I think there’s room for three more and if attendance and television ratings are the criteria, NASCAR should be working on that plan immediately.
One additional race during the 26-races that make up the “regular” season should be brought under the lights. Perhaps temporary lighting at Martinsville or perhaps Dover would spice up those weekends of racing and generate the additional buzz and attention night racing seems to generate.
I’ve long been a proponent of a weeknight race and there does now seem to be some sentiment to at least give it a try. Texas president Eddie Gossage, after witnessing more than 100,000 fans turn out on a Monday afternoon after last year’s April TMS rain-out, pretty much volunteered to give that idea a shot.
As a way to maybe send up a trial balloon, why not take the All-Star Race and move that to the Wednesday night before Memorial Day weekend? That would eliminate fans needing to choose between spending two weekends in Charlotte every May, a pricey venture to say the least, and compact one of the best strings of racing into a tidy Wednesday-Sunday schedule. The All-Star Race (Wednesday), Sprint Cup qualifying (Thursday), truck series race (Friday), Nationwide Series event (Saturday) and Coca-Cola 600 Sunday finale would rival Daytona’s “Speedweeks” in prestige.
That puts the all-star gathering in prime time during the week and also opens up another weekend on the schedule to either give the sport a breather or to tighten up the calendar.
Once the Chase rolls around, like Charlotte’s Saturday night date in October, I’d add two more stops in the championship to the prime time list. Again television ratings, like Charlotte’s last fall, would be significantly higher without going head to had against the NFL on a pair of Sunday afternoons. And even though there is college football to contend with, I still believe attendance and attention for two more Saturday night races during the Chase would prevail.
Every other major sport has gravitated to more and more prime time events. NASCAR needs to follow the lead to a point and this weekend’s racing in Texas is evidence as to why.
- Roush Fenway Racing continued its resurgence with the performance Saturday night led by Matt Kenseth who snapped his winless streak that dated back to Fontana in February of 2009. The run by RFR punctuated just how fortunes have changed with the team and the manufacturer when a year ago at this time most of the attention was of the “what’s wrong with?” category.
- The gamble on fuel wound up biting both Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon big time as both ran out of gas coming to the finish line and had potential top ten finishes wiped out. For Stewart it was the latest chapter in another strategy gone wrong and a set of circumstances rising up near the end of a race to take a potential top finish away. It will be very interesting to see how the Stewart-Haas Racing flagship team progresses over the next few weeks.
- The award for saltiest radio communication goes to Kurt Busch again Saturday night, who as is his style wasn’t very pleased with things most of the night. The Penske Racing No. 22 team had some potential fuel strategy at the end come up about 10 laps shy of working out but in the end since the hot start at Speedweeks in Daytona it’s been a bit of a challenge in recent weeks for Busch and crew chief Steve Addington.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t able to end his long winless drought like Matt Kenseth but once again had a top-10 finish to show for his efforts on Saturday night. The march up the point standings continued for the No. 88 team and with Talladega and Richmond ahead – two tracks where Earnhardt has excelled in recent years – the possibility of a trip to Victory Lane soon remains very real.