It is no secret that NASCAR has been working all winter long to make sure that the product we see on the track each weekend has improved when compared to the last couple of years. The racing had become too predictable and the individuals that made up the sport were being made into robots, as they feared the iron fist of the governing body.
The sport’s history is loaded with characters that made the sport so unique when compared to other professional sports. The fans could identify with the drivers and, more importantly, they could actually go out and buy the same kind of car that their heroes raced on the weekends. All of that has changed as I doubt you could go to any showroom and drive off in one of the cars that competed at California on Sunday.
Last season many of the problems that NASCAR was experiencing were being attributed to the nation’s woeful economy. Tracks couldn’t give tickets away for some races and new sponsors were becoming harder and harder to sign by car owners.
NASCAR is making an effort to bring back some of the excitement and in the process sell some tickets to the sport with the recent rule changes it announced. We would never have experienced the ending we did at Daytona if it wasn’t for the revision of the green-whitecheckered flag end of a race. The rule gave the field another chance to end the race under green, and it didn’t disappoint as Jamie Mc- Murray and Dale Earnhardt Jr. put on quite a show long after the sun had gone down on the track.
Even with the rule changes and the momentum that the sport had leaving Daytona, the sight of empty seats at California is a strong reminder that the sport has a long way to go to get the fans coming back to the track. This coming weekend will not be a true measure of how the sport is bouncing back, as Las Vegas is a destination in itself that just happens to have a state-of-theart racetrack that will be hosting a Sprint Cup Series event.
The series rolls into Atlanta after the Vegas race, and you can bet there may be more empty seats than fans on that Sunday. The spring race there has really become a hard sell in recent years. The sport needs the track to sell more tickets than last year, when the number of empty seats was an embarrassment to both the sport and the track.
The schedule has its first open date of the year following Atlanta and then it is on to Bristol, where the health of the sport will gets its first real report card of the year. Before last season a ticket to either of Bristol’s races was almost impossible to come by. Bristol, like every other stop on the schedule was hit hard by the economy but to its credit it hit the road running to keep its spring sellout streak alive.
It will be interesting to see if the speedway can once again sell out the giant half-mile track at a time when other tracks are struggling. Tickets are available at Bristol’s ticket office, which never happened before last year, and it could be that for the first time we may actually see some unsold seats at what I and the majority of fans feel is the best track on the schedule. The final ticket sales number will be a big one for the immediate future of the sport as there is not a better barometer for the health of the Sprint Cup Series than the number of tickets sold at Bristol.
This time last season Drew Blickensderfer was the winning crew chief of the Daytona 500 with driver Matt Kenseth. The two followed up that win the following week with a win at California, but never visited victory lane again and failed to make it into the Chase. One year later, Blickensderfer is no longer Kenseth’s crew chief after being replaced following this season’s 500. He now works in the research and development department at Roush Fenway Racing. Replacing Blickensderfer on top of Kenseth’s pit wagon is a familiar name in Todd Parrott. Todd was crew chief for Dale Jarrett for seven seasons in which the two teamed up to win the Sprint (Winston) Cup championship in 1999. He is the third winningest active crew chief in the series with 29 career wins.
Race Preview — Event:
Shelby American. Track:
Las Vegas Motor Speedway (1.5-mile tri-oval, 20 degrees of banking in the turns). Date:
Feb. 28, 3 p.m. TV:
PRN. Defending champion: