The calendar says that summer is still three weeks away but summer on the Sprint Cup schedule unofficially begins with the weekend following the Coca- Cola 600 held at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. That race is always held during the last weekend of May, making the next stop on the schedule at Dover the first race of June.
Dover is also the last race for Fox on the year and what a year the network has had as the ratings have been some of the best in recent years. Last week’s running of the 600 actually had a bigger TV audience than the Indianapolis 500 for the eighth straight year, but that came as no surprise as this has been a breakout year of sorts for Fox and NASCAR as the last couple of years had seen the ratings fall off. The success of the Charlotte race follows the trend of the year as every race broadcast this season has had an increase in its ratings over last season with the exception of Texas and the raindelayed race at California.
Fox now has a year to bask in its increase ratings as it’s time for TNT to take over for the next six races. Keeping up the kind of numbers that the Fox broadcast produced during the early part of the schedule will not be easy as summertime means more opportunities for would-be fans to be outdoors during the time of a broadcast.
What TNT does have going for itself during the next six races is an assortment of tracks that don’t really have that much in common with each other plus the final race of the stretch is the July return visit to Daytona International Speedway for the running of the Coke Zero 400. It’s those five tracks leading up to Daytona that may have a big say in what 12 drivers make it into the Chase with the opportunity to run for the title.
This week’s race is at the triangle shaped Pocono Raceway, which has always been a nightmare for every driver and crew chief as the track’s unique three turns are all banked differently which makes it impossible to set a car up to get in and out of all three turns equally. The demands on the car don’t end there as the track also has the longest straightway on the schedule that demands more out of a motor than it sometimes is built to give.
Following Pocono the series rolls into Michigan and its huge two-mile D-shaped oval that can very quickly sort out a field of cars. If you don’t have your car set up right for 400 miles of racing at this track you could easily find yourself being a lap down before the first scheduled pit stops.
As the summer heat begins to build, the series finds itself following Michigan with a crosscountry trip to California’s Infineon Raceway for the first road course race of the season. It will be the first right-hand turns of the year and, let’s face it, some drivers are just not experienced when it comes to competing on anything other than an oval.
The final week leading up to the return trip to Daytona finds the Cup teams invading the onemile flat oval of New Hampshire. The flatness of the turns slows things down and it’s another one of those races where a team either hits the setup or quickly finds itself a lap or two down to the leader.
All of these races take us back to where it all began back in February at Daytona. This time there is not the fanfare that is reserved for the season-opening 500 but it is still racing at the most historic venue on the schedule. Anytime the green flag waves at the Florida track, it quickly becomes more than just a race.
Both the speedway and TNT benefit from the race being held on the Saturday night of the Fourth of July weekend that makes for a bigger audience. Just being at Daytona makes the racing a little more spirited as every driver and team knows that winning at Daytona can go a long way in making a career.
Pit notes: Kyle Busch’s four wins on the season gives him 40 bonus points to begin the Chase with at this time. There is no reason not to believe that total will increase even more and Jimmy Johnson will tell you after last year that the bonus points can make a big difference.
Race Preview – Event: Pocono 500. Track: Pocono Raceway (2.5-mile triangle, turn 1-14 degrees, turn 2 8 degrees, turn 3 6 degrees). Date: June 8, 1 p.m. TV: TNT. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Jeff Gordon.