A Voice For The Fans ~ From The Desert To The Mountains
I bid you a warm welcome gentle readers, and a cordial Top O’ the Mornin’ to our assigned reader of all things NASCAR. Is everyone enjoying the spring weather that much of our great land has been blessed with of late? It’s about time these old toes thawed out! Even Atlanta this year had some great race weather despite the new February date. No one came, but it was still nice weather. Oh yes, there was that wind in Las Vegas… and the rain… and the sand, but fortunately, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas and the Phoenix race went off without a hitch, and without many surprises as well. It’s all but official; they will soon be renaming that track “Happy Harvick’s House of Halcyon History”… or so I’m told. Six wins and a second place in the last 8 races… what else is there to say? Happy, you da man!
On the day following the race, NASCAR’s Chief Racing Development Officer, Steve O’Donnell said, “That’s what NASCAR is all about”, describing the .01-second margin of victory between Harvick and Carl Edwards.
Speaking for a great number of the fans that still remain, you are correct Steve, or at least we hope that’s what NASCAR is about. The race at Phoenix, especially that epic ending, is the stuff that dreams and movies are made of. It also featured something we definitely need to see more of… spontaneity! They, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards, created that dramatic race to the checkers and that breathtakingly close finish all by themselves, with no phony cautions or other gimmicks designed to heighten the “fan experience.”
Might I offer a bit of logic and truth here? To most of the fans, the race is the fan experience. It’s why they come to the track and pay the exorbitant prices for seats, food, drink and lodging. They come to see the race. It’s such a simple concept! It’s not a “product;” it’s a race! The idea behind racing is to win the race. For the fans, the thrill is not in those last 10 races, where scores keep changing and reality has left the building. No, the thrill is in the race itself… each one of them, be it on a Superspeedway, intermediate track, short track or road course, the fans come to see the race. At Phoenix, they didn’t leave disappointed.
For the number crunchers, below are the closest finishes on record in Sprint Cup competition since 1993, when electronic scoring was introduced. Regarding anything before then… well, you know what they say about “eye witness accounts.”
.002 Ricky Craven,
Kurt Busch, Darlington, 3/16/2003
.002 Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Talladega, 4/7/2011
.005 Jamie McMurray, Kyle Busch, Daytona, 7/7/2007
.005 Dale Earnhardt, Ernie Irvan, Talladega, 7/25/1993
.006 Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Atlanta, 3/11/2001
.008 Jimmy Spencer, Ernie Irvan, Daytona, 7/2/1994
.010 Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Phoenix, 3/13/2016
.010 Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Daytona 2/21/2016
.010 Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Labonte, Atlanta, 3/12/2000
.010 Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Rockingham, 2/22/2004
.011 Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Talladega, 4/25/2010
.017 Greg Biffle, Mark Martin, Homestead, 11/20/2005
.018 Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Talladega, 10/23/2011
.020 Kevin Harvick, Mark Martin, Daytona 2/18/2007
(Sincere thanks to Jay Adamczyk for making these available)
One last thing before we leave the little track in the desert and head off to sunny SoCal for the next race… we must take a look at the TV ratings. Personally, I hope every race fan that wasn’t watching the end of that race turns green with envy of those that did see it… and I hope the green is permanent. We’ve had some real barn-burner type finishes this year. Maybe it’s luck, but just maybe it’s that lower-downforce set-up working better than expected. Yes, some have to get used to not abusing those brakes and overheating the Goodyears, but for the young drivers, it well might be their first experience in actual driving rather than just steering a ton of horsepower around in circles.
Back to those ratings… much like Las Vegas, they are down, but not as far down as the earlier races at Daytona and Atlanta. NASCAR Sprint Cup racing from Phoenix drew a 3.6 overnight rating on FOX Sunday afternoon, down 5% from last year (3.8), and down 25% from 2014, when the race was the second of the season (4.8). The 3.6 overnight is the lowest for NASCAR from Phoenix since 2010, the last time it aired on a Saturday night (3.4). The six-year low continued a season-long trend for NASCAR.
That trend is not a good sign, by any means. It seems the only bright star in that sky is that a single-digit drop at both Las Vegas and Phoenix “might” indicate a change in direction, or at least a stabilization in the ratings. So, if you lost $800 betting on the horses last week and only lost $300 betting on them this week, did you have a good week? It’s all in the perspective I guess. To me, down is down, whether it’s one step down or a parachute jump from an airplane down, the direction is still the same… down. Seriously folks, let’s all hope that we’ll see at least that stabilization point in the ratings from Auto Club Speedway next week. The racing the past two or three years on that big Michigan clone has been pretty darn good, and we still haven’t seen what the lower downforce might do for that. Turn on your TV on Sunday afternoon and check it out. You might just be glad you did.
Now gentle readers, let’s take a look at what’s been happening at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. According to my spies, through 2015 a total of 7900 linear feet of SAFER barrier was added, which now covers the entire front and back straightaways. We have no new maps to work from, so this is an update of last year’s, to the best of your scribe’s limited ability.
Alas, this might or might not be totally accurate, but it’s close. That’s a nice start Auto Club, but those inside turns need some attention next. Speeds on this track are not slow, and that concrete is amazingly hard when involved in the sudden stopping of a speeding vehicle. Your progress is admirable and we thank you for that, but your job is not yet done.
On Friday, March 18, two Sprint Cup drivers will be honored with a place on Auto Club Speedway’s “Walk of Fame.” They are the winners of the past 2 races at the Speedway, Brad Keselowski (2015) and Kyle Busch (2014). Busch will receive the honor at 9:40 AM and Keselowski at 1:00 PM.
Remember gentle readers; turn your TV on this Sunday for the race. (It’s OK to skip the “Gridwalk” and other things beforehand, and don’t worry about the post-race report. That comes long after dark when most of us are pursuing other interests.) We can’t promise, but those that haven’t been doing so have missed some really good races so far. Let’s see the ratings for the Auto Club 400 at least equal last year’s ratings or better still, take an upward turn. NASCAR is trying. Occasionally they do hear us and pay us heed. Watching the race is our way of saying, “Thanks, and please keep listening to us. We matter!”
‘Tis time now for our Classic Country Closeout, and in case The Wearin’ O’ the Green throughout today’s article somehow escaped you, our songs today will come from a slightly different Country… Erin’s Isle, or Ireland as she is known to most. March 17 is a day set aside to honor St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland. I’m not sure I ever bought into the snake thing, but I was named for the man when I made my initial appearance on earth as Patricia Kathleen Herne. Today, we share some of the songs me mother sang to me, all those years ago.
Here then is “Danny Boy”, a song sung by a father to a son going off to war… and here to sing it is the incomparable voice of Jim Reeves. Please enjoy.
Next up is one from my childhood and yes my mother sang this one too. This is “Galway Bay”, done here by Hank Locklin. There are many Country singers of Irish heritage, and did you know that Classic Country takes its roots from the music of the Scotch-Irish settlers in the mountains above the Piedmont region of our own Southeast?
Here’s one you might not have expected to hear quite this way. This is Connie Francis offering us “McNamara’s Band.” Get out your shillelagh and start your shoes to cloggin’.
Oh, this is so hard! I know so very many Irish songs and love each of them. This one I cannot leave out, as my little Irish Mom loved it because it is the name she wanted for me. Dad won, and I was Patricia, but I’ll tell you a secret. Mom taught me to write my name the way I do, as one name rather than two, so that the Kathleen part would never be lost. Here then is one of her favorites, “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen.” The singer here is Ken Curtis, a member of the Sons of the Pioneers, but perhaps better known to most as Festus on Gunsmoke.
And finally, the sweet lullaby she actually did sing to me as an infant and on through the years to each of us in turn. This is Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Looral (An Irish Lullabye) sung here by Kate Smith. The song became immensely popular here in America when Bing Crosby sang it in the movie “Going My Way.” It wasn’t new then, as it was written back in 1913, and my Mom knew the words and song long before Bing did.
“I’d give the world if she could sing that song to me this day.” I love you Mom!
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!