Is a Pinch of Dirt and Several Dashes of Right Turns the Recipe for Cup Success?
First-I don’t really care if they run on concrete or clay just as long as it’s a good race. If NASCAR thinks moving to dirt will produce a better product, and the good folks at Bristol can find enough dirt so be it. After the All-Star race maybe this alternative to plowing it up might be an improvement.
It concerns me that the NASCAR talking heads have already cautioned fans to not expect WoO or even late model shows on dirt with Cup on Bristol dirt. Because of the heavier weights and lower horsepower, we probably won’t see what we have come to expect to see. I have to ask that if we aren’t going to see that, then just what are we going to see, followed by, are fans going to like what we’re going to get? Guess we’re going to find out.
It’s been 50 years since we've been on dirt - two generations of race fans. Is there anyone left who remembers why we left dirt to begin with? Does anyone really care that there were reasons we haven’t done this in 50 years? If it was so good then, why did we wait? Why did it take 50 years to come back?
Don’t you think it’s ironic that 50 years ago the sport couldn’t wait to get off the dirt onto the pavement and go to longer races? Now we’re coming full circle...
During this time, it was 20 years ago management embarked on eradicating any vestiges of the sport’s history with the “modernizing tradition” movement. Darlington was central to this effort as the “Lady in Black” not only lost a race date, had its Labor Day race date given to I think that track in the hotbed of racing-Fontana, was given that prime time slot of Mother’s Day eve, and fans were told to like it.
If management then had had their way, Darlington would have gone the way of Chicagoland and Kentucky. Luckily, things changed as a wee bit of sanity returned with Darlington coming full circle. Darlington survived, got its Labor Day date back and now in 2021 once again has its second date back, restored to where she was about two decades ago.
Now if we could just get back that “Darlington Stripe.”
But like Darlington, now, the sport can’t wait to get back to dirt and run shorter races. Things have come full circle.
We’ll never know but I wonder how much of all of this was driven by the fans, the broadcast partners and how much was driven by the competition from Tony Stewart’s and Ray Evernham’s new series, SXR? They say in that series that will be broadcast on CBS they are going to have dirt races m. Don’t you think the NASCAR broadcast partners are saying “Oh crap, they have dirt races on dirt tracks what is it going to do to us if it’s successful and we don’t?” A NASCAR/FOX spring dirt race beats CBS to the punch. By summer CBS’ dirt race(s) will be old hat. Maybe I’m out in the Third Turn marbles but can you see that?
By putting Cup on dirt, doesn’t that kinda take some of the luster off of Tony’s Eldora Truck race? After March 2021, Eldora won’t have the unique status that it once held of being THE dirt race in NASCAR. The Truck Series won’t have a premier event that the Trucks can be identified with, that gives it elevated status and standing with the other series. Eldora, once synonymous with dirt racing will be just another dirt race... in a lower series... now upstaged by Cup and by Marcus Smith.
Is this truly an attempt to grow the sport or is it and attempt to get Tony “back in line” for going off the reservation with Ray and creating their own little series and getting their own little TV deal? Pass me my tin-foil hat but I think this is a bigger deal than folks are giving it credit for. Everyone paints it as non-competing series but if Ray can build a raceable, adaptable, lower-tech, cheaper to race, American car that can put on better races than the higher priced, higher-tech, Italian made (at least the company is headquartered in Italy), Next-Gen cars that are coming out the following season, don’t you know that’s going to tear some people in Daytona and Charlotte up?
NASCAR is putting all its eggs in the Next-Gen (COT v 2.0) basket and Tony and Ray’s little series could shake that up and scramble those eggs. It all comes down to the product and if SXN puts a more raceable product on the track that fans can enjoy and relate to, doesn’t that ratchet up the pressure on the Next-Gen and raise the bar?
And those implications are far reaching. If you build a more raceable car at a lower cost that takes less technology and expense and personnel to race, haven’t you lowered the costs to get into the sport, compete in the sport and stay in the sport? Now the door is wide open to far more teams and sponsors and that means a more vigorous, healthy, exciting, and dynamic sport.
And because costs are reduced and the series management model is vastly different with significantly less overhead, now the entire dynamics have changed, and you are just a few steps from a competing stock car series. I can see this new series, if folks want it to be, having the potential to become what NASCAR was during its heyday. Meanwhile, NASCAR rides its Next-Gen down the road and ventures off to become the Nearly Aussie Super Car Almost Racing series otherwise known as Fendered F-1.
I digress. Back to dirt.
So now all the boys have to have cars that run on dirt. It’s going to cost some money to set up a car for this unique race. One thing I’m going to like is they are going to have to raise the things up off the ground a bit more that’s for sure. New setups etc., that'll cost. But how about the expense for computer time, engineering time, simulator time, etc. That’s not there now and that’s not cheap. You know resources will have to be devoted to it, just like they will have to with all the new tracks on the circuit.
We know about 2021. What about 2022? How well does the Next-Gen with its independent rear suspension work on dirt? Maybe it’s fine. I just haven’t seen many choked down Corvettes tearing up the local bull rings of late. So, is this a one-off or will dirt be a staple in the Next-Gen era?
Changing gears-I know there is an apparent shift in appeal for road racing. I like it. Few things said racing more than seeing Dan Gurney put the Wood Brothers 121 in Riverside’s Victory Lane, Dale Earnhardt go off-road to straighten the Esses, watching Ricky Rudd dance on the pedals or seeing Tim Richmond packing a front tire going through the turns. One of my dreams is to see the Trucks race through the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca. I’ve been told it can’t be done because it’s just too narrow there but man I’d like to just once see them try!
So, I get it, I really do.
The rhetoric is its better racing. Is it really? After the first three laps of the Daytona Road Course race, how great was the competition? Before Kyle Busch had his issues, Chase Elliott had a 10 second lead and Denny Hamlin’s Crew Chief had told him to go ahead and back off. Two late-race blown Goodyears saved that race.
Everyone raves about the ROVAL and I commend SMI for making the effort to change things up. But Race 1 was saved by Brad Keselowski stuffing his car into the SAFER Barrier to set up the final restart where Jimmie Johnson’s Ill-executed dive bomb move that took both he and leader Martin Truex, Jr. out. Before that, what did we really have?
From where I sit, what I’m seeing doesn’t line up with what I’m hearing. I’m hearing road racing is greatest thing since Joey Logano and the fans absolutely love it. To satisfy their appetites we need more of it. But look, honestly look at what is happening on track and look at the crowds, like from the ROVAL 1 to ROVAL 2. Race 1 had a nice crowd. Race 2 saw a noticeable drop off. Was it the racing just wasn’t there or was it Race 1 was shiny and new, folks wanted to say they went to the first one and after seeing it and getting the T-shirt decided to watch Race 2 from somewhere else if at all? I don’t know. But I do know the talk doesn’t match the walk and that’s a problem.
If the racing is so good, why didn’t the fans come back? Maybe they will be back to the maximum extent possible for the third iteration this coming weekend. Hope so. 2021 will be the real test as hopefully the COVID restrictions will be lifted. I hope the stands are full, but as the final race of a now seven road course race season will it still have the necessary appeal? It’s struggling now as the last of three. Will four more help or hurt it? Is the product compelling enough to bring the people back and get the walk back in line with the talk? We’ll know next year.
Finally, the shift in the schedule from the “cookie-cutters” to the dirt and road course looks to me as nothing more than an attempt to “hide” the aero issues this car has for one more season until we can convert to the 2022 Next-Gen salvation buggy. Does the current car race well on 1.5-mile tracks? Not so good. How do you fix it? You can’t change the air so that leaves you the choice to change the cars or change the tracks. Put the cars on less aero dependent tracks. That’s short tracks and road courses. Problem solved. Everybody’s happy until NASCAR fixes it for good in 2022 with the new car. But from this perspective it’s a smoke and mirrors move to mask a fundamental problem in the one element of the product-the car, that NASCAR couldn’t fix or chose not to fix.
2020 gave NASCAR the chance to shake things up, try new things. I commend them for doing so, for thinking outside the box. 2021 gave them the chance to make some of it real and they have. So, for now and for 2021, when it comes to adding some dirt, and tripling the right turns they make plus some new venues and additional races at some old ones everyone seems happy.
So, for now, isn’t that all that matters?
On the surface yes. But unless these changes improve the product, nothing really changes does it? And can the sport really grow with the product we have?
So, tighten up those belts. Guess we are going to find out.
Now where did I put that Bundt pan?