Next Gen Problems Carrying On
This new car has done its job in producing the most parity than we’ve ever seen. 19 winners in 29 points paying races. Factor in the pair of Duels, the Clash and the All-Star race, you get 33 races run. You also add 2 more winners. 21 of the 32 drivers to have raced in every event have reached victory lane.
More passing. More winners. Closer competition. All wins.
However, issue after issues keeps creeping up. From the tires falling off to the lack of passing on short tracks and to the safety coming in question of these cars, well it makes you wonder how much of a win this car truly is.
As much as we’ve gained and improved in a lot of areas, we’ve taken a step back in others. Safety is one you should never fall back on and so far this season it’s proven that we have. Between the fires and the hard hits, you can’t ignore the fact that this car is more violent so far than the past one.
“My whole body, literally my jaw hurts,” Denny Hamlin said after his Daytona crash. “I feel like my jaw was one of those boxers who gets his whole face demolished. That was certainly the first real big one I’ve had in this car. Everything they’ve been telling us (about the impacts), all the other drivers, it’s true.”
Then you have the unacceptable parts failure. Power steering units, steering racks, fires, etc, this just can’t keep happening.
“It blew the seal out and pushed all the (power steering) fluid out on the right-front tire. Just unbelievable,” Truex Jr. said. “What did (Kevin) Harvick say? Crappy parts. … You literally can’t drive the car here without power steering. You lose it, you’re done. It’s been a horrible string of luck for us, and we had another strong car tonight. We were working our way forward, every run going forward. Ready for this year to be over and start over.”
That’s exactly what Harvick said after his car spontaneously erupted in flames at the Southern 500.
“I’m sure it’s just the crappy parts on the race car like we’ve seen so many times,” Kevin Harvick said in an NBC TV interview after exiting the race. “We haven’t fixed anything. It’s kinda like the safety stuff, we just let it keep going.”
“The car started burning, and as it burned the flames started coming through the dash. I ran a couple laps and as the flames got bigger it started burning stuff up. I think you see all the brake fluid. It burned the brake line. The fire was coming through the dash.
“What a disaster. For no reason. We didn’t touch the wall, we didn’t touch a car and here we are in the pits with a burned up car and can’t finish the race during the playoffs because of crappy-ass parts.
“I just stopped. The rocker was on fire for a couple laps. I just stopped because I couldn’t see any more as the flames were coming through the dash. I couldn’t make myself sit in there and burn up.”
Then the safety front of it?
“The safety cannot be slow,” Harvick stated. “This car is screwed up as far as the way that it crashes. And whether the data says it or not, every driver in this garage will tell you that’s not right, and it hurts — feet hurt, hands hurt, head hurt.”
Then the short track package. That’s not acceptable either. When the final 2 races are on them, more work needs to be done quickly.
“Had good track position from our qualifying effort but passing was just impossible,” Hamlin said at Bristol. “It was just a type of day where you needed to stay up front at all costs and we just couldn’t quite do it and ended up having a blown tire that set us back and we were trying to play catch up from that point. (The Next Gen car) was tough. I would like to see the racing improve overall. Some lap time variation a little bit. We’re just running around there and it’s like we’re running faster in the corners than we are on the straightaways. Just extremely hard to pass. We had some steering issues, and it looks like our Toyota teammates also had steering issues. We just battled through it and held on to a ninth place today. … We can win anywhere we go to. We’ll go to Texas and try to win like we always do. Just need to get a good, solid round going. Just seems like mechanical stuff with this Next Gen and wrecks are the X-factor in moving on so you just have to be really consistent and with five races to go, that’s when you have to start winning.”
I get the notion of saving money by single supplier parts. You let teams start making them, then the cost drives up. However, there’s got to be a fine line because as we’re in the middle of a playoff run, more and more issues keep occurring.
So what does NASCAR think about all of this?
“Bristol is definitely a unique load case,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition. “Some things cropped up with the steering that weren’t expected. Honestly no excuse, but with the newness of this car and the newness of everything, I think that it’s not acceptable to have problems, but it’s probably part of the learning process for us.
“All the teams and (manufacturers) were involved in the RFP process when we chose the parts. Everybody’s got a stake in this, and it’s not just NASCAR choosing quote-unquote, crappy parts.
“With every part of this car actually being a new part and a new design, I think historically in racing, and in any walk of life, when you do something completely new … there’s a learning curve.
“We’re in that learning curve and working really hard to make sure that everything works. I think for the most part it has.
“We did have some steering issues at Bristol. That is, again, a part that was chosen through the RFP process, and it is team-serviceable. That’s where we are right now.
“Are we looking to improve on when we have problems? We absolutely 100% are every single day. What happened at Bristol was not acceptable. We will diligently work to come up with a solution to where that doesn’t happen again.”
On Tuesday, it was announced that Ryan Blaney has lost his crew chief for 4 races due to his tire falling off and bouncing down pit road last Saturday night in Bristol. It’s the first major penalty in a while and one at a costly time for the No. 12 Ford team at Team Penske.
He’ll now be without crew chief Jonathan Hassler, and pit-crew members Zachary Price (rear-tire changer) and Graham Stoddard (jack). Those suspensions are set to start this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway and end after the Oct. 16 event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Blaney is winless in 29 points paying races this season and is going to have a new person leading the team for the next month including every race this round. How much of a factor will this play?
Bristol TV Ratings
The ratings for Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race wasn’t good. The race per Adam Stern of SBJ, which aired on USA, got a 1.07 ratings with 1.776 million viewers. That’s down 500k in the viewership category over last year which drew a 1.20 rating with 2.2 million viewers.
Now, before people start freaking out over this, the main point here is simple – racing in primetime may be good for ticket sales and in track experiences, but for those at home, they’re just not watching.
It’s also why NASCAR and their TV partners have closed the door on more primetime races. Why schedule them when those folks not at the race track won’t watch?
Last year Ben Kennedy spoke on his vision for the NASCAR Cup Series schedule and he grew up with NASCAR on TV on Sunday afternoon’s. He and the TV partners at Fox Sports and NBC Sports agree with this philosophy.
2021 was a shift from Saturday night primetime races to Sunday afternoons. This 2023 schedule further exemplifies that shift in philosophy. Just 2 of the 36 points paying races in 2023 will be on Saturday night with 2 more on a Sunday night.
Yes, Sunday night.
NASCAR knows that it can be hot in the south in the summer. Letting fans roast in the grandstands in Atlanta isn’t wise. So instead of a day race in July, it’s a night race. The caveat? It’s a Sunday night race not a Saturday night event.
Same for Richmond. A shift up to the end of July can make fans swealter. Also they wanted to differentiate between the 2 stops. A day race and a night race. The summer races makes more sense to utilize the lights. Like Atlanta, they’ll race on a Sunday night.
This is all by design and one that the TV ratings show that racing on Sunday is way better for the viewer than on a Saturday night.
Martinsville’s race this pasts year was further proof on why NASCAR has went forward with more Sunday races than Saturday night. A week prior to that race in April, NASCAR raced at Richmond on FOX. The Richmond race was a Sunday afternoon on FOX. The Martinsville race a Saturday night on FS1.
Nearly 4 million (3.958-million) people tuned into the Richmond race. The Martinsville race didn’t even get to half of that total.
From 3.958-million to 1.8-million. That’s a stark drop. Hell, the Truck race on dirt almost had as many people watching than the Cup race at Martinsville a week prior.
While some could say a race on FS1 will naturally drop off than one on FOX, you don’t lose 3-million people because of that and the Truck race was on FS1 too.
Early in the season, Atlanta had 4 million tune in, Phoenix had 3.991 million, COTA had 3.7-million. Richmond was 3.9 and now Bristol Dirt of all races got 4.5 million. Each race on FOX in an afternoon start.
Primetime TV for sports is declining in general. It’s a fundamental shift that NASCAR is working on again and they’re not hiding behind that fact either. Richmond and Atlanta as an example next summer will race under the lights on Sunday night instead of Saturday night. Kansas will be a day race against the NFL this Fall. Why Sunday’s and not utilizing Saturday night’s anymore?
“I think from a fan perspective our fans, again, are accustomed to tuning in on Sunday afternoon and seeing NASCAR Cup Series racing,” Ben Kennedy said last year on this topic. “For a fan going out there to the track, to have the biggest event of the weekend on that Sunday afternoon I think gives them something to look forward to and builds anticipation around the weekend.
“I would say a lot of our fans, myself included, are accustomed to turning racing on, NASCAR racing in particular, on Sunday afternoon. I think we all have that habit. Certainly helped us kind of drive the decision to move that there.”
In both 2009 and again in 2010 we had 10 scheduled night races on the schedule. They were at Phoenix, Richmond (x2), Darlington, Charlotte (x2), Daytona, Chicago, Bristol and Atlanta. This year, that number is down to six (Martinsville, Bristol (x2), Charlotte, Darlington and Daytona). Out of those 6, half will take place on a Sunday night at that. That’s down from 8 of 10 in 2010.
Plus, among the past tracks with lights, Phoenix and Atlanta doesn’t use theirs anymore for Cup with both visits now being day races. Chicago is also gone.
The shift is clear. Lights are basically a backup plan now for tracks for the event rain pushes them to night to complete. However, they’d prefer not to have to use them and get them all done in a Sunday afternoon window.
When Bristol Dirt on Easter Night gets over 4-million viewers but the night race that everyone boasts about gets less than 2 million, it goes to show the gap here.
Bristol dirt was up 28% over last year and the highest rated Bristol spring race since 2016. The number peaked at 4.5-million which at the time was the No. 2 watched race this season behind only the Daytona 500.
What’s that say?
Sunday night can do better than Saturday night which is why these ratings were kind of expected.
Chase Elliott hinted at this possibility last week in his press conference saying that he doesn’t see any value to racing against the NFL in the Fall. While he’s not wrong, this race wasn’t against the NFL being a Saturday night. If they ran it on a Sunday, the ratings would be higher, but not as high as they’d be in the summer.
It goes to what I’ve been saying lately that the only viewers of NASCAR races once the NFL season starts is just that, the fan base that’s already been established. You’re not going to get those casual fans anymore. They’ve tuned out and are into their NFL team.
In the summer, there’s not a lot of other options on so you get that casual fan, especially when you can get on network TV like FOX or NBC and not FS1 or USA.
So some may ask, why go so late in the season then? That’s what Elliott is asking too. The takeaway from that is, NBC or even other networks not named FOX or CBS don’t want to punt on the 1-7 p.m. ET window.
Yes, the NFL on FOX and CBS are going to produce massive ratings for each game. However, NBC doesn’t want to air 6 hours of infomercials.
A NASCAR race during the Fall on Sunday’s can still get you upwards of 2 million viewers if aired on NBC. If aired on USA, you see the drop off, even more so on a Saturday night.
Which is why I’m not worried at all by these ratings. It’s just the name of the game in the 21st Century. No one wants to be inside watching TV on Saturday night’s like they would on a Sunday afternoon or even at Sunday night….
The NASCAR Cup Series also had a two-day test at the Homestead-Miami Speedway this week. 14 different organizations took part in it with Penske, SHR, HMS, JGR and FRR bringing two cars each.
This test was in anticipation of the race next month which will be the penultimate race of the Round of 8.
The Cup Series hasn’t raced at Homestead since last February so it’s been a long 19 months since they lasted visited the South Florida race track.
As far as the remaining 7 tracks left on the schedule, this is the only one that they haven’t been to yet this year. The ROVAL is a caveat with them racing at Charlotte at the end of May but that being on the oval. Still, they’ve had 5 other road course races run this year.
Texas they raced the All-Star race this past May, Talladega they raced at in April, Vegas they ran in March, Martinsville they raced in April and Phoenix in March too.
Now they’ll have data from this Homestead test to come back with next month.
Pit Crew Swaps
On Monday, it was announced that Joe Gibbs Racing has swapped out the pit crews of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. That’s not uncommon to occur during a season, let alone among a playoff driver.
JGR must have had a feel that Busch’s crew has outperformed Hamlin’s so why not put them on the playoff car?
Busch was eliminated from playoff contention on Saturday night in Bristol and no longer has championship aspirations this season.
Hamlin noted one advantage of lesser teammates as the playoffs go on is that you can in terms stack the crews. You can pool every person you have available and put the best ones for their specific role in that defined role with that playoff car.
It’s an “all-star” team per se.
They Said It
“Looking at the next seven races, I would say Texas is arguably the most important race, outside of Phoenix (the championship race),” Christopher Bell said. “Talladega, we all know how that is – there is going to be some lucky guys, and some unlucky guys.
“Texas is kind of the one place where you can control your destiny into the next round and the winner is going to feel really good if it is a playoff car.”