NASCAR’s new Gen-6 race car is now three races old and the reviews are still mixed. Yesterday the Sprint Cup Series raced at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which was the first test on a 1.5-mile race track for the new car. But it’s still too early to judge this new car just yet.
The race really didn’t look any different than previous races at Vegas in my eyes. It wasn’t spectacular, but it wasn’t horrendous either. But when looking at the loop data (data taken from the various scoring loops around the race track) from the race it appears that the new car did actually help the competition.
There were 22 lead changes in this year’s race, the most since 2007 which was the first race on the reconfigured track and the last race with the Gen-4 car. Last season’s appearance in Sin City saw 16 lead changes. Matt Kenseth raced his way from 18th to the win. According to the loop data he made 59 green flag passes, 46 of which were considered “quality passes.” A quality pass is when a driver passes another top-15 driver under green-flag conditions. Yesterday’s race saw 2,342 green flag passes made on the race track, which is a huge increase from last season’s 1,301 passes.
So it appears that yesterday’s race was much more competitive when looking at the loop data.
But I still saw a big issue with yesterday’s race and it wasn’t because of the race car. The big issue I saw was that Goodyear brought another bad tire to the race track.
When the second-to-last caution came out on lap 225, the leaders all hit pit road. Most of the drivers in the top-10 took two tires. Kenseth didn’t take any tires. But Kenseth was able to hold all of them off over the final 30 laps of the race. Kasey Kahne, who had the fastest car of the race by far, ran down Kenseth with 20 laps to go but couldn’t get by him even with two fresher tires.
If Goodyear could bring softer tires to the race tracks I feel that the racing could improve. But after the debacle that was the 2008 Brickyard 400, Goodyear appears to be gun-shy. It is possible to bring a tire to a race track that wears out, but is still safe at the same time. Pirelli has done it in Formula 1. Week in and week out Pirelli brings tires that wear out to the race track. Tire degradation produces good racing. Remember the Atlanta race in 2011 when Jeff Gordon beat Jimmie Johnson? They were slipping and sliding all over the race track in the final laps and put on a fantastic show. That is what is needed again. Bring a tire to the track that causes the teams to use tire strategy again. It used to be fun to see a caution come out with 20 laps to go and almost everybody would pit for four tires but some would take two tires and we’d watch if they could hold off the drivers that took four. That was fun.
The other perk that comes with tires that wear out is it should do away with a lot of the fuel-mileage races. Teams used to race until their tires gave up and then would pit, even if they could have gone another ten laps on fuel. Now they run right to the very end of the fuel run. Tire degradation could do away with that.
The Gen-6 race car will not be the cure-all that many race fans seem to want it to be. It looks like it has the potential to be a great race car, but the car by itself will not fix everything. It shouldn’t be expected too either. Especially not right away. Give the teams some time to get used to this race car. Give the car more than just three races before you judge it. Steve Letarte said on NASCAR Now on ESPN yesterday morning that the teams may not get a good handle on this car until the Coca-Cola 600 in May. I’d say that’s fair. The fans should do the same thing. Wait until we’ve seen more than just one race on each type of track before we judge it.
NASCAR on FOX
The Kobalt Tools 400 from Las Vegas Motor Speedway yesterday was by far the worst broadcast on Fox this season. It was full of issues and full of commercials.
Fox needs to utilize a split-screen window during green-flag racing when showing replays. The most exciting times during a race are always on restarts. Drivers get crazy and go three-wide into turn one. It’s exhilarating. Something that warrants a replay always happens on restarts. But the replays shouldn’t keep the fans at home from being able to see the live racing. When Kyle Busch made his three-wide move for the lead on a restart Fox showed a full-screen replay. Four times. They missed two laps of racing to show the replay. His move was awesome. There’s no denying that. But it could have been shown in a window alongside the live racing.
The amount of commercials shown during NASCAR races has reached the point of absurdity. Yesterday’s race saw 47 minutes of commercials. An additional four minutes of breaks were in a side-by-side format. So in total the race saw 51 minutes of commercial time. The race broadcast was 183 minutes long, but the race fans only saw 136 minutes of it.
Missing almost an hour of action should be unacceptable, but somehow has become the norm in the NASCAR world. This doesn’t happen with any other sport. Sure, most sports have built in “TV Timeouts” at a stoppage in play, but the main point is the live action is never missed. During the World Cup of Soccer there isn’t a single commercial break until half-time. 45 minutes of action is seen continuously. Yesterday Fox went to commercial, came back and showed five laps, and then went right back to commercial.
Obviously it is very expensive for a company to broadcast a NASCAR race. Fox just signed an eight year contract extension with NASCAR back in October that is worth $2.4 billion. Fox has to try to make their money back through advertising. It’s common sense. The only way to completely avoid commercials during a race would be to air all races on Pay-Per-View, but I have a feeling many race fans would be very opposed to that. But it is ridiculous that a sport with continuous action goes to commercial so often and a lot of that action is missed. At the very least, side-by-side commercial breaks should be seen every week, all race long.
Sam Hornish Jr.
The three-time IndyCar Series champion won his second career Nationwide Series race this past Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and he did so in a dominating fashion. He led 114 of the 200 laps.
After the terrible start to his NASCAR career Hornish did the smart thing and took a step back from the Cup Series to the Nationwide Series. He struggled in the beginning, but has gotten much better over the last season and a half. He finished in the top five in points last season and got a win in Phoenix in 2011. Hornish got the call to substitute for AJ Allmendinger in the Cup Series last season when Allmendinger was suspended and he ran extremely well. He looked like a completely different driver from the last time he was in the Cup Series.
Some say that after running so well last season that he deserved to be moved into the Sprint Cup Series full time in the 22 Shell-Pennzoil car. But Hornish was passed over for Joey Logano. Roger Penske said that Hornish will get his chance to be a Cup driver full time again, but now just wasn’t the right time.
Hornish leads the Nationwide Series points standings just three races into the season. Even after three championships in the premiere open-wheel racing series in North America it is obvious that Hornish still wants to prove himself to the racing world. He’s doing so this year.
By the way, his burnout was awesome. He was halfway out of the car while still burning it down. That burnout was right up there as one of the coolest ones I’ve ever seen.