- Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 March 2011 00:00
- Published on Wednesday, 16 March 2011 00:00
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After a tough couple of years, NASCAR appears to be getting its groove back.
The television ratings have been up for all three races. Phoenix and Las Vegas were sellouts, and the competition on the track has been hot and heavy.
For the first time since 2007 there hasn’t been a repeat winner in the season’s first three races. Daytona and Phoenix broke records for lead changes. Las Vegas had 21 lead changes. The season got off to a great start with young Trevor Bayne’s surprising win in the Daytona 500. It didn’t hurt that the newly paved speedway gave us a
whole different type of racing and some speeds right on the ragged edge.
NASCAR Chairman Brian France met with the media via teleconference last Wednesday and expressed his satisfaction on the start of the new season.
“In general, with a very dynamic Daytona 500, having a really young star born, having the iconic Wood Brothers team in victory lane — it was very interesting the way the competition played out at Daytona,” France said.
“Then on to Phoenix, getting Jeff Gordon back to victory lane , record lead changes again there, attendance up across the board. Obviously the competition has never been better. That’s been brewing in terms of going in the right direction for a number of months going back well into last year where, as you know, we made a number of changes in the new car, which is not a new car anymore, but to get the car racing as good as we possibly can.
“There’s still some challenges for us and for many, many sports, many companies with still an uncertain outlook for the economy. As we said all along, we’re not economists, we’re doing what we think we need to do in general terms.
“The last thing I would mention about competition that I think is important, we said during the last couple of years that when the economy does what it does, you have some challenges. That’s the time to look around and look deep at some of the areas for the future that you think you might be able to improve on.”
Asked why the circuit has an off week so early in the season, France responded, “Historically it has been around this time where we do have an off weekend. You would like to have that come down eight or 10 races later, but that’s just how the schedule and climate issues we face with certain markets has played out.
France was asked about the reports of the next generation car being designed for 2013. “Obviously there is lots of dialogue with the car manufacturers,” he said. “We’re addressing those needs, which is the need to keep the competition and safety and all that stuff where it is today, which is a very high level. At the same time evolving the car to give them even more identity with their manufacturers’ make. There’s a way to do both. It kind of coincides with some of their new model launches and some things. So we’re working pretty closely, as you can imagine. It’s going well.”
The resurgence of the Ford teams, with wins in two of the first three races after a dismal showing in 2009, is exciting to see. Carl Edwards began the turn around for the Ford teams late in last season as Doug Yates began to get their new engine dialed in. Edwards won the season’s last two races. With a second place finish at Daytona and a win at Las Vegas, Edwards is the early candidate to disrupt Jimmie Johnson’s domination.
Sunday it’s back to racing. It’s Bristol week and they still have tickets if you feel like a road trip. This season’s spring race at Bristol marks the Speedway’s 50th anniversary and everyone who attends will receive a piece of birthday cake. When I read the press release that the bakers of Little Debbie cakes would be providing a piece of birthday cake to all the fans who attend Sunday’s race, I was reminded of the comment made in introducing Tony Stewart at last season’s year end banquet. Kidding Stewart about his well-known weight gain the past few years, someone said, “Tony Stewart really loves the ladies, Wendy’s, Sarah Lee, Little Debbie.”
You may reach Pete Barber