July 11, 2013

Midweek NASCAR race idea in a stall

Jeff Gordon, who will be at Loudon this week, loves the thought but NASCAR officials don't.

By JENNA FRYER/The Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Ahhh, the dog days of summer, and those nights when there's nothing exciting on TV.

SUNDAY'S NASCAR SPRINT CUP RACE

WHAT: Camping World RV Sales 301

SCHEDULE: Friday -- practice (Speed, noon-1:30 p.m.), qualifying (Speed, 3:30-5:30 p.m.); Saturday -- practice (Speed, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.); Sunday -- race, 1 p.m. (TNT, noon-4:30 p.m.).

WHERE: New Hampshire Motor Speedway (oval, 1.058 miles), Loudon

DISTANCE: 318.46 miles, 301 laps

LAST YEAR: Kasey Kahne won, taking the lead on the 240th lap when leader Denny Hamlin fell back with a four-tire stop. Hamlin rallied to finish second.

LAST WEEK: Jimmie Johnson won at Daytona to become the first driver since Bobby Allison in 1982 to sweep the season races at the track. Tony Stewart was second.

FAST FACTS: Five-time series champion Johnson leads the standings, 49 points ahead of Clint Bowyer. Johnson and Matt Kenseth are tied for the series victory lead with four. Hamlin won at the track in September. Morgan Shepherd, at 71, is attempting to become the oldest driver to start a Sprint Cup race. Jim Fitzgerald set the record at 65 years, 6 months, 20 days at Riverside in 1987.

NEXT RACE: Brickyard 400, July 28, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indianapolis.

Driver standings

1. Jimmie Johnson, 658

2. Clint Bowyer, 609

3. Carl Edwards, 587

4. Kevin Harvick, 585

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 548

6. Matt Kenseth, 540

7. Kyle Busch, 533

8. Greg Biffle, 516

9. Kurt Busch, 501

10. Tony Stewart, 499

11. Martin Truex Jr., 493

12. Kasey Kahne, 490

13. Brad Keselowski, 488

14. Jeff Gordon, 487

15. Joey Logano, 483

16. Ryan Newman, 482

17. Jamie McMurray, 475

18. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 466

19. Aric Almirola, 463

20. Paul Menard, 460

Jeff Gordon, a four-time NASCAR champion, believes auto racing could fill that void. Gordon grew up in the "Thursday Night Thunder" era when he raced at tracks that hosted USAC races across the country that were televised on ESPN2.

NASCAR doesn't venture into that territory with the Sprint Cup Series, but the addition of Eldora Speedway to the Truck Series will mark three midweek races. The trucks ran on a Thursday night at Kentucky in June, are set to run Wednesday, July 24, at Eldora and Wednesday, Aug. 21, at Bristol.

This week, however, the concentration remains on the weekend when the Sprint Cup series makes its annual July pilgrimage to Loudon, N.H.

Still, there's always the future, and Gordon thinks maybe it's time for other series to try a midweek date.

"I think when 'Monday Night Football' ends, we should start 'Monday Night Racing,' " Gordon said. "But that's just me. Of course I came from 'Thursday Night Thunder,' and 'Thursday Night Thunder' was ridiculously successful back in the day."

Alas, Gordon said NASCAR officials have been cold to the idea.

"It seems like every time I talk to NASCAR about doing a weekly race or one midweek, they say, 'Oh, well, if you do it on this day, you won't get as many people coming to the track, so the track suffers, and if you do it on this day, then maybe the track does well but then the people at home won't watch it because of this,' so it always seems to be some kind of obstacle," he said.

"I am not saying we need to do it every week, but if we could find the right week in the schedule and mix it up, make it special, and make it make sense for the fans at home as well as the ones that could attend, then I think it would be awesome."

There was a buzz last weekend at Daytona about returning the night race back to its traditional early morning start, when teams were at the track for breakfast and on the beach by lunch.

But Gordon believes running the race on July 4, regardless of what day it falls during the week, is a better solution and could start the midweek trend.

"I think July 4 might make sense because everybody is off on that day and looking for something to do," he said. "Of course we are not off but I think that is why it could work."

POSITIVE POCONO: For years, about the only thing in NASCAR as popular as Dale Earnhardt Jr. was bashing Pocono Raceway.

The track wasn't safe. The races were too long. The facility was outdated.

But slowly the track has won over Sprint Cup drivers with a series of upgrades, everything from additional SAFER barriers to a repave of the 2½-mile surface, that left them raving about the new look the last two years.

Of course, slicing the two Cup races from 500 to 400 miles in 2012 certainly helped.

The Pocono Raceway CEO and president, Brandon Igdalsky, led the push for the makeover.

"I got tired of people talking bad about us, plain and simple," he said. "If you have drivers and people in the industry that aren't talking positive, that translates to what the fans hear and how they react. Last year drivers started talking about how great things here are now. It changes the mentality of the fans."

Igdalsky's latest gamble appears to have paid off: He brought the IndyCar Series back to Pocono after a 24-year absence and the first race last Sunday was considered a success. The grandstands weren't completely full but the estimated crowd of 30,000 did exceed most expectations. Unlike the NASCAR stars, IndyCar drivers didn't have to warm up to Pocono. They loved it from the first test session.

"I love this place. Pocono, the fans, just everyone has been fantastic," said the winner, Scott Dixon. "It's great to be back."

 

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