Driving Today

NASCAR Gets Slapped by the Los Angeles Times

Major newspaper knocks Sprint Cup’s recent performance, blaming Car of Tomorrow and lackluster...

When a Sprint Cup race is imminent, the local newspaper usually publishes a few fawning pieces about the drivers and plays up the thrills and spills of big-time racing. Just as if it were reviewing a travelling circus, the local paper will often add a guide to the venue and help readers get tickets. But when Sprint Cup recently came to Southern California, the area’s dominant newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, took a decidedly different tack. The struggling newspaper clobbered NASCAR with a two-part series of articles on its purported recent fumbles and travails. The first article was titled “NASCAR Grapples With a Downshift in Popularity.” The subhead was even more damning: “A lagging economy is certainly a factor, but some of the damage has been self-inflicted -- particularly with the widely panned Car of Tomorrow.”

Jim Peltz, the author of the article, opined that NASCAR had reached its high point when the Will Ferrell movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby premiered at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in 2006. Since then, Peltz noted, attendance at NASCAR races and TV viewership of the races has tumbled somewhere between 15 and 20 percent. While Peltz notes that the economy took a big dive in 2008, the article attributes much of the sanctioning organization’s downturn to mistakes made by NASCAR management, and it points a big (rubber) finger at the much-debated Car of Tomorrow, which is the Sprint Cup’s current racing chassis.

While chiding current NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson and other drivers for their bland personalities, Peltz singled out the Car of Tomorrow as a special failure. In his article, Peltz wrote: “ … talk to people involved in NASCAR and most keep pointing back to one decisive culprit: The new race car that NASCAR mandated starting in 2007 in the Cup series turned off many drivers and fans.”

Well, there is little doubt that it did turn off some drivers, but the Car of Tomorrow was designed to accomplish two things: increase driver safety and promote closer, more “even” racing. There is no doubt that it accomplished both objectives. A simple look at this year’s races and results makes it clear that the racing is more competitive than it has been in a long, long time. More importantly, Sprint Cup racing is safer than ever before, with drivers routinely walking away from crashes that are occurring at more than 100 miles per hour. While that may have taken some of the drama out of the races, we think it is a trade everyone would make.

Certainly, this column has never been an apologist for NASCAR, but in this instance we believe the criticism is ill-placed. While other sports are beset by athletes who often find themselves in courtrooms, NASCAR is populated with an array of drivers who mostly keep their noses clean. It’s hard to imagine that’s a bad thing. We think that, as the year goes on, NASCAR will see a steady recovery in attendance and a gain in TV ratings as well. The series isn’t perfect, but we don’t believe its best days are in the rearview mirror.



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