By admin | March 28, 2011
By Richard Allen
The finish of the Auto Club 400 in Fontana, California was about as exciting as could be imagined. Kevin Harvick passed Jimmie Johnson in the last turn of the last lap for the win. Trouble was, the previous 195 laps leading up the race’s finale were hard to watch as very few positions were exchanged within the top-10 apart from pit stops and on restarts.
But was the finish good enough to erase the memory of the part of the race that led to it?
Apparently, NASCAR has decided that the finish of races will burn so deeply in the minds of fans that little else about the races matter. Hence, late race debris cautions, double-file restarts and multiple green/white/checker finishes have been used or implemented to assure the close finishes that will provide those burning memories.
In Sunday’s race in California, debris cautions were not needed as a spin by Andy Lally and a crash by Bobby Labonte in the late stages of the event took care of bunching the field. However, the use of double-file restarts proved to mix the top runners and allow Johnson and Harvick a shot at Kyle Busch, who had led the vast majority of the race only to see his lead erased by those late cautions and subsequent restarts.
But the question that has to be asked is, how many television viewers hung around to see that great finish on a day in which the NCAA Basketball Tournament was playing out on another network? Great finishes are, well, great. However, there has to be more to racing than just the final five laps.
If NASCAR is depending on winning more viewers and filling more grandstands with made for ESPN SportsCenter highlight finishes, their strategy seems to be backfiring. TV ratings have plummeted in recent years. After a brief recovery in ratings numbers, perhaps due to the feel good stories of wins by Trevor Bayne and Jeff Gordon early in the season, last week in Bristol saw a return to the downward trend as did the California race.
An old adage often used by local race track promoters is that if you give the fans a great finish one week they will come back the next week. The difference between local short tracks and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is that fans do not have to wade through 400-500 miles to get to that finish on the local tracks. And those local tracks are not dependent on a television network selling commercial time through the middle stretches of races.
Hopefully, there will be very few races like the one of this past Sunday, except for those last five laps of course.
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