By admin | February 25, 2009
By Richard Allen
The first four races of the NASCAR season are run on consecutive Sundays. This stretch of races are always very important in establishing the tone of the upcoming season, but this year, that may be more true than ever.
The first four races will reveal a great deal about the teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup division. In order to have a successful season and seriously contend for a championship a team must be able to compete on the 1.5-2 mile tracks. These type tracks make up a significant percentage of the schedule. 14 of the 36 races are run on tracks of this size.
Three of the first four races are contested on this very type facility. California, Las Vegas and Atlanta make up races 2, 3 and 4 of the series. Although the tracks may vary in banking and slightly in shape the results do not vary all that much. To be good on one often indicates that a team will be good on most.
With off season testing all but eliminated, teams must use these races to get their cars running well if they are to have any chance at the Chase for the Championship playoff. Obviously, the teams who run well right out of the box have a significant advantage.
Another entity in need of a good first four races is NASCAR itself. The sanctioning body is finding itself under increasingly mounting criticism. It is vital for there to be no major goofs early on or the entire season could be turned into a scramble to regain lost fans.
Unfortunately for NASCAR, the criticism has only gotten louder after the first two races. The marquee event on the schedule, the Daytona 500, saw it share of controversy which put the organization in a bad light.
The race was halted over 100 miles from its scheduled distance because of rain. Many judged NASCAR harshly because of the race’s late start time and the fact that seemingly little effort was made to dry the track and complete the race.
Also in that event, there was a crash caused by Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the sport’s most popular driver. Many believed Junior should have been penalized for his role in that wreck and when he was not cries of favoritism rang out.
This past Sunday’s race did little to help matters. As was the case so many times in 2008, there was no passing for the lead as the Auto Club 500 turned into a long follow the leader affair.
As much as NASCAR needs the first four races to go well, the television networks and track owners may have even greater needs. After a lackluster Daytona 500 and an uneventful race in California fans may see little reason to tune in or go to a race.
With tough economic times, folks are watching every dollar closely. It could be difficult to justify the investment that has to be made to go to a NASCAR event when the product on the track is lacking in excitement.
For NASCAR, its teams, television and track owners the first four races of the season are vital. The tone for the rest of the season will be set in these contests. So far, with two of the first four in the books the results are marginal at best. NASCAR and all involved must hope for two great shows in Las Vegas and Atlanta.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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