The Auto Club Speedway at Fontana, California hosted our NASCAR traveling circus over the Labor Day weekend, and for a pure racing fan, there was much left to be desired. As usual, there were many empty seats, especially for the Nationwide race on Saturday night. The Pepsi 500 Cup race netted more ticket holders, but still, the empty seats at the track in the 2nd biggest market in the US were obvious.
I agree with several of my more esteemed colleagues in the NASCAR writing game, that California should indeed have 2 race dates. The market is too big, and too important to leave with just one race date. The racing, however, needs to improve.
Kyle Busch led practically every lap in Saturday's Nationwide race. Nobody was nearly as good as Kyle. If you are a Kyle Busch fan, the race was fantastic. Since most of the racing world are not Kyle Busch fans, the consensus was this: Boring.
The Pepsi 500 was little better. Jimmie Johnson had a car that just completely dominated the field all day, and though Greg Biffle tried to catch him at the end, it was obvious from lap 1 that no one had anything for the 48. The only real excitement during the race was watching car after car almost spin out coming out of the turns. For a fan on the east coast, such as me, it seemed not worth the effort to stay up until midnight to see the end of such a boring race.
I agree with some of my more esteemed colleagues on another point, which involves the track itself. Bulldoze it. Tear it down, and start over.
Roger Penske had a vision of duplicating the track at Brooklyn, Michigan when he built the California Speedway. He got the length right, at 2 miles, but precious little else. There is not enough banking on the track. There is a lot of single groove racing, for the most part. Cars can run in separate grooves, but they can't pass in them. At least the new car can't.
The new car poses enough problems of it's own. Most of the teams still haven't been able to get a handle on the car, or to fix the handling problems therein. Only a few teams seem to have figured it out. Obviously the 18 car of Kyle Busch and crew chief Steve Addington have got it mostly figured out. The 99 car of Carl Edwards with crew chief Bob Osborne seem to have it somewhat figured out. And now the 48 car of Jimmie Johnson with crew chief Chad Knaus seem to have made a breakthrough as well.
The Pepsi 500 was started during the daytime, and finished under the lights. On the west coast, that's probably a fine idea, but back here in the east, that makes for a long night, especially when the race basically consists of follow the leader. The current configuration of the track at Fontana has shown itself to be a disaster.
Some solutions that I would offer: Make the track a high banked oval at the very least. Watching cars running at half throttle much of the laps in an attempt to keep from spinning out makes for bad racing. Better yet, tear down the track and start over. Go to a short track format with stadium seating all around, such as Bristol. Or, make it a 2.75 mile high banked oval, in other words, the track that makes Talladega look weak. Do one or the other, but just do something!
Another solution I would offer is to give California a different race date other than Labor Day, and give that date back to Darlington. NASCAR is all about tradition and history, and taking that race away from Darlington in the first place was a very big mistake, in my not so humble opinion. If Darlington is only worth one race date, let it be Labor Day. Darlington certainly is not situated in a major market, but it's only a couple of hours from cities like Charlotte, NC, Atlanta, GA, Charleston, SC, Columbia, SC, and Savannah, GA. Darlington always pleases the fans. There is awesome racing there, virtually every race that is run there. Tradition and history are things that old school fans appreciate, and NASCAR has really screwed up both of those by moving the Labor Day race to California. Attention: Brian France, get with the program please!
NASCAR has tried to expand too rapidly, I think. They want to have a track next to every major city in the US, but they haven't allowed the fan base to catch up with their greed yet. I say don't put a race in the New York City area, let them watch it on TV and then let them scream for a track on Long Island or somewhere. Let the demographics decide where you put tracks. Don't put a track where no one really cares about racing. Since 2001, NASCAR has had major exposure on several different TV networks, and as long as they keep that up, the sport will grow. Quit trying to slip in the back door in markets that don't really care about the sport. Wait until they are jumping up and down, screaming, and demanding that you put a track in their area. That will assure success.
In other words, Brian France needs to go back and look at what his father and grandfather did before him. Screwing with a good thing can make it all go down the drain. NASCAR was and is a good thing, but the more it's tinkered with, the worse it will get.
Let the drivers drive, let the car builders build cars, let the engine builders build engines. For the love of God, Brian France, let the racers race!