Monday, February 27, 2017

It Wasn't That Bad: 2017 Daytona 500

Nearly 24 hours have past since the Daytona 500 finished with Kurt Busch beating Ryan Blaney and A.J. Allmendinger to the line and it is a race that has left me feeling nothing but not an emptiness.

I commented in the minutes after the race that the first 400 miles were crap but the final 100 miles were quite good. I stand by that latter part but it wasn't that the first 400 miles were crap, the first 300 miles were forgetful and the next 100 miles were crap and the final 100 miles were quite good. 

Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick won the first two stages but I don't know if either of those conclusions left me with the memories NASCAR were hoping they would. It was lap 60 and lap 120 in a 500-mile, 200-lap race. The top ten drivers got points but awarding points doesn't give people a reason to remember. It's just adding points onto an already irrelevant total of points but that is another story based on the championship format that we can talk about in another post. 

The final 100 miles I remember because all the crap was behind us and you had 12 cars break away and fight for the victory with the only previous Daytona 500 winner in the group being Joey Logano and the soul-crushing thought of running out of fuel costing the other 11 drivers a shot of the most important victory of their careers create the tension that stages can't replicate. 

I wrote prior to the Daytona 500 that segments were just two guaranteed caution periods and that is all they are but are they needed? If NASCAR just wanted to award points for the top ten drivers at the lap 60 and lap 120 marks they could do it and do it with the race remaining green. It is quite simple. First 10 drivers to complete lap 60 and lap 120 get the points and we continue with no delay but the caution period is necessary for this 21st century creation. 

The caution period at the end of the stage is meant for commercials and the thought is losing five or six laps under caution is better than losing five or six laps of green flag action due to commercials. It is actually a noble thought and I believe NASCAR and the television partners are doing this with the fans in mind but maybe it is an unsolvable problem. 

Fans are always going to complain about commercial breaks and it doesn't matter what you do and it doesn't matter if you explain how necessary they are. As I once heard Seth Meyers put it, hating commercial breaks is like saying your least favorite part of grocery shopping is checking out. 

A race isn't built for commercials and fans don't want races built for commercials. You are going to miss green flag action. It is inevitable and networks do the best they can to get commercials in during caution periods but there aren't enough to make sure the only thing viewers see is green flag racing and cautions aren't as easy as a yellow flag coming out and straight to commercial. A yellow flag comes out then you need a shot of the cause and then replays upon replays of the cause, then lining the cars up and opening the pit lane for pit stops and then going to commercial after showing the replay of the race off the pit lane. 

I don't know what could be done. Maybe after pit stops during a caution period allow television to show three minutes worth of commercials and then return to the broadcast and go green once those three minutes are complete? But you need cautions to subsidize for that time and if a race is non-stop green then you are going to have to lose green flag time to commercials. The network could take a commercial break every 15 minutes but I am not sure that is the best solution either. I don't have the answer and as shocking as it may be, NASCAR and the networks are probably working for the best solution. 

Despite the negativity before the introduction of the stages, the overnight television ratings for this year's race was up to a 6.5 from a 6.1, a seven-percent increase, and last year's final rating was a 6.6. Zooming out for a second it is important to let you know that since Fox became the exclusive broadcaster of the Daytona 500 in 2007, the highest rating for the race was a 10.2 in 2008. Were the stages the cause for the increase in television rating? Probably not. Was the later start time the cause? That is probably a greater cause than the stages considering it is a later start for the west coast and it ended in the early part of prime time on the east coast. Also, consider that the 2008 race started at 3:30 p.m. ET. 

One thing that I haven't seen speculated as a cause for the bump is the return of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. His return could be dismissed as a potential reason because he was in last year's race. It's not like Jeff Gordon came back after a year away but Earnhardt, Jr. was gone for a prolonged portion of 2016 and some speculated he may never race again last summer and with even Earnhardt, Jr. himself not committing to racing long-term perhaps there was a segment of people who felt compelled to watch this year because of the possibility of it being Earnhardt, Jr.'s final time running the Daytona 500.

While the Daytona 500 is important, the key thing is making sure that seven-percent increase continues for Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Fontana, through the rest of the Fox portion of the season and NBC's portion as well. If that seven-percent increase carries over the next 35 races then maybe NASCAR is on to something but we have a long way to go until we reach that point.