CP MOTORSPORTS – MONTE DUTTON:
“Hit ‘em where they ain’t.” Those were the simple words Wee Willie Keeler used to describe the secret of hitting baseballs. It wasn’t the full quote, though.
“Keep your eye on the ball and hit ‘em where they ain’t.” Not that splashing spheroids around fields of green bears much resemblance to racing automobiles pell-mell and fast-forward around closed circuits, but, at Richmond on Sunday, Jimmie Johnson tried to drive his Chevy where they weren’t but failed to keep his eye(s) on his teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Many exciting events took place in the capital city of Virginia. A seven-time champion clobbering his teammate was the most surprising.
Earnhardt Jr. dominates the headlines even when he languishes on the track. Danica Patrick was once this way. Whether drowned in a sea of diminishing expectations or trapped in a car that no longer draws the eyes with fluorescent colors, Patrick’s exploits are no longer cubed but merely squared.
NASCAR itself is halved. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t seem to put the fan base back together again.
Oh, the idiocy of the excuses and responses.
1. The economy. That worked for a while, oh, quite a few years ago now.
2. Too many seats. That’s a good one. Richmond has half as many seats to half fill.
3. The racing stinks. No, it doesn’t. It’s getting better. It’s as complicated as the tax code, but it’s definitely harder to fall asleep.
4. The fans are all watching on TV. Nope. Those numbers are falling in synchronized rates with the attendance.
5. More and more are watching on their phones, and it’s impossible to know how many! Maybe the Russians can tell us.
I’ve huffed and puffed, and wracked my noggin, sought wisdom from the prophets (Humpy, Ken Squier, apostle Paul) and strummed my guitar about it, and all I can figure is that NASCAR reached a tipping point. You’ve heard of tipping points. If you go past them, you can’t come back. There’s an abyss there.
Lots of people just wrote NASCAR off. I run into them all the time. I know this because they tell me they “just wrote NASCAR off.” They know I write about it, so, when they see me, they want to make sure I know how much they no longer care.
I used to watch every race. I used to go to Bristol, and Darlington, and Charlotte, and Atlanta, and Rockingham. Let’s see. I went to Darlington about four years ago. A highway patrolman gave me free tickets.
Was there a race Sunday? I’ll be dogged. I didn’t even think about it. I reckon it just ain’t like it used to be.
Even, on rare occasions, when it is like it used to be, if people think it isn’t, it doesn’t matter. Are you with me?
As I doubt anything can be done, other than wait until the next time football does something stupid like go on strike, NASCAR might as well sit tight. It has reached a point where no amount of marketing, branding and cheerleading is going to do the trick.
It’s a great sport that changed too rapidly. It outkicked its coverage. Now it’s time to hunker down and wait for an opportunity win hearts and minds all over again.