Rumor Mill

MONTE DUTTON: ARE YOU EXCITED YET?

 

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NASCAR is completing its annual production of How the West Was Won. Cue the music.

Buh-buh-buh-buh-BUH, buh, buh-BUH-buh-buh …

With the wagons safely circled in Fontana, Calif., let’s take inventory. Let’s check off what we’ve got and circle what we’re waiting for.

Four races. Four winners. Two Fords. A Toyota. A Chevrolet. Kurt Busch won the Daytona 500. Brad Keselowski triumphed near Atlanta. Martin Truex Jr. cashed in at Vegas. Ryan Newman pulled off his first win in a while near Phoenix.

Not one was the expected victor with 10 laps to go. Surprises are nice, but it wouldn’t be bad for the guy in the fastest car to win occasionally.

Now there’s one more week on the Great Western Swing, no offense to the late, great Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, nor Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel, who keep western swing vibrant as a musical genre.

It’s been pretty vibrant as a NASCAR genre, too.

Then it’s back to Martinsville, Va., and that old-time feeling, and what, by NASCAR standards, is a pastoral setting separated from other pastoral settings by too damned much noise. NASCAR, please do nothing about that noise.

Irony is everywhere. The season started with Kevin Harvick looking unbeatable, and he hasn’t won yet. Kyle Larson has been almost fast enough, consistently. Chase Elliott has to win soon, right? Ryan Blaney is turning heads.

The season is finding its rhythm, even though the whole point of playoffs, stages, repair clocks and potential road races run through infield road courses is to eliminate any semblance of rhythm. The simple three-chord melody has become a herky-jerky rap.

Times change.

The crowds have been decent everywhere but Phoenix, and nowadays, it can hold a crowd down when it’s hot, everyone assures us, even though denizens of the desert ought to be accustomed to heat, and it sure didn’t hold down the crowds back in the 1990s when Talladega ran a race every year at the end of July. The hottest I’ve ever been at a track was Talladega in July. Phoenix, of course, is “a dry heat,” and I don’t go either place anymore.

Maybe the fans have more sense. Maybe they don’t drink as much. Maybe they just aren’t as tough.

The TV ratings are still flat. This is obvious because each week I hear about ratings being “significantly higher in the all-import 18-34 age group,” though “down slightly overall,” which of course means, as we already knew, that NASCAR’s changes are designed to appeal to shorter attention spans and tick off those whose attention spans have been stretched by four-hour races for decades.

Attract new fans. Tick off the old ones. It’s the state of the 21st Century art.

It’s all quite exciting. For instance, a points system that requires a database to understand is, while confusing, confounding, inexplicable and maniacally funny, also exciting.

It’s a unique experience for a fan to be sitting in his living room, repeatedly asking “what the hell?” and having a Waltrip brother to explain it.

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