Sunday, February 1, 2009

NASCAR Needs A "REAL" Super Bowl of its own

By Jerry Bonkowski

Brian France never misses an opportunity to boast that NASCAR, with 75 million fans, is the No. 2 most-popular spectator sport in the country behind the NFL.

While some might argue the veracity of those numbers, we'll go along with them for sake of argument.

But one thing I won't go along with is how NASCAR treats the culmination of its season vs. how the NFL ends its season.

In the NFL, there's two weeks of anticipation, preparation and excitement that leads up to the biggest sports event of the year in the U.S., the Super Bowl.

Along those same lines, the Super Bowl also brings out some of the best parties of the year – both on-site and across the country. When was the last time you heard about fantastic parties being held at thousands, if not millions, of bars and homes for NASCAR's final race of the season?

Anyone who is anyone finds himself or herself at the Super Bowl. It's a star-studded celebrity magnet, drawing hundreds of the biggest names in entertainment and sports. Even several NASCAR drivers attended Sunday's Super Bowl in Tampa between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals.

And what does NASCAR have in the way of "celebrities" for its final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway? If we're lucky, we get Nick Lachey – you know, Jessica Simpson's ex-husband.

That's pretty much it – an abysmal embarrassment for what is supposed to be arguably NASCAR's brightest light of the season. Where's Jack Nicholson? Or how about Brad Pitt? Hell, I'd even take Jim Nabors, who regales us every May with "Back Home Again In Indiana" prior to the Indianapolis 500.

Instead, NASCAR gets second-, third- and no-rate "celebs" to Homestead – if it gets any at all. It's bad enough that Johnson has all but sealed things up going into the season finale the last few years, but to have so little major attention from celebrities outside the sport really says a lot about NASCAR's drawing power … make that says very little.

Sure, NASCAR's "Super Bowl" is the Daytona 500, where we have seen a number of major celebs in recent years, folks like Matthew McConaughey, Nicholas Cage, Brooks & Dunn, Kool and the Gang, Chubby Checker, Bon Jovi, among others.

But NASCAR compensated them for their time, so that doesn't really count. Did we see any of them at Homestead on their own dime when their appearance would really have counted even more?

Nope. We get stuck with another visit of Lachey, and only because he's Johnson's good buddy. Hell, I'd rather see Britney Spears return to Homestead like she did back in 2001 than to have Lachey hold the celebrity torch for NASCAR.

In recent years, NASCAR has had the Super Bowl in and around Daytona. It was right up the road in Jacksonville four years ago, in Miami two years ago and across the state in Tampa this year. Surely, some of NASCAR's top marketing minds not only attended the big game, but couldn't they have picked up some ideas to translate to build excitement for the season finale in their own sport?

Unfortunately, the answer remains 'no.'

Of all the season-ending, championship-deciding events in professional sports, NASCAR lags way behind the NFL's Super Bowl, Major League Baseball's World Series, and even the NBA Finals.

Even the NCAA's Final Four or Bowl Championship Series games have greater hype and attention.

In this current tough economic climate, it's all the more important that NASCAR tries new things to attract fans back in the stands and in front of their TVs, both for regular season races as well as the final race of the year at Homestead.

Yet, all we've been met with so far has been relatively boring events leading up to a relatively boring season-ending event. There's little build-up or hype in and around Miami like there is when there's a Super Bowl in town.

In fact, when I was in Homestead more than two months ago for the season-ending Ford 400, a Miami resident told me that if he wasn't a race fan, he wouldn't have known that NASCAR was in town and Johnson was on the verge of achieving history by tying Cale Yarborough's record of winning three consecutive championships.

That's truly sad.

When the NFL comes to a city to present the Super Bowl, it takes it over and makes sure that everyone – even non-football fans – knows that the biggest game of the year is in town.

NASCAR? The relative lack of media attention for last November's season-ending race at Homestead was a sheer embarrassment. Even with the construction of a beautiful, new multi-million dollar media center, it was only just over half-full at best.

Admittedly, NASCAR has a problem in that Ford has an iron-clad contract to host the season finale – and championship-deciding weekend for all three major racing series (Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Trucks) – through 2014 at HMS.

But the time has come for NASCAR to make a major change in how its season ends up.

For those of you that have read my work for many years, you know I've been adamantly opposed to moving the Daytona 500 away from the start of the season. There was no better way to start the year than two weeks of 80-degree temperatures and exciting on-track action.

But the time has come to do some major reconstruction of the season opener and the season finale. And yes, the time has come for me to change my mind -- I'm allowed to do so once every 10 years or so -- and hopefully the minds of many others, as well.

The way I see it, NASCAR needs to switch the Daytona 500 from the first to last race of the season. If we're going to continually refer to the Daytona 500 as NASCAR's version of the Super Bowl – I cringe every time I hear it referred to as that – then let's make it a race that really counts in the biggest way of all: a championship-deciding event.

In turn, let's move Homestead to the season opener. We can still have some semblance of Speedweeks, albeit in perhaps some abbreviated form.

And, then, let's leave an off-week between the second-to-last race of the season and the season finale at Daytona to build momentum, excitement and anticipation – just the way the NFL does.

Don't forget that for many years, the Daytona 500 was NOT the first race on the NASCAR schedule, being pushed back to second, third or even deeper on stock car racing's dance card. In fact, the 500 did not serve as the opening to a season until 1982 -- and it's been the first race on each Cup season schedule ever since.

Another idea would be to switch the Coca-Cola 400 (previously the Pepsi 400 and before that, the Firecracker 400) to the start of the season and replace it in early July with Homestead.

But if you're going to make a complete break with tradition to start the season, then let's not replace one event at Daytona International Speedway with another at the same place.

Many of you might argue that why should a season finale be decided on a restrictor plate track, with the uncertainty and big wrecks inherent with it.

That's a point well-taken.

But let me ask you this: where have some of the most exciting race finishes we've seen in recent years been at?

That's right, at that little old 2.5-mile racetrack, otherwise known as the home of the Daytona 500.

How about the late Dale Earnhardt finally snapping a 20-year streak to win his first – and only 500 – in 1998?

How about Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s "one for my daddy" win in 2004?

How about Kevin Harvick's win by less than a half-fender over Mark Martin in 2007?

And what about Ryan Newman being in the right place at the right time, pushed by then-teammate Kurt Busch, to victory in last year's season-opener?

Do you see a trend here? All those exciting, nail-biting finishes came in the one, the only Daytona 500.

Racing at Daytona means excitement, and if NASCAR's hallmark race was shifted to season's end, it potentially could make for some of the best theater the sport has seen in many years.

Sure, it might make it harder for Johnson to win another championship. But at the same time, we would finally have something to truly cheer about -- and hopefully draw a lot more bigger names in the stands than Nick Frickin' Lachey.

Feel free to post a comment below. But if you want to potentially have your thoughts featured in next week's Trading Paint mailbag, please e-mail any comments or questions -- and include your full name and city and state -- to


  1. If all the great finishes seem to occur at Daytona, then why on Earth would we put such a race at the end of the year? Have you seen the disjointed end of the Gatorade Duel races, where the winner is ignored in favor of a battle around 12th position? Imagine the same thing occuring during the Great American Race. The Daytona 500 deserves all attention on its finish and nowhere else.

  2. Every sport other than NA$CAR has the champion decided by a contest between the last two standing. To make it simple. In the last ten races, the last place finisher in the top ten should be eliminated. In the final race, the race would be between the last two still standing. In football, a wildcard is the campion if it beats the unbeaten in the Superbowl. Why not in NA$CAR?

  3. I don't really care if a bunch of "celebrities" come to the races. I am not turning on my tv to see them, I want to watch the race. Maybe the best way to get people back to watching is to lower ticket prices for those at the race and lose 1/2 the commercials for those of us watching at home. We know who the sponsors are, it's plastered all over the cars. The sponsors are getting their moneys worth when the guys in the booth say "the Napa toyota or the US Army ford".

  4. No thanks Jerry....

    Brian France is already doing a great job of trying to fix things that aren't broken.

    Don't jump on the wagon with him.

    "The Old Guy"

  5. No way. Daytona is fine where it's at.

    On the flip side......what if the NFL held it's title game to BEGIN the season? AFC and NFC champ open the next season with a title game.

  6. Hmmm Why not 2 "divisions" amongst the 43 or so drivers that compete each week. Call them the odds and evens, grays and blues or whatever but divide them by car number.
    At the end of the season the highest point leader in each division runs for the championship. NASCARS's Superbowl ...

  7. i agree 100% with karen s. if i want to watch
    celebrities i will watch one of the thousands
    of award shows that get shoved down our throats
    every month. nope let me watch some racing please

  8. The drivers are the celebrities. There is nothing worse than a Hollywood celebrity pretending to like NASCAR. No thanks Jerry. NASCAR comes out of the box with a bang - not with boring pre-season games. End the year at Bristol - no riding around playing it safe there for sure!

  9. I totally agree leave the 500 be! It's a great start for the season.

  10. Not every sport has a playoff at the end. Every sport where every competitor competes against every other competitor at the same time (golf, tennis, most individual Olympic sports) use a points system covering the whole season EQUALLY. Nascar needs to go back to doing the same.

  11. eh, i dont like the old system, i do enjoy the Chase.

    If anything the season is too long, it should end just prior to NFL season, just like NFL ends just prior to NASCAR. JMHO

  12. How about this? Move the July Daytona race to the spot that Homestead has now, and race Homestead in July. I think it would be a major draw to have the first and last race of the season at Daytona. I think the drivers and owners would be thrilled as well.

  13. Jerry your nuts. What do you think that if you hang around with the Hollywood people you might get a movie deal.I go to the Daytona 500 to watch a race and I don't give a rats ass what idiot from Hollywood is there I for one don't look up to someone who acts like someone else for a living. Hey everybody there is John Travolta and Tom Cruise and hit the car with the golf club Jack Nicholson they are here so this must be hip and wow we must be cool too. Get Real. The Daytona 500 belongs where it is. This is the only race where nobody really worries about the championship so they go for it. If you started and ended the season Daytona one race would suffer in attendance 2 races less than 3 months apart where most people travel far away to attend would hurt whether you realize it or not according to Na$car standards Daytona is a small market. In no other sport do you play all your competion in the same week 36 times so to me the Chase is the dumbest thing ever done in Auto racing.

  14. The Daytona 500 has to start the season, its a classic event with a slow build up and its great to look forward to all winter. The good thing about it being at the start of the year means drivers are going for the big "Cup" win at the 500, not worrying about losing a Championship or racing for points. NASCAR do need to get rid of The Chase as its won after 5 races anyway and adds nothing to the competition, the last 4 races are rather boring IMO.

  15. I don't think the track is as important as the race. The last few races -- wherever they're held -- are boring, if it's pretty much decided who is going to win. In the NFL, if you get into the playoffs, they throw out your record...the Cardinals beat the Falcons, and the Falcons go home -- regardless of their record. NASCAR should do the same during the Chase -- you come in 10th, you go home....regardless of how many points you have. That would make each Chase important and exciting, and wouldn't matter where it's held.

  16. I want to start this by saying first and foremost, I'm a NASCAR fan. I attended my first race on July, 4th, 1984 in Daytona. Any fan of NASCAR knows what happened that day. I was a fan for a few years before that, starting around 1980. I'm 43 now and I'm beginning to lose interest in theh sport that I love. I still make at least 2 races a year and enjoy going, but I think now it is more just to see the friends I have made more than about watching what has become a very boring sport. The COT has got to go. It was fun to have a Monte Carlo SS and my friends have a Turbo Coupe Thunderbird and Buick Grand National back in the mid to late 80's. You could tell the difference on the track of each car. Now, you just have a box on wheels, ala a pine wood derby car. There has got to be something NASCAR can do to bring the fun and excitement back to this sport. If it means moving some races around, why not? They changed some dates this year, so they can't use that as an excuse. Don;t get me wrong, I will continue to watch and cheer for my driver and continue to go and pay ever increasing ticket prices, but there is only so much more i can take before I break out the golf clubs and find other ways to enjoy my Sundays. And please, I will not even get started on the Chase. I'mjust counting down the days till the 500 and hoping my attitude changes about my favorite sport this season. We'll just have to wait and see

  17. Tarheel, I kinda like that idea, although Homestead is not near my favorite track for 4th of July weekend.

  18. The age old competition between Stick-and-Ball and Engine-and-Wheels... Daytona and Talladega drafting make for GREAT racing and pack shuffling... Bristol the other 'shorties' make for great door bashing and good racing too... But those 'great races' are too far spread out throughout the season for people to get and STAY excited. The BEST CONSISTENT racing week in and week out plays out at 1/2 mile ovals all over the US every week with drivers battling their cross town rivals for supremacy in modifieds and superstocks... Maybe the answer is to Get Bigger, Think Smaller?


What do you think? Leave Your Comment Here:

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.