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Not Quite Ready for Primetime - The 2012 Daytona 500
by Chris Larson
February 29, 2012

After having a little time to sleep on it (emphasis on little) I have come to the conclusion that Monday night's / Tuesday morning's Daytona 500 was one of the worst races I have ever endured (emphasis on endured).

After a painful yet well done five hour "fill" on a rainy Sunday, NASCAR found themselves with a Monday prime-time slot all to themselves. It was NASCAR's time to shine on the center stage. There would most likely be new viewers on this night as was evidenced by all of the FOX announcers using Racing 101 terminology (you know, simple racing terms like, "Boogity, Boogity, Boogity"); a shrewd move by TV standards.

To their credit most of the fans came back (or sold their tickets to recoup a portion of their major investment to the France Family Foundation) to fill the seats. An empty grandstand would have been a disastrous image for NASCAR's "Superbowl".

The drivers waved to the crowd and strapped into their cars. The command to "start your engines" was given (albeit without all of the Sunday pageantry). It was time to show the world that stock car racing was a legitimate sport; a graceful ballet at 200mph and should be held in the same regard as the NFL.

Then the worst thing that could possibly happen did happen...the race started.

On lap two, before the announcers could even introduce the audience to the history making five-time (back-to-back) Champion - Jimmy Johnson or the heir apparent to the "Greatest Driver Ever" title - Danica Patrick, they were gone. A multi-car accident caused by stupid drivers, doing stupid things like it was the last lap of the race took out or damaged several top competitors.

OK re-set, re-start, a little racing and then another big crash. This went on and on all night. For this I blame NASCAR and their constant changing of the aerodynamic package to force "pack racing" and eliminate the two-car tandem that we saw last year (was I the only one that kinda liked the two-car "Dance"?). This year there is yet another new change. You can still push the guy in front of BUT you can only push him from a certain angle and from a certain side. Something that seemed doable in practice but totally impractical with 41 other cars massed together. Who thought that was a good idea? NASCAR did and NASCAR knows best. They "know" that the fans like pack racing and they "know" fans love "the big one". WELL...I DON'T like "the big one". Maybe if it was just one "the big one" that would be OK but when there are four or five "the big ones", the race runs way too long and all of the strategy of pit stops, fuel management and the long runs that separate the "men from the boys" goes out the window.

What had shaped up to be a potential 3-hour ratings bonanza for FOX was now going to push 4 hours and risk losing potential audience for the finish. The snickers had started and the "rednecks" going in circles jokes started to fly.

Then...there was Juan Pablo Montoya, the Whirling Dervish from Colombia. You know the story. Too fast for caution conditions with a car that obviously had mechanical problems and BOOM. The largest fireball I have seen since the old Formula 1 days. NASCAR was lucky that no one was seriously injured by stupidity on the national stage.

Four hours became six hours. Monday became Tuesday and only the masochistic race fans were still tuned in at one o'clock am.

Yes, NASCAR is getting a lot of press today but not the press that they wanted or that this sport deserves.

I love the spectacle of the Daytona 500 but Monday/Tuesday NASCAR made a spectacle of themselves. NASCAR should not be deciding how the drivers race. You will never be considered a world class sport until you let the competitors determine the level of competition.

Oh, and run more short tracks!!!

ĽNOTEĽ Early rating results were very good (So for that I will eat some crow). The prime-time numbers were almost double what FOX normally draws with their House/Alcatraz block. Keep in mind there has not yet been a public accounting of the revenue lost by local affiliates who lost their 7-8 program block and their local news programming. I still stand by my assessment that after the debacle of Daytona, FOX programmers are probably not sitting around a table this week making plans for "Monday Night Racing". I have misjudged network decisions before and may be wrong about this. After all, that's how we got "Jersey Shore" and "The Kardashians"

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