Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Iowa And Getting A Cup Race

The Iowa Speedway is a 3/4-mile oval identical to Richmond International Raceway, built by Rusty Wallace as such and later sold to the Clement family, owners of the Featherlite trailers company. The track has drawn Indycar races as well as NASCAR's Nationwide and Truck tours, the NASCAR East and West series, ARCA, and other smaller tours. The most competitive race in its history came in September 2006 involving the Pro Cup stock car series; in a green-white-checker finish Woody Howard fought off Daniel Johnson for the win after 11 yellows and 25 lead changes. In May 2007 a combination East-West 200-lapper was won by Joey Logano. But the most famous finish in the track's history came in 2011 when Ricky Stenhouse won despite blowing up and getting blasted in the back by Carl Edwards.

 There has been some commentary advocating that Iowa Speedway be given at least one Winston Cup date. Commentary has become outright effort as Iowa legislators have included $8 million over four years to be spent on upgrades to the speedway in an effort to attract the Sprint Cup Series there. The bill hasn't passed the Iowa House as of yet, but state Senator William Dotzler is pretty spirited in advocating including Iowa on the Winston Cup tour.

Such advocacy of course isn't new - Rusty Wallace presumably had Cup in mind when he built the track.   Yet when one considers adding Iowa to the Cup tour, the arguments for it really aren't that impressive.

Of the speedways in racing in general and NASCAR in particular, short tracks - contrary to the argument pushed by their advocates - have never been the best venues for stock car racing.   At a local level they certainly work well such as for places like Thompson Speedway, Stafford Speedway, etc.   At the Cup or even Nationwide and Truck level they create attention more for the wrong reasons (crashes) than the right ones (good racing).   In NASCAR history when one examines the 50-plus most competitive races ever, the only short track race that makes the list is the 1991 Southeastern 500 at Bristol, a chaotic and competitive affair thanks to a one-race-only pitstop and restart procedure coming out of that season's aborted rule banning tire changes under yellow. The lead changed 41 times on double-file restarts and Rusty Wallace lost two laps on two occasions before making them up and beating Ernie Irvan by six feet.

Not that the short tracks otherwise haven't produced some memorable moments, but overall they just don't produce  memorable racing, and this is inherent in their size and design.   Even Richmond Raceway has had good moments but generally has not had great races even though it has ample room to race on. 

The argument is often made that short tracks are less dependent on aero than bigger tracks, except this has never been true; there has never been a case of an aerodynamically inferior racecar winning short track races. 

Adding Iowa to the Cup schedule also opens the debate about whether a track should lose a Cup date.   Some of these tracks simply do not have markets that are all that stout, notably Martinsville - lack of a credible racing market is why the Rockingham track, despite commendable work by Andy Hillinberg, will not acquire Cup racing ever again barring an unlikely strengthening of that demographic.   The Fontana track is often ripped for lack of a demographic, and it had two Cup dates but lost the date in September-October; the Atlanta and Darlington tracks already lost dates, and the way the sanctioning body has maneuvered the schedule it's gotten to where they really can't take a date away from a track - and speedway fratricide is never good for the sport. 

There would of course be complaints if Iowa was added as an extra date, but at this point even with the decline in popularity of the sport, demand for it is such that NASCAR may have no choice but to add dates.

There is one other angle worth commentary because it deals with tracks such as Nashville and St. Louis that no longer race at all and further explains why Iowa wants a Cup date - NASCAR's TV rights package for Cup, which pays billions for Cup but reportedly pays little more than metaphorical pennies for any other series.   The Nationwide Series is not broadcast by anyone except ESPN while the Trucks are limited to what is now SPEED Channel; why NASCAR doesn't invest more than it presently does into these series (or put them up for television bid) is baffling, since they can be more valuable competition properties if NASCAR would treat them as such as thus better deal with demand for racing.   It should not have come to the point that the St. Louis and Nashville tracks had to close because of lack of Cup dates, especially after in 2010 the St. Louis track saw a spirited battle for the lead before the most vicious crash in NASCAR in awhile.

So Iowa will get advocacy for NASCAR to add it to the Cup schedule.   But one should not blindly assume it deserves it.

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