NASCAR 2012: Did Biffle's Win at Texas Do More to Hurt the Series Than Help?
Greg Biffle's held off Jimmie Johnson on Saturday night to win the Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway by more than three seconds. No one else was even close.
It was the most boring race I've watched in years and that's not what NASCAR really needs in a down economy where fan dollars are hard enough to come by.
Don't get me wrong, Biffle's move on Lap 303 to steal the lead was a thing of beauty. He hunted "Five Time" for many laps, drawing Johnson in as the former champ struggled with lapped traffic. When he got the lead, he forced Johnson to use up what was left of his car trying to keep pace.
Ultimately, Johnson smacked the wall and did just enough damage to take away his handling and force him to slow off the pace.
The problem is, from that point forward, the race was pretty well over. There was little reason to watch, other than to pray for a caution that would bunch the crowd again and make a more exciting finish.
Mark Martin brought home a very respectable third-place finish, but was nearly 10 seconds behind the leader. Jeff Gordon's fourth-place finish was likewise impressive if not for the fact that he was over 10.5 seconds behind the Biff.
When the checkered flag waved on Biffle, there were only 12 drivers still on the lead lap. There had been only two caution flags the entire three hours of racing.
Perhaps it sounds like I'm just a whiny punk with the attention span of a gnat that would rather see a demolition derby at 200 miles per hour. That's only partly true.
Actually, I'm much too old to be considered a "punk" and I can still focus long enough to read an entire Stephen King novel without needing a nap or a video-game break. Well, usually...
I don't watch for the wrecks (necessarily). I watch for the drama. I watch for the race off pit road and how one mistake can derail an otherwise fantastic finish.
I watch for the last-lap passes and green-white-checker finishes. I watch to see guys play cat-and-mouse for 490 miles just to spring the trap on their competition in the final 10. I watch to see drivers dive way low into the curve and hope to make it stick. I watch to see how crew chiefs can take a sick-handling car, adjust on it, and make it drive like cat with its tail on fire by the end of the race.
I don't watch to see 100 miles of racing followed by 400 miles of cars chasing each other around a circle. I don't think I'm alone in this.
They say the economy is recovering. Personally, I don't see it, but I'm not a financial analyst. I'm a sports analyst and what I know about sport is that it's reliant solely on expendable income and sponsorship.
Without fans parting with that expendable income, sponsorships dry up and the sport dies. It's incredibly simplistic, but true all the same.
Fans want to be entertained. Let's face it, in today's world you have to provide constant drama or the channel gets changed pretty quickly. The world moves faster than Roush-Fenway's Fords and if you don't keep things interesting, people move on without you.
NASCAR really didn't need this. Biffle needed it. Johnson needed it. Gordon needed it more than either of the other two. But NASCAR didn't need it.
There's really no way to spin Saturday night's race to make it more interesting. Biffle's win made a pretty strong statement toward his championship aspirations and Gordon's top-five showed that he's not going to go away just because he's had a run of bad luck.
But really, it was so...boring.
NASCAR'S popularity was built on rubbing fenders and feuding in the pits. It hit the main stream thanks to a fight at Daytona and built its way up on the back of an "Intimidator," an heir and plenty of shoving matches that kept fans coming back for more.
What happened to Gordon versus Kenseth or Burton? What happened to Busch versus Harvick? What happened to "rubbing son, is racing?" How about Stewart versus virtually everyone else?
Those things might still be hiding in the background, waiting for the right track and right situation to bust out and get back to the forefront. Texas wasn't it.
For a sport that's competing with every other athletic event for fans' money and attention, Saturday was a bigger disaster than if half the field had wrecked out of the race. It didn't just fail to live up to the billing, it failed to be even remotely entertaining.
And that's just bad business. But I'm no expert.
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