NASCAR started the 2010 season on Valentine's Day in Daytona with high hopes and the battle cry of "let 'em race." The sanctioning body was coming off the success of the previous year with double file restarts and the future promise of standard start times and the exchange of the wing for a spoiler.
Yet in spite of the high hopes for 2010, NASCAR has already encountered significant problems just three races into the new race season. One of the most bizarre challenges occurred during the first race on NASCAR's biggest stage, the Daytona 500, when a major pothole delayed the race and literally took hours to repair.
Television ratings showed that viewers wandered from the sport's "Super Bowl" simply because of the lengthy red flags while the track was being repaired, not just once but twice. Drivers may have appreciated the breaks from the intense bump drafting of Daytona, but fans just tuned out instead.
NASCAR then went on to the second race of the 2010 season at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. As always, the attention at this track was on the attendance, or rather the lack thereof.
While Gillian Zucker, the intrepid track promoter for Auto Club Speedway, tried to put the best face on the attendance, the reality was unavoidable. At best, at least half of the seats were empty, undoubtedly putting that track in the category of vulnerable to losing one of its two races in the future.
The traveling circus that is NASCAR then went on to the third race of the season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The desert race, usually sunny and warm in Sin City, was instead rainy for the Nationwide race, with several delays for weather, and downright chilly for the Cup race on Sunday.
There also appeared to be some kind of gremlin plaguing the Las Vegas track as the caution lights came on inexplicably during green flag racing. This led to confusion a few times where drivers weren't sure whether to race or slow down.
For NASCAR, there are driver challenges as well in the first few races of the season. While the sport, especially the Nationwide Series, has gotten a great ratings bump with Danica Patrick joining the Nationwide racing fray, she has been wrecked in every one of the three races in which she has participated to date.
Patrick is now officially out of the NASCAR scene, moving back to her Indy car ride. She will not return to the stock car track until her Indy Series season is over later this summer.
Another challenging driver issue for NASCAR so far is the failure of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to show significant improvement in 2010. While Junior has qualified well, he has fallen back in the pack as the race wore on, whether from problems in the pits to mechanical problems with the car.
While Junior nation remains frustrated, Jimmie Johnson continues his domination. He and his crew chief Chad Knaus have remained consistent in their domination, winning the first Gatorade Duel race, as well as the Fontana and Las Vegas races.
From Jimmie Johnson domination to potholes and caution lights, NASCAR has indeed faced many challenges even though the season is quite young. Time will tell if the season of challenges will continue in 2010.
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