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Kligerman: How Is NASCAR doing? I don’t know (but turning left doesn’t make me dizzy)

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In reference to my fervent love of racing and cars, my dad always told me growing up that “You don’t want to be the person at a dinner party with only one thing to talk about.”

Racing and cars were all I talked about and all I cared about. But as much as I brushed it off at the time, I must admit he was right. I heeded his advice and now can talk fluently about many different racing series and NASCAR.

At least, I think that is the case, because that’s all anyone wants to talk to me about.

Whether I’m at a dinner party or a basement bar in Brooklyn, when the conversation lulls, the topic becomes racing. No matter how hard I try to shift the conversation, to no avail, I will end up answering, “So do you ever get dizzy going in circles for hours?”

And I am not complaining. This is to be expected, being one of possibly one who races and works in NASCAR and auto racing … and lives in the greater New York metropolitan area. This isn’t a topic many in the area are given a chance to broach, let alone converse with a living, breathing person about it.

And it shows, when the next most popular conversation pieces are, “What would happen if you went right?” “Do you pee in the car?” “How fast do you go?” “What’s the fastest you have gone?” “If an F1 car raced a NASCAR, who would win?”

“Is it even hard to drive in NASCAR? I drove my road car ‘X’ over the speed limit, and it wasn’t hard.”

Close your eyes for a second, and you could be excused for thinking you actually were in a 3rd-grade career day. Most of the time, I relish the opportunity to convince a potential new fan on the merits of auto racing, as if it’s instruction straight from the Bible to spread scripture.

Except I’m trying to spread the gospel of speed.

But there are times I would rather lop off one of my big toes. Usually, it involves a young man who is convinced that money is the only gospel in life. So he works 13 hours a day inside a cubicle on a high floor in Manhattan, living off antacid and ADHD pills and usually under the all-encompassing job description of “finance,” which is a direct byword for “insecure, Excel sheet drone.”

This guy will make horrible NASCAR joke after joke until I do what is advisable in any situation of this type: Knock him out. (Kidding. I walk away and buy myself a drink.)

But lately, a very intriguing question has been recurring: “How is NASCAR doing?”

And it’s spoken in the same reverential tones reserved for inquiring about an absent relative. As if I’ll respond, “Well, they got their latest checkup, and all is well there! They also recently lost their dog, but he was very old so it wasn’t terribly sad. They will love to know you asked about them. I’ll send your regards!”

The thing is, NASCAR is not a living being. It’s an organization of thousands. A traveling circus roaming the continental United States like a cast of gypsies all with different acts and goals. To cover everyone under one broad brush would be ill-advised at best.

But I know what is meant by those who ask. This type of person has read the articles. They’ve heard the rumblings and seen the TV ratings. Their cousin was a fan and no longer is. They had a connection to it that peaked in the heyday of  2005. And since then, they haven’t paid attention. They admit to being a bit naive. They want the God’s honest truth.

I want to give them the truth.

So I bring up all the reasons to be optimistic. I mention there is massive support on social media, that everything is cyclical, that autonomous cars are too far away to affect the sport. The Daytona 500 was sold out. There still are sponsors signing on for millions. But eventually they stop me and say, “Oh, OK, I just heard that…” and I reply, “I know what you’ve heard. It is what is.”

The reason they cut me off is they know I’m lying to them.

The truth is, I don’t know. No one knows. If someone did, then I hope they would use that type of power to cure cancer, or end global hunger. And add that you would have to identify what exactly are the underlying reasons, which seems an impossible task in itself.

Ask any number of people, whether fans or those working in the sport, “What are the biggest challenges facing NASCAR?” And you will receive exactly that many different answers.

So especially for someone such as myself who makes a living off of the sport, it would seem odd to be so ill-informed, to not have it all figured out. But not when you realize that in my line of work, you have the shelf-life of an avocado.

I love race cars. I love cars. I love auto racing in all shapes and forms. I’ve come to realize I don’t care if millions of others care or four others care. But I always will be excited by a manic finish such as we had at the Daytona 500 this year.

I always will feel a sense of euphoria from a whiff of racing fuel. The more I simply focus on my enjoyment level, and less on how many others also enjoy it, the more I actually enjoy it.

Therefore, I am going to start answering the question “How is NASCAR doing?” with “Great! Everything’s great.”

So then I can get back to letting the naive know  that believe it or not, you do not get dizzy driving in circles.

 

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kevin Harvick. His first oval win since Kansas Speedway a year ago validates the team’s 1.5-mile speed in the playoffs.

Dustin Long

Kyle Busch. Mark it down, he wins and advances to the next round to continue his quest for a second title.

Daniel McFadin

Martin Truex Jr. keeps his foot on the throat of the competition and gets his sixth win of the year at a 1.5-mile track.

Jerry Bonkowski

Kyle Larson is starting 13th but expect him to get to the top five within the first 20-30 laps. He needs a strong run to give him momentum heading into the Round of 8 and he gets it Sunday.

Furniture Row Racing crew member dies of heart attack

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas – James “Jim” Watson, a fabricator for Furniture Row Racing, died Saturday night after suffering a heart attack, the team stated Sunday morning. Watson was 55.

A native of Greenfield, Wisconsin, Watson had been a member of Furniture Row Racing since February. He worked for Roush Fenway Racing from 2006-15 and spent last season with HScott Motorsports. He was a long-time racer, competing in dirt late models and asphalt super late models throughout Southeast Wisconsin.

Watson was with the team this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

He is survived by wife Laurie and daughter Brittany.

“On behalf of Furniture Row Racing we extend our deepest sympathies to Jim’s family,” said Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing. “He was an outstanding and talented member of our racing family, whose life was dedicated to racing since his early days as a race-car driver in Wisconsin. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jim’s wife Laurie, daughter Brittany and to his entire family and friends. Our No. 77 and 78 teams will be racing with heavy hearts today.”

Ryan Blaney ready to prove doubters wrong

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — Ryan Blaney has a bit of a chip on his shoulder this weekend.

The 23-year-old driver for the Wood Brothers seeks to hold off three former champions today at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) for a spot in the next round of the Cup playoffs.

Even though former champions Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth trail Blaney in the points, some say Blaney won’t hold them off and advance to the Round of 8.

“I’ve heard that all week that we don’t really deserve to be here, so that kind of ticked me off a little bit,’’ Blaney said Friday after qualifying.

“They just say we’ve been kind of overachieving or they didn’t expect us to be here. Those little things kind of make you a little bit irritated because our guys do just as good a job as anybody. They deserve to be here. They work their tails off like anybody else. Hopefully, we can prove that Sunday.’’

MORE: Wood Brothers lifeline started with a phone call

Blaney’s job, though, will be more difficult. He will start last in the 40-car field because his car failed inspection after qualifying. Kenseth (third), Busch (seventh) and Johnson (13th) all start in the top 15 and should be able to work their way into the top 10 to score stage points by Lap 80 when the first stage ends. Blaney will be challenged to do so and could see his advantage on each shrink. 

There’s hope for Blaney because he posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s final Cup practice. But he ranked ninth in average over 10 consecutive laps — behind Busch and Kenseth.

“There’s definitely things we can improve on,’’ Blaney said after placing third in Saturday’s Xfinity race. “(In the Cup race) everyone is going to be kind of married to the wall pretty early in a run. It might be hard to pass. Hopefully, we can work the bottom. I think the Cup cars might wear the top out, might over-rubber it where we have to move down a little bit.’’

With starting in the rear of the field, changing weather conditions (the wind is not expected to be as prevalent today as Saturday) and facing an elimination race, it would be easy for the pressure build on a driver and team.

“I really don’t feel that it’s a different weekend,’’ he said, alluding to the battle for the final playoff spots. “More people are paying attention to it because it’s a big deal. There’s four cars pretty much going for two spots. We try to approach it as any other weekend. It will be more challenging coming from the back.’’

Along with starting at the rear for the penalty, Blaney’s team had to pick last for pit stalls for failing inspection after qualifying.

His team would have had the third pick and he would have had an opening either before or after his stall, making it easier to either enter or exit. Now, he’ll be sandwiched between Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Provided both stay on the lead lap, Blaney could face challenges squeezing into his stall throughout the race.

“It doesn’t help our situation for sure,’’ Blaney said. “Those are two good cars. We’ll kind of be pitched between them all day. Dale actually sent me a text. Teams work well with each other about that. That will be tough for us. That will be another challenge.’’

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Today’s Cup race at Kansas: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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It’s once again elimination time in the NASCAR Cup Series.

The playoff field will be cut from 12 to eight drivers following today’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr. will be looking to earn his sixth win on a 1.5-mile track this year. He won the last visit to Kansas Speedway in May.

Here’s all the important info you need ahead of the race, which will air on NBCSN.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Jay Hernandez will give the command to start engines at 3:07 p.m. Green flag is scheduled for 3:16 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 267 laps (400 miles) around the 1.5-mile oval.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 80. Stage 2 ends at Lap 160.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 30

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 9:30 a.m. Driver-crew chief meeting is at 1 p.m. Driver introductions are at 2:20 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Angie Rosner will perform the anthem at 3:01 p.m..

TV/RADIO:  NBCSN will broadcast the race at 3 p.m. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. on NBCSN with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 2:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race on radio and at mrn.com, starting with its pre-race show at 2 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts a temperature of 67 degrees and no chance of rain at race time.

LAST TIME: Martin Truex Jr. led the final 19 laps to win in May. He beat Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick. Harvick is the defending winner of this race. He beat Carl Edwards and Joey Logano last October.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for starting lineup