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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.

 

Cup Series Thursday night racing factoids

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When it comes to 1.5-mile tracks like Charlotte Motor Speedway, no one driver is getting comfortable in Victory Lane.

Entering tonight’s 310-mile race at Charlotte (7 p.m. ET on FS1), the second Cup race in five days on the oval, the series has seen eight different winners in the last eight visits to a 1.5-mile track.

That streak dates back to June 2019 when Alex Bowman earned his first career Cup Series win in a race at Chicagoland Speedway.

Between that race and Brad Keselowski’s win in the Coca-Cola 600, winners on 1.5-mile tracks included: Kurt Busch (Kentucky), Martin Truex Jr. (Las Vegas), Denny Hamlin (Kansas), Kevin Harvick (Texas), Kyle Busch (Miami) and Joey Logano (Las Vegas).

The Cup Series hasn’t seen a stretch of parity like that on 1.5-mile tracks since 2011, when the last eight 1.5-mile races were won by a different driver.

Here are some other interesting tidbits heading into tonight’s race.

Jimmie Johnson is entering his 37th and likely final Cup Series points start on the Charlotte oval. His eight points race wins and four All-Star Race wins there lead all drivers.

– Johnson has led 1,936 laps on the Charlotte oval, second most all-time to Bobby Allison (2,338).

– Hendrick Motorsports has 19 points wins at Charlotte by seven different drivers. That number of drivers is tied for the most all-time. Hendrick has seven different winners at Pocono and Talladega. Wood Brothers Racing has seven different winners at Daytona.

– Joe Gibbs Racing has 21 Cup wins since the start of 2019, which is 49% of races. Denny Hamlin has eight of those wins, which leads all drivers. Team Penske is second with nine wins.

– Tonight’s Cup race at Charlotte is scheduled for 208 laps. Only two races at Charlotte were scheduled for less laps and both were qualifying races in 1961 at 67 laps each for the 1961 World 600.

 

Jeff Burton joins Mike Tirico on Lunch Talk Live on NBCSN

Lunch Talk Live
NBC Sports
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NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton will be on today’s Lunch Talk Live with host Mike Tirico. Today’s show airs at noon ET on NBCSN.

Also on Thursday’s show will be Supercross points leader Eli Tomac.

“Lunch Talk Live” focuses on the current state of the sports world and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, providing guests with a platform to discuss the state of sports, voice their personal stories and detail how they are adapting their daily lives during this challenging time.

You can also watch the show online here.

Today’s scheduled guests are:

  • Noon – Robbie Earle, Premier League on NBC
  • 12:05 p.m. – Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians manager
  • 12:15 p.m. – Chris Simms, FNIA/PFT/Unbuttoned/Notre Dame
  • 12:30 p.m. – Jeff Burton, NASCAR on NBC
  • 12:40 p.m. – Chris Mullin, Basketball Hall of Famer
  • 12:50 p.m. – Eli Tomac, Supercross current points leader

NASCAR adjusts Xfinity Dash 4 Cash schedule

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NASCAR announced changes to the Xfinity Series Dash 4 Cash races on Thursday.

Here is the schedule:

June 1 – Bristol Motor Speedway (will determine four eligible drivers for first Dash 4 Cash event)

June 6 – Atlanta Motor Speedway (Dash 4 Cash event No. 1)

June 14 – Homestead-Miami Speedway (Dash 4 Cash event No. 2)

June 20 – Talladega Superspeedway (Dash 4 Cash event No. 3)

TBA – Next scheduled Xfinity series race after Talladega (Dash 4 Cash event No. 4)

Each Dash 4 Cash event will have four eligible drivers racing for the $100,000 bonus.

The driver who wins the bonus advances to the next Dash 4 Cash event. The next three-highest finishing Xfinity Series drivers eligible for the series title, qualify for the next Dash 4 Cash race.

Previously, Miami was to have served as the qualifying race and was to be followed by Dash 4 Cash races at Texas, Bristol, Talladega and Dover. All those events were postponed because of the COIVD-19 pandemic.

Cup, Xfinity entry lists for Bristol Motor Speedway

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Almost two months it was originally scheduled, NASCAR will finally hold its first Bristol Motor Speedway race weekend of the year.

The Cup and Xfinity Series continue their marathon of races this weekend. The Cup Series will race on Sunday and the Xfinity Series will compete Monday night.

Here are the entry lists for this weekend’s races.

Cup – Food City presents the Supermarket Heroes 500 (3:30 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox)

Forty cars are entered into the race.

JJ Yeley is entered in Tommy Baldwin Racing’s No. 7 Chevrolet.

Gray Gaulding is entered in Rick Ware Racing’s 27 Ford.

Kyle Busch won this race last year over his brother Kurt Busch.

Denny Hamlin won last year’s night race over Matt DiBenedetto.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – Cheddar’s 300 (7 p.m. ET Monday on FS1)

There are 37 cars entered.

Modified driver Patrick Emerling will make his Xfinity Series debut in Our Motorsports’ No. 02 Chevrolet. Brett Moffitt drove the car in the first six races of the season.

Carson Ware makes his Xfinity Series debut driving SS Green Light Racing’s No. 07 Chevrolet.

A.J. Allmendinger is entered in Kaulig Racing’s No. 16 Chevrolet.

Myatt Snider is entered in Richard Childress Racing’s No. 21 Chevrolet.

Christopher Bell won this race last year over Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer. Chase Briscoe, who finished fourth, is the highest finishing returning driver from that race.

Reddick won last year’s night race over Briscoe and John Hunter Nemechek.

Click here for the entry list.