Kligerman: NASCAR has a niche to scratch, and Kyle Larson is the key

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Earlier this week, we were treated to a man telling us, NASCAR has an “identity problem” for a website that carries the very name of this nation. To keep us on our toes, he made sure to misspell three of the NASCAR drivers’ names that he thought weren’t compelling enough, and therefore are creating this problem.

I mean, nothing shows effort, thought, and understanding like a good misspelling or three. So Mr. Dawn Rindsorrrnurngfierhgud (I hope that is how you spell your name because I can’t be bothered to use Google right now), you’re wrong.

See, NASCAR certainly has problems. It is no mystery that empty stands and declining TV ratings aren’t a mark of good health. But it would be misinformed to say, as a direct result, it has lost its identity.

NASCAR does not have an identity problem, it has a niche problem.

And this is where I think you just were using the wrong word. You even mention that the whole entertainment world is fighting an embarrassment of options. Anyone with a cellphone and an Internet connection can be considered an “entertainer,” which means that consumers only will continue to fragment and fracture into small niches of interest.

How do I know this? Because it’s been happening for more than a decade. For example, let’s take a look at network TV shows.

On May 6th, 2004, the TV show “Friends” would conclude in front of an audience of 65.9 million people on NBC, ranking fourth on the all-time list of most-watched scripted entertainment broadcasts in U.S. history. It also holds the distinction of the only scripted TV show to crack the top 10 in viewers past 1999.

And in a rare stretch of coincidence, one year after the show about the endearing group of 20-something friends in NYC concluded, NASCAR would have what is considered to be its most-watched season in 2005.

Since then, the network TV world has been picked, ripped and cable-bundled to a loosely recognizable version of its 2004-self. From the advent of cable channels flooding people’s homes to the revelation of a DVR that suddenly allowed people to choose when to watch their favorite programs. Now you have the on-demand and binge-TV of the Netflix, Amazon Primes, and Hulus of the world.

The result in 2016 was the most-watched scripted network TV show was “The Big Bang Theory” at 19.9 million viewers — a far cry from the record-setting late ‘90s and early 2000’s.

Oh, and even the live TV juggernaut of the NFL lost 9 percent of its viewership in 2016.

We are living in a quickly changing media landscape, and we will be forced to accept “new normals.” No longer are many things, if anything, going to garner the interest of a massive section of the public. There just are too many choices.

I know someone who thinks of Busch Beer as a metaphor for an outsized personality will struggle with what I am about to say. But the dominant age demographic in the United States, Millennials, are adopting to this new world of endless choice with open arms.

Because of this, NASCAR needs to avoid anything that connects it to something else.

It should not care if a football fan knows the name of its latest new star. Or if baseball fan Jenny from down the block puts Ryan Blaney posters on her wall.

It actually should love it if they don’t. Because it is not football. It is not baseball. It is racing.

The only fans to whom NASCAR should appeal, cater and pander?

Racing fans. Because that is the niche, and it should aim to be the biggest, most beloved and well-known form within the racing niche.

But how does NASCAR grow in this niche?

By going to where racing fans already are. Like the dirt-track scene. There are thought to be more than 700 active dirt tracks in the country. Each Saturday night, they have crowds ranging from the low hundreds to thousands.

Now for many reasons, the Cup Series can’t go to many of these tracks itself. But the drivers that end up becoming stars in the Cup Series can — and they can bring the fans from those tracks back to NASCAR.

The poster child for catering to this niche? Kyle Larson.

A Millennial who fought and clawed his way into victory lanes across the dry dirt of the Wild West, wheeling 800-plus horsepower monsters sideways — inches from concrete and metal walls — in front of thousands of adoring dirt fans.

He took those skills and rose to the top rung of the American racing world, bringing many adoring fans in the process. And now when he simply could spend his weekday evenings drinking Captain and Diet Cokes, he makes sure his multimillion-dollar contract allows him to continue to race at these dusty speed bowls.

Why? For the fans.

Which is why he recently pleaded for the rest of his fellow NASCAR stars to do the same. Because the fans of these dirt tracks, short tracks and obscure forms of racing are whom NASCAR needs.

NASCAR does not need to be shouting into a vast and ever-expanding void of the entertainment world, trying to impress anyone and everyone, looking for purpose or identity.

That would be an entirely fruitless endeavor.

It needs to be targeting and appealing to the niche of racing fans who are not yet paying attention to NASCAR.

And a young, talented, drive-anything-anywhere driver such as Kyle Larson is just the man for the job.

Bristol Truck race results, driver points

Bristol Truck race results
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Sam Mayer scored his first career NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series win Thursday night. The 17-year-old finished ahead of GMS Racing teammate Brett Moffitt.

Mayer is the youngest driver to win a Truck race at Bristol.

Tanner Gray placed third and was followed by Parker Kligerman and Chandler Smith.

Gray’s finished tied a career high. Kligerman’s finish was his best this season.

Trevor Bayne crossed the finish line fifth but his truck was disqualified for failing post-race heights in inspection.

The next race in the playoffs is Sept. 25 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Click here for race results

POINTS

Brett Moffitt leads the points after the opening race in the first round of the playoffs. He leads Sheldon Creed by nine points. Zane Smith trails Moffitt by 12 points.

Click here for points report

17-year-old Sam Mayer wins first NASCAR Truck race

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
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Sam Mayer passed GMS Racing teammate Brett Moffitt with 30 laps to go and went on to score his first career NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series win Thursday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The victory came in the seventh career Truck start for the 17-year-old Mayer. The win also came a few days after JR Motorsports announced that Mayer would drive for the team in the second half of the 2021 Xfinity Series, once he turns 18.

“I love this place,” Mayer told FS1 after the 200-lap race. “I don’t know what to say.”

Mayer was helped by having tires that were 52 laps fresher than Moffitt’s tires.

MORE: Race results 

Mayer is not competing in the playoffs and does not advance to the second round. He said he has two more Truck races left to run this season.

Mayer followed his Truck win by taking the checkered flag in the ARCA Menards Series race that followed Thursday night.

Moffitt, who is competing in the playoffs, finished second. He was followed by Tanner Gray and Parker Kligerman.

Trevor Bayne finished fifth but his Truck was disqualified after the race for failing inspection. His truck failed post-race heights. Chandler Smith finished fifth after Bayne’s disqualification.

Moffitt was one of only four playoff drivers to finish in the top 10. Grant Enfinger was sixth. Tyler Ankrum placed seventh. Matt Crafton was 10th.

Mayer is the second youngest winner in series history. Cole Custer is the youngest winner in series history. Custer was 16 years, 7 months, 28 days when he won in Sept. 2014 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Mayer becomes the youngest Truck winner at Bristol at 17 years, 2 months, 22 days. Ryan Blaney had held that record, winning a 2015 race there at age 21 years, 4 months, 19 days.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Brett Moffitt

STAGE 2 WINNER: Tyler Ankrum

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Tanner Gray’s third-place finish tied his career best. He finished third at Michigan earlier this season. … Parker Kligerman’s fourth-place finish is his best of the season while running a limited schedule.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Austin Hill finished 26th, worst among the playoff drivers. He had contact on Lap 2 with Stewart Friesen.

NOTABLE: Trevor Bayne said that four weeks ago he didn’t know if he would be racing again at Bristol. He crossed the finish line fifth but his truck failed inspection after the race and was disqualified.

NEXT: The second race of the opening round of the playoffs is at 9 p.m. ET Sept. 25 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Texas Motor Speedway to host polling site for election

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Residents and race fans in parts of North Texas will be able to cast their vote in the upcoming election at their local NASCAR track.

Texas Motor Speedway will be a polling site for the Nov. 3 election.

The track, owned by Speedway Motorsports, will serve as a polling site for the residents of Precinct 4048. That precinct includes a large portion of Denton County and Forth Worth, Texas.

The polling site will be in the Lone Star Tower Condominium Clubhouse just outside Turn 2. It will be open from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. ET on election day.

More: Upcoming Cup playoffs races can fans attend

“In anticipation of a very high voter turnout for the presidential election, we have been working for months to acquire polling sites throughout the county,” Frank Phillips, Denton County Elections Administrator, said in a press release. “We are excited that Texas Motor Speedway has offered the use of the Lone Star Tower Clubhouse as a polling site.”

Local, state and CDC guidelines will be followed to ensure a sanitized, safe and socially distanced voter experience.

TMS is the first track that hosts NASCAR Cup races to announce its plans for use as a polling site. It joins sporting venues for other major sports in doing so.

A number of NBA arenas and practice facilities will be voting locations, as well as select NFL stadiums and NHL arenas.

Travis Pastrana, Conor Daly set for Las Vegas Truck Series race

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Action sports star Travis Pastrana and IndyCar driver Conor Daly are teaming up with Niece Motorsports to compete in the upcoming Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

With the backing of iRacing, who made the announcement Thursday, the duo will drive the No. 42 and No. 45 Chevrolets in the Sept. 25 race.

Pastrana and Daly’s involvement is a continuation of their rivalry in the LCQ League, a private iRacing league featuring motorsports and action sports legends having fun in cars from all disciplines.

For Pastrana, a former Roush Fenway Racing driver, it will be his fifth career Truck start and his second of the year after he competed in the July 25 race at Kansas Speedway. He finished 22nd.

“I’m really looking forward to bringing our rivalry from the LCQ League to the real world,” Pastrana said in a press release. “We’ve been getting lots of advice and iRacing on-track coaching from fellow LCQ member Parker Kligerman. I’m looking forward to seeing how the hours in iRacing pay off on the track, especially for Conor who has never driven a NASCAR truck in real life. He might be the first person in history to jump into a professional racing series and take the green flag without so much as a single practice lap in real life! Conor is a phenomenal IndyCar driver and a quick learner so I think he will surprise a lot of people.”

It will be the first Truck Series start for Daly, who has 61 IndyCar starts since 2013. Daly made his NASCAR debut in 2018 at Road America driving for Roush in the Xfinity Series.

“I could not be more excited to jump in a Gander Outdoor Series truck for the first time ever in Las Vegas!” Daly said in a press release “This will be one of the greatest challenges I’ve ever faced in my career as it will be the first event I’ve ever done where I’ve never driven a single lap in the Chevy Silverado before taking the green flag for the race. Travis and I have been going head to head on iRacing getting as much practice as possible since that’s the best possible form of preparation we have!