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NASCAR Chicagoland postscript

by Dave Grayson
Wednesday, September 18, 2013

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Jimmie Johnson stops for tires and fuel in front of near empty Chicagoland grandstands
Getty Images for NASCAR
It was an extremely brutal week for NASCAR officials and their Sprint Cup teams. It was a week that, following the Richmond race, saw officials having to address the fall out from inappropriate activity that altered the outcome of that race as well as the seeding of the line up for the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup. Adding to the frustration was severe rain that greatly altered the schedule at the Chicagoland Speedway, the site of the first of the ten Chase events. 

However, despite all of the distraction that came with a genuine public relations quagmire, NASCAR took care of business and the 2013 Chase began. The bottom line of any motorsports event is the numbers it generates. The September 15th GEICO 400 at Chicagoland did indeed submit some rather impressive, not to mention interesting, numbers.

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22: Coming off of a final restart, with 22 laps remaining in the race,  Matt Kenseth made his winning move over Joe Gibbs Racing team mate Kyle Busch to win the GEICO 400.

89: Driving a well prepared Toyota Camry, backed with good pit road support, Kenseth led a race high 89 laps.

6: Kenseth scored his series high sixth win of the 2013 season.

30: It was also Kenseth's 30th Sprint Cup career win.

334,891: This was the number on the winner's check Kenseth received for winning the GEICO 400.

8: Kenseth begins the 2013 Chase with a lead of eight points over team mate Kyle Busch.

1600: That's the amount of total engine horsepower race runner up Kyle Busch said his team mate Matt Kenseth had during the final restart of the race. After the race Busch noted that Kenseth received a push from Kevin Harvick that helped him take the lead following the final restart and said: "that's 1600 horsepower versus 800 horsepower." 

1.3: This is Kyle Busch's average finish ratio for the NASCAR weekend at the Chicagoland Speedway. All three of NASCAR's national touring series were racing in Chicago. Busch won the Friday night Camping World Truck Series event and then, one night later, completely dominated the Nationwide Series event, leading 195 of 200 laps, and then completed the trifecta with his second place finish in the Sprint Cup event. All of this activity took place during a period of approximately 48 hours. Most impressive numbers indeed.

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5: The number of lug nuts that were tightened, during an early race pit stop, on a tire belonging to Jimmie Johnson's #48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

4. The number of lug nuts that a NASCAR pit official thought were tightened. Under the impression that the fifth lug nut was left loose, a pit road penalty was declared. This, of course, was an inadvertent incorrect call that, thankfully, rarely happens. Johnson's pit road angst struck again later in the race when the team's jack collapsed and broke during the pit stop. Despite the huge loss of track position, from both situations, Johnson charged his way through the field to a fifth place finish. That's how championship teams handles adversity.

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7. This is the number of teams who had to take a DNF, (Did Not Finish), due to severe engine problems. It was believed by many that the five hour plus rain delay was devastating on some of these engines. It prompted ESPN Television analyst Ray Evernham to comment: " sometimes when an engine is woke up after a long nap, it generally doesn't do too well."

37. That's the final finish order for Chase contender Joey Logano and his Penske Racing Ford. After some much publicized wheeling and dealing, on top of the spotter's stand at the Richmond race, with Front Row Motorsports to help Logano secure a Chase berth, it all unraveled at Chicago when Logano's engine dropped two cylinders and eventually blew up for good. It created a drop from sixth to 12th in the current Chase standings.

35. That's the disappointing finish for fan favorite Dale Earnhardt JR who also blew the engine, in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, in a highly significant fashion. This Chase contender's DNF dropped him from ninth to 13th in the standings.

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1.8. That the official television ratings number the ESPN/ESPN2 Networks earned during this marathon like Sunday in Chicago. With the dire circumstances being what they were, the network has ever right to be proud of those numbers. This is especially true in light of the fact that many fans likely changed the channel to watch a very good NFL football schedule during the rain delay. ESPN issued the following press release on the Tuesday morning after the GEICO 400:

"The live racing portions of the rain-delayed GEICO 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday, Sept. 15, earned a combined 1.8 U.S. household rating on ESPN and ESPN2, averaging 2,688,652 viewers, according to Nielsen Media. Originally scheduled for a green flag shortly after 2 p.m. ET, the race was more than an hour late starting due to rain. It started at 3:15 p.m. and ran live on ESPN until 4:44 p.m. before being halted for more rain. The live portion on ESPN earned a 2.4 U.S. rating, averaging 3,623,308 viewers. After being delayed for more than five hours, the race resumed at 9:55 p.m. and aired on ESPN2 until its conclusion just past midnight. The ESPN2 portion of the race was seen by an average of 2,067,873 viewers with a 1.3 U.S. household rating. Last year's Chicagoland Speedway, which was run and telecast as scheduled, earned a 2.6 U.S. rating, averaging 3,948,966 viewers."(ESPN)(9-17-2013)

83. That's the total number of commercials aired by the ESPN Networks during their long day in Chicago, Yes, there's actually a marketing firm that keeps track of these numbers. Accenting the positive, it turned out that Mother Nature pelting Chicago with all that rain was pure gold for ESPN's sponsors.

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100,000. Earlier this year NASCAR unveiled Air Titan: a super designed, diesel powered, machine capable of drying a wet race track faster than an entire fleet of jet dryers. There were initial reports that said NASCAR's massive "Shop Vac" was capable of drying a speedway 75% faster. However, that level of technology doesn't come cheap. There were reports that said the cost of having Air Titan available during a race weekend was as high as-you guessed it-$100,000. That figure was deemed to be a little too steep by many speedway executives who host NASCAR events. That's why Air Titan spent this race weekend secured in its private race shop, at NASCAR's R&D Center in North Carolina, while everyone and everything was getting soaked in Chicago.
 
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3. That's the number of official 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup photos that were needed to promote this year's championship battle. The first photo reflected the group of 12 Chase drivers based on the final result of race #26 at the Richmond International Raceway. However, in a situation well publicized all week long, NASCAR issued hard hitting sanctions against Michael Waltrip Racing for "shenanigans" detrimental to the sport. The result saw driver Ryan Newman replace MWR driver Martin Truex JR in the official Chase line up. That action also necessitated the need for photo op number two. Additional investigation by NASCAR led to another round of "shenanigans", between Penske Racing and Front Row Motorsports, that aided and abetted Joey Logano's presence in the Chase line up. In the name of fair play, NASCAR expanded the Chase line up to 13 drivers to include Jeff Gordon whom they deemed a victim of "shenanigans part two." Needless to say, that set up the need for Chase photo #3.

How many of you have already checked "EBAY" to see if photo number one has been posted?

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THE FINAL NUMBER IS:

1961. During the 1961 racing season, NASCAR legend Curtis "Pops" Turner decided there was a need for an official labor union to represent the drivers of the sport. The result was the creation of the Federation of Professional Athletes. The other result was a level of anger among NASCAR officials which had never been witnessed before. They promptly banned Turner from NASCAR racing for life. Four years later, after feeling he had been punished enough, NASCAR reinstated Turner.

So, why is this senior citizen racing fan sharing this old war story? This 1961 incident was the last time I can honestly recall seeing NASCAR executives hitting that level of extreme anger. It was the very same angry expression observed on the faces of the modern day NASCAR executives who found themselves wading through the murky water during that seven day period between their races at Richmond and Chicago.

The good news is the fact that it appears that the "shenanigans" have been properly dealt with which will allow all of us to move on to something more important: Chase race #2, at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, this Sunday.

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