Chicagoland Cup Race Produces Perfect Storm Of Boredom

Charlotte, NC – The perfect storm.

That?s what NASCAR fans got this weekend when a cookie-cutter 1.5-mile race track, aero-dependent race cars, bad tires, and terrible television coverage converged to turn the USG Sheetrock 400 into one of the most unwatchable races in recent memory.

Simply stated, the NASCAR Nextel Cup event from Chicagoland Speedway was boring. While the final statistics indicate there were 20 lead changes among nine drivers, the action (or lack of it) that spiced the rest of the event was all but non-existent. Fans could have seen more passing and close quarters racing had they spent the afternoon sitting next to their local interstate.

This harmonic convergence of boredom somewhat begins and ends with Chicagoland Speedway itself. Since opening in 2001, the suburban Windy City oval has yet to produce the kind of exciting action NASCAR racing is known for. For whatever reason, Cup events at this track just don?t yield the kind of side-by-side racing and close finishes seen at other speedways on the circuit.

Tony Stewart?s huge 1.727-second margin of victory Sunday is typical of the finishes at Chicagoland. Stewart, the only two-time Cup winner at the track, scored his other victory in 2004 by a whopping 2.925 seconds. Meanwhile, Ryan Newman captured the 2003 Cup snoozer at Chicagoland by 2.633 seconds.

Nothing like a runaway to keep fans interested.

The dreaded ?aero push? characteristic of the current Nextel Cup car is also a factor in producing the droll events as it appears to be much more severe at Chicagoland than at other 1.5-mile raceways on the circuit. These cars, super fast and maneuverable by themselves in ?clean air,? appear to be all but incapable of passing when following another competitor.

The current Goodyear Eagle racing tires provided to the teams only seem to compound the problem. With no mechanical grip to the racetrack thanks to the rock-hard tires, the aerodynamic passing issues are only magnified. In an effort to make the tires produce more grip, teams mess with air pressure settings resulting in high speed and high impact crashes.

It?s a no win situation for the teams trying to compete and the fans hoping to see a competitive event.

The final fly in the ointment is the television coverage. After last week?s glimmer of hope with it?s ?Wide Open? limited commercial interruption telecast from Daytona, TNT went back to it?s old format producing a 197-minute event that featured 57 minutes of commercials.

Even when the viewer was being ?treated? to on-track action, Sunday?s race seemed to be little more than an extended infomercial for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as TNT focused in lap after lap on Earnhardt?s No. 8 circle the track ? all despite the fact he was rarely a factor in the event.

At one point during the first 50-lap segment of Sunday?s ?Dale Jr. 400? on TNT, the cameras focused in on Earnhardt for eight consecutive circuits. Evidently, nothing else was happening at the time. Later, when Earnhardt?s power steering failed, the network and its announcers were giddy with the opportunity to show Earnhardt navigate the track ? again for multiple laps ? while tapping into his team communications and showing the viewer a tech piece on power steering on a cutaway car.

Forgive us, but we were under the impression there were 43 cars, drivers, teams and ultimately, that many stories to tell throughout the race. Given the lack of on-track action Sunday, TNT surely had time to tell most, if not all of them.

The final straw came when TNT broke away for ?one more commercial? with around 20 laps to go and showed the viewer six commercial spots. Realistically, it probably didn?t matter anyway as by that point everyone had changed the channel to golf (or in Chicago, the Cubs game).

After Sunday?s – and past boring Cup races at Chicagoland Speedway – it?s hard to imagine why 80,000 people would pay good money to show up to watch or why viewers at home would tune in.

Hopefully, the new ?Car of Tomorrow? will change that some as Sunday?s event was the last ever on a 1.5-mile track for the aero-sensitive racers now campaigned in Cup. Allowing the new generation of cars to bolt on tires that actually grip the track when they debut full-time next season would also help a ton.

As far as TNT is concerned, they?re done for the season as ESPN/ABC will take over at Indy in two weeks and telecast the remaining races this year. After Sunday?s somnambulistic event from Chicagoland, we?ll hopefully all wake up in time to enjoy it.

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