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Random Lugnuts:  Rutledge, Points, and More Points

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Rutledge Wood, Sprint Cup
What is Random Lugnuts?  It's random bits of stock car racing commentary written on an irregular basis by an irregular racing fan.  The name is a reference to the lugnuts that go flying off a car during a pit stop:  you never know where they are going to go, what they're going to do when they get there, they can be annoying, they're often useless after a race, and every once in a while someone gets hit and they don't know exactly where it came from.
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Random Lugnuts:  Rutledge, Points, and More Points

Bill Crittenden
November 14, 2010

Opening Lap

Can Rutledge Wood be a bigger star than Dale Earnhardt, Jr.?

Rutledge Wood?  That goofball that sits next to Kyle on NASCAR Smarts?

Yeah, that Rutledge Wood.

There is no more well known driver in the United States than Dale Jr.  However, being the most well known star in the NASCAR garage is nothing compared to the potential fame that Rutledge Wood stands at the beginning of in the form of a new show on the cable TV network History called Top Gear.

NASCAR's 2010 season ratings topped out under 14 million for the Daytona 500.  The sport claims 75 million fans, and it's no surprise that not everyone can watch every race.  However, NASCAR hasn't drawn over 6 million for a Cup race since Pocono, and 3 races haven't even reached 4 million (New Hampshire, Dover, Kansas).

The original British version of Top Gear, seen on BBC around the world and on BBC America here in the States, is a program watched by a quarter of a billion people worldwide.  Around the world, the names of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May are more well known than those of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson or Kyle Busch.  While the name recognition of the NASCAR guys is bigger because of the constant exposure, in my corner of the country I know more occasional Top Gear viewers than occasional NASCAR watchers.  While there are tens of millions of stock car fans, NASCAR really only appeals to those inclined to watch stock car racing.  Top Gear has a universal appeal across all types of "car guys," old and young, from hardcore hot rodders to erudite Ferrariphiles, from people who think racing is for idiots to guys with nitrous in their veins.

But I don't expect 50 million viewers every week.  While Rutledge Wood is a good American approximation of Hammond, I doubt the others on the show can carry on the level of performances of Clarkson and May (but I admit I'm biased towards them, they are each a "car guy" hero of mine, each for different reasons).  Plus, History is a cable channel that not every household can watch.  But I do expect Top Gear's American version to become History's biggest draw, and if so it will have to top about 3 million viewers an episode.  That's almost what the least popular NASCAR races draw on TV.  If the formula of cars, humor and Hollywood-level production that has drawn to Top Gear a worldwide audience about the size of the adult population of the entire United States is more successful here than watching truckers drive on ice, I believe Top Gear could potentially outrate NASCAR.

We'll see what happens next Sunday.  10PM eastern.  If you can't wait to see what it's all about, BBC America plays reruns of the UK version all week long.

Points Standings I

Thanks to Denny Hamlin, we're actually treated to an exciting finish in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup.  However, the Nationwide Series title has already been decided, and we're subjected to two weeks of complaining about Cup drivers taking all the Nationwide Series hardware and how they should be taken out of championship points contention.

First of all, does Brad Keselowski even count as a Cup driver?  Besides, it's not like Jimmie Johnson has been taking home championships two at a time.  Brad is a non-contender on the Cup side.  Other than Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick, most of the Busch/Nationwide champions of the past decade haven't been contending for Cup championships.  They win a lot of races, in both series, but separate championships from race wins and there are few that can actually contend in both series, and they don't do it at all frequently.  As many races as he's won in Nationwide, as well as the 2009 Championship, Kyle Busch doesn't count as a Cup contender with his best points finish being 5th place.

If Cup regulars are removed from Nationwide Championship points, they may still show up for the companion races but won't make the extra effort to jet from track to track on the weekends where the Nationwide Series is in a different town than the Cup Series.  Take away the Cup drivers at a non-companion race such as the one at Gateway a few weeks ago, and the Top 10 finishing order looks like this:  Mike Bliss, Justin Allgaier, Jason Leffler, Reed Sorenson, Josh Wise, Brad Coleman, Jeremy Clements, Trevor Bayne, Steve Wallace, and Kenny Wallace.

There's a lot of talent there, but not the most well known names in stock car racing.  For a series that's having trouble filling seats even in the weeks where the town is full of fans with Cup tickets waiting for Sunday, driving the big rivalry of Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski away, as well as Kyle Busch and whoever might want to try doing double duty in the future is not a smart move.  If the fans don't show, the sponsors won't, either, and then what will be left of the Nationwide Series for the remaining drivers to compete for?

Points Standings II

On the subject of points, there was some talk a few months back about a potential championship race, one big race for all the marbles at the end of the season.  Talk ended as quickly as it started as soon as people realized how ridiculous one championship race is in a sport where all the competitors show up every week.

However, if NASCAR wants to ensure that there's plenty of points drama in the final race of the season, perhaps they could double the points awarded at the finale in Homestead starting next year.  Each position in traffic would be worth twice as much, increasing the chances for a driver in second or third place to catch the leader.  In terms of finishing positions and their relation to the championship, it would cut the gap between first and second in half going into Homestead.  It would turn a close gap into a razor-thin gap, and bring a longshot like Harvick into close contention with the top two.

I'm not just saying this because I like Kevin Harvick, because for all I know next year he could be leading with someone I don't like chasing him.  It's just an idea to give NASCAR the bigger, more important championship event it wants without throwing away the rest of the Chase. What is Random Lugnuts?  It's random bits of stock car racing commentary written on an irregular basis by an irregular racing fan.  The name is a reference to the lugnuts that go flying off a car during a pit stop:  you never know where they are going to go, what they're going to do when they get there, they can be annoying, they're often useless after a race, and every once in a while someone gets hit and they don't know exactly where it came from.  Read more at http://randomlugnuts.blogspot.com/



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