When it comes to rivalries, wrecks and drama – the stuff that adds the spice to NASCAR – this has been quite the tame year so far.
Through seven races, the biggest in-race development has been Juan Pablo Montoya blowing up a jet dryer. There have been no major driver vs. driver altercations (although there was the everyone vs. David Reutimann incident at Martinsville), and the dominant topic of conversation on Saturday night at Texas was the wind – not the racing.
Cautions are down a whopping 35 percent this season, which adds up to three fewer yellow flags per race (40 this year compared to 61 at the same point last year). Any thoughts that NASCAR uses phantom debris cautions to enhance the show are long gone.
And when there are cautions, very few involve incidents with multiple cars – the kind of action that leads to headline-grabbing confrontations between drivers.
Let's look at the last five races as an example:
• Las Vegas had eight cautions, but none were listed as multi-car incidents on the official race report.
• Bristol had just five cautions, the fewest since 1996 (a span of 32 races). The race was so uneventful that the track is planning changes to the racing surface.
• Fontana, though shortened by 142 laps due to rain, had just one caution (fewest in track history). The caution was for rain, and there were no incidents.
• Martinsville had just seven cautions, which, like Bristol, was the fewest number at the track since 1996. Though Clint Bowyer made an ill-advised three-wide move and took out the leaders, the most talked-about moment was Reutimann stopping on the track.
• Saturday night's Texas race had just two cautions, the fewest in track history (the previous low was five). There were no multi-car incidents.
So what's behind all this? There's no definitive answer for that, though several drivers said it's simply circumstances that dictate how the races have unfolded.
"I'm sure everyone is trying to get off on the right foot and trying to ... get in position to race to get into the Chase," Kevin Harvick said prior to the Texas race. "Everyone is trying to win races, so you need as few enemies as possible at this point."
Texas race winner Greg Biffle suggested the strong winds on Saturday night prompted drivers to give each other more racing room than usual. And Jeff Gordon said the impending weather at Fontana and the untimely caution at Martinsville perhaps prevented some memorable finishes.
"I still think it's early in the year," Gordon said.
Whatever the reason for the lack of drama, the trend isn't doing much for NASCAR's TV ratings. The overnight ratings were off slightly for the Texas race, and the ratings have dropped in every race so far this year except Bristol, which saw a 2 percent gain.