Indy Impressions: Friday

My typical beat is NASCAR, but this week I’m at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to experience the Indy 500. I’ll be posting daily updates on some differences I see between NASCAR and IndyCar.

So for those of you who don’t know, there’s this thing called Carb Day. And in Indiana, it’s a really, really big deal.

It felt like half the state was at IMS on Friday to watch an hour of final Indy 500 practice, followed by the Indy Lights race, a pit crew competition and a pair of concerts (Barenaked Ladies and the Steve Miller Band).

There’s really nothing in NASCAR that’s equivalent to this. In NASCAR, every day of a race weekend is usually built around the on-track activity. There might be things to do, but the race cars are the focus.

But on Carb Day, the on-track stuff is a sideshow — it’s just an excuse to come out and party. And tens of thousands of people did, dragging their coolers around and wearing some outfits worthy of People of Walmart.

Here’s Carb Day summed up: As the Barenaked Ladies sang “One Week,” a group of bros climbed up on top of their coolers and started shotgunning some beers. A dude wearing an American flag tank top that read, “WE’RE NOT COCKY — JUST THE BEST” poured his beer down the hatch — and then took a huge tumble off the cooler.

The cooler spilled open, ice and beer everywhere. The bro, lying on the grass, looked briefly stunned, then jumped up and high-fived his buddies. Party on.

So yeah, this day wasn’t really about racing. But what a crowd. Tickets were $30 each, and that granted access to anywhere on the track property — the grandstands to watch practice and the pit stop competition, the Pagoda Plaza fan zone and the concert venue in Turn 4.

Last year, there were 100,000 people who attended Carb Day — but that was for the 100th running of the 500. For argument’s sake, let’s say 75,000 attended this year’s Carb Day — again, at $30 apiece. That would be $2.25 million in revenue, not including concessions and souvenir sales.

The point is, even with overhead costs and fees for the performers, etc., the track is easily going to clear $1 million — for a practice day.

Now, Indy didn’t just come up with this idea and it was suddenly a hit. I get that. It took decades of tradition to reach this point.

And, of course, this doesn’t happen at every IndyCar race. It’s unique to the 500 and part of the weekend.

But NASCAR could try and take a couple notes from what happens here by making one of the race weekend days into a party day. Scrap the Sunday pre-race concert, for example, and move it to a Friday. Chop down on practice sessions and add driver appearances or other fun diversions instead.

Let’s be honest: In this world, there are far more people who are fans of getting drunk than are fans of race cars. So appeal to them, gladly take their money and give them a place to go wild for a day.

Tracks like Michigan and Talladega have tried things along these lines, but more could follow suit. One of those is Indianapolis, which is going to try it for the Brickyard 400 this summer; a two-night concert festival featuring the likes of The Chainsmokers and Major Lazer is already on the calendar.

Conor Daly, IndyCar driver and friend of EDM stars

How many American race car drivers are buddies with the likes of Deadmau5, Marshmello and Zedd?

The answer is: One.

That driver is IndyCar’s Conor Daly, a friend to many DJs in the electronic dance music community. That’s pretty badass if you think about it, since racing and EDM have dramatically different audiences for the most part.

But Daly can go between both worlds with ease, and has been doing so since he struck up a friendship with Deadmau5 in 2013.

Deadmau5 had followed Daly on Twitter and they started messaging back and forth. When Daly had an open weekend in 2014, he went to Vegas and met up with Deadmau5 — which led to connecting with other DJs and their friends. (Deadmau5 has since been to several IndyCar events and even taken a ride with James Hinchcliffe at Indianapolis.)

“I’m like a really business-to-business relationship type of person, so I connect with people through other people and we become friends,” Daly told me Thursday. “And suddenly you’re in different groups of people.

“It’s a small world in there (in the EDM community) just like it’s a small world here. If you know someone in the racing community, they probably know 30 other people that you know. So it’s the same thing, just a different environment.”

Daly said there are many people in dance music who “appreciate cars and racing,” but just don’t know much about it. So they’re curious and end up asking questions — just as Daly asks questions about music.

Marshmello, who Daly met last year, is playing at the Indy 500 Snake Pit on Sunday (along with Zedd and several others) — and expressed his enthusiasm for learning more about racing.

“Marshmello texted me at the end of last year after I met him and he was like, ‘Hey, my dad just saw some of your crashes on YouTube. That’s crazy! You guys are nuts,'” Daly said. “So apparently they were talking about that. He’s excited about it for sure. Apparently one of his video guys went to (Indiana) as well, so they’ve been hyping up the Indy 500.”

Daly said he’s been trying to get Zedd up to speed on Indy ahead of his Sunday appearance, but Zedd isn’t super into racing yet.

“I’ve been trying to tell him as much as I can, but until you see it here in real life, you don’t really know,” Daly said. “So we’ll see what he thinks.”

Last year, Skrillex and Martin Garrix — who is friends with Formula One driver Max Verstappen — were the headliners at the Snake Pit (an EDM concert in Turn 3 that takes place before and during the Indy 500 itself).

Daly obviously can’t attend the concert while the race is going on, but went to Electric Daisy Carnival at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to see friend MAKJ perform last year and saw Deadmau5 in Chicago earlier this month. Daly plans to attend EDC again in Las Vegas next month.

Knowing the two groups of fans as well as he does, Daly said the Snake Pit represents an important part of building the Indy 500 tradition.

“It’s a huge group of people who would never entertain the idea of a race unless it was involved with this type of concert,” he said. “Even if it’s 10 or 15 people, if we can turn their heads and say, ‘Whoa, this race is actually really entertaining, too,’ then who knows?

“It gets people to the venue, gets people here and gets people talking about the Indy 500. (The 500 experience) is the race, it’s the Snake Pit, it’s everything.”




Monte Dutton column: In the end, it’s not the kids’ fault

Longtime NASCAR writer and author Monte Dutton is covering the Coca-Cola 600 for this weekend. Below is his first post.

By Monte Dutton

Passion. That’s what NASCAR has to regain.

It cannot restore its glory by appealing to people with but a passing knowledge of what is going on. It must instill passion, and with allowances for the crack work of TV producers, that kind of storm doesn’t crop up in a living room with a six-pack of beer and a pound of nachos.

Quite often, these days, it takes at least a 12.

Kevin Harvick won the pole for Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600. Whoop-de-doo. It’s not me talking, but, rather, the fans who weren’t here. At this point in the history of NASCAR, the prevailing view is that time trials aren’t worth watching anymore. Some cars don’t even make it through inspection. The format has been infused with tasty elements that TV reportedly enjoys.

On the way up Interstate highways 26 and 85, I thought about a similar drive back in 1986. I was about where I am now in the journalism racket, writing local sports for the Clinton Chronicle and doing morning sports at WPCC-AM 1410.

It was before both the rise and the fall of NASCAR and me. Like Lefty in the country song, now I’m growing old.

Charlotte Motor Speedway promoted back in those days. Even at the lowly Clinton Chronicle, a promotional packet arrived containing inexpensive novelty items and a fistful of tickets that weren’t going to sell anyway.

Lest you believe they were buying the media, the following year, after Dale Earnhardt and Bill Elliott tangled in The Winston, a box arrived containing one sliver of Wrangler denim and one empty, crushed can of Coors. At the time, crushed cans of Coors were not uncommon in my life.

The tickets were for Pole Day. I couldn’t go to the race, partly because of a full slate of local sports but also because I couldn’t afford to pay my way in. I called up a friend – I spent half the drive up today trying to remember who it was – and said, “Hey, I got some tickets to pole qualifying at Charlotte. Wanna go?”

“Hell, yes,” he said, because, back in those days, folks like me and him were willing to do things like drive over two hours to the other side of Charlotte, where we watched individual race cars drive extremely fast one at a time. A lot of young people said “hell, yes” about racing in those days.

There may have been beer involved, but best I know, beer is still involved today.

Thank God I went. If I hadn’t, I’d have never known the name of the only driver in NASCAR I’d pay to see qualify, even though I didn’t.

Tim By God Richmond.

He wrestled that red Chevrolet like he was running on Folger’s Coffee instead of sticking it over the fenders. In all those years, and all those long rides, and all those race-day notes packages, maybe there are 10 scenes etched so vividly in my mind’s eye that they appear sometimes as if by magic. Richmond’s qualifying run that day is one. His lap around CMS was similar to every lap during the final hour of qualifying at Indy.

My forgotten friend and I watched from the first turn. I’d say there were, oh, 30,000 people there. If the final performance of Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus had been conducted in the CMS tri-oval grass after qualifying on Thursday, I doubt the crowd would have been as high as it was for single-round, single-lap qualifying on an autumn afternoon more than 30 years ago. In the 1990s, 40,000 was about the average crowd for Coca-Cola 600 qualifying.

Now all the fans come out to CMS disguised as empty seats. Well behaved. Never buy hot dogs.

I’ve measured the decline of stock car racing a hundred ways. The ways are easy. Their relative importance is hard.

I keep hearing, the kids don’t care about cars. They don’t care about anything. They spend all their time listening to rap music, playing video games and posting to Instasnapbooker or something. They have short attention spans. Yet, oddly, they don’t like drag racing, either, and drag racing is short.

They have no passion. Thus must we squeeze every drop of it from NASCAR. Then they’ll love it.

In the upstate of South Carolina, you know what the kids still have passion for? The Clemson Tigers. They’re truer to their schools than the Beach Boys ever were. They’re scapegoats for every executive trying to pass the buck on his cockamamie marketing campaign.

“Those kids of today.” They’ve been the lame excuse for every adult dysfunction since Louisa May Alcott was a schoolmarm.

The pole winner, circa 2017, talked about how his career has jelled at Stewart-Haas, and his hopes for Sunday, and the benefits of family and the serenity that comes with middle age. He also talked about how money isn’t everything. Easy for him to say, of course. He’s got a lot.

Harvick said some things in the sport have to be “bottom up” instead of “top down.” Specifically, he was talking about the Camping World Truck Series schedule and how he’d like to see it go back to the short tracks, but he could have been talking about most everything that has gone wrong.

Now qualifying is three rounds. It’s less likely the pole winner really drives the fastest car because going through those three rounds without using undue rubber is really the key. Was there a need to jazz up qualifying? The excitement of qualifying would be limited if they set them all on fire as they pulled off pit road … and then ran the burned-out hulks through the Laser Inspection Station, where, oddly enough, they’d probably pass with charred colors.

Who cares? Well, I once did, back when Richmond was the Count of Monte Carlo.

Indy 500 Impressions: Thursday

My typical beat is NASCAR, but this week I’m at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to experience the Indy 500. I’ll be posting daily updates on some differences I see between NASCAR and IndyCar.

Today was Indianapolis 500 Media Day, and they have a very different format here than we get in NASCAR.

This isn’t to judge NASCAR or throw shade on NASCAR drivers — because let’s face it, NASCAR in general is bigger than IndyCar — but there was a lot to like about how Indy did things from a media perspective.

First, some background: NASCAR currently has four main “media days” per year — the preseason Media Tour, Daytona 500 Media Day, Playoff Media Day and Championship Media Day (for Homestead). What typically happens is NASCAR rotates the drivers through booths (two at a time, for example) and they’re available for 10 minutes — maybe 15 in some cases. The NASCAR media corps has occasionally gotten upset at the lack of time we get with drivers on these days.

But at Indy 500 media day, the entire field was available for ONE HOUR. The session was split into two groups, but every driver had to sit there and answer questions for a solid 60 minutes — even Fernando Alonso, who was surrounded by a huge group the whole time.

This sort of blew me away, because I don’t think NASCAR drivers would ever stand for that. They would raise hell if NASCAR tried to make them sit there for an hour. In general, NASCAR guys want to do their 10-15 minute obligation and are looking to bolt.

Honestly, the drivers council would probably get involved if NASCAR said, “You will do an hour of print/TV media today.” The IndyCar drivers didn’t seem too bothered by it, though — I assume because they’re used to it? Also, they realize this is the best time to promote themselves and their sport, so I suppose they just embrace it.

Another thing that caught my eye today was the hospitality tents. I’ve covered some IndyCar events before, so I remembered these hospitality tents existed, but I forgot the details of them. Team Penske had a media luncheon at its big hospitality tent, where all the drivers were present as well as Roger Penske. It had to be quite expensive, because the food was quite good (and the media loves food!).

I bring this up because that sort of event typically would not happen at a NASCAR race. For one thing, these mobile hospitality centers more of an open-wheel thing for whatever reason. And second, I’d argue the drivers’ extra time in NASCAR is typically spent fulfilling sponsor obligations, not hanging with the media at a luncheon.

Again, I’m not passing judgment (for anyone who wants to get defensive in NASCAR), I’m just making observations.

One last thought for today: Wow, who are all these media people? I feel like after covering NASCAR for more than a decade, I have a pretty good idea of who the American racing journalists are. But I didn’t recognize maybe 80% of the media today. Some of them are foreign (the guy sitting next to me is from France), but not everyone. It’s just kind of crazy how the media corps in the two major forms of motorsports in the United States could have so many different people without that much crossover.

Social Spotlight with Jon Wood of Wood Brothers Racing

Each week, I’m asking someone from the racing industry about their social media use in a feature called the Social Spotlight. Up next: Jon Wood, who is the man behind the @woodbrothers21 Twitter account.

Let’s first talk about how you first came to be the one who was in charge of the team account.

The way our race team works — it’s a family business. So we all kind of chip in, whether it’s my dad (Eddie) or me or my sister (Jordan), whoever. We aren’t specifically tasked with any individual responsibilities; we just all kind of do whatever needs to be done.

A couple of years ago, maybe five years ago now, my sister was doing the social media because she (is) the director of marketing, so to speak. She was handling the social media and she had to go to a wedding or something, I can’t remember what it was — it was some obligation. So she had me do the social media that weekend at Talladega. I had never done it; I didn’t even have a Twitter account at the time.

So I’m like, “You gotta show me what to do, give me all the passwords and all this stuff.” And it was just a really good fit because I have a racing background myself, so I understood without having to ask a crew chief or another crew member, “Hey, what does it mean ‘a round of wedge?'” I already knew that stuff. So the technical aspect of it, I could explain things easier than probably some other marketing person can.

But then I didn’t really have any experience in social media at all, and so that was kind of a learning curve. I just tried to be myself; I just tried to be natural. Nobody wants an information-only source — I’m mean, you’ve got plenty of (non-information-only sources), and you’re one of those, where if I need to know something, I click on Jeff Gluck’s account or Bob Pockrass. You want to have your own individual identity, and so that’s what I try to do.

What it kind of reminds me of is I see some of these pro sports teams now who know the people following are fans, so they want to show they’re invested in it just like the fans are. If it’s a bad day, they’re not gonna sugarcoat it, they’re gonna say, “This sucks.” That’s kind of what I get from your account in some ways, where if something went wrong, you’re like, “We’re screwed. This strategy just didn’t work.” Do you know what I mean?

It’s a delicate balance. My wife (Amanda) stays on me all the time, she says I’m too negative. Whenever the day is going bad, she accuses me of just giving up. Like, “I’m done. See ya.” I don’t literally leave the racetrack, but I mean, I have a vested interest equity in this team, so it’s not like your typical marketing person where when they get home at night, the last thing that’s on their mind is the race team or where they finished. They might not even know where the car finished.

And for us it’s a little different. For me, whenever we have a bad day, I’m literally upset and so she stays after me all the time to be more upbeat. I think people appreciate that (candor). It’s not the same old, “We’re gonna get going,” when we’re two laps down. That stuff gets old, and when you’re performing at the level that Ryan (Blaney) is now and our team, you’re gonna have good days. You’re gonna have bad days, too, but the bar’s been raised so whenever we are having a bad day, I can just say, “This is bad. Sorry. We’re done.”

Let’s say a PR person was just doing that for their team, they might get blowback from sponsors or the executives saying, “You can’t say that about our team!” So do you ever get any criticism from your family like, “Dude, back it down a little bit?”

My dad. For anybody who doesn’t know my family or know how my dad and his brother (Len) are, they’re very conservative people, and you don’t cuss in public, you don’t make a fool of yourself. And so if anything, I go too far for what their taste would be.

And early on, I think my dad was going behind and reading a lot of what I would post on social media. He’s kind of lessened or unleashed the reins. At first, he was very cautious, but it’s been a popular approach as what you’ve been saying. So I think as long as I don’t cuss or say something that’s completely controversial — “Vote Trump” or whatever — he’s not gonna care.

What kind of reaction have you gotten from fans of the team in regards to your approach of how you handle the account?

Ninety-nine out of 100 people like it. You’re always gonna get your trolls and the ones that just want to give you a hard time. If you go through their accounts and look, they’re that way with everybody; it’s not just one single thing that I’ve done.

I try to be honest about it, but it’s a different approach to where I want people to think that it’s funny, too. The fastest way to make someone like you is to either be the best, which we’re trying to do that, but there’s only one Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano. If you’re not that, the next best way is to be funny. That’s my belief, and that’s the fastest way that I’ll start following someone and have interest in them. It’s not necessarily just with social media, it’s everyday life. I mean, people like upbeat people.

But you can be upbeat and funny when you’re having a bad day as well. I don’t really know how to explain it, but it is what it is. I didn’t go to school to do any of this, it’s all trial and error, and I guess what I’ve probably done is I’ve sampled a little bit of every different style and I’ll just go back and look at the reaction, the metrics, the Twitter analytics — that’s a pretty neat tool — and see what people think. I mean, our following has exploded lately.

I think what makes it interesting is that it’s so authentic and genuine. You know that you’re not getting some BS; you know that this is real. And I think in NASCAR specifically, fans can see through BS pretty easily. So if you’re being real and authentic and being your real self, even if it’s you speaking on behalf of the team on that account, I think it sort of endears it to people in some ways.

We’re at a disadvantage in many ways. We’re a single-car team, and when I compare our account to the Roush Fenway account, we’ve got half the number of followers, give or take, and then I have to remind myself that would be the equivalent of looking at one of their cars, because we’re just one.

I think what we do is respectable, but again, I have no training in this. During the week I have no Photoshop skills. I look at some of these accounts and they’re able to whip up all these cool graphics. I can’t do any of that, so I’ve got to make it up somehow and make it interesting. During the week they’ve got dedicated people to do this stuff. I’m doing other things; I’m doing merchandising or whatever. I just try to make it real, that’s all.

What is your actual title and what does that entail? How do you typically spend your week?

Well, my business cards would say “Director of Business Development” and I’ve added an “… and Merchandising” to that because I have a hand in all the artwork for the shirts and hats, apparel — that’s another thing that a lot of people (have been) really drawn to like and buy lately. So I do a little bit of that.

Like I said, my dad and his brother run the team, and then beyond that we all kind of chip in. I go to the owner’s council meetings with them; it’s just a family effort. If there’s too much for one person, somebody else will come along and pick up the slack. It’s not compartmentalized; everybody has access to the same information. There’s no secrets. We all just try to make the team do as best as we can.

How do you draw the line on the difference between your personal account and the team account? Do you have a different tone on one than the other, or do you feel like you’re the same on both?

How do you do it with @jeff_gluck2? I don’t know. Again, it’s weird because all the information that I’ve gotten — and I don’t have a lot — but it seems like everything that NASCAR experts beat into the social media world is to be yourself and share aspects of your family life and this and that.

So I try to do that because we have a lot of people who are familiar with us beyond just the Ryan Blaney side and the race car side. There’s a lot of people who know our family history and where I fall into place in the family lineage and my kids (Riley and Bailey). So there are people who are familiar with that. I try to do a decent balance of the two, and sometimes I just get carried away and put too much attention into one or the other. It’s hard.

Do you think that if social media had been around during the prime of your career when you were racing, would that had made a difference in how long you lasted? You’re very witty, obviously, and maybe you could have developed more of a personality that the fans got to see. Would that have changed anything that went on in your career?

Maybe. It may have made it worse; I may have gotten kicked out quicker. (Laughs) I don’t know.

But it’s certainly a tool where if you use it and you use it well, it works. I mean, you look at Dale Jr. and then you look at Chase Elliott; you have two extremes there, one that uses social media to its full extent and one guy who doesn’t. And it’s not necessarily where one is right and wrong, but if you’re comfortable in that environment and you’re comfortable sharing every aspect of your life and showing yourself out mowing the lawn or at the dentist or whatever, then I think people appreciate that. And if you’re not, I think they respect that. But if it’s something that you’re comfortable doing, I feel like it’s a huge advantage.

What other forms of social media do you feel are important for the team side as a space you need to be involved in?

If I could grow one area — and again my sister does a lot of this too; she does most of the Facebook side and I handle the Twitter side — but I feel like we lack in Snapchat, Instagram. It depends on who you ask, but some people say Snapchat is equally or more important than Twitter.

But there’s two of us, and we can’t do everything; we can’t be parents and do the jobs that we do with the race team and be on all these different social media outlets 24 hours a day. That’s a lot. And then again, there’s only one car; we can only show so much. And when you’re Stewart-Haas or Penske Racing, you’ve got so many other things you can show and share. We don’t really have that. It’s just one team, you know?

I could be wrong, but are you anti-capital letters or something? You always tweet lowercase letters.

It’s whatever my phone does. And then I do have my laptop on during the race, so I’m not gonna take the time to worry about punctuation. I’m not one of those (people) who will respond to somebody and say “their” (versus there). I don’t care. If you get the point across, that’s all that really matters to me. I’m not like some who will do it in all caps. I just do what’s natural.

Is there anything else that you want people to know about what you do on social media or what the team does or your life or anything like that?

Again, we do the best we can, and there are some people who don’t really like that style, that sarcastic, witty (style). Some people might take offense to it if you’re one of the ones I respond to. It’s hard to understand somebody’s tone and their demeanor through looking at words on a screen — you don’t really know what they mean. But if it doesn’t follow up with a blocking or something like that, then I didn’t mean it in a bad way.

Fan Profile: Andrew Headley

These 12 Questions-style fan profiles are one of the rewards offered as a tier on my Patreon page. You can catch up on the other profiles so far this season here.

Name: Andrew Headley

Location: Fort Mill, S.C.

Twitter name: @nikonshots1

Age: 37.

1. How long have you been a NASCAR fan?

Since 1990.

2. How many races have you attended?

I’ve attended 12 races.

3. Who is your No. 1 favorite driver?

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

4. What made you a fan of his?

My dad.  We used to watch good ol’ No. 3 run laps on Sundays.

5. Who is your most disliked driver?

Kyle Busch.

6. Why don’t you like him?

Kyle’s domination in the Xfinity Series has carried over to drive my distaste of him in the Cup Series.

7. What is your favorite track?

Bristol Motor Speedway.

8. What is one thing you would change if you were in charge of NASCAR?

Make the racing more competitive.

9. What is one thing you would keep the same if you were in charge of NASCAR?

The infield experience.  Between camping, the “circus” and everything else that goes on during a race weekend, nothing in America tops it.

10. How often do you yell at the TV during a race?

Approximately every 30 minutes.

11. Do you have any advice for other fans?

Attend the Coke 600 over Memorial Day weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway to truly experience how to honor our veterans.  Follow @DaleJr and @Keselowski on Twitter to get a true depiction of how “normal” and down to earth the drivers are. Rent a bus from Star Coach and camp on the infield during a race weekend. 

12. What else do you want the NASCAR world to know about you?

I’m working daily to raise our three sons to be NASCAR fans! 

Survivor Game Changers Power Rankings: Season Finale

This season of Survivor has been a blast yet again and it’s been fun to find out how many NASCAR fans watch it. There’s a really good amount of crossover there, so that’s made it really enjoyable to chat with everyone about the season.

Anyway, who wins tonight? Well, there’s no clear favorite despite Sarah playing such a strong season. But I can still guess at the order or who has the best chance.

After the bottom two players in the rankings went home last week, here are the top six — ranked by best chance to win. Also, I included what I initially said about them in the preseason power rankings:

1. Sarah (Last week: 1).

Current comment: This has been Sarah’s season in so many ways. She’s made brilliant moves, controlled the game and lived up to her promise of playing like a criminal instead of a cop. Sarah backed off when needed (she didn’t fight for ally Zeke at the expense of her own game), schemed when necessary (she orchestrated Sierra’s ouster after realizing she could get the legacy advantage) and pulled off winning moves like taking control at tribal council after Cirie tried to use the vote steal (which Sarah had snatched from the challenge when Michaela sat out). However, the big question is still whether Sarah made too many enemies along the way and whether that will be held against her at the final three.

Preseason comment: (Ranked 15th of 20) Why is she a game changer? I’m not sure. I don’t remember much of her game, except for both she and Tony being cops on their season. Maybe that will allow her avoid being targeted (why would they vote her out if she’s not a threat?) and make it far.


2. Brad (last week: 4).

Current comment: These players had better not let Brad get to the final three, because he has a great shot at winning if he does. Look at how many of his former alliance partners are sitting there already — and he hasn’t made enemies along the way. Overall, Brad has played a fantastic game and really changed his image this year (see my original comment below, OOPS!). He’s been a nice guy instead of the jerk people thought he was, but also made it far while being the only physical threat left in the game (something which is hard to do). They would be smart to get rid of him before the final three.

Preseason comment:  (Ranked 20th) He’s going to piss someone off and get himself voted out before the merge. I just don’t think he can make it very far with the style of game he plays.

3. Aubry (Last week: 3).

Current comment: It’s been a rough season for a player who looked so promising in her first season. She’s always seemed to be playing from behind and hasn’t been calling any of the shots. Even when she won immunity, she was crying after that night’s tribal council because she was completely out of the loop and left out of the vote. Her best chance to win is if she sits next to two people the jury loathes.

Preseason comment: (Ranked 2nd) She should have won two seasons ago, and I think her game will be respected (but not feared). She’ll sharpen things up this time and play a calculated, measured game overall.

4. Cirie (Last week: 2).

Current comment: One of the all-time great players made an all-time blunder last week. First of all, she voted ally Andrea out too early (Andrea even said on the Rob Has A Podcast exit interview she wouldn’t have targeted Cirie until the final four). Then Cirie alienated even-closer ally Sarah by trying to get cute with the vote steal and lost protege Michaela in the process! Terrible outcome all around. If she reaches the final three, she can win — but it will be very tough to get there now.

Preseason comment: (Ranked 9th) She’s going to be a threat and the other players will recognize it right away. So that might not work very well long term, unless she’s able to fly under the radar somehow.

5. Tai (Last week: 5).

Current comment: He has two idols heading into the finale, which bodes well for his chances of making the final three. But given his penchant for flip-flopping and indecision, I just can’t see the jury deciding to reward him with $1 million — even if he’s sitting next to someone less likable.

Preseason comment: (Ranked 16th) Everyone loves Tai! Everyone wants to work with Tai! But here’s the thing: Does he play a strategic game? I don’t think so. And so when he’s sitting at final tribal, this group of vets won’t reward him — just like when he lost to Michele.

6. Troyzan (Last week: 6). 

Current comment: Troyzan has played a floater game this season and thus will not be rewarded by a jury of veteran players. He has an idol, which might help him make the final three, but I don’t see him getting any votes even if he gets there. That’s a shame, because his pre-merge game seemed pretty good.

Preseason comment: (Ranked 12th) He had the misfortune of going up against one of the smartest players ever, Kim Spradlin, who got the better of him. Let’s see how he does this go-round).