Thursday, December 19, 2013

It's Always Good to Have a Back Up Plan

Don't get me wrong, as long as Jimmie Johnson is racing, he'll be my number one driver but it is always good to have a back-up and Kyle Larson is it for me.

After a few years of less than thrilling Rookie of the Year contests, I can't wait for 2014 and what I hope will be an epic battle between Kyle Larson and Austen Dillon. Perhaps, the 2013 Eldora Mudsummer Classic truck race gave us a preview of what's to come with these two. Ultimately, Austen won that race but in my opinion, Kyle was much the most exciting driver to watch as he sliced through the field, pulling off classic slide jobs.

Perhaps they are evenly matched in talent although Austen has the edge in both experience in stock cars and resources but I hope the determination that comes from having had to scrap for every bit of success he's had will make up the difference for Kyle. It will be the fairy tale about the Prince and the Pauper. Will the kid with the silver spoon prevail over the tough little street fighter? We shall see.

The 23-year-old half-Japanese driver began racing go-karts when he was seven, then switched to open wheel where he made quite a name for himself. In 2011, he won in three types of USAC cars in one night at Eldora, only the second driver to accomplish that feat. He won the K&N Pro Series championship in 2012. He won the Nationwide Rookie of the Year in 2013. Now he'll be moving to Sprint Cup, taking over Juan Pablo Montoya's previous ride.

I always tend to side with the underdogs. Of course, some people say, "hah, and you a Jimmie Johnson fan!" but Jimmie was the underdog when he started. You might liken Austen and Kyle to Dale Junior and Jimmie. The lower-middle class kid who had to make it on his own versus Nascar royalty.

Just like I side with Jimmie but like Dale a lot, I will side with Kyle although I respect Austen as well. Either one can win. I'm just hoping for a lot of entertainment for us fans along the way with these two, both of whom I think are capable of being the super-stars of their era.

Plan A = A Seven Up for Jimmie

Plan B = The Kyle/Austen match up.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Next Up - Seven Up!


In every era of NASCAR, there has been a superstar - Petty, Earnhardt, Gordon, Johnson. That's not to say, there weren't others inside the sport who were just as good or who were equally, or even more, beloved of fans. But there was one name that came up over and over when you asked the man on the street who they thought of when they thought NASCAR and it's the four I have named. They were the ones who took the sport beyond itself and into the wider world. They are the stuff of which legends are made. NASCAR tries constantly to create "parity" but their efforts are in vain. There is always a team that stands out from the rest, a team that takes the the few opportunities for individualism NASCAR gives them and turns them into superiority. They are the first round draft picks for the Hall of Fame.

It is good for NASCAR to have these men who out-perform the others? Many fans appear to think not. I see their comments that Jimmie Johnson is ruining NASCAR, stinking up the show, winning too much, making racing boring. But is what they desire for their sport a kind of generic mediocrity in which every team wins its allotted "share" of races? Do they think this would make for a more exciting racing? Is this what NASCAR needs to attract attention and fans?

I'm a Team 48 fan, pure and simple. I want Jimmie to win seven and then eight. I want him to break Petty and Earnhardt's record for championships. I want him to go where no NASCAR driver has gone before.

But, then, you know what? I hope our new young crop of drivers flies even higher. I hope Kyle Larson comes in and wins Rookie of the Year, then begins a campaign to threaten Jimmie. If Jimmie wins eight, I hope Kyle wins ten.

I was never a rabid sports fan until NASCAR but I think sports should always be a quest to be the best ever and I hope there is always a superstar exceeding the records of the old superstars.

The King is dead. Long live the King....into the future.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Just What I Wanted

The politically correct thing to do would be to say how much I wish the Phoenix race had ended differently for Matt Kenseth because what I really want to see is the excitement of a 7th game moment for the NASCAR championship....but that wouldn't be true and all my NASCAR friends would know it wasn't true. What I was hoping for was exactly what happened....Jimmie coming out of Phoenix with a nice points cushion. Even at that I don't feel totally safe. I'm one of those worriers who think about everything that could go wrong. I think about a Homestead race like Jimmie had last year.

I like Kenseth a lot, I really do, and I feel badly for him but not badly enough.

I was lucky enough to be at Homestead in 2010 to watch Jimmie win his fifth championship and I'd give anything to be there again. I don't know why so many people suggest moving the final race to another venue. Homestead is a terrific track. It is beautiful and the weather in southern Florida in November is perfect, neither too hot nor too cold. The racing is good and you can see the action all the way around the track. If you want to stay in the area while, there is much to see and do in the Miami area or maybe go on down to the Keys to salute your team or drown your misery at the outcome in the happy revelry Key West is famous for.

I don't care what the JJ haters think or say. Let them spew their vitriol if they can't recognize that they are watching something spectacular as The King and the Intimidator and the Boy Wonder....those other NASCAR heroes - a team that has spent 10 years at the top of its game. I'll laugh all the way to Las Vegas.

Some people want to give the bulk of the credit for the 48's success to Chad and he deserves a lot of it but if, as Carl Edwards said, you saw those two incredible saves on Sunday and can't admit sheer mastery behind the wheel, then you're deliberately refusing to be impressed. Some people want to give the bulk of the credit to Mr. H. and his money and he deserves a lot too. Without his commitment to giving his teams the best resources available, they couldn't compete on the level they do. The pit crews come in for praise as well. As people constantly say, NASCAR is a team sport. It is the combination of driver, crew chief, pit crew, owner and everyone else involved that have created the 48 team as the powerhouse of excellence that it has been for the last decade.

I didn't become a NASCAR fan until 2008. I know that makes me a newbie in the eyes of all the old hands. I've felt the sting of their contempt a time or two...or more. I realize I missed the years of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon and I regret that I didn't come to NASCAR sooner. Nevertheless, I feel fortunate to have been able to celebrate most of the Jimmie Johnson Era.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Muses and Patron Saints

Jimmie Johnson

A Muse is a goddess who presides over one of the arts - painting, music, dancing, writing. Creative types believe that their inspiration comes from their Muse. When she is giving you her full attention, everything goes right. The words flow; the poetry sings; the music exalts; the picture seems to paint itself. The artist is the conduit from the Muse to the art itself. It happens only rarely that your Muse shines her light directly on you. It is a wonderfully exhilarating moment when it happens.

I don't know if auto racing has anything comparable to a Muse. Drivers do have a Patron Saint, Elijah the Prophet. He was given his designation because he was taken to heaven in a flaming chariot. I'm not sure I like the connotation behind that but there you go. it Muse or Patron Saint, whoever that spirit is had his or her eye on Jimmie Johnson on Sunday at Texas. The 48 car was in complete control of the race from start to finish. No one else could get close to him. He ended up with a perfect driver rating of 150, which are pretty hard to come by. This is only his forth in a rather illustrious career.

Someone on one of the television shows made the connection of the Sixes. This is JJ's 66th win over all, his 6th win this season and he's going for a six-pack. I'm not much into superstition but on the other hand, if there can be Muses and Patron Saints, why not numerological portents?

I still consider this championship too close to call. Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth are so evenly matched, it will probably be small things that make a difference of a few points one way or the other that will be the deciding factor - a slightly slow pit stop, being on the outside on a restart, the set up that's off just a hair, a few spots in qualifying.

Jimmie and Matt are a matched set in temperament too. They are both funnier than they are given credit for. They are both more passionate than they are given credit for. They both stay cool in the face of adversity. They are both devoted family men. They both have outstanding crew chiefs and extraordinary owners.

I make no bones about being a 48 fan. If I got to make the call, Jimmie would win Number Six. But I won't feel too badly if it turns out to be Matt. Either of these two drivers will make an admirable champion and role model for NASCAR.

Of course, if Jimmie is the ultimate winner, there will be no end to the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the haters, no end to the cries of "cheater", no end to the number of comments on the NASCAR sites informing the rest of us that the writer will NEVER WATCH NASCAR AGAIN! So be it. Don't let the door hit you in the butt on your way out.

In other NASCAR news, hurray for Martin Truex, Jr. getting the ride in the 78 Furniture Row car. It must have been scary to be without a ride so close to the end of the season. He got shafted royally in the whole Richmond fiasco and didn't deserve it so I'm glad to see him land at FRR. Maybe he'll actually enjoy being The One to get all the attention and resources.

Once again in Nationwide, the Cup teams didn't even bother to give the Nationwide drivers a kiss before they screwed them over. I hope NASCAR does something about this next year. It's not about championship points, it's about trophies and money and W's on a resume.

I loved watching the 48 dominate in Cup but I hated watching the 22 dominate in Nationwide. Why? Because Jimmie was racing against his peers and Brad was racing against lesser funded and lesser experienced drivers. It's apples and oranges.

Monday, October 28, 2013

More Short Tracks, Please!

~ NASCAR 10.26.13~ Martinsville 10.27.13

Ah, Martinsville, now that's racing! More short tracks, please, NASCAR! And what a satisfying ending to both races. The triumph of both youth and experience, all wrapped up in one weekend.

Darrell "Bubba" Wallace. Jr, the first African-American to win a major NASCAR series race since Wendell Scott did so in 1963. Said Wendell's son, Franklin - "when the checkered flag dropped, I heard a big boom from heaven and my Daddy said, 'hell, yeah!' 

If we remember, Wendell was treated pretty shabbily by NASCAR 50 years ago but we've evolved since then and the sport was genuinely thrilled for young Bubba.

And the grand old man of NASCAR, Jeff Gordon, whose invitation to the Chase party came late, arriving only at the last minute. Nevertheless, he donned his dancing duds and his party attitude and came determined to be on the floor when the band quits playing because that's what champions do. 

Furthermore, Martinsville tweaked the point standings and left us with a tie at the top. (Leaving my own bias aside) what could be more exciting with three races left than our two top contenders clawing and scratching for every single point? Matt and Jimmie appear to be so evenly matched, unless one of them suffers bad luck, they look to still be in that position at Homestead. 

To add to the deliciousness of Martinsville, there were the usual hard feelings and retaliations during the race and confrontations after. This one backended that one and that one doored this one and he cut me off and he blocked me. Kevin Harvick said the reason he was leaving RCR was the two arrogant grandkids coming up, Austen and Ty Dillon, who'd always been fed with a silver spoon. Ty called Kevin a punk and Grandpa agreed with him (naturally). Kevin later apologized but it's hard to imagine those allegations won't stick in everyone's craw for the rest of the year. 

Greg Biffle read Jimmie the riot act after the race although it appeared from the videotape that it was Junior who was to blame for his torn off back bumper. Greg apologized later too but it seemed less than wholehearted.

Put a bunch of drivers, worn out after a long season, many of them disappointed, on a half-mile track like Martinsville and you have the makings of a pot that's ready to boil over. And boil over it does because its a relatively safe place to get your licks in, unlike bigger, faster tracks. 

I don't know who owns what in NASCAR. I know the tracks are mostly divided up between NASCAR itself and Bruton Smith but I wish NASCAR would give up one of its larger two-trip tracks in favor of sending the Sprint Cup to Iowa. As far as I'm concerned, the more short tracks, the better.  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Cool and Calm or Chaotic Carnage?

Miguel Paludo (32) slides down the track on his roof as Darrell Wallace Jr. (54), Jeb Burton (4), Justin Lofton (6), and Kyle Busch (51) crash on the last lap of the Camping World Truck Series Fred's 250.

Talladega held two races this weekend and they were the exact opposite of one another. The Camping World Truck series race was the site of carnage and chaos. The Sprint Cup race was for the most part dominated by calm and commonsense. Which one do you suppose NASCAR fans liked the best?

Fans always say they don't watch for the accidents but of course, that's what many of them do, which is why you hear so much bitching after a relatively tame race like the one on Sunday. And the tracks know it. That's why their pre-race advertising always prominently features cars upside down, cars tumbling in the air, cars sliding through the grass.

Meanwhile, the goal for drivers is to come home with the trophy, naturally, but second best is coming home with your whole car. Its for damn sure you're not going to win, or even get a respectable finish, if your racecar is hauled off the track on a hook. This time of year, that is especially true for Chase drivers who just want to escape Talladega without a huge points loss.

I'm sure it's true for owners too. The truck race probably cost them, collectively, about a gazillion dollars when a last lap wreck took out practically the entire field. By contrast, most Sprint Cup owners left Alabama with their bank accounts intact.

So that yin and yang will always exist at plate races. Instead of applauding drivers for the consummate skill it takes to drive 200 mph with cars on all sides of you without bobbling, we evidently think that if they really loved their fans, they would take a dive and cause a big exciting wreck for our enjoyment.

The bottom line is that it was a good race with a feel-good ending - an emotional Jamie Murray with his family in Victory Lane, breaking a 106-race losing streak. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy. It might have been even better if there had been a suspenseful attempt at a last lap pass, with the charge being led by Dale Earnhardt Jr, but rookie inexperience got in the way of that scenario.

For the most part, nothing much changed at the top of the Sprint Cup standings. They came into Talladega with Matt leading Jimmie by 4 points. They left with Jimmie leading Matt by 4 points. I still consider that a virtual dead heat with four races left. The next few in line gained a little but probably not enough to make a difference in the outcome unless both Jimmie and Matt have a purely disastrous race before the season ends. So far, this continues to be the Matt & Jimmie Show. Matt the Mild and Vanilla Jimmie as they are so often characterized although there is nothing mild or vanilla about the calculated, intense, determined way they both race. Passion does not have to be flamboyant.

Restrictor plate racing is my least favorite type of racing. I breathed a sigh of relief when this one was over. Now we head for Martinsville - short tracking - yeah!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sometimes Drama Is Good, Sometimes Not So Much

- When I lived in California and thoroughbred racing was my sport, there was a horse named Silky Sullivan, a gorgeous chestnut, who was a special fan favorite. Silky had his own preferred strategy for running a race. In the first half, he'd dawdle around, off the pace by lengths, like he was just out for a leisurely Sunday gallop. When some internal signal told him it was go time, his head would go down and his stride would lengthen, that long red tail would be flying and one by one, he'd begin passing the other horses. The crowd loved it. It got so in any race Silky was in, that's what the people watched for. Not, "who is leading?" but "when is Silky going to make his move?" When he started his run, a huge roar would erupt up from the grandstands. He was a stakes racer which means that if he'd been a NASCAR driver, he'd have been in Cup. He won a lot but sometimes his timing was off a little. People forgave him for that because he made every race he was in thrilling to watch. 

Kyle Larson reminds me a little of Silky Sullivan. I've had my eye on him since he came to NASCAR (and, obviously, I'm not alone). Kyle isn't always the greatest qualifier and usually in the race, he'll loiter around mid-pack for the first half. I assume he's getting a feel for the track but, watch the leaderboard and you'll notice that he's beginning to move forward, often in dramatic fashion. He was the most exciting driver in the Eldora truck race with his car control and skill at pulling off the slide job.

At Charlotte this week, Kyle was the first driver in the Nationwide race to discover that the top groove was usable and fast as he charged around the high line. Of course, it didn't take long before the rest followed his lead. He was right up there contending for the win until he hit the wall but oh, well, it was sure fun while it lasted.

Then in his Cup debut, Kyle was far and away the most competitive of the Cup first-timers. Brian Scott has been around for what seems like years and drives for a top team but while he was hanging out in the back 20, Larson was heading for the front. He spent most of his time in the top 15, then made it to the top ten. And that was in the 51 car (though it was prepared by Earnhardt-Ganassi), not the most stellar of teams. A blown engine ruined his chance for a good finish but again, he added drama to a race that needed a little spicing up.

I don't know if he'll be the superstar many predict he will be but I can just about guarantee, he'll give NASCAR fans their money's worth in every race he's in....just like Silky Sullivan. 

- I hate conspiracy theories, whether in politics or auto racing, but I do think NASCAR should insist that whatever channel is broadcasting the race, especially Chase races, should, preferably, show us the debris that brought out a caution or at least freakin' tell us what it was. I don't believe ABC did either for the last caution in Charlotte. 

Actually, I've always assumed that NASCAR monkeys around with cautions, not necessarily to favor one driver over another, but simply to make the races more interesting, especially the finishes. No one, except the fans of that particular driver, enjoys watching the leader streak along five seconds ahead of the field. The more preferable scenario from NASCAR's point of view is to bring the cars back together for a re-start. And that's probably preferable from the average fan's standpoint too. We usually only get upset about debris cautions when they harm our driver. 

I don't even consider bogus cautions to be that egregious of a the regular season. But I do think they are unacceptable in the Chase, when the championship is on the line. Is making a driver relinquish what was almost sure to be a win if the race played out any different than spinning on purpose to give a teammate an edge or allowing a car to pass to allow someone an extra point? Not in my book. 

- Ho hum. Kyle Busch wins another truck race and another Nationwide race. Oh, well, if it hadn't been Kyle, it probably would have been Joey or Brad.

- I was glad to see Danica have a good solid run, finishing the race in 20th. As the Rolling Stones would say, "you don't always get what you want but sometimes, you get what you need." 


Monday, October 7, 2013

Caution is Out!

Phrase of the day on Sunday was: "caution is out!" New tire, new track surface, changing temperatures - they all threw drivers for a loop. It seemed as if the field barely got going until another yellow flag slowed them down again. Of course, as fans, we hate races (a la Dover) that are almost caution free with long boring green flag runs and one driver staying in front throughout most of the race. But, equally, we hate races that are one caution after another. We're like Goldilocks. Our porridge is either too hot or too cold.

This race disproved the adage that you simply can't make mistakes in the Chase. Everyone makes mistakes but some are just better at overcoming them than others. Matt Kenseth got a speeding penalty and came back for an 11th place finish. Jimmie Johnson got caught out on pit road by a caution and had to go around the second time, losing the lead and a ton of track position, yet came back to finish sixth. It isn't that the best teams don't make mistakes, it more that they are skilled enough to minimize the mistakes they make.

It also proved that, as always, the lucky horseshoe plays its part in the outcome. The 48 car was losing an engine on the next to last lap. Jimmie had to let one car go by but he nursed his ailing race car across the finish line in 6th position. If that had happened a few laps earlier, it could have been disaster for the 48. I expect JJ gave the horseshoe as extra affectionate rub on Sunday night. 

This race was a game changer to some degree. The two at the top are the same. Jimmie is now within 3 points of Matt. But below them, Kyle Busch is probably done. As they say on ESPN - "stick a fork in him." And it's not that he'd necessarily have to be done. It is possible, although unlikely, that he could come back but I just don't think Kyle has the ability to put it behind him to focus, laser-like, on what's ahead instead of what's happened in the past. 

Kyle's whole weekend was chaos. It started when he wrecked his primary car and continued in the Nationwide race when, as he so often does, he lost sight of the big picture, getting caught up in the heat of the moment. So, I think his mind was already somewhat scattered during the Cup race, with a predictable result. 

Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon improved their situations. They are now in doable territory, although they have to hope that Jimmie and Matt each have a disastrous race befall them (and Talladega is looming on the horizon). 

I got to thinking about the Nationwide series and the drivers who will very likely be coming to Cup in the future. Quick, which of these things is not like the others - Chase Elliott, Jeb Burton, Corey LaJoie, Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, Ty Dillon? If you answered that only one of them didn't come from a racing family that gave him a glide path to his chosen career, you'd be right. Only Kyle Larson's parents essentially said, "we can't afford to help very much and we don't have any racing contacts, you're going to have to do this on your own." 

It's not that I blame the Richard Childresses and the Randy LaJoies and the Ward Burtons and the Bill Elliotts and the Dave Blaneys. Heck, I'd do exactly the same for my kids if I was in their situation but when it comes to rooting for someone to make it big, my heart will be with the one who had to scratch and scrape to get where he is. In politics, I'm predisposed to siding with the poor against the rich and I guess I'm the same way as a race fan.

On another unrelated issue, people ask me, usually sort of sneeringly, "well, what do you think of your girl, Danica now?" And what I think is that she is probably having a somewhat normal first season in Cup, especially for someone who didn't even get in a NASCAR race car until a few years ago (think: Marcos Ambrose, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sam Hornish, et al). I think the learning curve is steep and she's struggling with it. I think Stewart-Haas is still struggling with the new car too. They've had some successes but they've also had a lot of races in which they were mediocre at best. Mark Martin and Ryan Newman didn't exactly have stellar races in Kansas either. So, am I still a Danica fan? You bet. Am I willing to give her more time to prove herself? Yes, I am. Maybe she'll make it and maybe she won't but I'm in her corner until she's had a fair shot at it.

And, lastly, positive thoughts and best wishes to Dario Franchitti after his wreck. Hoping he'll be as good as new in a relatively short period of time.


Monday, September 30, 2013


AAA 400

Whew, it was a relief to see Jimmie close the points gap with Matt Kenseth and climb up to number 2 in the standings. Matt, Jimmie and Kyle seem to be running away with the Chase right now but I'm not letting myself get too comfortable, not as long as Talladega is looming out there on the horizon. Good old 'Dega can throw all our leaders' points into a blender and hit "puree". Since they tend to be running together so often, if the Big One hits near them it could easily take out one or two or all three. That could let some guys back in the hunt and maybe that would be a good thing for the eventual suspense quotient of the Chase.

Of course, Jimmie's continued domination of Dover brought the conspiracy theorists out of the woodwork. You know, don't you, that Jeff blocked for Jimmie and that Junior let him win and that NASCAR threw the caution because Clint was the only one who could make it on fuel? Blah, blah, blah. It doesn't matter what they say. We JJ fans have already resigned ourselves to waiting until Jimmie goes into the Hall of Fame to see him get the credit he deserves for being one of the all-time great race car drivers. 

I was glad to hear that 5-Hour Energy is staying with Clint Bowyer and Michael Waltrip Racing. I think what MWR did was wrong. It was probably a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10. Nevertheless, NASCAR doesn't need to be losing any sponsors and it can't afford to lose any viable teams either. Michael Waltrip is the youngest of the owners of the top echelon teams. Rick Hendrick, Jack Roush, Richard Childress and Roger Penske won't be around forever and we need young passionate team owners to support the sport (even if their passion to win gets the best of them sometimes). 

And another thing about this whole affair: I hate the way Tweeters react to situations instantaneously without thinking about long-term consequences. Everyone who has a Twitter account now thinks he or she is a dictator.

I heard a rumor that NAPA is going to stay with Martin Truex, Jr and I really hope that's true. Martin was an innocent third party who took the worst hit of all. He got screwed and I hope he ends up walking away with NAPA's $$$. 

My biggest piss-off this week was with Fox. After telling us that losing SPEED would have no effect at all on our NASCAR coverage, they cut the Race Hub to half an hour and spin a roulette wheel to decide when to put it on, they put Saturday's practices as well as a Nationwide race on Fox Sports 2 which I (and many others) don't, and can't, get. I can understand how ESPN treats us NASCAR fans like a red-headed step-child. They are bailing after this year and maybe they've been planning to do that for a while, so what we they care if we feel cheated? But Fox is picking up more races. I'd think NASCAR fans would be important to them but evidently not.

Speaking of SPEED, Steve Byrnes, my favorite of all their commentators, is on medical leave and the word is that he has cancer. I certainly wish him well and hope he's back next year. He's Mr Personality Plus of the Fox/SPEED bunch.

And, finally, Nationwide is going to drop its sponsorship of the Nationwide series next year to put their money in Cup. I wish some sponsor would step up who sees the value in actually appreciating a developmental series for what it is, a place where new stars get to shine and not one where Cup teams and drivers come down to raid the series for the money and the trophies. 

I don't mind Cup drivers driving for smaller Nationwide teams. Their input can be invaluable to teams trying to grow and competing against them is great training for new drivers.  I don't mind Cup drivers driving for their own teams. If they are willing to invest in starting a new Nationwide team and take a personal interest in helping to bring it up to a higher level, that's a good thing. I don't mind drivers who have lost their Cup rides, like Eliot Sadler and Brian Vickers, dropping down to run Nationwide stuff full-time. But I hate it when the Kyle Busch's and Joey Logano's and Brad Keselowski's race for the wins with, essentially, their Cup teams. I try to pretend they aren't even there. I try to tell myself that Kyle Larson won the Nationwide race last week but it doesn't work very well when I see Joey or Kyle celebrating in Victory Lane like they pulled off a great achievement.

Problem is, I don't know how to fix it and evidently, no one else does either. Maybe if NASCAR simply did away with owners' championships in Nationwide or whatever it will be next year, Penske and Gibbs would give it up.

So next week is Kansas. I expect more of the same in the Chase. Our top three are all good there, heck, they're all good everywhere. That's why they're the top three.    

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Negative DNA of NASCAR Fans

Of course, God loves circles best. The circle was his most basic and elemental concept. The earth is round, as is the sun and the moon and the stars and they all circle around one another. The tastiest fruits and vegetables are round and most flower petals circle around the center. First, came the circle so, I hope you don't consider it blasphemous of me to say, I'm pretty sure NASCAR is God's favorite form of auto racing.

Since God doesn't give us the benefit of his opinion, I'm going to throw out mine instead.

I just finished my latest Fan Council survey. Every week, after every race, NASCAR sends out these questionnaires to selected fans. In those surveys, fans can declare whether they believe races are the right length, too long or too short. They can rate the racing action and the television coverage. There are also inquiries that apply only to certain races - two-car tandem or pack racing, more or fewer road courses, green/white/checkered or not?  At the end of the survey is a blank place for respondents to say whatever is on their mind.

I often wonder if the employees who compile the results of the Fan Council surveys have any hair or if they are bald from pulling it all out. Mass confusion must reign in the counting room Or however the counting is done. Maybe they let computers do it for the sake of maintaining worker sanity.

My mornings begin with a run-through of all the major NASCAR sites – SPEED, Yahoo, ESPN, Fox and, naturally. I read the articles as well as the comments about the articles. If this daily routine has taught me anything at all, it is that expecting NASCAR fan-atics to agree on anything is hopeless. If there is one single thing on which they most often do come down on the same side, it is that NASCAR is wrong on almost every issue, and this is true even among fans who disagree with one another about everything else.

Fans hate the Lucky Dog and the Chase. They hate Start and Parkers and every network that broadcasts the races. They believe NASCAR throws phantom cautions except when they don’t throw enough cautions, allowing one driver stink up the show. NASCAR lets one driver get away with murder and penalizes another for biting his fingernails. Their drug testing program can’t be trusted. Everyone knows a driver can test positive for accidentally ingesting a single sesame seed. They have teams in a box that’s too tight, stifling innovation; they need to rein in these cheating crew chiefs. They call rained out races too soon; they put fans at risk by not calling races soon enough. They let “boys, have it” go dangerously too far; they chickened out and didn’t let “boys, have at it” go far enough.

Mike Helton is an idiot; Robin Pemberton is a fool and Brian France is the Destroyer of All That’s Wonderful about NASCAR. They don’t even get credit for good intentions although why it would be in the sanctioning body’s best interests to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs is beyond me. Pure meanness, I guess.

It didn’t used to be this way, you know? Not when NASCAR was perfect. Not when the good old boy drivers were men among men. Not when owners carted their racecars to the track on the back of a flatbed, wondering how they’d manage to buy another set of tires. Not when crew chiefs knew every trick in the book for getting something past NASCAR (it was clever then, not cheating).

Every championship in the modern era should have an asterisk beside it because they don’t count the same as they did in the Golden Years. No one should ever be allowed to match our heroes’ (The King and The Intimidator, respectively) record seven championships. (Normally, we hate NASCAR “fixing” things but in this case.....) Back then, if you recall, every race ended in a bumping and grinding last lap drag-race to the finish. (You say there were times when the winner was laps ahead instead of only seconds – I don’t want to hear about those).

So, I believe NASCAR should drop the Fan Council and stop trying to please impossible to satisfy fans. The more NASCAR gives, the more fans demand until they have become a mob of tin-pot dictators who threaten to give up NASCAR in favor of watching paint dry if their every whim is not catered to.

I don’t believe they’ll really do it anyway because week after week I read the same whiny posts on the NASCAR sites. They say the race was so boring, they slept through it but they still seem to know everything that happened on the track. They still managed to count every commercial. They still knew that Jimmie had a tire rolling out of his pit box until a NASCAR official stopped it! (Aha...if that’s not a conspiracy, I don’t know what is!)

Yes, I know how important fans are. Yes, I know it is our dollars spent at the tracks and our eyes on our television sets that make NASCAR viable. I know it is our passion and patronage that make sponsors willing to invest in our sport to the tune of millions of dollars a year. It know it is us our willingness to buy diecast cars and have 88’s tattooed on our arms and deck ourselves out in Jeff Gordon regalia that make NASCAR special.

But won’t we do that anyway even if NASCAR does what NASCAR does best and makes the rules about cautions and rain-outs and points systems? We talk off the top of our heads while they study complex issues, top to bottom, and try to assess the possible consequences of every decision. Do we really know what the ramifications of running Sprint Cup cars in the rain might be? Do we really know who might win or lose if Start and Parkers were booted out of NASCAR?  Is scheduling the calendar of tracks NASCAR runs on as easy as some of us seem to think?

That’s not to say I don’t believe NASCAR shouldn’t consider fans at all. If there is overwhelming agreement about something, such as instituting double-file restarts, then yes, of course, our contributions can be invaluable.

But in the day to day scheme of things, I think NASCAR shouldn’t make rule changes so often in a desperate effort to try to please its fans. It appears to be part of the DNA of a NASCAR fan to complain so, do your own thing, NASCAR, and don’t worry about trying to accomplish the impossible.