Monday, September 30, 2013

NASCAR Rolls On

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 NASCAR.com, 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.