The Frontstretch: What Does NASCAR Want: Candid Answers Or Sponsor Whores? by Brett Poirier -- Tuesday March 12, 2013

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What Does NASCAR Want: Candid Answers Or Sponsor Whores?

Racing to the Point · Brett Poirier · Tuesday March 12, 2013


Let’s build NASCAR’s perfect driver. What would he look like? What would he act like? What would he say?

I envision him being something like Michael Waltrip, but with a better on-track resume. He’d climb from his car after playing follow the leader for 300 laps, or after flipping, end-over-end at Daytona or Talladega and say, “That sure was fun. I have such a blast racing these cars. I want to thank Aaron’s — where you can rent or lease for only $20 — 5-Hour Energy, NAPA, Peak Antifreeze, (16 other sponsors), Sprint and most of all NASCAR.”

“Can I say that?” Why does Denny Hamlin have to ask himself “that question” during every media appearance?

Follow that up with a smile and a stupid joke and you have an interview. Now, when I said NASCAR’s perfect driver, I meant the one the sport is looking for. He might not work for the rest of us.

The rest of us seem to value honesty. It’s one of our inherent flaws. Last Sunday, in a refreshing turn from the usual monotony of driver interviews, Denny Hamlin made some off-the-cuff remarks mildly criticizing the new Generation 6 car. By NASCAR’s reaction, you would have thought a North Korean criticized the country’s nuclear missile program.

Hamlin was fined $25,000 for stating that the car needed some work — fans at home already knew this criticism before the interview.

Had Hamlin been NASCAR’s perfect driver, he would’ve immediately issued an apology, said something great about the car and the racing, and paid the fine. Lesson learned, right? Not so much. He said he wouldn’t pay.

“Ultimately, I’m not OK with it,” Hamlin said. “This is the most upset and angry I’ve been in a really, really long time about anything … anything that relates to NASCAR. The truth is what the truth is. I don’t believe in this. I’m never going to believe in it. As far as I’m concerned, I’m not going to pay the fine. If they suspend me, they suspend me. I don’t care at this point.”

Hamlin also said he was done talking about the racing and the car for the rest of the year. What should reporters ask you about Denny? The weather? The stock market? Housing prices?

NASCAR fined Hamlin to try and protect its public image and it did more harm than good. Now, a driver that is expected to contend for a championship is going to be extra careful every time a reporter is near. Why? Simply because Hamlin climbed from his car at Phoenix after running single-file for most of the day and said what we were all thinking. He told the truth.

Honesty clearly has no place in NASCAR these days. Instead, it’s “push the product that the governing body is pushing,” or else. Share your opinion as long as it parallels our own. Unfortunately, it’s this kind of leadership combined with an ever-changed sponsorship landscape that has drivers sounding more like robots than people.

The nice thing about Hamlin’s response last Sunday was he thought about the question being asked and let us all know how he felt, and probably even held back a little. That’s become a rarity, though.

A typical interview is more like:

Reporter: Could you describe the racing out there?

Driver: Well, the Aflac-Fastenal Ford Fusion was really fast. Jimmy Fennig did a great job setting up this car and we get great engines from Roush Fenway…

(I’m not throwing Carl Edwards under the bus. It was just an example.)

It’s an automated response. Much of that is the direct result of the demands of sponsors, who want drivers mentioning their brands each time they speak because they are pouring absurd amounts into the teams. They also don’t want their “spokespeople” saying or doing anything controversial (I’m talking about you, Kyle Busch).

And on top of all that, NASCAR is policing opinions, so drivers are even more on eggshells. The end result is fans at home don’t feel they have anyone they connect with, particularly young people and new viewers looking for a new face to follow.

According to the Sports Business Journal, NASCAR saw a 25 percent ratings drop in the 18-to-34-year-old demographic last year.

No kidding.

Engaging, opinionated personalities are what helped draw fans to the sport for so long. The racing wasn’t always great by any means, but fans wanted to see Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and Bill Elliott because they weren’t only great drivers, but you didn’t know what they were going to say or do next.

Now, NASCAR is relying strictly on the racing to draw fans — and last time I checked, it was losing that battle. It’s not that the competition is bad either, but if you were a casual fan checking in for the first time, how would you decide whom to follow? Would you go by the color of the car? The sponsor on the hood? The 30-second interview in which someone talks about a bunch of sponsors and maybe mentions a racing term you are unfamiliar with?

Let’s see if any re-runs of Duck Dynasty are on. The casual fan is most likely going to lose interest pretty quick and change the channel.

So when NASCAR discourages a driver like Hamlin from sharing his opinion, we all lose. Each time NASCAR pulls Brad Keselowski, one of the most engaging personalities in the series, into the hauler, we all lose.

The pressure today’s drivers face from sponsors is bad enough, but the governing body is only making it worse. It’s creating robots, armed without feelings or opinions. Everything is just great all the time. Yay, positivity!

NASCAR’s in the process of molding the Sprint Cup field into its version of the perfect drivers. After each race, they’ll climb from the car with a big, fake smile, thanking sponsors while telling us that everything is wonderful, even when everyone watching at home knows it isn’t. That should attract fans, right?

NASCAR, be careful what you wish for.

Contact Brett Poirier

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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03/12/2013 06:17 AM

Great article, Brett. Agree with you 100%. NASCAR could write a book about how to make enemies and get rid of friends. They are completely ignorant of the fact that we have free speech in this country. Well, maybe they do but you better not be talking to a reporter.

Carl D.
03/12/2013 08:10 AM

The correct answer is, of course, sponsor whores.

I’m pretty sure anybody on Duck Dynasty could do a better job of running Nascar than Brian France, including Uncle Si.

03/12/2013 08:52 AM

Agree 100%! If there was ever an example of how to ruin a sport nascar is a perfect example. Not only casual watchers but 30 plus year watchers as myself only watched the end of the race. Where does the political correctness end?

03/12/2013 09:39 AM

As a “old timer” I chill at the thought of the words that might come from the mouths of “Fireball Roberts” Smoky Yunick, Jr. Johnson. Lee Petty and the like. This sport is truly near or at it’s bottom

03/12/2013 09:49 AM

“Honesty clearly has no place in NASCAR.”

As long as DW, Mikey, LarryMac, Kenny and most of the other “commentators” are on air this is what we get. NA$CAR can do no wrong and is always right. And God help you if you tell the truth. I wonder what would have happened if Big E had said it.

03/12/2013 11:05 AM

Great article, Brett. yes, they want sponsor whores and Mikey is a prime example of that. the conflict of interest in having an ACTIVE owner/driver in the booth – even if he’s only driving part time is so repugnant to me that I don’t bother with any pre-race shows and watch very little of Fox’s broadcast – any of it I do watch has the sound muted. I can’t do anything about the choices that Fox has made for this booth, but I can choose to watch or not. I’m not in the coveted demographic, however, I used to really enjoy watching racing on TV. Not so much any more.

I heard that Kenny Wallace did his usual spiel to the crowd on raceday and offended a bunch of people with his – most of you don’t make $25,000? Wow, great way to make friends. My dream is that one of these days, they’ll have that show at the track and no one will show up. We walk right past it – have for the past several yrs. No interest at all in listening to Kenny yap.

They can silence the drivers with the Big Brother act. They can also lose even more fans with this nonsense. NASCAR tried the “shut up and drive” approach a few years ago. It was a failure. NASCAR thinks and treats the fans as if they are stupid. Funny how that approach hasn’t helped the ratings or attendance. It isn’t ALL the economy. From my own personal experience attending races, it simply isn’t worth the time and $ that it used to be.

awww shucks
03/12/2013 11:22 AM

i think brad daugherty in the prerace hasn’t shown bias as an owner. can’t wait for espn or even TNT. too bad fox has most of the races…..

The Cold Hard Truth
03/12/2013 11:28 AM

Are the Fox broadcasters also employed directly by Nascar? The most excited Larry Mac was the entire race was when he announced the number of lead changes during the race. I never though I would see the day that “Jaws” speak only the company line. It is refreshing to hear Kyle Petty on Raceday. He must not be getting a check from Brian France. It is good to be the son of a King.

03/12/2013 11:44 AM

Still no response from what has become my favorite email address: I sent them another nasty message this AM.

Carl D.
03/12/2013 11:48 AM

CHT: Kyle Petty has always spoken his mind, Nascar be damned. Yes, that’s refreshing in today’s Nascar.

03/12/2013 12:10 PM

@Jim – I’m positive you are really not waiting for a reply are you. (LOL)

Sue Rarick
03/12/2013 02:01 PM

I used to watch every Nascar related show on TV. Been a fan since Fireball Roberts. And now I turn on the race near the end and if I hear the dreaded “fuel consevation” comment go to another channel or back into the studio. At best I’ll watch the last 20%.

It’s just become boring and a bunch of lying smiling faces, for the most part. And I can’t seeing it get anything but worse.

Bill B
03/12/2013 03:13 PM

What Does NASCAR Want: Candid Answers Or Sponsor Whores?

If you’ve been paying attention for the last several years the answer is obvious…. sponsor whores.

Jim… Is that email address really for feedback to NASCAR about the sport or for something like feedback for the website?

Sue…a lot of times they bring up fuel mileage because unless there is a timely (debris) caution, the only hope of any drama at the end of the parade, err, I mean race, is fuel mileage. I’ve also noticed that if they hear a driver say there may be something amiss on the car they harp on it no matter how minor. 99% of the time nothing goes wrong with the car. They are just so starved for a way to create excitement due to lack of racing on the track that they latch onto anything to create a false sense of drama.

03/12/2013 04:35 PM

Bill, not sure where it’s going to. The first time I found it and used it was some time ago and I did at that time receive a response. This time not the case. At that time the response included that my thoughts would be passed on. I am an old timer. The first race I attended was the 1973 Daytona 500 while still in high school.

03/12/2013 07:24 PM

@ Bill & Jim – That is the email address that fan council members use to get in touch with Nascar.

Bill B
03/12/2013 08:54 PM

Hmmm, what the hell, I’ll send a few emails their way.
Thanks Jim and Surf!

Bad Wolf
03/12/2013 09:20 PM

I miss the old days for sure. One year at the Indianapolis 500 Tom Carnegie asked AJ Foyt over the PA system how his car ran, and he answered “Like a Tub of S*#t”. I wonder how Nascar would handle that response in their series today.