The Frontstretch: It’s Decision Time For NASCAR: Sport Or Show? by Jeff Meyer -- Thursday June 17, 2010

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It’s Decision Time For NASCAR: Sport Or Show?

Voices From the Heartland · Jeff Meyer · Thursday June 17, 2010


I can’t speak for you, but when I tune in to watch a stock car race, or any type of “race” or contest for that matter, I am fully aware that it may be a blowout. That is, after all, the whole point of competition. You do what you have to do to beat your opponent(s), and whether you win by 1 or 100, you do your utmost to achieve that victory. (Well, in most sports anyway.)

Apparently, NASCAR is not in that category.

Last Sunday, as I tuned back in to catch the end of the race at Michigan, the first thing I heard the announcers say was that Denny Hamlin had a 10-second lead on the rest of the field. Having seen a few of these contests before, my first thought was… “Well, here comes a caution!” Obviously, the powers that be that actually run these races tuned in at the same time I did, because no sooner did I have that thought, the call went down to the flagstand…“Throw the yellow… we have debris!”

And just like that, the field was bunched back up for the finish, the fifth time in fifteen races this year a debris or “oil” caution has come during the last 25 laps of the race. At this point, the practice has become so commonplace that not only do you and the rest of the fans know it’s coming, but now even the contestants themselves are planning for it.

“I knew a caution was coming, so I might as well just back off and save my tires. I knew that debris caution was coming. I understand this is show business. We’ve got to do what’s right for the fans, and they need to see a great race at the end,” said Denny Hamlin as he was interviewed after the race.

How sad is that?

Imagine the Cubs are playing in Game 4 of the World Series. (I know, that’s some imagination!) They are going into the 9th inning with a 5–0 lead. If they win, they will sweep their opponent for the ultimate title… and suddenly, the umpire calls timeout, talks briefly on his cell phone, and then instructs the men in the score booth to add four runs to the opposing team’s total! Not only that, but he then goes so far as to give a free pass to the first three batters, thereby loading the bases with no outs and the biggest slugger coming to the plate. The Cubbies wouldn’t stand a chance!

Or how about the umpire tells the Cubbie’s ace pitcher that any pitch thrown over 70 mph will be called a ball!

Denny Hamlin had a 10-second lead in last Sunday’s event in Michigan until that late-race caution closed the gap in the closing laps.

Or maybe, Tiger Woods is coming down to the final hole with a 10-stroke lead over second. Wait a minute… that’s not fair! He’s so much better than everyone else! We better take eight of those strokes back to make this tournament more interesting!

You get the point.

What I don’t get is this; why does NASCAR feel the need to manufacture excitement in its races? But do they really do that? Of course not! Just ask NASCAR President, Mike Helton.

“It was a debris caution. I’m not sure what beyond the circumstances of that you might be asking, and I heard a little bit of the chatter after the race was over with,” he said this week on SPEED. “The fact of the matter on a caution [is] it doesn’t matter if its lap 10 or lap 190 of 200, the first and foremost concern we have is for the safety of the drivers.”

“Through the course of an event, we’ll get input, sometimes it comes from the drivers, sometimes it comes from the observers that we’ve got around the race track, sometimes it comes from one of the 18 or 20 cameras that we have access to through the control tower of the event,” continued Helton. “More often than not, we can quantify whether [debris is] there or it’s not, and if it is there, we can quantify what it is, based on the things that I mentioned that we have access to. If there is any doubt, though, we are going to call a debris caution. If we see something and cannot tell what it is, we’re going to err on the side of safety. But there is always something there when we have a debris caution.”

Well, there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Straight from the horse’s mouth! Now here is the part where you, like me, sit there with great incredulousness and agree that, more than likely, it was the other end of the horse talking!

What totally baffles me even more is this; NASCAR knows it has a credibility problem. They have for a number of years now, as reflected in their dropping ratings and revenue. This year, however, I thought there was going to be some hope, as they got rid of the wing, one of several changes for the good. Why do they have to screw it up with “manufactured excitement?” The only thing missing from last Sunday’s race, much to their disappointment I’m sure, was three attempts at a green-white-checkered!

The solution is simple, folks, just like me! In order to avoid these kinds of accusations by the fans, and now even the drivers, NASCAR — having all the assets at their disposal that Helton spoke of — needs to make sure, whichever network is broadcasting the race, SHOWS THE DEBRIS! How hard is that? Pretty darned hard when there is none!

The NFL shows you replays of virtually every little penalty, right down to some big guy holding onto some other big guy’s jersey! Surely NASCAR can do that, can’t they?

Hey, I love racing. Sometimes people win by a large margin, as I said earlier, but that is the chance you take when you watch a “contest.” NASCAR, now more than ever, needs to decide: Do you want to be a “sport” or a “show?” Pick one. You can’t be both! Count me as one media member that wants to watch a “race,” not be entertained by NASCAR’s “manufactured excitement.” Save it for professional wrestling.

Bill France, Sr. had a vision to make NASCAR a household name. I doubt an “entertainment show” was what he had in mind.

Stay off the wall, (lest you cause REAL debris!)

Jeff Meyer

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Bad Wolf
06/17/2010 02:00 AM

Debrie shows up when Jr. is about to be lapped, any time Robby Gordon pits early, or when the new fans start nodding off.

Back in the day they would tell the teams when a hot dog wrapper was on the track and where it was, instead of waving the yellow. Whats next, Kyle Busch jumping out of his car on pit road to put Bad Brad in a sleeper hold?

06/17/2010 06:27 AM

NASCAR NOW (ESPN)did show the “debris” on the track during their roundtable discussion on Monday, so something was definately there. Denny said he didn’t see it, but Kasey Kane said he did. Was it a threat to the driver’s safety, who knows? Unfortunately for NASCAR these late race cautions happen so frequently that the viewing public never knows if there is really something there or not. Alan Bestwick defended ESPN for not showing the debris on Sunday (of course) by saying that the cameras can’t be everywhere – IMO, maybe they should have more cameras devoted to just showing the debris on the track.

06/17/2010 06:30 AM

Edit to my previous post – Sorry, it should have been the TNT cameras not ESPN.

Rick Jacobs
06/17/2010 08:40 AM

You are so right. Anymore, I not only find myself expecting the caution, but dreading it. I know that sounds weird, but with most races of late, I just want it to end.

Keep up the great work,

Rick Jacobs

06/17/2010 08:49 AM

I dont buy Helton’s explanation. We have all seen the quick cautions for a spin where the driver doesnt hit anything and keeps going, with no risk of incident. Then we see the no cautions when someone hits a wall and litters the track with debris. I dont doubt there is debris for most cautions, but I do doubt that some of those debris cautions are necessary. If you have a piece of debris well out of the racing groove, its not a hazard. But if they can sure use it to their advantage to tighten up the field when they feel the need, then they most certainly will throw the caution. I dont doubt at times like Sunday when Hamlin was 10 seconds out in front with the laps winding down, that they dont have guys with binoculars with their only assignment is to find debris on the track! Anyone that watches NA$CAR on a regular basis can see through their smoke and mirror explanations on their debris cautions. They think we are all uneducated rednecks and that we wont notice. We have noticed, check out the attendance and TV ratings.

06/17/2010 08:57 AM

Ratings are down…i would be curoius to know if the ratings go up in the last 30 minutes. Why watch he entire race when the only part that matters are the laps follwing the late race cuation. How many races has Gordon lost this year because NASCAR needed to add drama to the end.
All I am saying is make the entire race mean something again. If its a blowout fine, i am prepared to deal with that. What i dont want to see are the best 5 cars wrecked out of the race because of a late caution and for a guy that has been running around 20th all day get a win he surely didnt deserve. while your at it get rid of the ridiculus 10 race chase. If you want the points closer at the end of the season modify the points system and give wins a higher score, stop giving 5 points for a sigle lap, give 20 points for most laps led, and stop giving points after 20th so wrecked cars stay of the track.

On a side note. I would rather have a car spin out from bloeing a tire after hitting debris than get a bogus caution. at then I will know the debris was real.

06/17/2010 09:04 AM

I heard Helton’s explanation and I’m not buying it either. NASCAR has screwed themselves out of having credibility with the fans with so many of their decisions made to manufacture excitement. Then they try and use the reasoning that “the fans want it”. Well, not this fan. What I want to see is a real race — maybe some side by side action, not a contrived finish by making a crapshoot out of the end of the race with multiple green-white-wreckers. Helton can stand there and say “we do it to keep the drivers safe” – this after doing multiple restarts at Talladega? How safe was that?

Between being Waltrip’d out, terrible TV broadcasts (Fox) and the idiotic chase, why bother watching anything but the last 10 laps, that’s when all bets will be off and we’ll have “excitement” or at least wrecks, which I guess means the same thing to NASCAR.

06/17/2010 10:12 AM

Cautions that could be considered suspect , to say the least , have been part of Nascar since the very first race . Was there really a reason to throw a caution , why didn’t they throw a caution for an identical situation earlier in the race , why didn’t they throw a caution at all when it was obviously warranted ? Who knows . It’s Nascars’ game , they will play it any way they see fit . Fan , racer , and blogger input is roundly ignored , it always has been .
But i for one don’t care if they show the debris . It makes no difference . Nascar will throw a caution whether one is needed or not . Thats the way it’s been for 50 years , get used to it and stop worrying about catching them at something . Because even if it is proven that there was no debris , would that really be a surprise . And if it were proven that a caution was phoney , what are the fans and media going to do about it anyway ? Nothing . Just learn to go with the flow folks , it’s a lot easier on your blood pressure .

Lawrence Brown
06/17/2010 10:20 AM

Nascar has become the new WWE. At 63 I have seen many races and decided it time to watch indy cars. R.I.P. Nascar

06/17/2010 11:13 AM

I live in Indianapolis, near the track. There were very few things I liked about the F-1 that was here for a few years, but one thing they did NASCAR could help with their yellow problem. One year at the F-1 race a car stalled on the inside of the main straightaway. They ran 1 lap of caution, showed the cars where it was and told them to “not to go low“and went back to green— leaving the car there for the remainder of the race. It was great— no caution after caution after caution— just racing. Also— NASCAR could benefit from the F-1 time limit on a race.

06/17/2010 11:32 AM

You’re right. I knew the debris caution was coming. As for Helton, the back end of the horse was heard loud and clear. When the debris caution happened, I switched to a baseball game. This is coming from an older once hardcore fan. nas$car is losing all credibility.

06/17/2010 11:56 AM

Mark: It certainly hasn’t been this way for 50 years (though I admit I’ve only been alive for half that time). But look back in the history books to how many caution-free races there were, or how many races only had a few cautions. Back then, NASCAR didn’t feel the need to bunch up the field at the end. We had many caution-free races even in the ’90s because they just let the drivers race and things turned out naturally. What a concept!

06/17/2010 12:17 PM

EVERY SPORTS EVENT on tv is an entertainment show… tv pays the bucks, tv calls the shots… “instant replay” like GWC has little nothing to do the game/event fairness; it’s 2+ mins of el primo tv advertising… 15sec ads = $300K X 8 = a cool $2.4 million…

ex-Na$car fan
06/17/2010 12:29 PM

someone needs to go back the old races for the last couple years & see how many late race cautions there were compared to this year

Carl D.
06/17/2010 12:54 PM

Why doesn’t Nascar just go to mandatory G-W-C finishes in ALL races and be done with it? Who needs credibility when you’ve got the Mall Cop & the Zohan classing up the telecasts?

06/17/2010 12:58 PM

Kevin , you might want to read some accounts of the old days , Smokeys’ books for instance . Mysterious cautions happened all the time , though usually when a Nascar fav was about to be lapped . There have been numerous almost caution free races over the last twenty years . In fact i believe there have been several caution free races in the last ten years .
Sometimes i wonder if the reason for more cautions nowdays might be because of the quality of drivers . Man , they can’t even seem to get through the first turn on a re-start without running over each other . And a GWC is almost a guarantee to bring about at least two attempts , someone always manages to spin out all by themselves on each re-start .

06/17/2010 01:16 PM

The reason Nascar has to manufacture excitement at the end of races is because the product they put out there is garbage. They seem to have their head in the sand about fixing the car and try to put a band aid over it with, GWC finishes, double file restarts ect to spice things up.

Fix the darn product on the track and you won’t have to worry about creating excitement at the end of races, it will fix itself.

06/17/2010 01:36 PM

The race last week was boring. I’ve seen more action on the interstate.

06/17/2010 01:47 PM

For the way many of the tv announcers praise everthing nascar does you would think the networks would do a MUCH better job of locating the “debris”.

When I have been at Bristol for the races I always listen to nascar tower and every time the talk about “debris” this takes a couple 3 laps before caution came out and I always saw the workers pick up “something”.

While I believe there are too many “debris” cautions I also believe the networks like the controversy they produce by not showing the “debris”.

Mark I believe you and Kevin are both correct and think that with the POOR product that nascar is now putting on the track they have to manipulate the finish to make it exciting.

06/17/2010 02:06 PM

Sometimes the debris they show at later times is not necessarily the debris they were talking about at the time of a particular caution. IOW, keep an eye out on the replays and you may be surprised at the ‘debris location’ if they do show it later. Plus, drivers are famous for throwing stuff from their windows to get the caution they need. My biggest complaint is the fact that they are never consistent about the debris cautions. One time they will, next time they won’t. All depends on who needs an advantage at the time.

06/17/2010 02:29 PM

Why don’t they just decide in the driver’s meeting who will win the race? It won’t be Robby Gordon.

06/17/2010 04:53 PM

NASCAR has shown for several years they can’t be believed. The double talk we hear is always the crap about driver safety when they bunch the field so driver safety is actually compromised. It’s as bad as pro wrestling.

Richard in N.C.
06/17/2010 06:02 PM

There can always be a question, but from my experience I have learned that the majority of the media at best is sloppy and at worst is biased, at least in favor of writing something to attract attention regardless of the facts. Obviously there was debris as Kahne said – which you could have seen if you were at the track rather than allegedly watching the race on TV. Most of you media guys don’t want the facts about debris (and apparently don’t care since you are responsible for nothing), you just want an issue to bash NASCAR with for your personal gain. No wonder newspapers have become an endangered species.

Chris Evans
06/17/2010 08:25 PM

Well I think NASCAR is a big boy and can take the bashing with the best of them.

I also figured when Hamlin had a ten second lead that there would be a caution flag coming up soon to bunch them back up. Thankfully the drivers decided not to have a huge pig pile of a wreck like they did at Pocono the week before.

I like Kahne but I think his view on the debris and its danger might be biased by his running in second place and being behind ten seconds at the time.


D W Taylor
06/17/2010 09:37 PM

I’ve been a fan since the early ’60’s, but I haven’t been to a race in 8 years and I’ve watched very few for the entire race. It has gotten so that you can guess the winner, but can’t tell the difference in the cars without a decal on the hood. Furthermore, you all are right that it is “only a show” now.
If NASCAR would like to hold real races, instead of bunching the cars up at the end and/or running restrictors and air deflectors to slow them down, how about using real car bodies. Raise the cars 1”, do away with lip spoilers and reduce the rubber. They will slow down, meanwhile being more responsive to the throttle. Then, the manufacturer who looses will come out with a better and slicker car next year. (Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday really did work).

06/17/2010 10:52 PM

Ho Hummm. I have pretty much given up on NASCAR. All for show and not for go I say. I find that I don’t even tune in for the last 30-40 laps of the race of late! I guess I have joined the ranks of the “I don’t care anymore” NASCAR fan group. Too bad it all became about money and racing had to go.

06/17/2010 11:05 PM

“What I don’t get is this; why does NASCAR feel the need to manufacture excitement in its races?”
Really? Do you really have to ask?

06/18/2010 09:33 AM

yup… ratings are down; and attendance is worse, MI looked ~50%… CA/Fontana terrible, Bristol looked full…

06/18/2010 10:14 AM

NASCAR wouldn’t have to resort to such means to manufacture excitement if they would just get away from the ridiculous idea that all of the cars have to be exactly alike. That is what makes watching the entire race so boring. Surely NASCAR would have learned from the IROC series that a bunch of guys racing the exact same cars is boring.

06/18/2010 11:37 AM

Mark, I’m not saying that mystery cautions are a completely new thing in NASCAR. However, it does seem like they have become much more frequent in recent years, especially late in the race or after a long green-flag run.

Regarding caution-free races, we have not had one in about 8 years and I would venture to say that we’ll never have another one, at least not as long as NASCAR keeps going in the same direction. The last two were both at Talladega (2001, 2002) and the next one prior to those was at Michigan in 1999.

06/18/2010 11:41 AM

I agree with Kylelectric….Racing should not have identical cars, then it’s just a drivers race.

06/18/2010 03:08 PM

DW Taylor is on to the answer. Read his comment on racing “real” cars.

06/18/2010 03:46 PM

My daughter won a couple of tickets a few years ago on a radio call in show and gave them to me. i gave them to a guy at work


Contact Jeff Meyer

Recent articles from Jeff Meyer:

Voices From The Cheap Seats: The Tale Of Two Tires
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