The Frontstretch: Dialing It In: NASCAR Needs To Come Clean by Jay Pennell -- Thursday July 29, 2010

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Dialing It In: NASCAR Needs To Come Clean

Jay Pennell · Thursday July 29, 2010

 

Earlier this week, The Associated Press reported that NASCAR had fined two of its “star drivers” for comments detrimental to the sport of stock car racing – so to speak. The fines, one of which was as much as $50,000, were not officially announced by NASCAR, but the sanctioning body later confirmed the reports. No driver was named while officials are being very hush, hush about the entire controversy.

These unannounced fines come at a time in which NASCAR has pushed the “Have at it, boys” philosophy and even promoted scary incidents which have resulted from that mentality. However, when a driver is critical of the sport while talking with the media, he is apparently now hit with a fine in secret and sent a clear message by the sport’s top brass in Daytona Beach.

Prior to the start of the 2010 season, NASCAR met with the drivers and teams to discuss their expectations for the upcoming season. This is where the “Have at it, boys” philosophy was born, but also where officials warned drivers if they spoke ill of the sport itself, they would be hit with a fine.

Six months later, turns out that step’s already been taken … we just didn’t know about it. Late Wednesday afternoon, ESPN’s David Newton reported that multiple sources close to the situation indicated the two drivers fined for their comments were Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Ryan Newman.

Is it Denny Hamlin in the penalty box? Or was it somebody else’s caustic words that NASCAR found offensive?

Talking with members of the media last weekend in Indianapolis, Denny Hamlin was discussing his recent meeting with NASCAR and the changes that were discussed. When asked if he had any suggestions of his own, Hamlin responded with a smile on his face, saying, “I’ve got to be real careful what I say.” This was prior to news breaking of the fines; but when Hamlin was asked why he needed to be careful, he simply answered another question.

Many believe Hamlin could be one of the two drivers fined for their comments, with his post-race criticism following a win at Michigan coming to mind. In that race, Hamlin’s lead disappeared during the final laps due to a debris caution. Hamlin was able to score the win in spite of it, but later called into question NASCAR’s decision to throw the yellow.

“Well, I mean, it’s tough because I was literally thinking inside the car, I’m all for some of these cautions. You know, if I don’t win the race because maybe I get a bad restart or something, then probably I’m angry because I feel like NASCAR changed the outcome of the race,” Hamlin said. “But, you know, we did everything. It was still on me to do my job to win the race. I feel like I got a good restart, got clear of those guys. You know, I understand this is show business.”

“No, I didn’t see any debris, if that’s what you’re asking,” he added later. “I mean, we typically get (debris cautions) every single week. I’m not going to say it’s accepted, but what can you do?”

Hamlin’s comments after the Michigan race brought to light the issue many fans and some in the media often complain about – “phantom” debris cautions. By saying he did not see the debris, that late-race cautions were “accepted,” and that he understands NASCAR is “show business,” he called the sport’s credibility into question.

As far as what Newman said to rile up officials, it’s anyone’s guess. However, over the years, he has been one of the most outspoken critics of restrictor plate races, especially when it comes to cars getting airborne. In 2009, Newman’s car was hit by Carl Edwards flying through the air. Later that year, he flipped multiple times, showing public disgust towards NASCAR for not keeping cars on the ground. Finally, following April’s race in Talladega – where he wrecked a third straight time – Newman let loose concerning how much he despised the plates.

“I was thinking about when I was out there, these shouldn’t be points races,” he said in frustration. “If they want to have these races for the fans, just let us come here and do this, but don’t let it affect our championship because it’s not racing. If this is NASCAR racing, we should be here for the Talladega Event Marketing or something like that. Something different besides racing.”

There is no telling if this comment was the one that got Newman in hot water with NASCAR; however, the tone of the comments seem to go along with what the sport is trying to keep a lid on.

This is not the first time drivers have called NASCAR into question. In 2007, Hamlin’s former and Newman’s current teammate and owner Tony Stewart compared the sport to professional wrestling, alleging it threw cautions simply for the purpose of entertainment. Stewart accused the sanctioning body of “playing God” and determining the outcome of races instead of letting the drivers settle it for themselves. Making the comments on his then-radio slot on SIRIUS NASCAR Radio, Stewart went on to say:

“I guess NASCAR thinks, ‘Hey, wrestling worked, and it was for the most part staged, so I guess it’s going to work in racing, too.’ I can’t understand how long the fans are going to let NASCAR treat them like they’re stupid before the fans finally turn on [the sport].”

That incident raised many eyebrows, but NASCAR did not penalize Stewart for his comments. However, in the three years since Stewart’s rant, things have changed.

In a blog entitled, Working Together For The Good Of The Sport, on NASCAR.com, Ramsey Poston, NASCAR’s Managing Director of Communications, explained why the sanctioning body felt it necessary to penalize their drivers for speaking out against the sport.

“No business owner would permit employees, vendors, or partners to damage their business – nor can we,” he wrote. “It is the sanctioning body’s obligation on behalf of the entire industry to protect the brand, just like every other major sport.”

Already competing with the stick-‘n’-ball crowd, NASCAR is fighting poor attendance, falling ratings, and waning popularity amongst some of its most basic fans. With talks of more changes to the Chase and major schedule realignment most likely in the works for next year, this controversial decision simply gives them yet another reason to change the channel and turn away.

Tuesday evening, I spoke with some race fans in Gastonia, N.C. and discussed this particular issue. One gentleman believed no driver should be fined for speaking his mind, and that the issue had made NASCAR look bad. He had his suspicions as to which drivers were the guilty parties, but regardless felt the sport should be open and honest about the situation now and in the future. Another fan explained the incident was simply another reason she stopped going to the races and watching on television.

Twenty years ago, NASCAR was full of superstars that were also dominant personalities inside the garage. Guys like Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace and others were commanding figures that were able to voice concern… and NASCAR would listen. But since the passing of Dale Earnhardt in 2001, there has been a lack of a single figurehead that commands the same respect from the drivers — or NASCAR.

Instead, the sport has been more concerned about television ratings, expanding their market, and increasing their bottom line. While it is important for the powers that be to keep its business moving forward, it is also essential for them to remember they are a sport built on the likes and needs of the fan base. Right now, it seems as if they’re clamoring to have someone step up and not be afraid to speak their mind.

So by worrying so much about what their drivers are saying, NASCAR is only hurting the sport by keeping all of this quiet. People like transparency these days. Our current President was elected thanks in part to promising to be transparent once in office. Just recently, some 90,000 documents were leaked about the war in Afghanistan.

Typically, when things are hidden away from those that want to know, those doing the hiding are the ones that suffer the most.

Thursday on the Frontstretch:
Fanning The Flames: NASCAR’s Methods From Yesteryear Won’t Work In Today’s Environment
MPM2Nite: 1313 Turkey Court
Gateway Melee Overshadows Great Driving By NASCAR Up-And-Comer
Fantasy Insider: Stewart, Harvick Primed For Second Round Of Pocono Success

Contact Jay Pennell

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Sal
07/29/2010 07:08 AM
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Nascar constantly reminds us that drivers are independent contractors, and not employed by Nascar whenever the topic is pensions or heath insurance. Now, the say they are fining ‘employees’ for denigrating the company. You can’t have it both ways. If, say, I use a Sprint phone, does that mean they can fine me for expressing dissatisfaction with their service? It’s also ironic that the fines came because Nascar was accused of interfering with the natural outcome of races when Brian France is talking about tinkering with a totally contrived situation (the ‘chase’) to make it even more contrived to put on a better ‘show’.

Johnboy60
07/29/2010 07:47 AM
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Personally, the best think that nascrap could do is remove all the “gags“and let the guys talk!! We all know nascrap is trying to control not only the raceing but what we hear and see. Credibility is not anything in this sport any more. Brian Farce is brain dead, coked up, and ALL his henchmen are butt kissers! The sooner the sport dies the sooner a real racing series will spring up!!
The only difference between Brian and Obama is the color of their skin!!…They both are lier s about openness.

DdrossyD
07/29/2010 08:01 AM
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Nascar needs to take a look back at where the sport started losing it’s tv audience and fans buying tickets. “CHASE” format comes to mind. As for hiding fine, come on, this does hurt Nascars credibility. And they are playing “god” so to speak as the fans and drivers mention everyweek. How can you be a sport when you play a role in the outcomes like Nascar does. This does not help their cause

Carl D.
07/29/2010 08:44 AM
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In my opinion, what the media needs to take away from this more than anything else is that they must be the voice when dissent is necessary. The drivers can’t do it. The crews can’t do it. The fans can speak via the internet (but their real power their wallets and their TV remotes). Absolutely no has a powerful enough forum to make an impact by telling the truth than the media. This should be a wake-up call to those folks who claim that Frontstretch writers are too critical of the sport they cover. Nascar has it’s paid PR people to spout the corporate line, and they’ve placed a gag order on those inside the sport. More than ever we need a media that is committed to reporting the truth.

Sherri T
07/29/2010 09:04 AM
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As an outsider (and a fan) looking in, my impression is that the first two generations of the France family, while being in charge, worked WITH the other participants in NASCAR to make a better SPORT. This generation seems to think it’s above it all, that it controls it all and that it’s making a better ENTERTAINMENT. Get real! If you want to produce entertainment, get a job in Hollywood! Go back to the sports roots, quit trying to “tweak” the thing to death! I think the France’s need to remember what is told to salepeople every day, it takes a lot more to gain a new customer than keep an old customer. Take care of the fans you have (had)! Stick with the sport that was popular!

DoninAjax
07/29/2010 09:45 AM
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Here’s another article saying the same things.

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/425827-half-empty-stands-at-indianapolis-shows-nascars-not-in-good-shape

wcfan
07/29/2010 09:51 AM
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Just saw Jamie Mac on Mike and Mike, Looks like he will probably be fined he said winning Daytona and the Brickyard were better then making chase but not winning.

Cliff
07/29/2010 10:39 AM
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You know, without Ryan Newman actually speaking his mind, they wouldn’t have changed the wing back to a spoiler. Like everyone else says, NASCAR is turning more into the federal government, they don’t listen to the public and do whatever the heck they want, without regard to consequences.

#3fan4ever
07/29/2010 10:42 AM
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NASCAR died shortly after Dale Sr. did. Creating the COT and The Chase were the final nails in their coffin.
There is no hero, there is no person to respect, there is no one.
All NASCAR has become is a bunch of whiny advertisement millionaires.

wcfan
07/29/2010 11:49 AM
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#3fan
Could not agree more, was thinking of making similar comments myself.

After Dale death there was NO NONE that had both the respect of his fellow drivers and nascar as Dale did. He listened to the fans(not just his, but all fans) to see what the liked\wanted and what they disliked and Bill Jr respected Dale enough to know this info was good, and acted on it. Now you have the Stooges in Daytona that know it all, Just ask them.

While the economy is bad, ten years ago with this same economy there would not have been THIS NUMBER OF EMPTY SEATS at the track.

JER
07/29/2010 12:55 PM
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Yes, I agree NASCAR is very similar to the Obama administration. Do your own agenda, no matter if the majority is against it.
In a sense, NASCAR is at the verge of calling its fans stupid. Do they really think, that Hamlin, Newman or Stewart voiced they opinions
so NASCAR would fail. These drivers are just echoes of what many fans have been saying for a long time. Improve NASCAR!! Get it Mr.
France! NASCAR has often told its drivers when challenged on a issue, that hey, you need NASCAR, NASCAR doesn´t need you.
Well Mr. France you want to tell the fans that NASCAR doesn´t need them. The fans can bring NASCAR, to their knees, already the
body punches have been felt, although they won´t publicly acknowledge it. Fans keep your wallets in your pocket and the TV broadcast
off. In the end NASCAR will change to the fans wishes or will cease to exist. Your choice Mr. France.

RandyGoldman
07/29/2010 01:32 PM
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Why didnt Nascar just shut down shop then? Dale’s dead… nothin to see here… time to go home.

Jeez! Thats like saying Basketball wasnt the same after Jordan retired (either time).

Man the “life was better when Sr was around” crap gets old really really fast.

4EVER3
07/29/2010 01:41 PM
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Y’all got it right,The death of Dale E. began the death of NASCAR.France is just moving it along.

Bettye Knight
07/29/2010 08:57 PM
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Who is paying Nascar’s salary?? we are, the fans. If we don’t buy tickets to see them race, the they would have to close shop. I think they should let the drivers say what hey want to ,they are not childern that should be punished, and sent to their room. Nascar should shut up, are maybe we should go on strike, against them. See what happens then.

GW
07/29/2010 09:20 PM
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I suppose NASCAR will wan to fine sports writers and fans next. Well they can shove it where the sun doesn’t shine. Brian France is a jerk.