The Frontstretch: MPM2Nite: Clearing Off The Desk by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday April 21, 2011

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MPM2Nite: Clearing Off The Desk

Matt McLaughlin · Thursday April 21, 2011

 

There’s darn few weeks off included in the modern Cup schedule, three all together if I am counting correctly. The second of those three falls this weekend for Easter and the final one three months hence sits in late July. Before starting my much anticipated riding break I had some notes scribbled on various bits of paper scattered around my desk, none important enough to warrant a column of their own, but combined perhaps enough to elicit some debate.

Yellow Line Fever

If you are even moderately clever it isn’t hard to find still images or even video footage of Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 car with his left front tire clearly on or below the line racing to the front at Talladega on the final lap. Was there a rules infraction there and should a penalty have been imposed? I don’t know and apparently neither does anyone else. The rule I hear stated most often is a driver is not allowed to go below the yellow line to advance his position at Talladega or Daytona.

Firstly we need to define “below”. Is a driver only below the yellow line at these tracks when his passenger side tires go below the yellow line? Is running on but not over that line OK? Then we need to define the “yellow line”. There’s actually two yellow lines (similar to what you might see in a no passing zone on the highway with a strip of gray asphalt between them). Which one is “the” yellow line? If a driver dips below the uppermost yellow line, but not below the lower one has he crossed “the” yellow” line or “a” yellow line. Then how do we define “advancing his position”? Clearly if a driver is second, crosses the line and returns above it in first he has advanced his position. But if he’s second, a car length and a half behind the leader, dips below the line and returns to the track on the leader’s rear bumper has he advanced his position or merely furthered his cause?

On Sunday it appeared Johnson got right down there on the line in doing so forced Mark Martin, who’d been coming down to block, to give way to avoid wrecking his teammate, Johnson, opening the lane ahead for the No. 48 and No. 88 cars.

Then there’s the rule that states that a driver may go below the yellow line(s) if he is forced down there. Define “forced”. Does there need to be sustained side-by-side contact, or is the fact the other driver is coming down on a fellow and it appears collision is imminent does the lower driver have the right to keep moving inside the track? One could make an argument that even Jeff Burton wasn’t “forced” out of bounds Sunday. He could have locked down the brakes and stayed above the yellow line. What a merry mess that would have been as the field got decimated in the resultant wreck.

This would all be vastly easier to understand if fans questioning the “no call” on the No. 48 could grab up their copy of the rulebook and read how the rule was spelled out like in a real sport. But of course NASCAR steadfastly refuses to release that book to the fans claiming it contains trade secrets and intellectual property. In fact it might be the only item related to the sport they haven’t tried to cash in to make a quick buck. Meanwhile we’re left scratching our heads as folks try to figure out if there’s a different rule concerning the yellow line for folks like Regan Smith and another for Jimmie Johnson and his ilk.

So Was the Cure Was Than the Cold?

Fans weren’t a fan of the big packs accustomed with old plate racing, but are the two-car tandems worse?

The debate goes on. Which is worse on the plate tracks, the “old-style” pack racing, or the new style 2×2 racing? Forced to decide, which is like choosing between a wide awake colonoscopy or a no-narcotic root canal, I come down on the side of the two-by-two racing. At least the number of cars gathered up in the big wreck is lower and they tend to stay on the ground, thus returning some degree of driver control and skill to the equation. Jeff Burton and Ryan Newman’s lurid slides would almost certainly have wound up in field decimating wrecks under the old system with 30 cars stacked up four wide in a single pack. But don’t look for me to put on a short skirt and pick up my pom-poms for the new style of racing anytime soon either.

According to the drivers, the second (pushing) driver has no view of what’s going on ahead of them, as they race in close quarters at 190 MPH while occasionally glancing down to change radio frequencies to find out if the race is over yet. Whose decision was it that was a good idea? Maybe to even things out between the leading driver and the pushing driver all the cars should have their windshields covered in duct tape with a postage stamp sized cutout to allow them a quick glimpse of where they are? The spotters can direct the drivers how to steer their cars and make laps. (Or perhaps eventually we can eliminate the drivers all together and have the spotters drive those cars by remote control from the rooftop?)

Spotting is a difficult job. I’ve seen it done close up standing shoulder to shoulder with the usual suspects. It worries me that the spotters are now responsible for clearing not one car, but the two car tandems, with various degrees of success. After all if my driver has just made a pass for the lead with the help of someone else pushing him is it not in my team’s best interest late in the race to tell that second driver he’s clear when’s he not to take out two of my guy’s primary opponents? There’s only one signature at the bottom of my spotter’s paycheck, not two.

The basic problem here is the plates, used only at Talladega and Daytona. The size of the track, the banking and the speeds the cars run as a result are the root of the evil. Since both tracks were recently repaved and the banking wasn’t lowered it looks like we’re stuck with this mess. NASCAR and the ISC have always been more liberal spending the team owners’ money than their own. The plates were a “temporary” solution that have haunted up for over two decades now. The speeds need to be lower to make the racing better though that might seem an oxymoron to newer fans who know what that word means.

This isn’t the first time I’ve proposed this idea but it’s been a couple years now. I have to trot this dead horse out every once in a great while to see if I can make it gallop. To me it would seem a better solution would be to run sealed “crate” motors at Talladega and Daytona. (Note the plural sense “motors” which are actually engines. Each make would have its individual engine, not a generic engine). We’d want those crate engines to put out 375 to 400 horsepower and to cost between 4000 and 4500 bucks each. They’d be available not only to the race teams but to gear heads to stuff in their ’32 Ford or ’70 Chevelle as well. That would save the teams millions of dollars over the current plate engine program and NASCAR is always banging their big bass drum saying they want to cut the cost of racing. (Like those new pit road rules that eliminate the catch can man from the over the wall crew but forced Jack Roush to spend $160,000 on new gas cans which apparently don’t work too well). Crate engines would eliminate the plates which would finally put racing at Talladega and Daytona back in the drivers’ hands. That seems like a good idea to me, but then I am a stupid guy, though not stupid enough to earn a six figure salary working for NASCAR.

Trouble in TV-Land?

There are very few things long time race fans agree on as far as who is the best driver, what’s the best brand of race car or which tracks are the best. Hell we can’t even agree on what’s the best brand of beer (“cold” is my vote). But one thing nearly everyone I speak to agrees is FOX’s coverage of the races sucks hind-teat. (Or something less polite). They’ve had ten plus years to straighten the mess out, but the coverage seems to get worse weekly and it was pretty damn weak to begin with. You know as soon as you hear DW screeching weekly “Boogity, boogity, boogity” it’s going to be awful. Though this year, Larry Mac has dumped the “Reach up there and…” schtick and DW seems to want to modify the BBB rap with something like “Talladega style” to show what an improvisational genius he is.

A few weeks ago someone in the booth noted that as races start they claim most of the fans are staring at the announce booth waiting for DW’s call. Put on your glasses, guy. How many of them are extending a middle finger at you? The sound of 43 cars coming off turn four to take the green has always been the sweetest music this side of American Beauty to me and I don’t need some egotistical fool hollering over that music to ruin it for me. But since we still can’t get rid of the damned gopher I hold limited hope it will ever get better.

Anyway, before I stray so far off the trail that the hounds can’t find me, I know a goodly many of you long-timers follow John Daly’s Daly Plant TV blog. The site focuses on the TV coverage of racing rather than the race itself to an extent. Each week fans join the blog live to add their “live” comments during the race and to comment on Daly’s articles. If you think the comments below my articles are sometimes harsh, you ought to read those fans live comments. Sometimes they are so toxic they’d send the Fukushima Fifty running stripped naked and hysterically blind towards the sea to swim to Washington.

Two things stood out for me on the blog last weekend. First, based on comments posted and comments Daly himself received, Sunday’s Talladega race might have been the most DVR’ed NASCAR event ever. Fans knew what was going to be served up and they decided en masse that they weren’t going to waste a nice Sunday afternoon watching it (or in some unfortunate parts of the country, pumping out the basement and clearing the storm debris. God bless, ya’ll. The water here only reached ankle depth down the basement and the sole damage was a gutter nicked by .22 fired at coyote flushed out if its den by the rain fired by a drunken neighbor here at Eyesore Acres).

There were also several comments made by a posters who called himself or herself “Foxhole.” Said poster claimed to be a former NASCAR on FOX employee who was recently fired for having spoken up against some elements of the coverage. Now, I could sit here and pretend to be a roadie for the E-Street band on a message board, but this fellow knew all the names and the backstage workings of sports TV coverage well enough he came off as credible. You can visit last Sunday’s live race blog on that site and decide for yourself on Foxhole’s credibility HERE.

The poster claims that the current producer (Barry Landis) not the director of NASCAR on FOX (Artie Kempner) is waging a reign of terror and refuses to listen to any voices of dissent. Those who speak against him are subsequently hollered at, berated or even released. The poster goes on to say that even some of the lesser on-air talent have adopted a battle-siege mentality, toeing the corporate line to protect their careers though they know changes to the coverage are necessary.

David Hill, former FOX Sports head honcho and the father of that dirty little bastard gopher he loved so well has apparently turned his attention to FOX’s National Geographic channel, so he’s out of the equation.

In even more incendiary comments, Foxhole claims that many higher-ups in the FOX Sports group have an open animosity towards NASCAR racing thinking it’s a “redneck” sport not worthy of comparison to their baseball or football coverage. He claims he has heard several disparaging remarks those folks have made about race fans. If these folks truly do dislike racing and race fans the reasons for the low quality of FOX’s racing broadcasts becomes more evident. Either us dumb little Bubbas can take what they’re spoon-feeding us and like it or we can go back to playing horseshoes in the trailer park Sunday afternoon. Any input from such fans isn’t worthy of consideration. They already give us Digger and DW and now we want to see who finished second in the race as well rather than seeing an obligatory shot of a crew celebrating? Let them eat Twinkies! Bring back Neil Goldberg!

Sunday Afternoon Cartoons

While on the topic of FOX, it seems the latest marketing strategy involves turning NASCAR racing into a cartoon. I’m sure you’ve seen the cartoon graphics during the bumpers going into and out of commercial and during promotions for the races. We’re not talking “cartoonish” here we are talking actual hand drawn cartoon depictions of drivers, tracks and race cars.

The announcers booth seems determined to turn the drivers into some sort of cartoon-super heroes. Dale Earnhardt has been “Junior” since he arrived in the sport. But then we added “Smoke” in place of Tony Stewart and “Rowdy” in place of Kyle Busch. More recently Jimmie Johnson has become “Five-time” and unless you’re deaf you’re probably tired of hearing Kevin Harvick referred to as “The Closer.” Matt Yokum is still trying to get folks to refer to Jeff Gordon as “Super-G” though over the last few season’s Gordon has left a lot of “super” at the table. If I were Greg Biffle, a perfectly normal name and not hard to pronounce, I’d bitch-slap the next person who called me, “The Biff.”

Folks, this isn’t a cartoon strip or a really crappy movie based on a comic book popular in the fifties. This here is stock car racing and it’s real life. The drivers have names their parents decided on shortly before or after they were born and compared to the F1 and Indy Car circuits, most of the names are relatively short and easy to pronounce and spell. The action is live and unscripted (or I hope it is anyway) and I’m not ready to start calling Matt Kenseth “Closing Time” because he runs with booze sponsorship, Carl Edwards “Flipper” or Danica Patrick “Wonder Woman” unless used in context of “I wonder why that woman is running the Nationwide series when she can barely manage a top 10 finish in the open wheel series that is her day job.”

Back-stage backstabbing worthy of Macbeth? Cartoon super-hero, NASCAR drivers with silly nicknames? Comparing stock car races to the prom? Yeah, that’s enough for this week. I’m loading the bike into the pickup truck and heading for Richmond. It’s 75 degrees and sunny there and 55 degrees and raining here. Just call me “The Nightster”….out

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Tyler
04/21/2011 05:25 AM
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Crate engines might remove the plates, but the pack racing would still be there. You can draft at 10mph on a bicycle. The problem at Talladega and Daytona is that they have way more grip than horsepower. They have to lift at other tracks because the tires are going to slide or spin if they don’t. They don’t have that problem at the 2 biggest tracks, so they ride around at top speed and don’t have to lift. TO break up the packs, they need to find a way to force the drivers to lift. Lower banking or skinnier tires are the only ways that I can think of. A crate engine might save them money, but the racing would look the same.

Carl D.
04/21/2011 09:29 AM
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Speaking of Fox and silly nicknames, if I was Dale Junior, I would tell “Chia-Head” Waltrip that if he referred to me as “Junebug” one more time he’s gonna get his microphone shoved somewhere the sun don’t shine.

jerseygirl
04/21/2011 11:32 AM
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awesome points – I was one of those fans who found something else to do on Sunday. I watched the final 5 laps live because I was inside and the TV was on at just that point in time. That’s all that was necessary anyway.

Maybe Foxhole is right and Fox doesn’t really want to broadcast NASCAR, they seem to have the same attitude as the ESPN elite (or the stick and ball only guys). Weather’s getting better – finally – I won’t be wasting an entire day unless I’m at the track for the race in person – not with this coverage.

Carl D — I am with you, man. Junebug is something you call a kid, not a grown man.

midasmicah
04/21/2011 11:40 AM
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The racing and the faux broadcasts have become unwatchable and unlistenable. I watched the last ten laps of the race and that’s it. The two car tangos are not racing. As a long,long time racing fan, I am appalled at the state of nas$car. The powers that be at Daytona had better
do something before it’s too late. I have become so disgusted with the situation that nas$car on tv has become a second or third option. I’ve got baseball, and even golf sometimes to watch. Heck, I don’t even DVR the races anymore. And the sooner Faux exits the stage, the better.

The Mad Man
04/21/2011 11:58 AM
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There’s a game with bean bags that folks play at the campgrounds that better describe the two car racing. Just put “High Speed” in front of it.

With the poor coverage and handling of the racing broadcasts by both Faux and BSPN, it’s no wonder the ratings suck. Now maybe, just maybe, if they had competent commentators they could raise fan interest a smidge. If they went to the split screen format that Versus uses for IndyCar, had decent commentators, and decent camera work, then fans might actually start watching again. But that’s beyond the grasp of the Beach Boy Bubbas in Daytona.

Walt B
04/21/2011 12:31 PM
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_Races_at Talladega and Daytona have not been legitimate races since the 9 Coors car was smoking the field. Rather that putting crate engines in the cars have them put in V6 engines in after all that is what is in most of the cars that the decals on the COT are supposed to represent have in them any way. It should separate the wheat from the chaff and make a real race with real passes.

Bette
04/21/2011 12:39 PM
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I really liked the S.A.C part of your article Matt and I agree with you completely!!!!!!! In fact I’m glad you went thru all of your old notes.

EZ
04/21/2011 12:41 PM
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Your crate motor cost are out of touch with reality,for a motor that would stand the abuse of a whole weekend. Just limit the cubic inches,and let them have at it in the engine shop.
Another poster was correct in that it won’t change the pack racing,when everyone can make a lap without lifting, that is what you are going to get,only the speed will vary based on engine output.
Don’t see the big problem with the two car drafting going on now,beats the hell out of a forty car single file parade till two laps to go.

Bill B
04/21/2011 01:02 PM
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I truly believe that any NASCAR fan (even casual one’s) could do a better job than what’s currently being offered. Most of it’s commond sense.
The problem is we fans have one agenda, to see as much of the race as possible including whatever action is happening on the track at any given moment (not just the leaders driving single file).
The networks have many agendas that have nothing to do with what fans want; name dropping certain sponsors, working in promo spots for stupid, thinly veiled advertisements, network programming , and the topics they’ve sripted for before the race even started. There are probably many more hidden agendas that are management decisions.
The point is we have different agendas and those agendas rarely intersect.

Kevin from PA
04/21/2011 01:19 PM
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Have to agree with jerseygirl. FOX might secretly hate having to broadcast NASCAR but ESPN has long ago stopped trying to cover up their disgust.

I thought sure once ESPN took over the NASCAR races there would be more coverage on the non-NASCAR shows like Mike & Mike, PTI, etc. But no. Except for around Daytona and interviewing the season champion, all that you get is at best a 20 second review (unless of course there is a terrible crash – then you get 90 replays of the crash in addition ot the 20 second race review).

I have never seen more of an elitist attitude. NASCAR might be in trouble when the next round of TV contracts come up. If the ratings aren’t strong, I don’t think they are going to find too many cheerleaders at FOX or ESPN.

PP Don
04/21/2011 03:15 PM
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Re TV coverage and other nonsense, a booth crew of Eli, Ned and Benny (I know he is not with us now) would improve viewer satisfaction and indirectly improve our racing experience. Deep six the Hollywood hotel or whatever it is called, race fans do not care about this presentation. We want to see racing; period; end of discussion. Throw the green, show and tell us what is happening, show us all the competitors from first to last, then the checkers and winner’s celebrations. Race over. Go home.

Judy Shed
04/21/2011 04:57 PM
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I have raceview on my computer and the fox broadcast is just on in the background since I have earplugs listening to my drivers scanner. But I don’t miss a race if I can help. I still love it!

Marybeth
04/21/2011 06:39 PM
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On the F1 sites the big news is that Murdoch, owner of Fox is trying to buy F1 with Carlos Slims who is the wrold’s richest man, Telmex.

Overra88ted
04/21/2011 06:41 PM
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Ole DW should just call Junebug by his REAL first name…Ralph.

Rocky
04/21/2011 10:50 PM
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I’m taking you to task for the remark about NASCAR “trade secrets and intellectual property.” Since when does NASCAR use intellect???

If the answers to your questions are actually spelled out in the rule book, they would read like a union contract regarding overtime wages for holiday pay only during certain moon phases and weather conditions!
Great article.