The Frontstretch: MPM2Nite: This Ain't My First Rodeo, Cowgirl by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday May 3, 2012

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MPM2Nite: This Ain't My First Rodeo, Cowgirl

Matt McLaughlin · Thursday May 3, 2012


So what is NASCAR to do? They got lambasted by their passionate fans after the races at Texas, Fontana and Kansas with folks saying those races were boring. As evidence they cited the lack of caution flags. Late in Saturday night’s race on lap 388, NASCAR decided to throw a caution for debris, probably thinking it would help provide the fans with the exciting finish they were demanding.

So what was the debris in question?

Tony Stewart said it was a water bottle laying harmlessly outside the racing groove. NASCAR officials are now saying that it was a piece of sheet metal in turn three. Well that’s odd. How is it the guy leading the race never saw this potentially deadly metal chunk? You’d think he’d have had a pretty good view. Oddly enough, the TV cameras never showed whatever bit of debris it was that bought out the caution.

As a tangent, I think it is incumbent on whatever network is airing a race to clearly show any bit of debris that warrants a caution and the track workers who remove it. They are there to tell the story of the race and Saturday night whatever bought out that caution changed the outcome of the race. That story never got told. And as a secondary tangent from yer loyal non-linear thinking scribe, if drink containers are going to be sufficient reason for a caution NASCAR ought to fine any driver who tosses one out on the track. Remember the almost full bottle of Gatorade Juan Pablo Montoya hit at Kansas, though apparently it caused the No. 42 car no damage. Maybe the drivers could be forced to hang little recycling bags on their dashes as part of NASCAR’s green initiative.

As for a fan in the stands throwing anything on the track, in my mind not only should they be ejected, they should be arrested for risking a catastrophe, interference with a sporting event, or whatever local statute applies. Of course, I was once hit in the noggin by a thrown can of Budweiser at Dover that didn’t make it over the fence. It stung a good deal.

Earlier in the race on lap 310 they’d thrown another caution after Jeff Burton brushed the wall though the No. 31 car was moving under its own power towards the pits. That particular caution, probably unnecessary, came at an awkward time in the race, near the end of a cycle of green-flag pit stops. Normally NASCAR will swallow the whistle on throwing a caution at such a point in the race, unless there is clearly an imminent danger as the awkwardly timed flag will often reset the entire running order and trap some of the best cars laps down particularly at a short track.

That caution flag left just four cars on the lead lap though at least fifteen cars were able to take advantage of the less-than-loved “wave around rule” (the topic of another upcoming rant of mine) to get back on the lead lap. With all the confusion as to who was supposed to line up where the disorder led to the Edwards-Stewart restart fiasco which again probably altered the outcome of the race. It’s ironic perhaps that Stewart was the beneficiary of the one unnecessary caution and the victim of the next.

Until Saturday night at Richmond, there was very little yellow seen in the Sprint Cup Series this year – either flags or the No. 18. A controversial final caution and restart proved disastrous for Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart – but a boon for Kyle Busch.

By and large the fans I’ve chatted with were either annoyed or enraged (in the case of No. 99 and No. 14 fans) by those two bogus cautions. Obviously I didn’t care for them either. In my eyes the one thing worse than a boring but fair race is a artificially manipulated race. If NASCAR could adhere to some policy about when to throw a yellow flag consistently we could end this debate and the resultant furor, but then again consistency has never been one of NASCAR’s strengths.

Already some drivers, media members and officials are blasting fans basically asking, “What the Hell do you want? You said the races were boring but when we try to add a dash of excitement to the end of the race you’re still crying.”

At the root of the issue is NASCAR still doesn’t seem to get what it is I feel the majority of the fans want. I don’t think fans thought the races they labeled “boring” formed an opinion based on the lack of wrecks. I am forced to admit, though I denied it for years, there are in fact some fans who go to or watch races to see wrecks but I know of no one who wants to see a driver hurt in one of those wrecks. As Humpy Wheeler once said, “people go to the circus to see the lion tamer stick his head in the lion’s mouth… not to see him get it bitten off.”

I think what fans are responding negatively towards isn’t too few wrecks, it’s too little side-by-side protracted bouts between drivers, neither of whom will yield position without a battle. (This “coop-atiton” Darrell Waltrip applauds is at the root of the problem. It really frosts my flakes when a driver in the lead yields to a second place challenger without a fight because he’s afraid he’ll damage his fancy little play-pretty car.) They want to see drivers banging fenders occasionally. They want to see drivers occasionally give someone else a shot in the rear bumper to express their irritation or desire to pass another driver.

Occasional plumes of tire smoke and tire donuts left on doors define good hard racing even if both parties are able to drive on without a caution. Why is this concept so hard to grasp for NASCAR? If you review the last few laps of last Friday night’s Nationwide race, I think that’s the sort of action fans are looking for, close hard side-by-side, occasionally ill-mannered racing, with both drivers able to finish the race and drive to the garage afterwards. Kudos to Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin for putting on a show for the fans.

So where has the sort of action the fans lament gone? Fundamentally I think blame lies with the points system. When the race winning crew chief admits that they’re using the first 26 races of the year as a test session for the final ten races, you can see the problem. Carl Edwards was candid in his pre-race remarks stating given his tenuous hold on a playoff berth he couldn’t afford to risk wrecking his car in tight quarters racing at Richmond and ruining his chances at a title run. (Though he did seem to get up on the wheel there for awhile there it was impossible not to note the delicacy with which he dealt with lapped traffic while leading.) Other drivers aren’t as vocal about what’s going on but you can see they’re thinking along the same lines in the way they drive.

Other drivers place blame elsewhere for the lack of on-track action. Brad Keselowski says the current crop of cars have become so aero-sensitive it’s nearly impossible to get close enough to anyone else to make contact either inadvertently or with intent. If that’s the case it follows that with the cars that are as aero-sensitive as these, the drivers don’t want to risk creasing a fender or bending up a door panel anyway, which helps lead to these processional parades masquerading as stock car races anyway.

So what is it the bigwigs in NASCAR think fans are looking for? Wrecks…big grinding, fiery, destructive multi-car pileups preferably with a few cars overturned, in the catch fence and on fire. How do I know this? Have you seen the ads trying to sell tickets to races or the ones FOX uses to promote their TV broadcasts lately? They look like outtakes from the old “And They Walked Away” wreck footage compilations. They don’t show hard, tight racing, brilliant passes for the lead or drivers making great saves. They just show wrecks, often wrecks that occurred at tracks other than the one trying to sell tickets with those ads. I can only imagine that stick and ball sports fans seeing those ads are shaking their heads and thinking, “Those dumb rednecks are still out there trying to kill themselves? Who wins? The last guy with a running car?” Oddly enough when FOX tries to promote the baseball games they broadcast they don’t show commercials with batters getting hit in the head with a brushback ball and the resultant bench-clearing brawls.

This ain’t Matt’s first rodeo, cowgirl.

Why? Apparently NASCAR and the networks still think stock car racing fans are stupid.

NASCAR has always had a paternalistic attitude towards its fans. We’re a bunch of dumb little Bubbas that probably wouldn’t be able to read a rulebook if they allowed us to see one. They know what’s good for us and we’ll accept what they’re serving up without question. If there’s something we’re not fond of we’re supposed to shyly approach them, eyes downcast and ask quietly before them like Oliver Twist asking Fagin, “Please, sir, could I have some more excitement?”

Oh, very well, here’s a late race bogus debris caution! Are you happy now you bastards?

NASCAR underestimates the intelligence of their own fans at their own risk. A lot of us have been following the sport a long time. When NASCAR’s Robin Pemberton tried to dismiss the No. 99 team’s complaints about the black flag on a restart as ridiculous as not even worth discussing he forgets some of us were around back when Rusty Wallace got black-flagged for the same infraction and was so vocal in his protests he was fined for what he said after the race and paid that fine in pennies.

Oh, and guess who his crew chief was at the time, and as I recall that fellow was pretty angry as well.

Most race fans I know are pretty sharp and they have long memories. I said after Matt Kenseth was allowed to pass leader Brad Keselowski coming to a re-start at Bristol that the precedent set was going to cause controversy, and soon. Now that hen has come home to roost. If NASCAR thinks that hard core fans and I are going to fall for a few bogus late race cautions and accept the outcome as an exciting finish, I’ve got news for them. I’ve been following this sport awhile. This ain’t my first rodeo, Cowgirl.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Racing to the Point: NASCAR Has Its Own Heartbreak Kid
Beyond the Cockpit: Brittany Force, the Fastest Force
Voices from the Cheap Seats: Advertising for Dummies
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in Sprint Cup: Off Week-Richmond Edition
Couch Potato Tuesday: Picking The Best IndyCar On-Air Personalities


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05/03/2012 03:42 AM

Great column Matt

While I hate to see the leader have a 10-20 sec lead, I hate it more when nascar interferes “to improve the product”.

This is racing sometimes 1 or 2 teams are going to hit the set-up spot on and dominate, while I hate this (if its not my drivers) its not nascar’s job to penalize them for getting it right.

If the teams had more time for testing during race weekends. This includes practice during race conditions. Not testing at 10am for 2pm race or 2pm for 7pm race. If more practical practice time was used more teams should hit set-up and races should improve.

I am not a big fan of Smokes but he has probably won more races then he’s lost due to debris cautions.

Bill B
05/03/2012 07:40 AM

“They are there to tell the story of the race “. Bad premise there Matt. From what I have seen they are there to cheerlead their favorites and whomever is leading at the time and, even more importantly, provide more opportunities to advertise during green flag racing.

The chase has dramatically affected how the first 26 races go down. They posture for points not race for wins. Under the old system, if you were 100 points or more out of 1st by 10 races into the season you raced for wins. Now you race for top tens and wait for the reboot of points when the chase starts.

05/03/2012 07:43 AM

“I think what fans are responding negatively towards isn’t too few wrecks, it’s too little side-by-side protracted bouts between drivers, neither of whom will yield position without a battle..”

Really? Then why all of the whining from “fans” about Bristol?

“Apparently NASCAR and the networks still think stock car racing fans are stupid.”

Well, duh. You mean you’ve not seen any big, fat dudes sporting Danica shirts at the track? It’s not a good look but it must be media approved due to all over the coverage given to her.

05/03/2012 08:12 AM

they better not be beating the front end of those cars at dega this weekend…..will have a lot of overheated cars. suppose to be summer hot. been hot all week here in atlanta.

i thnk na$car wants us to have the mentality of their fearless leader, brain fart france.

good column matt.

05/03/2012 08:46 AM

hit the nail smack daub on the head with this column you did…. while nascar and most of the media are just making ugly dents in the wood around the truth.

awesome column matt.

05/03/2012 09:02 AM

A tour de force column in the use of metaphors and literary allusions department, Matt. Worth reading twice just to check if I missed one the first time through.

I cannot disagree with anything you say, but I will add a metaphor of my own as regards the triumph of aero and the notion of parity. The science behind the design of the COT and the wind-tunnel testing/perfecting of it is not unlike the advances made in weaponry just prior to and during World War I. The weapons made the textbook tactics obsolete. The Generals on both sides of the conflict were bumfuzzled and the result was slaughter.

In the case of NASCAR the most visible result of the victory of science of aero has not been slaughter (thank God) it has been somnolence.

05/03/2012 09:39 AM

Sorry folks but all races can’t be photo finishes. Local tracks, which is the root of racing, have many races where the pole sitter leads the whole race uncontested. You have to look back in the pack to find some ‘racing entertainment’.

TV coverage is the key to making a race entertaining. Matt and ‘talk back posters’ have pointed this out repeatedly.

In this age of ‘instant gratification’ (video game mentallity) it seems people want every lap to be better than the last one. Thats not how racing works. Many races will be blowouts if one team hits a home run on the set up.

Its up to the networks to find the race within the race to entertain us. Thats why so many people talk about turning on MRN…the whole broadcast is NOT about the lead car.

Phony Cup
05/03/2012 09:53 AM

nASCAR should not be allowed to survive in its present form.

05/03/2012 09:58 AM

I agree, Matt. It doesnt take big wrecks to have good races. Good side by side racing would be nice. When you’ve got a horrible points system that just encourages points racing, the end result is drivers taking no chances in the first 2/3 of the season. It’s doesn’t seem like any track is condusive to good racing nowadays. And last, those “boxcars” masquerading as stock cars don’t help. This old times is so frustrated by this kind of “racing” that the remote in hand is finding other forms of entertainment on the tele. And I used to be a fanatic of the sport.

05/03/2012 10:13 AM

Here, here Matt, could not have said it better

Greg Maness
05/03/2012 11:21 AM

He did again!! I channeled Matt in my sleep and he put the dream to the written word! Great article, Mr. McLaughlin!

05/03/2012 11:30 AM

Robin Pemberton was quoted yesterday calling the people who wanted to see evidence of the debris “needy”. I’ve never seen a sport with such disdain for their fans.

Re the sport thinking fans are idiots—I remember a Nationwide race where Danica Patwreck stayed out while everyone else pitted, which put her in 3rd place. ESPN showed a graphic with her position on various laps, making it look like she’d been charging through the field. (And somehow the slobbering commentators missed it!)

Yes, they think we’re that dumb. No small reason for the continuing drop in ratings and attendance.

Greg Maness
05/03/2012 11:32 AM

I have often wondered … and I would love to hear everyone’s comment … … what if … a “new NASCAR” allowed the teams to “take what they know (modern technology, etc.) now” … but, use the (i.e.) 1982 rule book (back when you could walk in to NASCAR Headquarters, plop down $5.00, and they would hand you one)?? BTW … the rule book (I used to get one every year during my July 4th trip to Daytona) wasn’t very thick in days of yore, either … and it covered every division from “Grand National / Cup” all the way down to “Street Stock,” too!

05/03/2012 12:29 PM

Great lookin cowgirl

05/03/2012 12:37 PM

1) There is NO reason NOT to show the debris UNLESS there is something fishy going on. Why did FOX stop showing it when they were doing it before?

2) For nascar to dump the Chase and current points system would be to admit it’s a failure and would mean putting an asterisk by Chase winners. That would look bad for 5-time and Hendrick.

Bob Tanner
05/03/2012 12:45 PM

WOw! Matt, you’ve read my mind!

05/03/2012 01:10 PM

i will say that it offends me to no end when people who say that the races of late have been boring are accused of wanting more wrecks or worse, not understanding the sport at all…no, no and no. As Matt pointed out. we’d like to see races with some meaningful and un-manufactured side by side action. GOT it?

I am beginning to believe that this isn’t possible because we keep getting told by people who are smarter than us that we’re supposed to like the current “product” with all it’s twisting strategies, great acts of physical endurance and that every race can’t be a classic… but i don’t watch the chess channel much either. I do hear their coverage is equally as bad with the svolensky brothers in the booth trying to entertain the common man.
So, everything must be ok in big time stock car racing then.. viewership and attendance is up right? Wake up, the people who own it squashed its very soul and then sold it for a healthy profit. (just like F1 except Bernie could probably buy the Frances several times over and his TV audiences aren’t declining.)

05/03/2012 02:11 PM

Home run Matt.

05/03/2012 02:29 PM

is it possible that the lack of sponsorship money is causing the racing to be cautious? If i crash a car and miss points, which leads to possibly missing the chase, the trickle down affect is crazy. 1) shop goes into overtime building a replacement car at higher wages cost, material cost and not having a car to sell to a lesser team down the road and 2) possible loss of sponsorship money at renewal for missing the chase. you have to perform, and wrecking or driving side by side increases possible loss of revenue from sponsorship. teams need the money.
on another note bristol’s lack of fans was for several reasons. my wife and i won’t go for cost of lodging and possible weather issues. not a great option in a cash strapped world. times are tough for the working man.

05/03/2012 02:39 PM

Excellent article, Matt!

Here’s one I thought of. I get so sick of listening to Larry Mac telling us that the drivers have to understand that “You need NASCAR more than NASCAR needs you”. Well Larry Mac, here’s one that France, Helton, Pemberton, and Company need to hear: “NASCAR needs the fans more than the fans need NASCAR. And NASCAR had better smarten up real quick, as it might already be too late to save NASCAR’s life!

05/03/2012 04:40 PM

Thank you for pointing out that ‘exciting races’ does NOT mean more wrecks. Stock cars have fenders and bumpers for a reason…they used to use them without messing up their ‘aero’. I learned to love Nascar way back when I’d get 2 25 minute segments on Wide World. I was a fan when many races were won with the leader several laps ahead of the field…and I still found those races exciting. Just because there are more cars on the lead lap doesn’t mean the racing is exciting or close. And Bristol lost it’s edge when the ‘chase’ started. The repave just sealed the coffin. Judicious use of the bumper used to be an art form. Now it’s just non exsistant. I guess Nascar expects us to just ‘shut up and watch’. I somehow doubt that insulting the people you depend on to pay the bills is a good business move.

05/03/2012 05:50 PM

Stop trying to sell me furry little rodent puppets,, Rick Hendrick, Sunoco, Goodyear, and the reality show following the race for 5 hours straight and I might not doze off while waiting for the GWC finish.

Flush Fox, Waltrips, Larry Maaaac, the official “insert sponsor here” garbage, and that godforsaken HollyWood Hotel and you’ve improved the sport by 50% in one swoop.

05/04/2012 12:00 AM

You read my mind Matt! I get so tired of DW, Larry Mac and Michael Waltrip telling me how great the racing is, and then insult all the fans by saying we just want to watch the wrecks. I miss the side by side racing, beating the bumpers and going for the win, and not points racing. I have been a fan for many years and to tell you the truth I only put it on tv now because I have been doing it for so long. I do turn the volume way down because I just cannot stand listening to DW or Larry Mac, and now we have Mikey in the Hollywood Hotel. What other sport would allow an owner to comment on what is going on? Both DW and Mikey are nothing but pimps for there sponcers and Kiss a@@@@ for NASCAR and King Brian. Like I said in the beginning I am along time fan, but I really don’t think I will be watching much longer. It is no longer the sport I love.

05/04/2012 05:22 PM

Go Matt, you tell ‘em! Lordy, I miss Dale Sr., Rusty, Harry Gant, Benny Parsons, Ned Jarrett, and even Swervin’ Irvan. At least they made racing exciting.

I still watch races, only because we have DVR and I can fast forward through the dull parts and mute DW, Larry Mac and MW. I truly don’t like to be talked down to as a fan.

05/05/2012 11:34 AM

Ezrider 714 – I agree she is a fine looking cowgirl. woo hoo!!