The Frontstretch: Silly Season Brings Out the Passion In All of Us by Frontstretch Staff -- Monday August 7, 2006

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Silly Season Brings Out the Passion In All of Us

Full Throttle · Frontstretch Staff · Monday August 7, 2006


NASCAR's silly season ramps up earlier every year. From the Kurt Busch/Jamie McMurray melodrama last year to the David Gilliland/RYR courtship this year, it seems like there are always drivers rumored to be moving to different teams, and drivers mentioned to be taking their seats that they are vacating. Frontstretch’s recent Mirror Driving discussion brought up the possibility of Ward Burton getting back into a Cup ride. The opinions expressed roused deep seated feeling among Ward's supporters, and brought to mind just how passionate NASCAR fans can be.

No question, Ward is an accomplished race car driver. He has won five races in his Nextel Cup career, including the 2002 Daytona 500. He has 24 Top 5s and 82 Top 10s in 356 races in NASCAR’s top series. Having spent his career in less than Championship caliber equipment, those totals are even more impressive than normal.

On top of his accomplishments, Ward is a genuine personality. He is extremely cordial to the fans, and fiercely dedicated to the environment. When his time with Haas Motorsports came to an end in 2004, Ward chose to take some time away from the sport to dedicate himself to advancing his wildlife foundation. That decision has probably cost him in the long run.

Unfortunately, Ward has now been out of a race car for a year and a half. He is also 44 years old. Those circumstances do not bode well for him in the modern world of NASCAR. Sponsors, for the most part, are more concerned about driver image than experience and abilities these days. Sterling Marlin lost his ride at Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates because he did not fit the demographics that Coors wanted for their driver. The fact that he would have won the Championship if not for an injury three years before didn’t make a difference to them.

Has Burton forgotten how to drive during his time off? Certainly not. Ward has forgotten more about driving a Cup car than Reed Sorenson and Martin Truex, Jr. have learned in their short careers. He was able to take average equipment and put it up front on multiple occasions. He would, without a doubt, be a great benefit to a team that is looking for a driver. In the situation at Robert Yates Racing, he would be an ideal addition to the team. Yates is talking about having two rookie drivers, with crew chiefs who are new to the roll, as their stable of race teams for next year. Bringing in a veteran, with the knowledge and experience that Burton possesses, would obviously be invaluable to the entire organization. However, the money to do that has to come from somewhere. This is where the passion starts to take hold. The Yates organization has stated that if Ward can secure a sponsor, he will have a ride. That is hardly a passionate response. If RYR is serious about turning their organization around in short order, they need to more aggressively pursue the backing necessary to add Burton, or another seasoned veteran, to their organization. The benefits far outweigh the detriments in making such a move.

The other aspect of passion is the fan support that will follow a driver. For those of you who read the responses to Mirror Driving last week, there is no doubt about the passion for Ward's fans. He has a loyal legion of fans who have not lost one ounce of their fervor since Burton has been out of the seat. Like all NASCAR fans, Burton's army of followers will fight, tooth and nail, for their man. That loyalty should be an enormous selling point for potential sponsors. Having that kind of following will guarantee extensive exposure to whatever company decides to sponsor a Burton effort. If Yates was serious about adding a veteran to their lineup, and increasing their effort to three teams for 2007, they would certainly be able to convince an interested sponsor that the legion of Burton fans would ensure them a valuable return on their investment.

When it comes down to it, passion is a very important part of NASCAR racing. There’s the passion of the drivers to get behind the wheel, cheat death, and beat the other competitors. There’s the passion by the team owners to secure the necessary sponsorship that will allow them to field the best possible equipment and give their drivers every opportunity to win in the ultra competitive world of Cup racing. Finally, there’s also the passion of the fans, the loyal followers of the drivers, teams, and manufacturers, that allow this sport to be what it is today. Silly Season stirs the deepest of emotions in these people most of all. Fans’ favorite drivers get shuffled like a deck of cards, and they have no control over where their beloved driver will end up. The only thing they can do is voice their feelings on call-in radio shows and message boards and hope the people who are making the decisions will take the time to listen.

Hopefully, the passion of those Ward Burton fans will pay off for their driver. But the passion to make it work at RYR has to come from every part of that arrangement in order for things to come together.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … A Return To Richmond, Post-Spingate And Quick Hits
NASCAR Mailbox: A ‘Normal’ Saturday And A Valuable Lesson
Beyond the Cockpit: Tony ‘The Sarge’ Schumacher
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The Frontstretch Five: Pleasant Surprises of 2014 So Far
IndyCar Driver Profile: Takuma Sato
Beyond the Cockpit: Tommy Baldwin on Owning His Team, Hall of Fame and the Number Seven


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08/08/2006 07:56 AM

That’s a much more objective piece on Ward than the last one. I never posted on the mirror driving article, but as far as Ren goes I still think that was an unprovoked hatchet job on Ward. I think it was unfair, bias, and bordered slander in tone and content.

I have become even more of a Ward Burton fan in his absence. How many drivers would pass on the money and take a break from the sport just because the rides they are offered are not competitive?

Sterling sure didn’t, and even awesome Bill has driven some crap just to be out there.

Ward is the poster child for what has gone wrong in nascar, and while Bill France may think there is nothing wrong with what’s going on in the sport, the fans tend to disagree.

To call nascar competitive is a joke and the fans know it. The “also ran” drivers are not lacking in talent or skill, you don’t get to that level lacking much. The problem is they are way out spent and nascar is too busy stuffing it’s pockets to care.

Nascar seems to be more concerned about everything other than racing, and the fans are just starting to show a distain for it’s direction.
One has to look no further than last weeks race to see nascar using it’s omnipitence and bias to alter the outcome of the race. The fans grow tired of certain drivers getting help like JJ’s yellow on lap 39 ( when he was on the front stretch) instead of lap 40 when it should have been. Then at the end of the race we had a wreck and that didn’t deserve a caution? oh but Jimmie’s little flat does.
It’s over the top now, it’s offensive, and insulting to anyone who considers this a sport. It’s turning into the WWF with sponsors.

08/08/2006 08:34 AM

Art, you nailed it there.

Nascar isn’t even a true sport to me anymore. It’s just become an extreme form of advertisement these days. I’d almost rather see Cup racing go to an IROC format. Equal cars to start and lets see who the best drivers and crews are are

08/08/2006 08:45 AM

It seems to me that NASCAR’s perfect little world is becoming shop worn. Too many TV commercials, too many race announcers, too many driver changes, too many rules changes, too many yellow flag laps during races, too many teams coming into and then disappearing from the sport within a year or two, too much TV coverage – Hell, too much media coverage period!

What happens when a significant number of current NASCAR fans realize that there are better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon?

08/08/2006 09:22 AM

This is the first time I watched the Indy race and saw plenty of empty seats. Brian France is slowly but surely destroying the sport. It’s not the NFL. Stop trying to make it so. I hope Ward does not end up at RYR because that will surely end his career with the junk they would put him in. “See that, I told you old Ward was washed up” will be what everyone will say if he goes there.

08/08/2006 10:18 AM

Ward is the poster child for what has gone wrong in nascar, and while Bill France may think there is nothing wrong with what’s going on in the sport, the fans tend to disagree.

Well Said!

Seems like Ward’s absence and potential return to racing is somewhat of a reminder to fans of another time in Nascar when we were really excited about watching real racing. Ward certainly won’t be able to change the powers to be at Nascar, but just his presence in the field again will bring some heartfelt nostalgia to our racing souls.

08/08/2006 11:14 AM

The Indy track is the worst race to be at. Always HOT HOT HOT and the view is BAD. We have been to 24 races with 25&26 coming up as we are trying to go to all the tracks on the circuit and the close tracks every year. Indianapolis is a very easy drive and only 5 hrs away but we will not go back. $140. each for tickets we were almost as high up as you can get and even in the shade and still roasted. With everything they have built up inside the track you can not see all the way around the track so you have to watch the monitors for over a half of a lap and wait for the cars to come back out of turn 4 which is about the same amount of time getting to see the race on TV w/commercials. We are glad we have been there but we can sit at home in the air, with our feet up and watch the race on TV. Food is cheaper and the bathrooms are closer. We do still make the drive to Michigan which is a longer drive and we have to go thru the Chicago road construction (every year) and sit in traffic but it is still better than the Brickyard as far as actually seeing the race.

08/08/2006 02:54 PM

Hit the nail on the head. Very nice piece after that last article had me seeing red, I think I might read a bit more on here. Ward just needs a good car. If he can finish 9th in points in a BDR car, I hate to think what could have been if he would have went to Gibbs, like they wanted him to.

08/08/2006 04:53 PM

I have never been a Ford guy or a Yates guy but if Ward were to land there I will become one. I have been a fan of his since the Busch days. Not only did he have the class to step back when the good rides weren’t available he actually did something good with his life while he was out. I personallly think that Nascar would do well to make sure he gets a ride.

08/08/2006 06:22 PM

Thanks for a well written piece. After your last little artical and some not so well recieved or researched comments by your “Ren”[Tin-Tin] I swore I would never be responcible for adding a “hit” to this site again. You have changed my mind…..thanks, Tom

John F.
08/08/2006 06:41 PM

Good points. As a WB fan I am very frustrated, but not only for him; also guys like Johnny Benson who certainly did no worse in the #10 than Riggs-both at MBV and now EMS. Riggs hasn’t won and yet Benson languishes in CTS. The same can be said for guys like Ricky Craven. Not superstars by any means, but just as worthy of rides as “young” guys like Riggs, Kvapil, Vickers, Mears and others who have all been hailed as “the next big things” I used to read that the tide will turn once sponsors get sick of seeing the cars with their names get torn up frequently…then there will be a reversal back to the experienced veteran who can run without tearing up their gear. Now I don’t believe that anymore. The teams will just move to another young kid and hope their fortunes change. The sport sure isn’t much fun anymore.

08/08/2006 09:05 PM

I don’t think Ward going to Yates at this point would be such a bad move. Roush has already promised to give Yates chassis assistance next year. That is obviously where Yates is lacking because the horsepower is working for all of the other Ford teams. If Yates can get the handling of their cars comparable to the Roush cars, Ward will have a great chance to excel in the sport once again.

08/09/2006 06:18 AM

I’ve been a Ward Burton fan ever since he drove Pontiacs, I’ve watched it grow, peak, and I’ve cringed as it devolves.

The crux is not that Ward is gone, it’s the absolute panic that the France family creates in their obsession for wealth.

You know that NASCAR has gone past its fan base to “money at all costs” when it hired Will Farrell to create its new body commercial.


Contact Mike Neff

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