The Frontstretch: Fanning the Flames: It's Time For A NASCAR Change At The Top by Matt Taliaferro -- Wednesday October 31, 2007

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Fanning the Flames: It's Time For A NASCAR Change At The Top

NASCAR Fan Q & A · Matt Taliaferro · Wednesday October 31, 2007

 

It’s safe to say the boom is over. With NASCAR's television ratings dropping at an alarming rate (down 16.7% from Atlanta's 2007 telecast) and a half-full house at said track — Atlanta! A cradle of stock car racing! — it is past time for a change at the top of the NASCAR hierarchy.

As rumors continue to swirl that the board of directors could replace Brian France with his uncle Jim, the ever-dwindling masses who now only watch the final 25 laps of each week's race are optimistic that the sport's current trends come to a screeching halt. You know the issues, but I'll list them anyway: An IROC-style car that has taken all ingenuity out of the teams’ hands, a pompous indifference to the sport's rich heritage, a feeder series in shambles, judgment calls made during races that seem to defy the laws of common sense… I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

Jim France watched his father, Bill Sr., organize this great sport into something real while his brother, Bill Jr. (with Jim’s help) brought it to prominence. He's been around the sport for nearly 50 years, and has seen what works and what does not. The turn of the century brought about great growth that saw NASCAR hit unprecedented heights, but the last two years have witnessed first a leveling off, then gradual decline in overall popularity. The rubber-neckers are leaving; only what’s left of the diehards remain.

Speaking of such folk – I'm a huge Kentucky Wildcat fan. Born and raised in the Bluegrass, UK Class of '98. I thought Tubby Smith was a man of character and a solid basketball coach. That did not mean, however, that I was disappointed when he departed to take the head coaching job at Minnesota. I knew that – although Tubby was an able coach and a good person – the program had stagnated, and a change had to be made if the school wanted to remain a national power. The same can be said for NASCAR. Brian has had his time and, whether you agree with his decisions or not, did the best he could, reaping financial benefits once thought unattainable for his family's business. But the time for change — with a different perspective that is paramount for the sport to thrive — faces the sanctioning body once again.

Thanks for the questions this week, all. Drop me a line at matt.taliaferro@frontstretch.com to spout off, ask a question, or simply give an opinion. This is your column as much as it is mine – so get interactive!

Q: Isn’t it ironic that in the midst of the worst drought the South has seen since the Dust Bowl that water would be in the fuel at a NA$CAR race? A race that they considered restricting practices, etc. to conserve water? When was the last time you heard of water being in any team’s fuel? — Kevin S. Clone

A: The irony wasn't lost on this junky, Kevin, although the area did have a good dousing leading up to race weekend.

As for water in the fuel cells, I honestly don't know how that shows up in a number of cars and, to make it more baffling, doesn't affect some machines ‘till the end of the race. Moisture in Sunoco's supply somewhere along the way, perhaps? Although that's been denied, I don't see any other theory that "holds water" at this point.

The last time I remember water in the fuel system playing a factor — and it very well could have happened since — was in the 1991 Dover Busch race. Davey Allison had the lead until his car sputtered during the race's final caution period. That handed Todd Bodine his first career Busch Series victory, while some newcomer named Jeff Gordon ran second that day in a Bill Davis Ford.

One last bit of irony before we move on: Michael Waltrip was fined 100 Gs as punishment for a fuel additive at Daytona. Should Sunoco be fined the same for theirs?

Q: With Alan Gustafson assuming crew chief duties for Casey Mears in 2008 and Tony Eury, Jr. sticking with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., what becomes of Darian Grubb? He has done an admirable job, in my opinion, of steering the Mears ship this year and filling in for Chad Knaus in 2006. So, is he destined for a trip back to the Engineering Department? — Telli V.

A: He sure is, Telli. Grubb, who has three wins as a crew chief on the Nextel Cup level with Casey Mears and as the interim crew chief for Jimmie Johnson during Chad Knaus' suspension last season, will coordinate the at-track engineering efforts of both the Earnhardt and Mears teams in 2008.

I can't say I'm surprised, either. When I talked to him after last year's Las Vegas win, I got the distinct impression that he was crew chiefing only because the team needed him. He didn't seem to long for the spotlight and, honestly, looked a little uncomfortable taking the credit that he felt the team deserved – not solely the driver or the crew chief.

This move just feeds the theory Grubb's a low-key customer who thrives in the team role. He's proven that he's got the chops to sit atop the war wagon, but is just as valuable (and happy) doing his behind-the-scenes thing on a weekly basis.

Q: I'm trying to figure out why Roger Penske thinks it is so important to have Sam Hornish, Jr. in a full-time [Cup] car next season. If the guy can't qualify the car after trying numerous times already, why does Penske think he will have success next year? Some guys are cut out for it, some aren't. — Gerald Swift

A: I'm assuming you are speaking to the rumor that Penske is considering transferring the owner points from Kurt Busch's No. 2 team to Hornish's start-up operation, ensuring he is guaranteed a spot in the season's first five races. To that, I have to side with Penske: If there is a loophole, you'd best jump through it if you expect to keep up with the competition. Busch has a Past Champ's Provisional that will ensure his entry for six races next year, anyway – so making such a move does nothing to hurt the viability of the other team.

Backtracking a bit, though, I agree that Hornish has not shown much in eight Busch Series starts over the past two seasons. His best finish in that time came at Atlanta earlier this year, when he muscled her home for a 15th-place finish. The six failed Cup starts are troubling for any team, let alone a Penske-powered outfit. And let’s not forget, with defending IRL champ Dario Franchitti out of the picture, Hornish stands a better shot at continued open-wheel fame.

One less guy to worry about, right? And far less worrisome than trying to learn the ropes of Nextel Cup.

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Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
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NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?
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J Furjanic
11/01/2007 05:50 AM
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The Clown Prince of NA$CAR, ‘Brian the all-knowing’ has been successful in driving even a die hard like me away. Thank God the Steelers are off to a good start this year so I have something worth watching on Sunday afternoon!

A few successful family run businesses are run into the ground by the second generation, but at least NA$CAR survived until the third.

By the way, is Brian subject to NA$CAR’s drug testing program?

Michael
11/01/2007 08:11 AM
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Nascar should have found a better race fuel supplier than sunoco . Having any contaminants in racing gas is inexcuseble . What must their street gas be like if their race gas is full of water .
I’m not so sure that Jim France would want to take over responsibility for the mess Brian has created . I find it strange though that not one word has been spoken about this rumor by Jim France himself . Seems like somebody could have gotten an interview by now .

Coffee
11/01/2007 08:29 AM
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Since Atlanta is under severe drought conditions, I wonder if any of the fuel supply semi’s were used to haul water…unofficially.
Just a thought.

Tom Wilkinson
11/01/2007 09:03 AM
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I for one, and probably many, am fast loosing my interest in NASCAR until ESPN and the 35 guaranteed starting spots are history, and don’t blame Waltrip for putting the water in the fuel.

Mark
11/01/2007 10:55 AM
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I hope that a gasoline company would have better sense than to contaminate a race gas truck with water and then not bother to clean it before hauling the gas. But Sunoco might try to use that as an excuse to get sympathy . I suspect the water was in the tank at the track because of many instances of a little water in each load of gas . They just didn’t pay attention to the problem , or they are cutting quality to save money .
I agree with Michael , why would Jim France or anyone else want to be attached to the disaster called CUP RACING ? He probably thinks it’s too late to save it . And saddly he may be right .

Steve M.
11/01/2007 12:26 PM
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To all you non-Jeff Gordon fans, don’t bite my head off for saying this….But if Brian France is indeed kicked to the curb and Uncle Jim takes his place I’m as curious as the next fan to know what will happen to the way things are currently run within the four walls of NASCAR. Most particularly, will the Chase become a thing of the past? And if so (here’s the JG part)will Jeff, in all the NASCAR archives, be given an asterisk (*) behind his name to show that he should have been a champion for the 5th time in 2004 and then again had his 6th championship for this year? Had it not been for the Chase, everyone knows Jeff would be just one championship away from tying Dale Sr. and the King himself. Just a thought if things really do change!!!

True Fan
11/01/2007 12:35 PM
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Steve M. is right!

Pistol
11/01/2007 01:05 PM
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Having been a NASCAR fan since the late 60’s, it has really lost its appeal as a sport. Now it is more like professional wrestling. It seems that it is correographed to produce the winner NASCAR wants. Caution flags come out for “debris” that we never see. Speeding penalties are dished out to some and not to others, like Gordon and Johnson. Penalties are given for stupid things like running over the pit road cone; passing the commit line and then entering the pits; crossing the commit line and then changing you mind; and others. Whatever happened to good old racing? Bumping, grinding, pushing, bump-and-go, sling shotting. Oh, no…….

Now we have cars that look all the same and come as close to resembling the car at the dealers as a lime looks like a watermelon. Let’s go back to the old days and return with the true STOCK CAR. No fancy side spoilers, front spoilers, and wings. Just clean cars that look like the advertised car, with a front air dam that does not extend beyond the hood size. Put a spoiler as big as all outdoors on back to aid in control. Get rid of the carb and lets go to fuel injection, multi valves, and computer relays on the cars for performance and tire management. And get rid of the damned plate at Daytona and Talladega. IF it is too fast, use a smaller engine like a 4.7ltr that every manufacuter has. Dodge, Ford, and GM has one already being used, and if Toyota doesn’t, TS.

And fire Brain France, get rid of the Chase(unless the points are changed for those drivers only), keep the Cup drivers out of the Nationwide series, and get rid of that UGLY Cup champions trophy.

Margo L
11/01/2007 01:08 PM
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I don’t understand the idea of Gordon having supposedly won some mythical mid-season championship . The championship has not been decided yet . When the Chase began everyone lost their points and started over . This came as absolutley no surprise whatsoever to Gordon , or anyone else connected to Nascar racing . At the time the points were reset , Gordon had a substantial lead . Would that lead have held until the end of the season making him the champion ? Who knows . Who can prove that he wouldn’t have had several DNFs and some more poor finishes and done no better than second or even third in the points . Since all of us knew going in what the rules were , how could it possibly matter what his points total was . The only thing the initial points were used for was to determine who would be in the chase . If some feel that the CHAMPION OF THE PRE-CHASE QUALIFYING POINTS TOTAL deserves a trophy and parade then by all means go for it . But we all knew that number would mean nothing when the Chase started , so why the hysterics .

Mike C
11/01/2007 01:36 PM
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NASCAR racing is dying because of over saturation by the ex beer and tobacco marketing wizards ( i think i can guess why they are no longer employed in their former jobs ) in Daytona . There are simply too many tv shows concerning NASCAR . I became interested in NASCAR when 15 minutes on Wide World of Sports was all you were likely to ever see of a race . That meant that if you were a fan you eagerly waited for any report on tv or in the media , and waited until the following month to read about it in Hot Rod , or Stock Car Racing , or one of the other few magazines that covered racing .The only way you could see a race was to go to the track . Now you merely have to turn on tv and watch races from all over the world . Read the internet and know the race results from any where in the world . Now we are flooded with shows about NASCAR ( most of them no more than background noise ) including pre race shows , and these people have to invent things to report on for that much air time .How many shows on a weekly or daily basis to report on the same racing news over and over . And fans are getting bored .And the same goes for local short track racing . You can now see racing from your arm chair , why go to the track .
I never thought i could possibly say this , but i wouldn.t mind having a lot less NASCAR coverage .

Michael
11/01/2007 01:51 PM
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While we’re on the subject of” what if “ regarding possible championships , i know of at least two seasons that Earnhardt could have been the champion if things had gone his way . I know of one and possibly two of those types of seasons that could apply to Petty . Thankfully , the championship in Nascar is not rated by how close you came , or by rotten luck that should never have been . Think your favorite driver got screwed out of a championship ? Your favorite driver could have backed into a championship or two he maybe didn’t deserve .

Chris2
11/01/2007 02:22 PM
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You will never see a fuel truck hauling potable water,(drinkable) as well as any other water..officially or unofficially…there are enough regulations to choke a horse on that matter. This is why you see tanker trucker specifically marked as “water”. Word is as well that the tanks at the track do have alarms that trigger any contamination,(such as water), in the tank. It was stated that the alarm never went off..whether that means that there was no water in the tank or that the alarm failed was never explained but I was given the impression that this was their way of saying that the tanks were fine.

True Fan
11/01/2007 02:54 PM
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Good point Mike C. Over exposier is definately a henderance

True Fan
11/01/2007 05:12 PM
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Good points Mike C. N.A.S.A.R. is indeed being over exposed in some instences

jo-jr.fan
11/01/2007 05:36 PM
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i agree with pistol! i have been a nascar fan , since back in the 60“s and the racing ,is terible, now. i have stopped going to the tracks, and tape the races, and fast forward almost all of the race. when jr. france took over, that was the beginning of the end and the end is almost here!!!!!

Steve M.
11/02/2007 07:57 AM
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To Margo L., regarding your comments on “some mythical mid-season championship.” Please see http://www.onebadwheel.com/driver/nascar-non-chase-point-standings.php which has non-chase points as of this past weekends race. Jeff Gordon would be 439 points ahead of 2nd place; thus putting him rightfully in the Championship for 2007. And if you look at this page(edited by Frontstretch.com for display issues) you will see that the final non-chase points standing did indeed show that Jeff Gordon would have won the Championship that year by 47 points ahead of 2nd place. These are facts Margo, you can argue them all you want, but that won’t change them. And to Pistol and Jo-Jr.fan, I respect what you are saying. I have only been a die hard NASCAR fan for the past 5 years so I won’t even begin to think that I know as much about the sport as the two of you, but I will say that for those of us who are relatively new to NASCAR; well, all these changes are just part of life. Nothing stays the same and everything is contstantly changing – including, maybe unfortunately, but including NASCAR. I for one will not stop watching the sport and will continue to rip on other drivers and be mad at bad calls made by the officials and bi*ch about new rules and hate it when they change formats. But NASCAR is something else to me besides all of that; there is a camaraderie between the fans. The drivers themselves are just good, decent guys (most of them) and I still look forward to getting together with my friends every week to drink a few beers and have a few laughs (and maybe a few tears – depending on what happens to my driver) during the race. I have empathy for what you are saying about the good ole days of racing, but those days have been over, and for quite some time. And if indeed Brian France is replaced, and the Chase is a thing of the past, and if Gordon never gets his asterisk, well, so be it. But his true fans will always know just what a spectacular driver he is; 4 Championships or 10, it won’t matter. See y’all in Texas!!!

Margo L
11/02/2007 09:17 AM
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Well Steve M , i don’t know what to tell you . The rules for the Chase were well known to us all . Perhaps you just misunderstood that Gordon ( or any other driver ) would not get to keep their points when the Chase started . Sad i know , but rules are rules . Are you the person that created the phrase “ if the race ended now “ concerning points ? The html of the web site you list pretty much says it all . What If . If you have the time , go back through Nascar history or the history of any sport , and you can probably find many instances of, if a call had only gone the other way . But they didn’t . Gordon and Hendrick haven’t threatened to sue over it , so they must have understood as we all did . Let it go . There are far more important things to attend to in life than trying to re-write Nascar history .

Steve M.
11/02/2007 09:56 AM
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Margo, what I’m trying to say is if the Chase ended after this season, never to be seen again because it was decided that the Chase didn’t work; would Jeff be given some kind of credit for the two seasons that he should have won under the old points system? You are correct; every driver knew what they were getting into when the Chase started and Jeff is the last person to say anything negative about the old vs. new points system. If, in the future of NASCAR, the Chase is gone and the points are based on something much closer to what we had pre-Chase, don’t you think it would be appropriate to denote the drivers (not just Jeff) who would have won the Championship based on a points system that I believe had been basically the same for numerous years? Again, if that doesn’t ever happen, then so be it. There is always so much talk about who the better driver is; Jeff Gordon or Dale Sr. Well, by keeping with the Chase points instead of the points system that Sr. raced with, is just another brick wall that has been built to ensure that we will never know (by looking at numbers only). I’m by no means trying to change the history of NASCAR by taking away the wins of Kurt Busch (2004 Champion) or Jimmie Johnson (if he wins this year). And if the Chase continues as is, then that’s fine, but if it goes back to what we had, then that’s when an (*) is needed. To keep changing the points system every few years because it isn’t working isn’t fair to any of the drivers who are trying, and deservably so, to make a small mark in sports history.

Mike C
11/02/2007 11:26 AM
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Sorry to say that one of those drivers didn’t stop racing voluntarily , so making any comparison by numbers is going to be impossible . There is a very good chance that Earnhardt would have raced for two or three more years , and i think it’s safe to say he would certainly have won some more races , and who knows , maybe another championship or two . But fate played a hand , and we’ll never know .

Marc
11/03/2007 04:03 PM
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I’ve never been a Jeff Gordon fan, always been one of the boo birds, so to speak. However, I think I can unequivocally say that he is the current class of ALL Nascar drivers, (and that pains me to say it) but the truth is the truth. NASCAR gave almost a thousand points to some of the drivers, but they didn’t give anything to Gordon, if fact, they in essence took points away (a second place position).He deserves this championship whether he won it or not, and to say the very least, BRIAN FRANCE IS AN IDIOT!!!

 

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