The Frontstretch: Fanning the Flames: NASCAR's Methods From Yesteryear Don't Work In Today's Environment by Matt Taliaferro -- Thursday July 29, 2010

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Fanning the Flames: NASCAR's Methods From Yesteryear Don't Work In Today's Environment

NASCAR Fan Q & A · Matt Taliaferro · Thursday July 29, 2010


It doesn’t matter whether it’s Martinsville or Indianapolis; some sportscasters will put no effort whatsoever in figuring out how NASCAR works during their highlights.

I swore I wouldn’t get fining-mad over this, and honestly I haven’t (actually, as time has gone on, it’s become comforting in a weird way), but I can’t understand how a sportscaster on the local news — the local news in cradle of the South, by gawd in Nashville, Tennessee — struggles with delivering a promo and then running through the highlights of a NASCAR race.

Nevermind, a NASCAR race at some little track known as Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I’ve thought about this before,” he began, as I rolled my eyes. Yeah, sure you have, bud. “Of all the sports, what do you think is probably the hottest one on a day when it gets in the high 90s? [Awkward pause.] How about NASCAR? You got all those hot cars, you have to get in the pits [I’m not sure what “getting in the pits” has to do with heat], and the drivers in there … he’s got a, um, the, um, ahh flame retardant suit on there, you know [it’s called a firesuit, Guy Smiley]. But anyway, we’re going to talk about the race a little bit. This was a wild one, Flint [yes, that’s the other anchor’s name. Honest to God. It’s Flint Adams].”

Totally lost. And that was just the promo. I’m not going to walk you through the teleprompter-driven drivel that, to his credit, was a bit better, considering someone else wrote it for him. Still, he rushed through it to get to the latest Vince Young news, which really wasn’t news at all, because training camp hasn’t started and Young hasn’t done anything stupid lately, like getting into a fight in the back room of a strip club.

I don’t know … maybe I shouldn’t let the ignorance bug me. After all, I felt NASCAR was considered a flash-in-the-pan phenomenon on the fringe by those in the more mainstream set that were “forced” to report on it — even seven or eight years ago, when suddenly it became what the Olympics are every four years: the newest fad that even my little sister gets interested in.

Maybe that’s what makes the sport special; for those that follow, it’s ours. It’s unique, and the fact that most people don’t “get it” and, quite frankly, don’t care creates a special community.

So keep trying, local FOX News guy. And by the way, it’s pronounced “Roo-ti-men,” not “Roy-ti-man.” But that’s OK; those that really care already know that. And the fact we laugh together about it is what bonds us.

So, needless to say, we’ve got some ground to cover this week, and my Managing Editor might flip if this column goes for 5,000 words. With that in mind, let’s tackle the issues. If you didn’t make it in this week, keep trying! Here’s the link to my world.

Matt, your colleague, Matt McLaughlin, refers to Indy as “all sizzle, no steak.” I hate to admit this, but for once I’m with him on that one. I love the tradition of the Brickyard and the notoriety it brings NASCAR, but besides that what separates Indy from California? Strung out parades where clean air is king. That’s not my idea of an exciting race. I’ll take ORP on Friday and Saturday night, thanks.

Congrats to McMurray, who won on strategy. That was the one exciting part of the race, but sitting through two hours to get there was painful. As were the commercials.
— Jeff Lyons, Balch Springs, Texas

A: And see, I thoroughly enjoyed the race. Indianapolis pits man-vs.-machine-vs.-track as well as any venue on the circuit. Is it intense, side-by-side, beatin’ and bangin’? No, but for the event it stages (and the 400-mile distance), I appreciated the true test of a race it presents. If nothing else, that’s what Indy should provide.

I’ll give you that O’Reilly Raceway Park hosted some truly great short track racing — and if those of you reading this aren’t watching the Saturday shows, you should — but the Brickyard had a little of everything, from early drama, a sort-it-out middle stage, and an ending filled with strategy and emotion.

By the way, yes, McMurray won on a two-tire stop, but it wasn’t that he out-strategized the field. His team simply made the right call. And he was a legit top-3 car all day, anyway. At Indy, more than any other track, you have to be spot on in every aspect of your game. The No. 1 was. Winner, winner fried fish dinner.

With Ambrose out at MWR and Bobby Labonte in, is Ambrose a natural for the No. 9? And what have you heard of sponsorship with him? I view the move as a lateral one. Any reasons he made the decision that haven’t been revealed? Thanks, Matt!
— Kelley McNally

Marcos Ambrose’s announcement he’ll leave JTG Daugherty may have finally brought a end to the speculation of who will pilot Kasey Kahne’s No. 9 in 2011.

A: Word on the street is he’s in the No. 9, but nothing’s official. Haven’t heard anything on sponsorship. I’d agree on the lateral move part, although it could end up being a step down (assuming he’s in the No. 9), depending on RPM’s future. Therefore, I’d say this had to do with money, and if his past relationship with Ford is any indication, it might be ponying up some cash to entice him.

Maybe Ambrose is the first step in RPM’s renaissance. Bring back the ‘Dinger and Menard’s money, throw in Ambrose and the team looks … well, still kinda middle-of-the-road.

Matt, why do you think Bobby Labonte was chosen for the No. 47 team, and will he get in the car before the season is over? Is he viewed as past his prime? The championship was a decade ago. Is this about his past champion’s provisional? I’m shocked MWR didn’t move Trevor Bayne into that seat.
— Peyton R.

A: I don’t think Bayne is ready for Cup yet, Peyton. Remember, MWR pulled that stunt with a young Michael McDowell a couple of years ago, and the results just weren’t good from the start. Bayne looks like a great talent, don’t get me wrong; but he needs some seasoning yet. Besides, Brad Daugherty and the Geschickter’s had a say in this, too.

As for BLab, I think we’ve all wondered how he’d perform in decent equipment, and now we’ll find out. I don’t think his hiring was about Past Champion’s Provisionals, though. The No. 47 is well inside the top-35 cutoff, and they make plenty of speed. This was about the goods, not the goodies.

At least we know this much: Labonte won’t get in the car until next season. Marcos will finish the year out there.

So NASCAR first goes back on their word by penalizing Brad & Carl, and now they are fining drivers when they don’t like what they said. Boys, have at it? How about Boys, get back in line.
— Disappointed in N.C.

A: Well, let’s get one thing straight: NASCAR won’t fine drivers just because it disagrees with what they say. The drivers that crossed the line made comments that called into question the legitimacy of the sport. Agree with that driver or not, it’s hard to blame the sanctioning body — a sanctioning body that is owned and operated as a private enterprise — for getting his attention in some way. I’m just not in favor of the way it chose to do it.

NASCAR went so far in the preseason as to show the teams video of comments made in the past that highlighted remarks which hurt the product. The position was that speaking your mind is one thing – attacking the product so that it becomes bad for business is something else.

Ol’ DW had a great quote posted on Twitter two nights ago: “You don’t have to work for me, but please don’t work against me.” I believe that sums up this episode better than any other opinion I’ve heard — at least one side of it. After all, when business is good, those very drivers’ livelihood is all the better. You know, a goose ‘n’ gander thing.

Now, am I disappointed that it’s come to this? Of course. I want drivers to speak freely just as much as you.

Am I disappointed that NASCAR is handling these penalties in a different manner than any others incurred during a race weekend? You bet. It seems the sanctioning body will never learn that being anything less than forthright will come back to haunt it. The double-secret, CIA-type method it employs only adds to fans’ frustration.

Is NASCAR reversing stance on this issue? Yes. In 2007, Juan Pablo Montoya was fined $10,000 after flipping the bird during a Nationwide Series practice session. At the time, NASCAR said that its policy prohibits obscene language and gestures, but that it has no rule against criticizing its officiating. Guess that’s changed, huh?

Ryan Newman was one of two drivers revealed Wednesday to be fined by NASCAR for critical off-track comments about the sport.

Fast forward to 2010 and a different NASCAR. It’s a sport witnessing sagging ratings and attendance, a series that has to sell itself harder than ever to win the entertainment dollar of Joe and Jane Fan. When its legitimacy is called into question on a seemingly weekly basis by a swarming media and on message boards by fans across the internet, the last thing it needs are its lifeblood — the drivers — fanning the flames of conspiracy and calling into question its credibility. However, the way to handle those drivers is not by secretly penalizing them. After its “Have at it, boys” edict, that only makes the sanctioning body appear as if it’s talking out of both sides of its mouth. Hypocrisy, my friends.

Which brings us to the most paramount point that most are missing: NASCAR didn’t take points. A points penalty would deter drivers from speaking their minds.

Case closed. End of story.

Money? Hell, do you really think these multi-millionaires are going to keep the safety on when they’re hot ‘n’ bothered after climbing out of a steaming racecar they’ve sat in for four hours? If the only penalty Ryan Newman or Denny Hamlin has coming to him for lighting up the sanctioning body is a few Gs, I think they’ll gladly write the check. And maybe throw in a tip.

Besides, the NFL is fining its players for excessive celebrations after touchdowns, when props like popcorn buckets, Sharpies, and cell phones are used in a “choreographed” manner. At least Carl is still allowed to do backflips and Tony can climb fences if he so chooses. NASCAR isn’t the “No Fun League” yet.

Thursday on the Frontstretch:
MPM2Nite: 1313 Turkey Court
Gateway Melee Overshadows Great Driving By NASCAR Up-And-Comer
Dialing It In: NASCAR Needs To Come Clean
Fantasy Insider: Stewart, Harvick Primed For Second Round Of Pocono Success

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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07/29/2010 06:31 AM

I saw an interview with Denny on Race Hub last night and he pretty much confirmed that he had been fined for “speaking his mind” – When asked by the media what he thought of the upcoming changes to the Chase he commented that he “has to watch what he says now” and proceeded to say that the changes to the Chase would be great and he was looking forward to them. Now Denny has to be like every other boring driver out there (JJ, Jeff, etc.). I thought we had free speech in this country – I guess not in NASCAR’s world.

Bill B
07/29/2010 08:40 AM

If NASCAR doesn’t want drivers to call them out on bogus debris cautions then they should stop calling bogus debris cautions. You reap what you sow.

07/29/2010 08:42 AM

remember Matt..per Nascar’s history..the pattern is..1st offense is a fine..2nd offense is points !..we shall see…i dont think the book is closed yet…what a joke

Don Mei
07/29/2010 09:17 AM

How in God’s name can telling the truth be considered “hurting the product”. The “product” is doing a fine job hurting itself without any outside help from the drivers. How stupid does Nascar really think we are?

07/29/2010 09:55 AM

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks, chances are pretty good that it is a duck.

07/29/2010 10:35 AM

Forgot to put a message! D’oh!

Yeah it annoys me too when a sports announcer can’t be bothered with NASCAR. In D/FW, Dale Hanson on WFAA rolls his eyes when he has to talk about NASCAR, and about the only time he really does talk about NASCAR is when it’s at TMS. Then, we get a interview with Eddie Gossage, but, that’s about it. With Hanson, its Mavericks and Cowboys 24/7.

07/29/2010 10:46 AM

Aside from all the heritage and history, the difference between Indy and California is this: unlike Indy, they can and do race 3 and 4 wide at Auto Club. Yeah, I know they get strung out so don’t bother pointing that out. But you will still see more passing and more side by side racing at Auto Club on race day, that’s for sure.

07/29/2010 12:35 PM

There were 3 drivers fined. Why does number 3 not want his name in it?

Kevin in SoCal
07/29/2010 12:46 PM

Thanks gopapa. Its nice to see someone say something nice about Fontana for once.

07/29/2010 01:12 PM

I try to keep watching NASCAR but
during each race I find myself turning the channel or tv off sooner each week. It really is the product that has become lacking .

07/29/2010 01:16 PM

Kevin in SoCal
My problem with ACS is the LACK of fan support, the racing is no better or worse then the other cookie cutters.

While I was in the service I was lucky enough to visit some very good tracks in SoCal. Riverside(Last Cup race) Cajon Speedway(San Diego), Orange Show Speedway(San Bernardino), and Saugus Speedway(Saugus) saw lots of great racing and met many great fans. And watching races at Irwindale I know there are plenty of fans in the area. The Busch and Trucks need to give that a try since they are losing Gateway next year.

07/29/2010 01:25 PM

Sorry, Matt. I disagree with you on this one. The drivers didn’t say anything that the fans haven’t been talking about for a while.
If NASCAR doesn’t want people to talk badly about their sport and management, maybe they should work at improving things.

07/29/2010 02:06 PM

Kevin – Thanks – The racing there isn’t as bad as people claim it is. Most of the haters are just pissed about the Southern 500 debacle. If the track was configured differently and the racing was the some of the best in the country most of these people would probably still bag on it.

WC – I can tell you first hand that one of the fan problems at ACS is that the track has jerked fans around and drove them away in droves. Not to mention, almost every track is experiencing a lack of fan support right now. It’s not limited to ACS. (It’s probably a combination of unhappy fans and economic hardship)

07/29/2010 05:29 PM

Forgive me for stating the obvious but, any track that the POS COT “races” at is going to appear lame, some more than others. It creates the lack of racing, not the tracks. Spec car racing=spec car results. Just ask IROC fans, if you can find any.

07/29/2010 08:35 PM

Bill B said it best, “If NASCAR doesn’t want drivers to call them out on bogus debris cautions then they should stop calling bogus debris cautions. You reap what you sow.” Simple enough. Don’t piss in our ear and tell us it’s raining.

07/29/2010 09:33 PM

Sounds to me like you’re taking NASCAR’s part in their gag orders. My opinion is, NASCAR has very little credibility to protect.

07/31/2010 09:57 AM

Just yesterday a fellow employee where I worked lost her job for provoking two confrontations with her supervisor and cussing her out — not to the supervisors face, but, nevertheless, aloud, at her station, where a number of her fellow employees could hear.

Its never acceptable to badmouth and run down your employer — whether you’re an employee or an independent contractor.

When I was a cook I didn’t go around telling our customers where they could get better Chicken Parmesan. When I was a waitress I didn’t tell customers that the hamburgers weren’t any good today because a careless cook had thawed too many and they were getting a bit grey (not spoiled, of course, just a bit second-rate).

Where I work now I might gripe about the cardboard and duct tape infrastructure and the penny wise, pound foolish refusal to make small investments in greater productivity but if I were to badmouth our product and run it down to customers and potential customers I’d deserve to be out the door as fast as the woman who cussed out her supervisor was.

And everyone who has ever been employed can say the same thing about his/her job.

Nascar fans, especially the ones who post here, are always talking about loyalty and how drivers ought to be loyal to their owners/manufacturers. Why don’t you think that loyalty applies to the sport itself?

Didn’t you ever hear that old saying about not biting the hand that feeds you?

IMO, Nascar did the right thing by keeping the fines private so as to teach the drivers a lesson without either creating a public uproar or interfering with the competition as the old-fashioned practices of making inspection extra-difficult or inflicting an extra speeding penalty would have.

After all, loyalty goes both ways and Nascar needs to be loyal to the drivers and not badmouth them to the customers either.


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Contact Matt Taliaferro

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