The Frontstretch: NASCAR Mailbox: Missing Fans, Employees, And Ghosts Of All-Stars Past by Summer Bedgood -- Thursday May 16, 2013

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Saturday night racing is the best, isn’t it? Between the flying sparks and the great racing that a typically cooler surface provides, there is just that “something” about an under-the-lights race that makes it better. During the month of May, there is a cluster of Saturday night races all crunched together. Between Darlington, Richmond, and the All-Star Race, we have plenty of time to enjoy some nighttime racing.

However, the downside to that is that it leaves a void the very next day. Between all of my racing friends and colleagues, I’ve noticed that in the midst of the season, racing free Sundays tend to throw us all a curveball. Even after several years of watching and covering racing, I still come home from church on Sundays, check my laptop, flip on the TV and think … now what?

It’s sad, isn’t it, how much time we spend on racing? Oh, yes, I know there are those of you who will sprint to the comments section and say, “Well I ¬¬_used_ to do that, but I’d rather whine about [Chase, Jimmie Johnson, “terrible” racing”] than watch so I spend my Sundays [mowing the grass, shopping, whining on Facebook about how I’m not watching the race even though I really am].” That’s fine and it’s your right, but habits are hard to break. When you get into the habit of “Sunday, race, the rest of my day”, it somewhat leaves you with that feeling as though you are forgetting something.

That’s not to say I don’t usually find something to do. My husband will tell you that an off Sunday for NASCAR and a nice, sunny day outside typically aren’t the best days for our checkbook. Hey, I have to do ¬¬_something_ to keep the adrenaline flowing, and what will do that more for a girl than scouting out the best sales and fighting other shopping lines?

In just a few weeks, though, we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming. Ah, checkbook, it is now time for your several month hibernation.

Now, onto your questions:

“What happened with that dude at Talladega who just up and disappeared? I don’t understand how someone in the midst of thousands of people can just vanish. Did they ever find him?” Emma

His name was Nick Bower, and his body was found in some tall grass near a creek in the Jackson Shoals area after he disappeared on May 4th from the racetrack. Talladega County Sheriff Jimmy Kilgore said that no foul play was suspected in his death, which, if you’re like me, was the immediate thought that came to mind when I heard he was found in a remote area.

They haven’t actually released the cause of death, though it’s a relief that they don’t believe that he was murdered. The whole thing is just weird, though. If there was no foul play, how and why was in the middle of nowhere? Was it suicide? Was he overly intoxicated or did he overdose? There are so many unanswered questions to this one that it’s just strange.

The body was sent to the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences for an autopsy, so I’m sure we’ll have answers soon enough. The curiosity is killing me, because this happened in what was described as a remote area. Heck, the racetrack itself is in a remote area. Stay tuned for more on this one and be sure to subscribe to our newsletter. There is sure to be information in there once it comes out.

“Why did MWR suspend its crew members for failing NASCAR’s drug tests? I thought there was a recovery process they could go through?” Gary

Jackson L. “Lee” Dodson II was one of two crew members recently suspended by NASCAR for violating its substance abuse policy. Frank W. Earnhardt was the other. Dodson is a crew member for Clint Bowyer in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and Earnhardt was a member of an unidentified team in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, though it was confirmed he did not work for JR Motorsports.

Dodson didn’t just lose his ability to go the racetrack every week, though. He lost his job at Michael Waltrip Racing. The team issued a statement saying, “Michael Waltrip Racing fully supports NASCAR’s substance abuse policies and those who complete the Road to Recovery program. MWR’s zero tolerance policy has resulted in the immediate termination of the employee.”

You’re right, though. NASCAR does have a Road to Recovery program where crew members (or drivers or whoever) can rehabilitate and earn their way back into the sport after they have failed a NASCAR required drug test. A.J. Allmendinger is probably the most notorious individual who has ever gone through it successfully, though many other crew members have as well.

Because we don’t know the substance he was suspended for taking, I have a hard time commenting on this. However, I can’t help but be a little angry at MWR, especially when most other team members stand behind their employees when this happens. There is the possibility that this is more serious than what it appears to be at the surface, but if this person needs help, the last thing they need to do is fire him.

I understand that he’s been given an opportunity that many will only ever dream of, but I really don’t feel like it’s our room to judge here. If Dodson is willing to clean himself up and wants to go through this process, I see no reason why he shouldn’t. At the very least, I hope he does so successfully and gets his job back. For all we know, this could have been a stupid mistake he made in an “in the moment” instance, and I hardly think anyone should be punished with their career for that. I wish Dodson—and Earnhardt—well.

“I am soooooo sick and tired of NASCAR changing the All-Star format. I don’t follow as closely as I used to as I have better things to do, and so I have no idea what’s going on this weekend. If it’s anything like last year, though, it will suck. Did they change anything that I need to be aware of before watching or should I take that extra time to do some yard work?” Taylor

You do your yard work at night? Odd.

No, seriously, it’s confusing enough when I have the press release right in front of me. I’m sure it’s worse as a fan trying to sort through the mess that is the format when all you want to do is watch.

To answer your question in short, yes, they changed the format again to keep the drivers from sandbagging like they did last year. To put the format as simply as possible, the average finish of the first four segments will determine the starting lineup for the fifth and final segment. Though it will be hell to keep up with during the race (“Earnhardt finishes segment three with a 5.5 average finish so far!”), it is intended to give the drivers motivation to race throughout the entire race instead of waiting until the end to try anything.

Another year, another new format. There are, however, two constants with the All-Star race: it’s still run at night, and they will still wreck a lot.

The first four segments will be 20 laps, and the fifth and final segment will be 10 laps.

The whole thing is just asinine to me. Has NASCAR ever heard the saying, “Less is more”? How in the world are fans supposed to be able to keep up with this? There has to be nearly infinite possibilities for the final lineup, and it will now be necessary to keep up with positions to the decimal point. This is going to be maddening for those of us who are required to follow the race and try and decipher it for the fans. It’s going to be completely frustrating for viewers who just want to tune in to enjoy a Saturday night race. It would almost make more sense just to go to your local short track. Even with all of the heat races and inversions and everything, it’s probably still simpler than whatever this chaos is that NASCAR is trying to create.

Don’t get me wrong. I completely understand their motivations here and, hey, it just might work. But with $1 million dollars on the line, these guys are going to race hard anyway. Sure, they aren’t going to race as hard at the beginning of the race as they will in the final segment, but this isn’t like a normal race where viewers have to wait three or four hours to actually see “crunch time.” 90 laps isn’t very long to wait, and with what amounts to “timeouts” coming every 20 laps, it should be enough for even the viewers with the shortest attention spans. So just let the race play out and quit it with all of this complicated nonsense. It takes the fun out of it when you have to constantly be keeping track of mindless statistics.

Or am I wrong here? Do you guys like the gimmicks or would you rather they keep it simple?

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JP
05/16/2013 09:00 AM
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Man, I hate to sound like so many others but it’s true….I used to LOVE the “All-Star” race and couldn’t wait for it. Now I can take it or leave it. If I’m going to be home I’ll watch, but if I miss it it’s not a big deal.

Drivers used to really go all-out for it, but it seems now that many use it for testing…for…..The Chase. The biggest gimmick of all.

And all these changes….is it any wonder why so many are losing interest? I really feel that there will be a day when the chase is no more.

If Nascar can last until that day.

Bill B
05/16/2013 09:46 AM
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Gimmicks suck.

Glen H.
05/16/2013 10:21 AM
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It may be news to you Summer; but a lot of employers have a no tolerance policy as a condition of employment which means if you fail a drug test, you’re terminated. Employees know this when they take the job so there is no excuse for having something ilegal in your system.

Question: Were you a little angry at Penske Racing when they terminated Allmendinger for a failed drug test? Just wondering.

Sherri T
05/16/2013 10:23 AM
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Great article Summer!

I hate the gimmicks! Now days I just ignore all the “changes” (can there be “changes” if it’s never the same? shouldn’t we just call them “new rules”?) and just watch the race.

Kevin in SoCal
05/16/2013 12:41 PM
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I agree with Glen. Everyone knows that abusing illegal drugs is wrong, and yet some do it anyway. I dont believe in second chances for drug abusers, just like I dont believe in second chances for drunk drivers that cause an accident.

Upstate24fan
05/16/2013 01:19 PM
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Changing the All Star format is just as much as a tradition as the race itself at this point. In the whole history of the race they haven’t gone more than 2 years without some sort of tweak. However, last year was a disaster with the sandbagging and having a mandatory pit stop that didn’t require any tires to be changed. Hopefully, this means a better show this year.

jerseygirl
05/16/2013 01:44 PM
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Well, I didn’t “sprint” to the comments to say this, and you can call it whining if you like. As JP above said, I can take it or leave it.

The truth is there ARE less fans watching all the races than there used to be, for many reasons, and I include myself in that group. Watching the last 20 laps doesn’t count as a full-time fan.

And yes, I’m tired of all of NASCAR gimmicks for regular races and especially the all-star race. First year in about 10 that we didn’t buy tickets for it. I decided I didn’t need to spend $1,000 traveling to Charlotte to watch Johnson win. I’ll watch it on TV (or maybe not, depending on whether something more interesting comes up for Saturday night). BTW, I’m a fan who USED to stay home to watch a race on TV, but don’t any more.

Andy D
05/17/2013 07:49 PM
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Ideally, this would be a 40 lap sprint race. Just long enough to have a pit stop in the middle. The problem is that wouldn’t be long enough for TV to run all the commercials that they want to collect money for.

I won’t be watching on TV. Until they get rid of DW, I’ll only watch the Daytona 500. I may listen on the radio but I’ve only done that once or twice this season.

I grew up when you were lucky to get four races a year on TV. And those were cut up into 20 minute highlight reels. I don’t have the need to be “connected”. I read the results the next day as I did long ago.

This is not the sport that I used to be devoted to, I don’t care anymore. They did always bend the rules to make sure the stars were in the show though. There’s a reason why the champion’s provisional exists.