The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? Polesitters Falling, Professionalism Rising, And Fans Simply Have No Shame? by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday April 9, 2008

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Did You Notice? … Well, you couldn't have noticed this one. But I was absolutely appalled by an incident I saw in the garage Friday at Texas. Kyle Petty - already coming off a rather traumatic week in his driving career - was talking animatedly on a cell phone while walking down by his trailer. All of a sudden, out of nowhere a fan runs him down from over 50 feet away, with a picture in hand, a marker, and obnoxiously asking for Petty to sign. Now, I understand the urge for athletes to sign something as much as the next guy; but wouldn't you want your one meeting with your favorite driver to be more of a "special" moment? And don't you think there's still some rules of common courtesy that need to be followed — especially when you're in the middle of a working garage on a Friday?

To my surprise, Kyle ended up signing the picture for this man; no doubt, that's the type of easygoing fan interaction he learned from his father Richard. But if it were me, it would take everything in my being not to give this fan the middle finger. I'm wondering how many crazy people like that race drivers have to deal with over the course of the weekend; incidents like that make it easy to see why people complain a lot of drivers aren't as personable as they used to be.

Even in the face of a crazed fan and one of the worst weekend's of his driving career, Kyle Petty was still the class act we've come to expect.

Did You Notice? … That on the heels of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fading fast from his pole position at Texas, NASCAR is in the midst of an extensive drought in terms of drivers winning races after qualifying in the top spot. The last time a driver won from the pole was Clint Bowyer at New Hampshire last September - a span of sixteen races. Instead, the outside pole has been the place to be; drivers who started second have won three out of seven events so far this season.

Did You Notice? … A new addition to the back of crash carts along pit road? OK, maybe it's not all that new … but most carts have a fake "hubcap" built in where tire changers can practice removing lugnuts on pit road. It's yet another sign for how pit crews are just as athletic as the drivers themselves these days; one tenth of a second could mean the difference between first and fifth.

Did You Notice? … Something small, but notable. During driver introductions at Texas Saturday, David Ragan turned his hat backwards for the crowd, showcasing a little personality for the fans as he went around the track. But no more than five minutes later - once Ragan had ended his tour around the garage - he turned his hat back around, looking every bit the consummate professional during an interview with ESPN's pre-race show for the Nationwide Series race.

Now, there could be a silly, simple reason why Ragan turned his "look" around; but part of me can't help but think he's got it ingrained into his brain that he has to be a certain way once the cameras are rolling. Why can't the man wear his hat backwards during an interview? What's the problem with that, sponsors? Are we to the point where these corporations feel their drivers need to act like they're in private school in order for people to buy the product they're representing? I just don't get this era of over-political correctness, I really don't …

Did You Notice? … Something else during the Nationwide Series this weekend. ESPN spent an extensive amount of time hailing the progress of the "young guns" during their pre-race show, based on the previous race at Nashville. To an extent, they were justified: Kelly Bires and Brad Keselowski both scored Top 5 finishes as Nationwide-only drivers. However, they also led a total of three laps during the race. The move was a sign of how difficult it is to market other drivers in this series; people are looking for any spark from these guys in order to try and push them as successful competitors to the onslaught of Cup teams and drivers.

In case you were wondering, last weekend went back to the same old story; Jason Leffer was the sole member of the Nationwide-only crowd to crack the Top 10 at Texas (9th).

Did You Notice? … That in the aftermath of Michael McDowell's crash, people automatically jumped on the Car of Tomorrow bandwagon to the point people feel the man wouldn't have survived without it? Really? You mean nothing else developed in the past decade besides the CoT contributed to McDowell's survival? Nothing against the new car … but I find that hard to believe.

Did You Notice? … That with Haas CNC's release of Jeremy Mayfield, they continue their streak of hiring drivers for one year or less. Jeff Green continues to be the only one since their inception in 2003 who survived to a second season; but after struggling mightily throughout his tenure at Haas, Mayfield may be much better off starting over elsewhere.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


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04/09/2008 06:23 AM

I also found it interesting that so many (especially in the media, or those with something to gain from kissing Nascar’s a**) seem to give all the credit to the COT for McDowell walking away from that crash. I’m sure that it helped, but without the SAFER walls and the HANS, does anyone really think he would have walked away? I guess they are really desperate to ‘prove’ that this experiment is a success on some level. So far, the saving of money and better racing haven’t materialized.

04/09/2008 07:49 AM

And do not forget the Randy LaJoye seat. It is said that he builds the best out there.

Margo L
04/09/2008 10:20 AM

Just remember your reaction to the autograph seeking fan when you or anyone else complains about drivers who seem to try to distance themselves from fans . Where did this ridiculous idea come from that people need a famous persons signature ?
Take a photo instead , it doesn’t bother the driver . The fact is that many fans are only interested in a drivers’ signature to boost the value of the collectible they are trying to sell on e-bay .
The tv booth is bought and paid for by NASCAR . So how could we expect any of them to be objective and not try to paint the cot as the safety invention of the century . The Safer Barriers are the best thing to come along in many years when it comes to saving a drivers life .
David Ragan was probably just trying to get some of the attention that he sure won’t get on FOX . He and many others are lucky to get mentioned once per race , and that is only because of the rundown of the starting lineup .

04/09/2008 11:06 AM

I don’t see anything wrong with wanting a drivers/celebrity’s autograph. It makes the item, picture/hat/whatever, more personal. You’re telling me a hat with your favorite driver’s autograph wouldn’t be your choice opposed to one without it?
I do however think some common sense should be used when asking for said autograph. It’s not only what you witnessed in the garage, it’s happening everywhere. I don’t know when or where society lost respect and manners, but it seems to be problem everywhere you go.

M.B. Voelker
04/09/2008 11:18 AM

I would suspect that Roush requires hats to be on right during interviews because the sponsor’s name is on the front of the hat.

The sponsors don’t pay for that gear so that drivers can hide their names out of sight. :-)

04/09/2008 11:52 AM

Having been in the pits with a Busch team, I can tell you that the amount of fans they are letting in the pits and garage area is way too many. I know Nascar has been actively attempting to limit the number of Hot and Cold passes, as well as charging high prices for Hard cards, but it doesn’t seem to be working. Bristol is the worst, due to there being no garages. There are multitudes of “fans” and other hangers-on that continually parade between the haulers and the pit box, and constantly have to be dodged. I think there is no question that they need to cut down drastically the number of individuals that are circulating around, so that the drivers don’t feel under siege and would actually be more open to signing stuff for the fans. Folks that don’t get to see the week-in, week-out harassment of the drivers in the pits and garage just don’t understand what they really have to go through. So they will eventually get jaded, some more than others obviously in the case of Kyle.

04/09/2008 12:06 PM

Hello the “hubcaps” more commonly and correctly called wheels have been on the pit boxes for at least 5 years or longer. This is so not new that it makes me wonder how observant you are when at a NASCAR race. This innovation was even highlighted as an in race news story when it initially became popular. I do not remember which team did it first, likely the evail empire Hendrick. The old car had crashed similar to what the 00 had and the drivers walked away as well. Granted maybe a little less bounce in their step but still “healthy”. Like J. Burton mentioned it was lucky the car kept forward momentum. Kept the energy away from the driver more. I bet Martin’s hit at Charlotte in 2006 was a harder lick into the wall just did not have the flips. But then again Rusty Wallace made a habit of flipping the 2 car twice as bad at Daytone and Talledaga in the 90’s.

04/09/2008 01:18 PM

Mayfield better off starting over elsewhere? The guy has had multiple opportunities and hasn’t produced. Sauter drove the car last year and was in the top 35 all season. Haas needs to get a clue.

04/09/2008 04:47 PM

This will be the third consecutive season Mayfield won’t finish in the ride he started out with. Given his own history and the Haas team’s, it wasn’t hard to see that pairing wasn’t going to last.

Peter G.
04/09/2008 07:47 PM

I like the hubcaps that keep spinning when the car stops moving. It freaks out my dog and would make pit stops a lot more exciting.

04/09/2008 08:02 PM

He probably had his hat turned backwards so the wind wouldn’t blow it off as he rode in the back of a truck. DUH.

04/09/2008 11:40 PM

Gene (above) gets two points for the hat turned backwards: correct answer! Duh!

04/11/2008 07:16 PM

Want to see fans with no shame? Talladega infield on Saturday night, drunk dudes and nekkid broads.


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