The Frontstretch: NASCAR Can't Make A Living Playing It Safe by Thomas Bowles -- Monday July 28, 2008

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NASCAR Can't Make A Living Playing It Safe

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday July 28, 2008

 

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you enjoyed the Safety 400 at the Brickyard, presented by Allstate. Oh, the irony contained within that title sponsorship; for after the way NASCAR chose to run the event, I doubt the fans felt the sport was in Good Hands.

In case you tuned out before the checkered flag – as many fans did – Jimmie Johnson won the seven-lap shootout, in a race that could have easily been shortened to exactly that length based on tires that no one seemed to trust. Ashes to ashes, rubber to dust, Goodyear made a mockery of the second-biggest race of the year, scurrying for cover from a problem that quickly revealed no solution.

But instead of NASCAR officials leaving it up to the crews to figure out how to handle this challenge, they acted like an overprotective mother who couldn’t bear to see her child hanging from the monkey bars. So, they chose to monkey around themselves, grounding their kid while busy making up the rules and the reasoning as they went. Competition caution after competition caution turned into a 10-lap parade of pit strategy and pretending, with everyone well aware that the final 25 miles were suddenly all that really mattered.

That’s OK though, because the winning trophy wasn’t first on the minds of all 43 drivers out there. After all, the 10-race Chase for the Championship is what it’s really about these days, and playing it safe and collecting precious points is what you need in order to participate. On the pre-race show, none other than a Sprint Cup car owner expounded on the principles of such a conservative strategy to keep yourself in the game for the long haul. After all, why win at the most infamous track in America when you can simply survive for a 10-race playoff that’ll ensure you’ll be back the following year? Nowhere in that analysis was it mentioned that the driver could be placed in that precarious Chase position again, and again, and again … until his career was safely over. Risk has been replaced with reason, courage by caution, and daring by deflated.

So, the world’s best drivers were angry but never altered in their quest to finish the race safely; 75-85 percent throttle on the track was better than parking out of protest. And on the other side of the garage, none of the teams towards the back of the field dared risk their hand and stay out on worn tires — even with ten laps to go. While staying off of pit road could have given them track position for a solid finish and perhaps even a win – taking a risk that their Goodyears held up – no one could afford not to play it safe. Of course, earlier in the day it was a different story, as several different back marker teams led a lap under yellow – getting the five bonus points that came with it – until fear forced a stop and kept them stranded at the back of the pack. In the end, the risk of losing a lead lap finish trumps all – for dropping out of the Top 35 in owner points could keep them from making the starting lineup the next week at Pocono. And with millions of sponsorship dollars of on the line, no one can risk the dreaded DNQ that drops their race team off the track and out of the corporate conversation, can they? Survival now depends on sustenance, not strength.

Even after a long day picking up the field every ten laps, the pace car still had enough left in the tank to haul race winner Jimmie Johnson, his wife and a few crew members around the track once the race was mercifully over.

Speaking of muscle, you’d think the drivers would flex theirs in taking both NASCAR and Goodyear to task over Sunday’s multitude of problems. But instead, nervous smiles and a litany of thank yous were the norm, not the exception, as drivers took time to thank the fans for watching them come home safe but slow – tipping their hat to the pace car driver for putting up with all that extra driving. OK, the last one’s a lie but you’d half expect that to come out of their mouths – what with President Mike Helton’s June drivers-only meeting at Michigan telling drivers to stay within a “safe zone” of criticizing the sport – or wind up sorry they opened their mouth.

The irony in all this, NASCAR, is that the safe and sensible thing to do would be to have an open test at the second-biggest race you hold all year – one which could have adequately revealed a laundry list of problems both the sport and its tire company could have been put in position to solve. After all, we spend the entire month of January testing for the Great American Race – doesn’t the world’s most famous track deserve at least a smidgen of that attention? Instead, for the first time in years we were busy testing at places like Pocono, putting our eggs in a basket that clearly didn’t contain the answers needed.

After years of searching for answers to increase the sport’s popularity, NASCAR claims they’re looking to get back in touch with their roots. But to do it, they need to run the stop sign and face an ugly truth: racing itself can never completely be under their control. We can make the Car of Tomorrow, throw every caution flag for a smidgen of debris, and build as many SAFER barriers as we want, but the second the green flag flies, someone on that race track could die – whether they’re points racing or pushing it for all their car is worth. That’s the danger of a sport that was build on speed and makes its living pushing it to the ragged edge. We can’t deny that fact any more than we can deny the mortality of our own lives, and what we need to accept is that these men in the cockpit are doing this for a living because they choose to. NASCAR gets back to its roots by forcing the drivers to dig deep for the aggression that got them here, coming up with incentives to get them fighting for glory instead of staying in line in order to collect a check. Football players don’t play the game because they’re afraid they don’t get hurt. They play the game because it’s what they do for a living. Seven years after Earnhardt’s death, we’ve put on so many shoulder pads that you wonder if some of the players have forgotten how, exactly, to make that tackle out on the open field.

Now, I say these things with every intention of going into battle protecting these men. Some have become trusted sources, others friends, and I could never dream of putting my life on the line in the way they do for a living each Sunday. But there comes a point where one has to let go, accept the inherent dangers and get on with the task at hand. Two, even three competition cautions were enough for these crews – the best in the business – to figure out the dangers and decipher the best ways to get around them. At that point, the sport needed to set the drivers loose and let their crews do what they do best – figure out how to push it to the ragged edge without going over, keeping their driver safe while allowing for the basics of competition to take place. Or, if the tires were deemed so radically unsafe that even a 35-mile green flag run was too much – our record on Sunday was 12 consecutive green flag laps – the sport needed to bite the bullet, take it on the chin, and stop the race until a more suitable tire compound could be created.

Unfortunately, they did neither, and now we’re left with an awkward aftermath in which they’ve initially looked defensive. Who’s listening? Not the fans; for while all of them are sitting home safely tonight, it’s far from a safe bet they’ll be coming back to Indianapolis anytime soon. Pure speed and excitement was what they were after, and Sunday’s event – just like so many others this season — clearly didn’t deliver.

And that’s the only safe bet you can take from all this.

Contact Tom Bowles

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Comic Book Guy
07/28/2008 01:21 AM
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Worst Race Ever

Mike In NH
07/28/2008 07:13 AM
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I only got to see the first hour or so before storms knocked out the power at my house for the rest of the race. And I thought there could never be a good time for a power failure! I thought 400 was the number of miles, not the number of pit stops…

Douglas
07/28/2008 08:06 AM
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NOW WILL YOU BELIEVE ME???

Many have criticized my postings as being “too negative” toward:

THE CoT!

GOODYEAR TIRES

NA$CAR!!!!

Just how could I be so right?

Can you imagine anyone paying money to go to Indy to see yet another NA$CAR/GOODYEAR FIASCO?

First; GOODYEAR has NOT been able to supply a decent tire AT ANY EVENT!

Second; The CoT is TERRIBLE HANDLING CAR, which NA$CAR has refused to acknowledge!

Third; ALL signs throughout the tenure of the CoT said that a fiasco as witnessed Sunday was inevitable!

Who is at fault here??? Easy answer!!

YOU THE SUPPORTERS AND FANS OF NA$CAR!

You who chastise me for saying things like anyone that supports or believes anything NA$CAR does or says is “stupid”!!

Well folks! Please replay Sunday’s race, if you choose to call it that!

I have often stated that if Goodyear cannot supply a good race tire, pull out! Who cares the reason? And a Goodyear spokesperson “gingerly” stated the CoT is a different car and affects tire wear in a manner not seen before!!

DUH! And here’s your sign!!!!

Gee Mr. Goodyear, have you told NA$CAR this? And if you did, then why place your name on tires you know will not last the race? Or even 8 laps??

And NA$CAR’s response to that idiotic thing called the CoT, is to tell the drivers just shut up and drive!

My question is??? DRIVE WHAT? A piece of junk for ten laps! MAYBE?

I defy anyone to show me any positives going on within the NA$CAR ranks right now!

Arrogant NA$CAR will do damage control, as they are very good at this sort of thing!

But will real change occur to the CoT to enable the everyday fan to be able to watch a good, a decent, and a fair race?

Not unless each and everyone of us stands up to be counted!

And probably the ones that take issue with me, are the ones that do not spend the money to go to the actual event itself! How about the person that got sucked in and spent a thousand dollars to go to Indy in person! Was that money well spent??

Me thinks not!

Stay away from the tracks, save your money, send NA$CAR a message!

I beg of you!

Because what we have today is nothing but GARBAGE!!

Thank you Brian, Mike, and Robin!!!

NA$CAR IS A JOKE!

Ed
07/28/2008 08:22 AM
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Way to go Douglas! The only way this mess will change is when the fans quit paying their hard earned money to see this junk. The France brats are after one thing, money. When that money stops, they will either make changes or sell the series. As it is they are still fooling too many fans who think what they are seeing is really racing and are gulible enough to make like that little rabbit and his battery and keep going and going and…

Mark
07/28/2008 08:57 AM
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You know what cracks me up…. a lot of people (drivers, owners, directors….) keep calling this thing a show… “well we need to put on a good show for the fans today…” WAIT WAIT WAIT…. a show is something that’s presented on a stage, is directed, has a determined outcome, is the same each time you watch it……. wait a minute, I think I’m begining to fugure out why they keep calling it a show…..

It RACING dang it….. start calling it that, and for pete’s sake, it’s not a SHOW, so stop calling such.

Johnboy60
07/28/2008 08:58 AM
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Well once again I agree with Doug! Maybe in a different way, but I agree….I haven’t watch a NASCRAP event since the 4th of July. What an sin that a toyota would actually run in, much less win a Independence day event! I am done with nascrap until something is done, and I realize that there are very few loyal Americans left, so that things will not change….I just love the fact that for their own reasons, people are waking up to the joke called nascrap.
Too bad some good writers won’t have anything to write about!!

Brian from Indiana
07/28/2008 09:08 AM
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If I was at the Brickyard 400. I would of demanded my money back! This was truly NA$CAR$ biggest blunder. Would you pay full price for your meal at a restaurant if you ordered the biggest, best steak and lobster and they brought you out a hamburger and a stick of immitation lobster meat, and then they said, “Its really not the meal, but the show the waiter put on for you?” PLEASE!

Scott
07/28/2008 09:11 AM
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I only watched this because the Yankee game didn’t come on until 8pm. This race is one more reason that NASCAR racing is less and less appealing to me – I am becoming more convinced that the COT has ruined it.

marshall
07/28/2008 09:23 AM
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The blame for this mess can be equally split between Goodyear and NASCAR . Goodyear is only the tire provider because they have stayed around longer . But certainly not because they make a great race tire . Stop and think back to all of the many times drivers have complained about Goodyear race tires over the years . Looks like they were right . Nascar should pay attention to the actual racing side of the sport instead of the counting their money side . How could Nascar not know of the high wear that was encountered during the tests ? And why would they allow a tire that bad to be forced on the racers . Truth is , they do pay far more attention to counting money than putting on a race . If there were a problem with the tent supplier for the hospitality area , Nascar would have brought in a replacement in 10 seconds . Lets see if they replace Goodyear just as fast .

dawg
07/28/2008 09:51 AM
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King Brian said “NA$CAR was going back to it’s roots.” I think he may be on to something. After yesterdays debacle they may be headed back to Greenville-Pickens, & North Wilksbrough. The stray TV shot of the stands this season, already has shown they can’t sell out the big venues. If I had shelled out good $$ for that. Good Luck, trying to ever sell me another one. One interesting shot showed people leaving in droves as the sad parade droned on. I’m just disappointed we didn’t get to see how the Pocono tires worked. They were softer. They’d last what, 6 laps. If I were Tony George, I’d look for something to run that didn’t use tires.

Another Ed
07/28/2008 11:15 AM
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I thought that the World 600 at “Levi-gated“Charlotte three years ago would go down as the absolute worst race in the history of NASCAR. I was right. Until yesterday.

The common Template cars were the first nail in racing. The COT was the second nail. anymore races like yesterday will be the final nail.

BTW, I’ve been a fan since the mid 50s

Mike In NH
07/28/2008 12:00 PM
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Y’know what they should have done? Run the COT in Nationwide for a couple of years first to get the bugs out, then bring it to Cup. Nobody would care if NW teams were having these problems…

Buddha
07/28/2008 12:09 PM
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The absence of comments by TONY STEWART tells the whole story. Like him, or not, he always tells the truth. But this time, he’s been told “not to criticize” NASCAR. So, he has just said nothing.

ddsbstrb
07/28/2008 12:34 PM
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Everyone is always wanting to piss all over Jack Roush; but, at least he has the brass testicles to stand-up to Goodyear and NA$CAR about the problems yesterday, at the Brickyard and state it in public! At least someone is not afraid of King Brian and Mafia Mike!

http://www2.tbo.com/content/2008/jul/28/sp-roush-miffed-at-goodyear-about-something-else/?sports-autoracing

Dennis
07/28/2008 12:39 PM
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Until people stop going or teams spending millions to get handed abortions like this park in protest nothing will change.

Pay up suckers and on with the show should be NA$CARs motto.

Crying shame.

ddsbstrb
07/28/2008 12:54 PM
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I should also mention that Goodyear is one of those sponsors which is promoted by the France Family, with the promotion company they currently own.

Talk about one, huge conflict of interest in NASCAR.

No wonder Goodyear is so protected by King Brian and Mafia Mike!

don mei
07/28/2008 01:01 PM
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What a farce!!! I think I ended up watching maybe 20 minutes of it all told. The POS…I mean COT, really worked well at Indianapolis; and of course lets hear some applause for the chase…it REALLY promotes good, tight racing!!!

I think the only thing sillier than the (non) race were the pathetic attempts by Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace in the post race show to give credit to NASCAR for their brilliant decision!! SPEED network needs to get a few realists on their panels to offset the NASCAR apologists. Ill say it again…FARCE!

falcon325
07/28/2008 01:19 PM
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Just when and by what measure did the Brickyard 400 become the second biggest event in NA$CAR?

The crowd may be huge (even with all the empty seats), so the payday is lucrative for the George and France families. The purse is also a whooper. But the racing has always been mediocre at best.

The Daytona 500 may be #1 based soley on size, pagentry and the fact that fans are hungry for a race after the off-season. But it seems to me that, for stock car fans, both Bristol races, both Richmond races, Darlington and Coke 600 are bigger than Indy.

We lost North Wilkesboro and the Rock for this?

racehead
07/28/2008 01:52 PM
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The COT always has been, always will be a piece of trash and NOT a race car! When NASCRAP moves to a spec engine as well they will be finished. Their other series are in deep too and when they go to the COT in the NNS good luck. Who can pony up that sort of ca$h to be competitive. Brian’s dad should have never given control of a racing series to someone who knows nothing about racing.

Choke on your money NASCRAP!

borg9
07/28/2008 02:01 PM
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That’s it. I have had enough of this crap! Nascar teams and drivers need to step up to the plate and stop being such money puppets. They should start their own series with the ‘Old Cars’ – (real race cars) and get track owners to go with them. With the COT and a bunch of no name drivers/teams who would watch NA$CRAP when one could enjoy some real racing =)

But I guess that will not pay for the jet fuel and fancy lifestyles that the actors from this current traveling circus require. It really has become Racing Wrestling =(

Charlie
07/28/2008 02:01 PM
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Na$car is totaly to blame for this “show”. They mandate everything that goes on. To say Goodyear is in charge of tire compounds is absurd. They do what they are told just like everybody in the na$car mafia does. Support your local race tracks. Until na$crap figures out where they came from..

Gerry Blachley
07/28/2008 02:02 PM
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The common Template cars, Do you remember when nascar would go out to a dealer and get a car to make the templates,do you remember when any one could bring a tire if you could supply the field, do you remember when you could watch a race on TV, not the race snippets in-between commercials, do you remember when a you could tell a Ford from a Dodge and a Chevrolet does not look like Toyota, do you remember when team or a company that did a good job with there motors was not penalized for doing so. Stock car racing is no longer stock car racing, this is not a sport where the best car and team win, what it has become is a feeding place for greed, its time for the people that made this sport, to step up and take control, There is one way to stop the stupidity of an, origination stop feeding it.

MR Wheeler where are you?

Ginger
07/28/2008 02:54 PM
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Goodyear simply must quit making tires out of coal dust and Elmer’s Glue. It’s just not working.

marshall
07/28/2008 04:24 PM
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It is time for Bruton Smith to start his own stock car series , minus Goodyear , and rescue the sport we all love . To help get him started , everyone who sat through the Nascar incompetence this weekend needs to contact Bruton , thru Charlotte Motor Speedway if nothing else , and let him know how many ticket buyers and / or how many tv viewers his new series would have . Do it now before Nascar kills off big league stock car racing .

Mary
07/28/2008 05:37 PM
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“Now, I say these things with every intention of going into battle protecting these men.”

Sorry dude, but these guys are NOT going into battle. That is happening across the pond in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Other than that it was a good column.

Marc
07/28/2008 07:18 PM
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You want to see real racing, go to your local dirt track. Those guys race, they don’t put on a show.

I cannot say he is to blame, but this whole thing changed the day Jeff Gordon started racing. Could be that it was also the last day of King Richard.

That was a terrible THING yesterday. Won’t call it a race. Definitely wasn’t a show. More like old men sitting on the courthouse square playing checkers.

Douglas is right, I don’t like his lengthy dissertations, but his analysis is dead on.

Do something else, shut this mess down, or force real change. Don’t buy tickets, souveniers, or anything NASCAR related.

Marc
07/28/2008 07:29 PM
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Drivers, strike now, complete shutdown, that is the only thing that will save NASCAR from itself.

 

Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Did You Notice? ... Drivers Still Make A Difference... But Silly Cautions Don't
Did You Notice? ... NASCAR's Free Agent Lynchpin, Uncomfortable Reality And Gambling
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If you want to know more about Tom Bowles or to view all of his articles here at the Frontstretch, check out his archive and bio page.

Want even more Tom Bowles? Check out Tom's archive at SI.com.