The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... Liquor's Love Affair Turned Divorce, Throwing Caution To The Wind, And Finding Earnhardt by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday September 23, 2009

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Did You Notice?NASCAR is so quick to throw a caution for “debris,” yet so hesitant when there’s actual danger on the race track? The first Chase race came packaged with its share of debris yellows, a total of three cautions that threatened to change the outcome of the race. Yet during the last lap, when A.J. Allmendinger’s car was stalled in the middle of the front straightaway, NASCAR held off until the cars were coming off of Turn 4 to throw the yellow flag – a situation that left a number of drivers themselves scratching their heads.

“I was surprised by that,” said Jeff Gordon, who never actually heard anyone call out the caution until he was right on top of Allmendinger heading to the start/finish line. “All I knew is my spotter was saying there’s a car in the middle or stopped down low on the front straightaway.”

It was a far cry from the first 299 laps, when NASCAR used debris cautions at will just like other points during the year to ensure an exciting finish. When the yellow came out with 23 laps to go for debris, it was almost laughable how many radios immediately crackled with comments about the way the sport was trying to manipulate the outcome. And when you have half the field openly questioning the way you’re officiating a race … chances are there’s a major problem.

Of course, the sport responds to those allegations by crying “Safety!” every single time, pointing to situations like Kasey Kahne’s Dover wreck in 2004 where holding back the yellow caused a serious incident. OK, fine, we’ll ignore the numbers we tabulated a few weeks ago as to how we got through the 1990s fine without any debris cautions. But if the sport’s so concerned about safety, why did they wait until the very last second to go yellow on the last lap with a situation eerily reminiscent to one that forced the current rules in the first place?

Six years after Dale Jarrett’s troubles brought about the end of racing back to the yellow, New Hampshire nonetheless was nearly the site of another wreck coming to the caution flag.

Yes, that’s right; it was at this very same track in September 2003 where Dale Jarrett was so helpless on the frontstretch that the old rule of racing back to the start/finish line under yellow was abolished. When a number of lapped cars just missed hitting Jarrett at full speed, NASCAR was forced to act and put in place the Lucky Dog rules we see today. You thought we’d never come close to another incident after that; and then, we were suddenly mere seconds from one on Sunday.

“We waited as long as we could so we could complete the race, but when the No. 44 didn’t move in time we had to display the yellow between Turns 3 and 4,” NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said in defense of the move to ESPN’s David Newton Tuesday. “We were able to let the guys race it out as much as possible while keeping everyone safe.”

OK, fine, everyone can appreciate the willingness to try and let the drivers fight it out. After all, no one likes to see a race end under yellow. But by the time leader Mark Martin hit the end of the backstretch, it was painfully obvious he was going to win unless there was a major slip-up in Turn 3. You call the caution then, there’s a good 10-15 seconds for everyone to react and slow up in time if the spotters can get through to their drivers. I think that’s another side problem here, that the antiquated way of yellow lights on the right side of the track combined with the radio isn’t enough if you want to even dare to cut it that close on the last lap.

“I don’t know how we can have a better way to relay a caution to the drivers,” Johnson said on Sunday. “I know in some forms of racing, they have little lights inside the car that flash yellow when the caution comes out.

“That would have worked really good in this case, because there is such a short distance from where we were to where the problem was. I saw the caution and checked up myself.”

I agree with Johnson that NASCAR has to ramp up its technology if they’re going to hesitate to throw the yellow – because we came way too close to an absolute disaster. But before they decide on that, they need to come up with a clear policy on when and where to throw the yellow in the first place, because right now, it’s pretty hypocritical.

One last note before moving on … there was a poll on this site on Monday that wondered whether the caution should have been thrown for debris. 78 percent said it was done to set up an exciting finish, a pretty high number with a reasonable sample size. I maintain the same position I’ve always had on that type of stuff … you can find a reason to throw a debris caution anytime for anything. So if it’s in the last 50 laps of a race, you better prove to me convincingly that all 43 drivers are in imminent danger – with a piece of metal guaranteed to cut down a tire in the groove – to throw that yellow flag.

Did You Notice? … That sometimes we’re at fault for causing some of the problems we see in the sport today? By we, I mean us media, and I think it’s important to note that we’re often as imperfect as the sport and drivers we cover.

This whole issue came up during this whole controversy regarding team orders the past few weeks. Believe me, I’m as petrified as anybody else over someone pulling over, giving a teammate an five extra points on the last lap at Homestead in order to win them the championship. Good God, if that ever happens, we’ll long for the days we had a 22 percent drop in ratings under this playoff system. But at the same time, I notice whenever two teammates are running side-by-side, announcers and writers start complaining or wondering why.

Huh? Here’s a news flash: NASCAR is a team sport focused on INDIVIDUAL cars. As soon as the green flag falls, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, Ron Hornaday and Kevin Harvick in the Truck Series, etc. are no longer connected. Those two drivers, in theory, are battling to finish in front of someone else. So why even bring up a question or concern about two teammates running side-by-side, even if sometimes that battle does cause them to lose time to others on the race track? The way I was brought up on racing, you have no friends out on the track, only people you’re trying to pass cleanly for the win.

Certainly, if we stop questioning why teammates are being so aggressive towards one another that won’t automatically stop team orders – far from it. But maybe if we embraced the simple joy of side-by-side racing, no matter who it is, there would be less of a focus on this “let’s everyone help each other and be nice because we’re on the same team” philosophy which is threatening to wreck our sport over the long-term.

Does anyone remember Neil Bonnett and Darrell Waltrip when they were on Junior Johnson’s team in the 1980s? They didn’t play nice with each other, not one bit. The two competed hard against one another to bring out the best in both of them, and that’s the way it should be.

Did You Notice? … The significance of liquor companies leaving NASCAR? Stop and think for a minute … what’s the one business that hasn’t been affected by the economy? I’ll give you a clue: it rhymes with deer and kicker.

Did you figure it out? If you didn’t, then you’re either a better man than I am for living a life alcohol-free, or you need to get down to your local bar ASAP. Of course beer and liquor sales are holding up just fine! Jack Daniel’s, which just pulled out of sponsoring the No. 07 of Casey Mears, actually reported a 39 percent earnings-per-share increase for stockholders for the first quarter fiscal year 2010. Jim Beam, owned by Fortune Brands, doesn’t have quite as rosy an outlook, but still saw its parent company post a higher-than-expected profit in the second quarter of 2009.

Even while turning solid profits, Jack Daniel’s and their sizable hospitality presence at the track will not be seen in 2010.

Anyways, you see the point I’m making here: These aren’t car manufacturers filing Chapter 11. So why are these companies leaving? Simple: they no longer view NASCAR as a main course to achieving their marketing objective. With a decline in popularity, most notably amongst the current 18-49 demographic these companies are trying so badly to connect to their brands of alcohol for life, $20 million to sponsor a team is no longer worth it to them to stay in this sport.

It’s the latest sign this sport is both becoming too expensive and failing to resonate with the current generation. Most importantly … despite all the changes Brian France has thrown out these last few years, the sport to the younger generation is becoming – gulp – stale.

I know, that sounds hard to believe with all the transformations of the last few years, right? But with the conservative points-racing surrounding making the Chase in the first place combined with the same drivers and teams running up front the last few years (look no further than the series champion) it’s been difficult to change that perception. And no one has seen that firsthand more than Jim Beam, who has watched the backing of its single-car owner fall short against the increasing wealth and resources of the multi-car teams to the point it’s difficult for driver Robby Gordon to even score a top 20.

Now as the deepening sponsor crisis continues, let me remind us all that the top teams have six, seven, eight companies rotating on the car as primary sponsors. Why not cut the overall cost of competing so those companies could then attach themselves to other drivers and teams? That would be too easy … but no, the top owners need to continually drive up the cost of competition in the face of an uncertain economic future. That makes perfect sense for them … but how about for everyone else?

Did You Notice? … I’ve been long-winded this week (alright alright, every week I know … gotta work on that) so here’s a couple of quick hits on some other topics before I go.

- Lost in the A.J. Allmendinger wreck was the fact Marcos Ambrose was involved not once but twice in what seemed to be a bit of a feud. Add in David Reutimann’s tryst with both Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. with Michael Waltrip just barreling into a wreck on the backstretch and the Chasers have their answer as to which team you don’t want to be racing around the next ten weeks.

- Speaking of Junior, did anybody even notice he was even running in the top 10 for the first half of the race? It’s amazing how strong this mystical Chase is that it can even cause the sport’s Most Popular Driver to disappear from view. And people wonder why the popularity is down at this point in the season …

- One thing that’s going to stir things up though is when Juan Pablo Montoya turns his car into a bulldozer and runs right over a Chaser. And after watching him Sunday, know it’s not a matter of if, but when.

- I should probably dedicate this column to David Newton, because I’m hearing his GoDaddy.com theory regarding Danica Patrick is going to be right on the money. I’m talking about the whole Martin keeping his seat warm for her, by the way, not the crazy Keselowski coming back in 2012. Doesn’t he know Keselowski will be back to replace Gordon instead?

What if Martin outlasts Gordon at HMS, though. It’s definitely possible, as Gordon is rumored to be retiring as early as the end of 2010… now I want odds on that from Vegas a good five years back.

- Get well, Clint Pittman. Let’s never forget how dangerous it is to do any type of work on pit road.

Tom Bowles is now on Twitter! Click HERE to become a follower… even though he’s still learning how to use it (be patient on that one!)

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Gordon82Wins
09/23/2009 06:56 AM
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What is NASCAR going to do when sponsors decide to pull their sponsorship if a car doesn’t make the Chase? You could hardly blame them. Hell, AMP might as well not even bother.

The Turnip
09/23/2009 07:47 AM
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WOW! What a great summation of the “state of NA$CRAP”!

You hit the nail on the head about “safety”! NA$CRAP is not the least bit interested in “safety”!

From restrictor plates, to GOODYEAR TIRES, to no yellows, to allowing drivers to race back to the checker EVEN THOUGH THE YELLOW IS OUT (finally)!

And the drivers admit they do not have a clue on when, or when not, NA$CRAP will throw a yellow for a wreck!

They, NA$CRAP allow “bump-drafting” in the corners (but of course only for certain drivers), they have a wreck of a “race-car” that simply cannot be driven, and the average fan is left wondering just what the rules are, and to whom they apply!

I can understand why the liquor companies are leaving NA$CRAP! NA$CRAP racing calls for No-Doz!

And I understand King Brian drinks GIN anyway, so no business for Jack Daniels at INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY BLVD.

And of course the technology is readily available to place yellow lights, both inside the car, and flashing lights on the rear of the car to INSTANTLY notify drivers the caution flag is out! Other series use it with great success!

And of course, it goes without saying, (well, almost without saying anyway), that if say the #18 “raced back to the flag under a yellow), the black helicopters would be circling to make sure that particular driver would head “straight for the hauler”!

Mr.ed
09/23/2009 08:31 AM
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Safety ask kyle petty or kenny irwins family about na$car safety the soft walls were out for years but cost to much not till we lost dale sr did they get installed throwing fake cautions to tighten up the field thats real safe.Safety only when it helps the bottom line or tv ratings.they can throw 50 fake flags at some tracks and they still will not get a good race but they are in the right market calf. chicago pa etc

MïK
09/23/2009 09:24 AM
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Speakin’ of safety, Clint Pittman is a fine example of the dangers in the truck series with their two-stop rule.

Bring out the caution, NASCAR, and park that idea!

Keith
09/23/2009 10:20 AM
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My opinion is Na$car is worried about safety so much that they have changed the sport to much in the name of it. First it was restricter plates then pit road speed limits then no racing back to the yellow which then caused the lucky dog then lapped cars waiting a lap to pit to keep pit road less crowded then the COT. The only rules that make sense are softwalls and the pit road speed rule the rest are the reason the sport is fading. This is also the reason the sport is declining with the younger audience the danger and risk of the sport is going away. If the drivers and pit crew think it is to dangerous and they feel unsafe I suggest they find something else to do for a living. You make things as safe as you can with out destroying the sport.

Angel
09/23/2009 10:54 AM
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NASCAR wasn’t going to win whether they threw the yellow on the last lap or not. SOMEONE would be whining either way. It was a tight race and they gave them as much time as possible to settle who won. IT’S racing people! If unforeseen situations didn’t happen once in awhile, it would be boring. Stick to RC cars if you don’t want any dicey moments. As for Jr…Some people actually watch NASCAR for the racing. A relief to hear commentary during a race where every other word isn’t JR.

Bill B
09/23/2009 10:55 AM
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Funny you should mention the beer and liquor industries. When I was an econ major in college (many years ago), one of the first things you learn was that beer and liquor are an exception to normal supply and demand rules of other products. A person’s demand for beer and liquor is constant. Those with more money just buy better brands and those with less money make do with cheaper brands but their demand stays relatively constant.

The Turnip
09/23/2009 11:00 AM
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Hey Keith, right on!

Racing, I mean REAL RACING, is inherently dangerous! Not stupid, I simply mean dangerous!

That is what “AUTO RACING” is, and is supposed to be!

The safer you make it, the more mediocre talent it will attract thus making the racing BORING!

And I think we are there!

BUT! The REAL problem is NA$CRAP says safety, but what do they do?

1. don’t throw the yellow with a car stopped in the middle of the track! Now thats a real safe idea!

2. Put restrictor plates on 43 cars and MAKE them run in a bunch, launching several at a time in the air, and into the stands! Now thats a real safe idea!

3. Allow GOODYEAR to supply racing tires! Now thats a real safe idea!

4. Design a “race” car with no suspension, and an extremely high Center of Gravity! Now thats a real safe idea!

Well, you now understand NA$CRAP safety!

NOT!

jaymatt
09/23/2009 11:43 AM
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Speaking of its being nice not to hear “Jr” almost every other sentence from the announcers (re. Angel), were this past week’s announcers paid extra to say “Montoya” every other breath? It seems like that’s all I heard—“Montoya, Montoya, Montoya, . . . .”

Ken
09/23/2009 12:52 PM
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The only safety NA$CAR is interested in is the safety of their money. I think points racing and the obvious manipulation of the races with fake cautions is why people are tuning out the races. Why waste all afternoon watching boring cars driving in circles when the last 10 minutes is all that is interesting? How do you become a fan of a driver who is there only because he is from a rich family that provided everything he needed to learn racing. An interesting driver is one that worked for it himself and defied the odds. Rich pretty boys do not make good role models.

Jim
09/23/2009 01:35 PM
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Anybody else hear Dale Jr.‘s comment on the cautions? He compared Nascar to WWE!

And I can’t find ANYBODY talking about it.

Kulwicki-Fan
09/23/2009 02:50 PM
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Number of Sprint Cup races with five or less cautions:
2008 – 3
2007 – 2
2006 – 0
2005 – 1
2004 – 6
2003 – 6
2002 – 13
2001 – 11
2000 – 14
1999 – 16
1998 – 16
1997 – 18
1996 – 16
1995 – 16
1994 – 16

Guess what, B.France is the CEO of that sinking ship since 2003…

wcfan
09/23/2009 03:20 PM
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Kulwicki-Fan
That kind of says it all, one or two race difference I could see but 5+ every year is ridiclous. The lucky dog does not help, because it makes me wonder how many of the cautions are “real” and how many are to help a driver or team. Vickers got 2 at Bristol which ended up getting him in the chase, twice he was the lucky dog when the caution flew. Just 1 example.

glenn
09/23/2009 04:19 PM
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so the sky is falling again?? wow, this reads a lot like every other sport during whatever crisis they may be going through. Spare me. Times are tough, did anyone watch the Steelers play the Titans? Grandstands half full, so I guess that sport is dying too.

L Taylor
09/23/2009 04:42 PM
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This is the crabbiest bunch of “fans” I’ve ever seen (heard? read?)!

glenn
09/23/2009 04:46 PM
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quite the opposite, I just wish someone would put things in context. Every time a sponsor leaves or they change the car the “fans” have a fit and claim they’ve ruined the sport. This chicken little stuff gets old.

The Turnip
09/23/2009 05:02 PM
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Hey L Taylor!

No, we are not “crabby”, we deal in realism!

And we prefer not to be duped by NA$CRAP!

As an example, look at Kulwicki Fans rundown of “caution flags”!

The cars are better built theses day, less parts falling off, but the YELLOW FLAG for debris, (whatever that may be) has skyrocketed!

We want truth in advertising!

And Sunday’s race had a TV viewership some 19% LESS than the previous years race, AND THIS WAS THE FIRST RACE OF NA$CRAP’S “PLAYOFFS”!

CSGAS
09/23/2009 05:22 PM
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Two thumbs up on this one, Tom!!!

midasmicah
09/23/2009 07:30 PM
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I’LL TRY NOT TO BE TOO LONG-WINDED, BUT I HAVE TO STATE THE TRUTH. NAS$CAR IS THE NEW WWF. EVERYBODY KNOWS CERTAIN DRIVERS FROM CERTAIN TEAMS ARE GOING TO WIN. “SAFETY” IS THIS CATCH WORD THAT THE FRANCY PANTS USE ANY TIME THEY HAVE TO DEFEND ANY OF THEIRDEBRISCAUTIONS. IT’S SO TRANSPARENT. THEY COULD HAVE CARED LESS IF ALLMENDINGER WAS SERIOUSLY HURT AS LONG AS ONE OF THEIRBIG NAMEDRIVERS WAS IN A POSITION TO WIN. IT’S BECOMING LAUGHABLE. IREMEMBER MY STEP-DAD ROLLING ON THE FLOOR AND SHOUTING AT THE TV AS THEWRESTLERS” (DRIVERS) MADE THEIR MOVES. I KNOW I’M EXAGERATING HERE, BUT NOT BY MUCH. NAS$CAR’S MANIPULATION OF THE RACES HAS, BY ITSELF, BECOME LAUGHABLE. AND THE BAND PLAYS ON. aAS TO THE LIQUOR COMPANIES LEAVING NAS$CAR, TO USE A PUN, THEY’VE BECOMEPUNCH DRUNK” (SORRY FOR THE PUN). WHEN YOUR SPORT IS NO LONGER RELEVANT TO LIQUOR COMPANIES, YOU’RE IN BIG TROUBLE. NAS$CAR HAS BECOME SO FULL OF ITSELF THAT IT CAN’T SEE THE FOREST FOR THE TREES. HELL, I DON’T KNOW THAT BRIAN FRANCE WOULD KNOW WHAT A TREE IS. I’LL CLOSE BY SAYING THIS. IN CONTINUING TO EMPRACE “DA CHASE”, NAS$CAR CONTINUES TO “CHASE IT’S TAIL”.

Overra88ted
09/23/2009 08:25 PM
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Jr.running the top 10 and hardly getting noticed? Big deal, everybody knows he wouldn’t finish there, and he didn’t.

Keith
09/23/2009 08:58 PM
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Kulwicki fans chart says it all we did not have all these cautions when you had to be a proven driver to get a ride not some clown who looks good on TV and gets to wreck 10 million dollars worth of cars and ruin a race as on the job training.

mkrcr
09/23/2009 09:31 PM
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-I hope ‘ole Poston has a lot of breath mints ‘cause he’s had to swallow a lot of turds this season.
-You can’t have “those little lights” Jimmie, NA$CAR may think you can convert the technology to traction control.
-The reason you don’t hear about JR. is Fox isn’t covering these races. Montoya is ESPN’s “Lil Junebug”.
-And Midas, quit shouting.
My eyes are hurting. Even “Turnip” doesn’t use all caps.

djones
09/23/2009 10:40 PM
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@ Kulwicki-Fan, Thanks for the numbers. I had no idea.
The Emperor has ruined our sport. Why is it that we see this, yet those who could do something about it don’t?
One of life’s mysteries I guess.

 

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
Did You Notice? ... Toyota Trouble, Limping Into Action And Testing The Waters
Did You Notice? ... Keep On Asking, And You Will Receive A Qualifying Sigh Of Relief

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