The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... NASCAR Divorce Reporting 101, Kentucky Contenders And Quick Hits by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday July 6, 2011

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*Did You Notice?*… How one little divorce can cause so much controversy? The back-and-forth on Kurt Busch’s separation from wife Eva has caused a furor on both sides of the fence, a spirited debate on whether such news should even be reported based on individual privacy. Fans appear divided on the issue, too, with Dustin Long’s Backseat Drivers Fan Council reporting in at 46.9 percent yes, we want to hear about the Busch problems while 53.1 chimed in at “No / I don’t care.” Clearly, there’s a case to be made for both sides, so before forming an opinion let’s examine each one:

The Case For Reporting It: As in any job, when a driver struggles (or succeeds) their personal life can often influence said result. Just look at what happened with Tiger Woods in golf, post-Elin or on the positive side Brett Favre of the NFL, who looked superhuman a mere 24 hours after losing his father. Personal adversity becomes part of the story, because after all, sports are 90% mental, right? (Or at least that’s what Yogi Berra used to say).

Kurt Busch stirred up a media storm when he got a kiss from new girlfriend Patricia Driscoll in Victory Lane at Sonoma.

That leads us to Busch, who spent the Spring publicly critical of his at-track crewmen and engineering leadership at Penske Racing. Time and again, his weekly radio transmissions could cause Howard Stern to report him to the FCC; a seven-race stretch with just one top-10 finish was the end result, wiping out a strong start and dropping the No. 22 Dodge driver to eighth in points. But in a weird twist, once the complaints went public, part of a public tirade that started at Richmond and spilled over into Darlington changes were made and performance markedly improved by mid-May. In the last six races alone, Busch has not finished worse than 14th while charging up to fourth in points, even winning the road course race out at Sonoma in June.

So it turns out this process was highly effective, causing fans to want to know why Busch would choose to be so critical. Any type of personal problem, affecting the driver’s emotional well-being could offer up some type of explanation; at the very least, it begs the question to be asked of just how much someone’s head would stay in the game.

There’s also the concept of NASCAR playing with the Big Four; and those sports, for better or for worse in stick ‘n’ ball land see their personal problems go public when it pertains to the story. Whether it’s baseball owners, in the case of the McCourts’ divorce for the L.A. Dodgers or Tony Romo’s (Dallas Cowboys) rendezvous with Jessica Simpson before the big game the identification of these athletes as public figures softens the boundaries. And without this type of reporting, where would we be with Woods? There may never have been any sex addiction rehab, public revelations or any such nonsense – his people may have all effectively swept such dirtbag behavior under the rug.

Some might also say Busch brought the story upon himself, openly interacting with another woman in Victory Lane whom even casual NASCAR fans could identify wasn’t his wife. It’s one thing to quietly go through a divorce, actively choosing to keep it a private matter; but when you’re bringing someone else to the racetrack, getting seen in public well it’s not exactly so private anymore, is it? Considering fans adopt these drivers as their role models, people kids look up to there’s a certain expectation they come as advertised. If there’s a story that contradicts perception, does that become a journalist’s responsibility to report it?

The Case Against It: The number one issue a NASCAR fan focuses on is their driver’s on-track performance. The number one story a NASCAR reporter follows is on-track results. So what does a personal matter, handled completely outside the racetrack have to do with Busch ordering “tight” or “loose” on the radio? Since when does a broken marriage have anything to do with a green-white-checkered restart? Busch seemed to indicate as much with his statement on the matter, issued down at Daytona last weekend:

“Although we [Busch and his wife, Eva] are no longer together and are legally separated, we appreciate privacy in this situation,” he said. “All I want to say on this is we are going though the process of terminating our marriage, but we are doing it with respect for each other and we’ll always be friends.”

“When you win, people want to bring you down. While drivers sometimes have a beef with certain media members, the vast majority are hard-working and responsible individuals trying to do their job the best way they can. I realize I’m an entity, but I’m also a person.”

You could also claim that Busch’s personal issues have no bearing in his complaints about Penske; it’s not the first time Kurt’s gone overboard on the radio for an extensive period of time, likely won’t be the last and follows a consistent pattern of speaking out when necessary to force internal changes within the team. The Society of Professional Journalists (I’ve become oh-too-familiar with that in the last six months) in their Code of Ethics claims journalists could, “Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.”

I think the words “overriding public need” are where this whole topic becomes a little messy. Because what “public need” does reporting about sports serve in the first place? We’re not reporting on matters of life or death, grave national security or even the robbery that happened down the street. Sports, in essence is always glorified entertainment so you’re operating on a different set of rules. Now, if there’s a crime or a lawsuit being reported (Jeremy Mayfield, anyone?) things change a bit. But what about the other 99.9% of the time? How is it even a “public need” to explain Denny Hamlin and Mike Ford, for example, hit on a special setup no one else had to win the race? In a sense, you’re “invading their privacy” by revealing the type of setup used but NASCAR Nation won’t lose sleep at night if those facts aren’t revealed.

That’s why, to bring this whole complicated mess full circle the code of ethics in this case can be defined in two ways: one old school and one new school. The old school way is by the core group of beat reporters covering the story. I remember back in 2006, when I first started in both writing and television; within my second week at the track, the big story revealed to me was that a certain car owner had been dating a female driver on his team for months. In total shock when this story was revealed to me as a reporter, my first question to person A was why hadn’t anyone written a story on it; after all, the team was struggling at the time, the owner in question was in the midst of a divorce and for me it was a relevant story for this type of scenario to play out on NASCAR’s highest level.

“Simple,” said Person A. “[The owner] doesn’t want the story reported, and he’s made that clear to everyone who knows about it.”

And so it went; as the new kid on the block, I kept my mouth shut while learning the ropes and sure enough, it stayed silent until a former driver on the team, of all people publicized the information a few weeks later. It’s an example of how the NASCAR media, in operating on cases like these has mostly chosen to take a more conservative approach, protecting sources on personal matters under the guise of needing to use them later or simply deciding the issue was not a “public need,” something the average NASCAR fan needs to know about.

Of course, in this world it’s different for many reporters as several of them live around the Charlotte hub, residing in the same neighborhoods and experiencing personal interaction with many of the subjects they cover outside the racetrack. The sport has always been known as a tight-knit community, one that prides itself from being different from sports like the NBA, NHL, NFL and MLB so this whole concept of “sheltering someone’s personal life” fits in. Fans can complain reporters are not doing their jobs, but when covering glorified entertainment there’s some flexibility in setting standards; unless, of course, your name is TMZ.

But that brings us to the new school part of this story, the way in which the concept of the media is changing. With direct feedback more accessible than ever before – even instantaneous – people are discovering what a broad spectrum of fans want to know about, and why. As there were many stories about the Caylee Anthony trial coverage being driven by social media, so too will coverage of other stories in the future, as media entities are realizing they won’t exist unless people choose to read them. That means it’s simple common sense that with feedback readily available, they’ll restructure to focus specifically on what their readership wants to have covered going forward. So you, my gentle reader are really going to be the biggest influence on whether divorce stories like these get covered in the decade to come. If your reaction is that reporters missed the boat, to the point you’re not going to read them anymore well, you better believe the next time there’s a personal issue within a driver’s life 20 people will be jumping down their throat. But if your reaction to that coverage is one of disgust, feeling someone’s privacy has been invaded then the exact opposite will happen: private lives will become just that, a clearer line drawn in the sand as the competition gets focused on without the personal context.

See? You’re on the verge of holding more power than you think, I guarantee you. And it only took 1,600 words to explain that…

While Kurt Busch struggles with personal news, Matt Kenseth (left) has a different battle on his mind… one that involves fighting for Victory Lane in Kentucky.

Did You Notice? … Everyone is just assuming Joey Logano’s the Kentucky favorite? Sure, the 21-year-old has captured three straight victories at the Speedway but he’s not going to be the only one capable of running this joint. Here’s some other people you should focus on this week for what is understandably the “wild card” of the remaining regular season races:

Matt Kenseth. He’s hot (second at Daytona), needs a sponsor (winning races will help that) and already has an intermediate victory under his belt this season (Texas). Chances are, with Carl Edwards still struggling a bit, Greg Biffle winless and David Ragan enduring a week of first win distractions this ride’s the best bet out of the Roush Fenway stable.

Kyle Busch. He owns a win at Kentucky in Nationwide (then-Busch in 2004), finished runner-up there as recently as 2009 and also doubles as Joey Logano’s teammate. After a top-5 finish at Daytona, running with a car headed for the junkyard after the race this year’s Las Vegas intermediate winner should stay in contention.

Kevin Harvick. Way back in the days when he had hair, a Cup Series rookie named Harvick won a Kentucky then-Busch race in 2001. Sixth in the only other race he entered (2006), this year’s Fontana/Charlotte winner on the Cup side has really broke through on intermediates this year. And oh, did I mention he’s the new points leader?

Paul Menard. If you really want a wild card, this intermediate track specialist had a 14th, 5th, and a 9th-place finish at Kentucky in the Nationwide Series before crashing out in last year’s event. If David Ragan just won a Cup race… why can’t Menard?

Did You Notice? … Some very quick hits:

- That message from UPS, sent immediately after the race congratulating David Ragan seemed kind of cryptic, didn’t it? I wonder what they’ll say in a month or two if they decide to leave the team. “Oh, well we thought he’d get three victories in two months, but it didn’t happen so we decided to jump ship and go with Driver X instead.”

- Whatever happened to that guy named Jamie McMurray? I haven’t seen him around in, like, months now.

- You have to understand, the Lucas Oil / Indianapolis Motor Speedway move (angering many fans this site has heard from already) was about money. Lucas Oil just wasn’t cutting it with the purse; it ranked 35th out of 35 Nationwide Races last year, plus NASCAR couldn’t agree with the track on a proper sanctioning fee. But there’s also likely an ulterior motive behind it all; with IMS attendance expected to drop precipitously this year, NASCAR needs to start giving the track incentive to keep hosting the Brickyard 400. Could you imagine if that race got nixed? Many fans wouldn’t care, but the casual public who doesn’t understand how bad the racing is would go nuts. “NASCAR is Dying,” the headlines would say and all of a sudden, it’s a huge public relations blow for the sport. So, while unsettling know that top officials may be trying to keep IMS happy any way it can… it’s just that sadly, as a result financial and business relationships mean the racing, tradition, and the fans suffer.

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mgh
07/06/2011 04:06 AM
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Indy doesn’t really give a flip about nascar racing…only the fans money.

The racing at ORP KILLS Indy hands down. That’s where nascar needs to race.

sb
07/06/2011 06:32 AM
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All this controversy about Kurt’s divorce could have been avoided if he had issued a simple statement saying that he had his wife were separating when it happened, and asking for privacy on the issue. By not reporting it, it has become a big deal. I bet Jeff Gordon would have appreciated less publicity when he got his divorce. It isn’t as if this hasn’t happened before. And where was this ‘holier than thou’ attitude by the Nascar press back then? Pot, meet Kettle.

budsudz
07/06/2011 10:31 AM
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The ability to pay a big purse also killed the Busch Series at Hickory, Myrtle Beach, South Boston, etc.
The best thing that NASCAR could do would be to supplement the purses and return the NWS to Hickory, Myrtle Beach, South Boston, Rockingham + add Irwindale. Make it the predominant short-track, feeder series that it was and breathe life back into the series.
There were many times in the 90’s that I looked forward to the Busch Series races more than I did the Cup Series on a particular week.
The move to Indy is as bad of a decision as the old NASCAR L/R series concept was back in the 80’s. When the chips are down, it’s time to get back to basics.

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
07/06/2011 10:50 AM
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Technically Tom….David Ragan is Driver X. Or at least Racer X…from that competition he won a few years ago on TV to get the Roush ride.

- Vito

Sherri T
07/06/2011 11:51 AM
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Every year I’ve looked forward to the IRP race on Brickyard weekend because that race is Soooo much better (hands down) than the Sprint Cup race and now that’s going away too – bad decision by NASCAR for the long run to make a short run concession.

high plains drifter
07/06/2011 12:26 PM
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while i agree that any time a marriage blows up it shouldn’t be any of our business, but when kurt got married the couple had no problem recieving god knows how much money from people magazine to have there wedding photos shown to everybody for publicity but now you want privacy? you can’t have it both ways. if kurt gets remarried maybe keep it private and i for one would be on your side.

Bill S.
07/06/2011 12:55 PM
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Both Bill Elliott and Jeff Gordon were subjected to the worst kind of tabloid scrutiny of their divorces. Part of it was that the divorce did not fit their “media-generated” images. (Peter Coors was especially an ass about it although as Bill’s sponsor he had a passing interest, but no more. What he displayed was a complete lack of loyalty and support to Bill and Martha both. I will NEVER drink Coors again – they are a phoney company with phoney conservative self-righteous standards.)

You could say Jeff enjoyed the positive publicity of his marriage to Brooke, but again, how much of that was his choice and how much was his sponsor’s choice? In Bill’s case, he had married his high school sweetheart and NEVER made her a part of his public persona, which is the way they both wanted it.

I consider all these guys victims of the media, whether they are going through a medical crisis (Trevor Bayne), a pesonal problem (Bill, Jeff, Kurt), or even an unrelated legal problem (a speeding ticket).

I HATE THE MEDIA! Could you tell?

GinaV24
07/06/2011 01:53 PM
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I agree with SB and Bill’s comments. Being a Jeff Gordon fan and hearing him ask for privacy at the track that day (and not getting it- at least not from the tabloids) makes me wonder why Kurt was treated differently? As sb pointed out, KuBu could have made a statement rather than letting his new girlfriend show up at the track and VL for all to see AND then he asks for privacy? Sorry, the horse is now out of the barn.

BTW, I don’t drink Coors either not because of Bill Elliott but because of how they treated Sterling Marlin. I figure if they ditched him to sponsor a new younger driver (see how well that worked out) because they wanted to reach their target demographic, I didn’t need to spend my $ to buy their product since I’m over 35!

As far as the inaugural race at KY winner – I’m rooting for Jeff Gordon to do it again – 1st race winner in Cup!

Lastlap
07/06/2011 05:47 PM
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Who gives a crapolla about anyone’s personal life?
It’s got nothing to do with the racing, or anything else for that matter.
In fact, I wouldn’t care if Junior finally brought his boy friend to the track.
Maybe he would finally get on the pole, instead of being a ‘backmarker’.

midasmicah
07/06/2011 08:35 PM
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I’ll be very blunt regarding the Busch situation. I really don’t f<>king care. If I want to hear Hollywood type gossip, I’ll watch ET. What happened to the actual racing? Oh, I forgot. To be a nascar media insider, you’ve got to the nose very brown.

DoninAjax
07/06/2011 09:36 PM
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Kurt and all the others have found out that marriage is a very expensive way to get something for nothing.

The day that NASCAR makes a decision not based on money will be the day after Brian leaves.

SPORTSREPORTER
07/06/2011 11:58 PM
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To answer your question Tom, Jamie Mac was sighted today in scenic Kodak, Tennessee promoting the Irwin Tools Night Race…where he finished 3rd last year…and if he wins this year, a lucky fan will take home $ 1,000,000. (note…not copied directly from a press release!)

Bob
07/07/2011 01:09 AM
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When a drivers wife becomes a star because of her marriage to a driver, IE Brooke Gordon, it is fair game to report on the breakup. Eva Busch is not a star, hasn’t done any commercial to my knowledge, so deserves privacy.

GinaV24
07/07/2011 09:26 AM
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Bob, so by that theory, Tiger and Elin Woods should have been given privacy, too. Sorry, as another poster mentioned – they sold their wedding photos to People – it makes them both celebrities and in the public eye. I’m not saying “stalk them” for heaven’s sakes, but Kurt should have made a statement before his new girlfriend showed up at the track. That way some of it could have been avoided. Although since I am NOT a KuBu fan, I don’t care if he brings a monkey to the track with him — oh wait, that’s been done.

Bill S.
07/07/2011 06:23 PM
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Hey, Gina, notice that the hottest couple in NASCAR today is Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon? Certainly showed their “teammates” how it is supposed to be done. With Kyle’s uncanny ability to make holes and miss wrecks plus Jeff’s “steady as she goes” on Kyle’s back bumper, it is only too bad the race had not gone another GWC. Kyle and Jeff sharing VL! Sweet for them! A pure nightmare for Rick Hendrick!

 

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