The Frontstretch: Why Things Aren't So Bad In NASCAR...Despite What You May Think by Vito Pugliese -- Tuesday June 26, 2007

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Why Things Aren't So Bad In NASCAR...Despite What You May Think

The Voice Of Vito · Vito Pugliese · Tuesday June 26, 2007

 

I don't know what my deal is lately, but I've been in a really bad mood. Maybe it's this ridiculous weather I'm forced to endure in Michigan. Six months of the year it's booger-freeze cold outside, and for three months I'm slugging through the Amazon: 95 degrees with an equal level of humidity. Awesome! You know, I really enjoy bursting into an uncontrollable sweat upon exiting my climate-controlled cube in corporate America.

At least I think that's why I've been a cranky-pants lately.

It could also be linked to what has been going on with racing this year. I've noticed this pattern of my anxiety and irritability beginning Friday afternoon, peaking Sunday evening, and then returning to normal (for me) levels of tolerance on Monday. Writing for what has become the largest independent NASCAR website on the Internet, I have quite a passion for this sport (I actually wrote "business"…Freudian slip), and have a lot of time invested into its future. I now have a forum with which to air my grievances and a captive audience who have no choice but to listen to the ramblings of a madman.

So, without further ado, it’s time for this week’s special NASCAR ramblings to begin…

Race Coverage for 2007: I see you nodding your head, and I understand…could it possibly get any worse? I don't know. Does Michael Waltrip crash in the woods? Kyle Petty's on-air slip of the tongue after his incident with Matt Kenseth this weekend at Sonoma pretty much sums up how I feel after each event this season.

You'd think that after six and a half years, somewhere along the way, things would have evolved. But once again, FOX has exposed Darwin's folly, utilizing style over substance. Their promos included ridiculous video montages and vignettes of drivers mugging for the camera, trying on sunglasses, fake-punching the viewer, playing air guitar, and offering unnaturally stern expressions in a faux-garage set. These pre-produced pieces have no rhyme or reason to them, it seems, and I just don’t understand their meaning. Classic example; it’s a race in Phoenix, so quick, cut to Kyle Busch making funny faces!

Chris Meyers, replete with his US Navy SEAL tac-com headset, still seems clueless as to what is actually happening out on the racetrack even though he’s been a part of the on-air crew since 2001. TNT, meanwhile, is pretty close to terrible with the new guy in that gigantic tower that looks like something out of the new "Transformers" movie. Nothing turns off a race fan quicker than a guy practicing his non-regional diction/Ron Burgundy/generic Anchorman voice. And will someone please tell the "Wally's World" guests to stop screaming? (Other than our Managing Editor, that is). He's not really going that fast, and you're wearing a helmet.

BUT…… we still get to watch it for free. I still remember the Pocono race in 1990 when it was a Pay-Per-View event. Nobody wants to go down that road. And Kyle Petty in just his short time with TNT is probably the best thing to happen to the announcers booth since Bob Jenkins squealed, "..and both of them spin!!!!!!" at North Wilkesboro in 1989. Speaking of ESPN, welcome back. For those about to nod off before the 2nd pit stop, WE SALUTE YOU!

Race Start times for 2007: This past weekend's start time was 5:00 PM for a race that takes 3 hours to run. Think maybe we could drop the rag on this thing sometime before dinner? Galileo opined some time ago that the world revolves around the sun, not Los Angeles. Why is the sport so desperate to attract the West Coast market, anyway? You could drive a cement mixer through the stands at either California event and not injure anyone, and Seattle seemed to make their sentiments clear during a proposed track building initiative in March. The ratings were markedly higher when, like the majority of the country, things were ran off of Eastern Standard or Central Time Zones. Look, I don't petition Bernie Ecclestone because I have to get up early on Sunday to watch a Formula 1 race. There's a small price to pay for living in paradise; get up at 10:00 AM, have an Eggo, shuffle out to the couch, and suck it up.

BUT..... More people get to watch the race at those times, allowing for more sponsors, more interest, and assistance to help grow the sport…I get it.

Knocking Juan Montoya For Not Winning On An Oval: Well, of course! The guy has had a total of what, 17 starts in a Cup car? In all honesty, several of those shouldn’t count; 1/3 of them have been in cars that bare no resemblance to the ones he had been practicing for the six months leading up to this. Funny how some NASCAR fans have become as snobbish as open wheel fans used to be. "Oh big deal, he can only win on road courses. He ain't won on an oval yet!" Oh, OK. I'm guessing getting around Monaco and Interlagos against Michael Schumacher is just a tad more complicated than fending off Scott Riggs at Michigan or Las Vegas. Oh, and if you haven't noticed, Montoya's the ONLY Dodge driver to have won a race so far this year in Cup. Ganassi cars hadn't won a race since 2002 before this weekend, and Montoya’s two teammates don't exactly provide a deep well of experience from which to draw from. He had a Top 5 at Atlanta in the spring, and saved a car that was 45 degrees sideways at 180 MPH, one that he had no business hanging onto. As we go back to many of these tracks the 2nd time around, trust me…‘ol Johnny Pete is going to give Mopar fans something to cheer about.

BUT…. being a former Formula 1 winner, CART Champion, and Indianapolis 500 winner sets the bar pretty high. With all the hype that surrounded his arrival, and NASCAR pining their diversity hopes on him, it goes to show that there is no discrimination in NASCAR: You're only as good as your last race, regardless of who you are or what you've won. Just ask Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

NASCAR's Heavy-Handed Punishment of Teams: Tony Eury, Jr. suspended for using the wrong mounting bolts to generate a whopping 14 lbs of rear downforce? Four top crew chiefs ejected from the Super Bowl of the sport for creative use of duct tape that was never regulated? Now Chad Knaus and Steve Letarte are gone for the meat of the summer schedule because they tried to massage the left front fenders on their racecars that don't have a template assigned to them. What ever happened to being able to work on your freaking race car? It used to be if you did something in the gray area that NASCAR didn't like, they just laid it out on a table and told you not to bring it back. Now, if you even try to get through inspection with something, you're going home for almost two months. Much like the NFL when it was dubbed the "No Fun League", NASCAR is becoming "Not Allowing Substantial Creativity for Any Racer."

BUT….. NASCAR is actually doing something substantial to teams now to dissuade them from showing up with over-engineered cars that sit cockeyed and, if looked at from a certain angle, will trigger a seizure. The CoT goes full-time next year, and it seems like 2007 is the precedent setting year for not monkeying around and having a fleet of 15 cars, moves to give smaller teams a chance to run semi-competitively for a change.

Victory Donuts and Burnouts: These have become beyond cliched, the racing equivalent of spiking the football after a touchdown. It was cool when Alex Zanardi did it a decade ago, but now it's exciting only if you've been slamming Millers in the sun all day. My take is if you’re going to do it, do something memorable. After winning Rockingham in 2002, Johnny Benson's crew was prepared to flip the car over on its roof and spin it around like a top, but was stopped by NASCAR from doing so. Winning drivers, I wish you’d do something awesome like that. Make like Jimi Hendrix and set the car on fire. Receive a couple beers from a fan and do a Stone Cold Steve Austin toast and chug them. I don't care what it is…just do something different.

BUT…. at least NASCAR allows the guys to do something, and not fine them for tearing up the infield, or incurring a volley of beer cans, littering the frontstretch. They don't flag you for celebrating like they do in the No Fun League. NASCAR fans are also lucky in that we have about 20 Chad Johnsons out there. Where you at, 85?!

NEXTEL / Sprint / AT&T debacle: It’s like watching an old rerun of Dallas, minus J.R.‘s cool Stetsons and afternoons sipping Brandy at The Cattleman’s Club. Seriously, NEXTEL, take note: Nobody cares what the series is called. When it was Winston sponsoring our future, no one was disposing of their Camels or Kools just because of some red billboards. This just in: NASCAR fans support the companies that support their drivers, not the sanctioning body. Race fans want to hear about race strategy, adjustments, and watch pit stops, not digest legal hand wrangling by multi-billion dollar conglomerates. And by upsetting a ton of fiercely loyal fans whose drivers you are essentially attempting to prevent sponsorship of, well, that’s not exactly the way to endear yourself to millions.

SORRY...I don’t see a bright side to this at all. It’s actually a complete waste of Dave Despain’s time to talk about this.

Commercials: We didn't mean to interrupt your advertising with a stock car race. Yes, sponsors "pay the bills", but people tune in to watch the race, not the same ol’ Valvoline commercial every ten minutes of some guy revving up his ‘97 Mustang Cobra. And I'm a Mustang guy.

BUT…… TNT is going to unveil extended limited commercial interruption of the Pepsi 400 in July. Much like ABC does with the IRL races, we'll be able to watch the race even as the commercials air. Since I and many others usually change the channel (to avoid the aforementioned bunny commercial) during breaks, this is a good move on TNT’s part, and will benefit the advertisers as well. Better to see some of your commercial than none of it. Also, can you please not run that stupid bunny commercial with McMurray and Kahne every chance you get? The UPS commercials stopped being funny about 5 years ago, and I kind of want Marty putting Hamlin into the fichus tree at the old folks home.

OK, maybe things aren't so bad. Maybe the heat has gotten to me after all. Hey, it's only going to be 70 this weekend here in the Dirty Mitten, and the race is scheduled to start at 1:00 PM! I guess things are going to be alright after all.

Now, where's my medication at…

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William T.
06/27/2007 05:47 AM
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haha….great article

Kenneth
06/27/2007 10:57 AM
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Fantastic article. I think it’s hilarious that NASCAR goes to all this trouble to get expensive title sponsors and lucrative TV contracts, and a lot fewer people end up watching. I can’t wait for 20 years from now when the entire field is 21 yrs. old, all the tracks are identical, and all give word-for-word the exact same post-race interview.

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