NASCAR Race Weekend Central
*Did You Notice? ...* How secretive NASCAR is trying to be with this whole drug thing? There’s two main questions that came up in my head since the positive test, ones I couldn’t answer immediately as a reporter as Darlington was a weekend I’d taken off: 1) Why was Mayfield allowed to practice and qualify if NASCAR knew there was a positive sample? 2) Why will NASCAR not publicize its list of banned substances for drivers – especially when they have a history of shadiness with drug suspensions (See: Tim Richmond, 1980s)? I thought I was going to have to wait until this weekend to get answers, but it turns out "Jenna Fryer had a fantastic piece":http://sports.yahoo.com/nascar/news?slug=jf-fivethings051109 she put out over on Yahoo! with some of them (for those looking for a good read post-David Poole, let me tell you, her stuff is always top notch).

Did You Notice? NASCAR’s Drug Mistake? (Not Mayfield’s), Keselowski’s Should Be Cup’s Top Rookie, And Johnson Plays Dead

Did You Notice? How secretive NASCAR is trying to be with this whole drug thing? There’s two main questions that came up in my head since the positive test, ones I couldn’t answer immediately as a reporter as Darlington was a weekend I’d taken off:

1) Why was Jeremy Mayfield allowed to practice and qualify if NASCAR knew there was a positive sample?
2) Why will NASCAR not publicize its list of banned substances for drivers – especially when they have a history of shadiness with drug suspensions (See: Tim Richmond, 1980s)?

I thought I was going to have to wait until this weekend to get answers, but it turns out Jenna Fryer had a fantastic piece she put out over on Yahoo! with some great info (for those looking for a good read post-David Poole, let me tell you, her stuff is always top notch). According to Fryer, NASCAR actually did find out Mayfield’s positive test result on Thursday, but did allow him to practice and qualify while seeking out a second opinion to determine its validity. She also goes on to tell us that while a banned substance list isn’t released for drivers, there’s a public one for crews that includes ephedrine, slightly over a dozen “narcotics,” and about 10 different benzodiazepines and barbiturates.

OK… thanks to Fryer, we have at least a little information to go on. But my problem is – and this is where NASCAR drives me crazy – I had to find this information hidden in a little article on Yahoo! Sports, while about 50 other reporters and articles spew out loads of misinformation that leave us running around in circles confused. As someone who covers the sport on a full-time basis, I can’t tell you how much that bugs the hell out of me – because it doesn’t have to be this way. For all the press releases about gobbletygook NASCAR sends our way, why can’t they have a little page put up where they list all the substances they test for on nascarmedia.com or something? Would it really be that hard?

Instead, we have to hunt and peck like a group of wild roosters to find information that should be readily accessible. That results in a ton of articles with misinformation, false statements, and speculation no one would even need if all the facts were simply put in front of us in the first place.

Speaking of speculation, while I’m on this high horse it really bothers me that Reed Sorenson’s name was linked to the suspension on the internet by reputable media outlets before it actually happened. I won’t name the offending media in question, but from my perch away from it all in Pennsylvania I just thought that was wrong and deserving of an apology. It’s not like a Silly Season story where your source told you the wrong ride: You can’t just throw someone’s name out there like that when it comes to drug-related suspensions of this magnitude. And if I were Reed, I wouldn’t talk to anyone who printed my name in association with that story for the rest of the year. What a freakin’ mess…

But when push comes to shove, NASCAR could prevent all this misinformation and speculation spiraling out of control if they would just come clean with us. Tell us the substance Mayfield tested positive for. Tell us the substances you’re testing for. And explain why you felt it was a good idea to let Mayfield still go out and practice/qualify when you knew you had a possible positive test on your hands. Those aren’t difficult questions to answer; and over in Major League Baseball, we had them for Manny Ramirez in the matter of 30 seconds.

Without that transparency, life as a NASCAR reporter is an exciting challenge to uncover the truth – but also is surrounded by a cloud of secrecy that’s totally unnecessary under this scenario. I just don’t understand the way they do things… and I’m not sure I ever will.

Did You Notice? If Brad Keselowski simply declared for Rookie of the Year, he’d be having a heck of a battle right now with Joey Logano? I’ve talked about this possibility a lot so far this season… so the stat geek in me went ahead and worked out the numbers. Here’s what the rookie race would look like right now with Keselowski in the picture according to the Raybestos Rookie of the Year rules:

Joey Logano 119
Scott Speed 108
Brad Keselowski 56
Max Papis 34

Now, at first glance it looks like Keselowski would still wind up getting his butt kicked. But you have to understand how the Raybestos Rookie contest works: when the season is over, they take the best 17 races from each driver to construct their final point total. So if Keselowski starts about 17 events this season (which he’s in line to do, combining a schedule in the No. 09 car with a part-time ride in the No. 25 of Hendrick Motorsports) he’ll have just as many races that count as the rest of his competitors. Sure, the opportunity for a mulligan won’t exactly be there… but with a win already under his belt, it’s possible Keselowski could build up enough of a cushion to hold off the rest of the competition.

Since Keselowski has earned points for just five races so far this season (he DNQ’d at the Daytona 500), let’s take a look at the best five performances for each rookie driver with him in the mix:

Brad Keselowski 56
Scott Speed 53
Joey Logano 51
Max Papis 34

As you can see, the win leaves Keselowski in front by five over Logano and three over Scott Speed (who got bonus points for his fifth place finish at Talladega). It’s not a big lead… but big enough to make this one heck of a battle once more finishes are collected in the second half of the season. The only question is, if Keselowski came out and declared right now, would Raybestos redo the points to include his finishes from the first few races this season? (I reached out to Jimmy White, who runs the rookie program, but I couldn’t get an answer by press time).

Assuming Raybestos would honor that request, the question remains valid… why did Keselowski never declare? “I didn’t file for rookie of the year because the last thing I wanted to see was my name at the bottom of that list,” he said back at Richmond. “[I’d struggle with] knowing that you probably couldn’t win it unless you ran the whole deal.”

But now that we’ve proven he can do it on a partial schedule… will knowing he actually does have a chance be enough for the young driver to change his mind?

Did You Notice? That despite the rough economy, Darlington was closer than any track not named Daytona or Bristol to a sellout this season? I had a quick conversation with Track President Chris Browning yesterday, and he told me they came within 2,000 seats of that magic number – with daily ticket sales for the last three weeks far outpacing the numbers they had back in 2008. When you add in the large number of fans buying infield admission, the overall attendance for Darlington was about 63,000 in the stands and 9,000 in the infield for a total of 72,000. What an impressive turnout, especially considering the unemployment rate for South Carolina is up to a scary 11.2%.

I think the strong support for Darlington tells us a couple of things in this era of declining attendance. Number one, it’s that fans still respond to tradition and a guarantee of good racing without all the bells and whistles of concerts, clown shows, and all this other nonsense promoters are using nowadays to try and get butts in the seats. People don’t come to the track to see Foreigner in concert (although it’s a nice bonus); they come to see cars go ‘round in circles in a way that leaves us wanting more. When that doesn’t happen at one of these cookie cutter tracks like Chicagoland… well, no wonder they have problems selling seats! It’s the product, dummy…

Number two, it shows us that NASCAR’s roots, no matter how much we try and twist them, still reside in the Southeast. There’s no new track being built in New York City or Washington State during this recession… but fans are busting at the seams to get a Cup date for Kentucky Speedway in the Southeast. Need I say more? And last but not least, strong support means a track that was once ready to be crossed off NASCAR’s list is secure for years to come — there’s more of a chance they’ll get a second date now then be reduced to none. Getting the extra racing would be a stretch at best, considering Darlington’s smaller capacity compared to other tracks… but with attendance shooting downhill at a rapid pace elsewhere, you just never know.

Did You Notice? Justice served for a team that could have broken a record under questionable circumstances? Clint Bowyer’s streak of consecutive races running at the finish came to an end at 83 Saturday night, his RCR Chevy the innocent victim of contact with A.J. Allmendinger’s Dodge. That left him one short of the all-time mark of 84, set by Herman “The Turtle” Beam from 1961-63.

With the longest active streak now passed to Regan Smith at 47, it looks like Beam’s record is set to stand for a long time to come. But the funny thing is, Bowyer should have never come this close in the first place. After crashing hard in the “Big One” at Talladega on lap 7, the team knew they couldn’t rebuild the car to make minimum speed. So, using the rules to their advantage, they chose to roll out the No. 33 car to make one, slow lap during the race’s frantic finish so “technically” Bowyer’s car would be running when the checkered flag flew.

I don’t know about you, but I thought that was a pretty “B” league way to try and break a record. For all the jokes made about Beam’s performance on the race track (he never finished higher than fourth in 194 career starts), he never took his car out on the track for one final lap just to finish like that. It was bad luck, I know, for Bowyer to be involved in the “Big One;” but sometimes, that’s the way the racing ball bounces – and why records like Beam’s are nearly impossible to break.

Did You Notice? Jimmie Johnson publicly backing off at the end of the race when he figured out he couldn’t catch Mark Martin? I went off about this point in our expert roundtable, Mirror Driving, and I’m still so mad I just had to mention it in my column. Call me crazy, but I was brought up to believe that in racing, second place is the first loser. No one comes to the track to watch drivers settle for second… and you can’t convince me otherwise. Since when do you ever hear about the fantastic side-by-side battle to the line for second place? You don’t… because everyone cares about who wins.

So yes, I know Johnson had a hellish day, one filled with so much drama I’m surprised Susan Lucci from All My Children didn’t show up in the passenger seat. Yeah, I understand that Johnson needs to bring his car home in one piece because points racing is supposedly the name of the game these days (never mind the fact he’s all but locked into the top 12 with the way that team performs). But if that’s what you’re going to do in your head – settle for second place – why in the hell would you tell your team that on the radio? In a transmission that gets played over public TV so a million fans can go and click over to something else? Somewhere when that message was played, I know Humpy Wheeler’s heart skipped a beat. Talk about trying to promote that one… “Come back to Darlington next year, where you’ll get to see Johnson graciously step out of the way and let another teammate take the checkered flag?”

It’s just driving me up the wall that happened. Heck, it’s Wednesday and I’m still going to lose sleep over it…

Did You Notice? What goes around comes around in this sport? Back in 1997, Joe Nemechek missed out on the Daytona 500 while driving for well-funded Felix Sabates. Meanwhile, a little owner/driver underdog named Phil Barkdoll was able to fall back on his qualifying speed to make the race on a shoestring budget. Realizing the magnitude of missing the 500, Sabates paid Barkdoll a tidy sum of money to step out of his seat and let Nemechek drive for him instead. It was the rich helping the poor, keeping their marquee driver on the map while helping the little guy stay in business.

Let’s fast forward to 12 years later. Speed missed his second race of the season, and his Team Red Bull organization (with millions in cash backing them up) was desperate to get their marquee driver seat time. They find a small, underdog driver who’s got no sponsorship but somehow scraped up his last, best effort to get his Toyota in the starting lineup.

Who’s the veteran Speed replaces? Nemechek.

Sometimes, the circle of life amazes me.

Tom Bowles is now on Twitter! Click HERE to become a follower.

Don’t forget about Tom Bowles and Matt Taliaferro’s Athlon/Frontstretch Podcast, sponsored this season by Wrigley’s! Look for the newest edition to head your way sometime later this week! Of course, if all else fails, you can always listen to us on iTunes for FREE! Search for our weekly show under “Athlon.”

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About Tom Bowles

Tom Bowles
The author of Bowles-Eye View (Mondays) and Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 30 staff members as its majority owner. Based in Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild.