William Shakespeare is quoted as having said, “Tempt not a desperate man.”
During the last few weeks, it has become apparent to me that he must have been a NASCAR fan.
We’ve all read similar columns and stories about our sport this year. They all start out the same way: bemoaning the state of the economy, how horrible everything is, and the impending doom that can be seen on the not too distant horizon – just like Sarah Connor in the beginning of Terminator 2. As one of those very columnists, I’ve been guilty of it myself. But while it may be tough to hear, time and time again, the issues raised are also reality. Yes, things are bad. Yes, things are getting worse; no, they aren’t going to get better anytime soon. While my glass-half-empty-oh-no-it’s-tipping-over! outlook on things is not exactly Osteen-esque, I am not the only one who holds tightly to this belief; NASCAR and those who run it must be feeling the same way, since their actions of late speak volumes for the desperate nature of the times we are living in.
Often a punching bag for criticism, either rightly or wrongly, NASCAR has made a habit lately of completely going about things in a manner that is either questionable or downright absurd. It started right out of the gate this year with the Daytona 500. We hear all year long and during the offseason how this is the biggest race of the year, the “Super Bowl” of stock car racing. Yet, in an effort to not frustrate certain viewers or turn off whatever new or “casual fan” they so ardently attempt to attract, NASCAR called the race before waiting very long at all to dry off the track and restart the event – never mind there are lights galore, and more than enough paying fans willing to stick around until the end to see the race ran to completion – rather than an anti-climatic pace lap behind a Camaro.
This set the tone for the season, and it seems to continue to be getting worse as the year rambles along.
Meanwhile, about 1/3 of the way through the season the first Sprint Cup driver to succumb to NASCAR’s random drug-testing policy was suspended indefinitely. Jeremy Mayfield, winner of five Sprint Cup Series races to date, most recently was known for having a flat top, smelling octane 93 on a woman – or generally pissing off everyone he’s ever driven for to the point where he had to start his own team to get a ride again. Well, Mayfield was suspended prior to the Southern 500 at Darlington for testing positive for an undisclosed substance. Coincidentally, this was only a few days after Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder Manny Ramirez was suspended for violating Major League Baseball’s substance abuse policy. But while ManRam has been shelved for taking a hormone that typically follows an anabolic steroid cycle, Mayfield was suspended for… um… uh… we didn’t know. And we were told that we didn’t have to know. Even stranger, Mayfield claims he wasn’t told, either. NASCAR claims he was told; then they said they had a report he could pick up if he wanted that explained.
If you are a fan that says NASCAR has become just like every other sport, well… take heart, longtime fan. It still is its own beast, making up the rules as it goes along.
When the heat got turned up high enough – it was reported that he tested positive for methamphetamine.
Really? Mayfield, a speed freak? He isn’t missing teeth and doesn’t have open sores or cable like veins in his forearms, play the drums in his garage and work on dirt bikes.
Now, it is being reported by ESPN the Magazine that Mayfield admitted taking Clartin-D – which contains psuedoephedrine and the prescription drug Adderall XR. But long before this report… and about the same time these questions were raised, Carl Long was deemed NASCAR’s sacrificial lamb in an unprecedented example of “take one for the team” that has never been seen before. After the penalty was held up by an appeals board, Carl and his crew chief Charles Swing were each given the boot for four months, while being fined a total of 200 points and $200,000 – the largest fine ever in the history of NASCAR. What, might you ask, was he fined more points than he had earned in the previous three and a half seasons, or money that he will earn in the next two years? Having an engine that lasted all of three laps during the Sprint Showdown – an exhibition race for an exhibition race – hardly left him with a performance advantage. But after his tired engine gave up the ghost, it expanded slightly due to overheating. Per NASCAR rules, they tear down and inspect engines that blow up, and Long’s engine was deemed to be .17 cubic inches more than the mandated 358 limit.
.17 cubic inches. Keep in mind that the rest of the pieces inside weren’t expanding at the same rate. By most accounts, before his engine died, it was down well over 50 horsepower to the next weakest link in the field. You don’t have to know Jack (Roush) to know that after eating a head gasket, his engine certainly wasn’t going to make more power. So, was this issue a legitimate fine or an effort to get the Mayfield stuff off the front page? I don’t have that answer, and I would certainly hope that it wouldn’t be the case.
However, judging by the amount of emails I received following my What’s Vexing Vito newsletter piece I wrote last week, it is the opinion of many that NASCAR has truly lost their way, and is grasping at whatever straws they can – going so far as to send Long on television Sunday night on Dave Despain’s Wind Tunnel to plead his case – as well as send his crew chief Charles Swing to the hospital with chest pains – in an effort to apparently scrounge up some money, assert their authority and belittle the little guy. In between Mayfield’s Meth and Carl’s Cubes, NASCAR held a town meeting to ask the drivers and team owners what they can do to help racing.
Really? Already? After three years of poor competition, declining ratings, attendance, interest and influx of mediocrity, NASCAR is now suddenly willing to listen to the teams? If that does not reek of desperation, I don’t know what does.
So, what was the first thing to come out of this meeting? You saw it this past weekend at Pocono: double-file restarts. Because it caused three laps of exciting racing at the All-Star Race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway a month earlier, it has been deemed appropriate for the other 36 races on the schedule now, too. Personally, I am opposed to this, and I think it is simply another gimmick along the lines of Digger and his stupid camera that will fall on its face, and not work out as NASCAR expected it to.
Maybe it is because I am not one who subscribes to the notion that change is warranted because it will inherently generate some sort of good. I do not understand why after 61 years of established precedent, we need to change the way that races are conducted. I do not subscribe to the lucky dog rule, green-white-checkered flag finishes, or double-file restarts in points races. Revising the single-file restarts late in the race with 25 laps or so to go was fine; in fact, I’d even rescind that ridiculous practice of starting cars in front of the leader if a caution came out in the middle of green-flag pit stops, too. But to impose double-file restarts in every race is a recipe for disaster and further frustration among fans and competitors alike.
Of course, it might not have been a complete disaster at Pocono, but what is it going to be like at Martinsville or Bristol? What happens if your favorite driver gets a flat tire and has to pit early on and loses a couple of laps? It will be physically impossible for him to get them back, even if he has the best car in the field. Forget two-tire/four-tire/gas-n-go strategy; take two, you a foo’. You might as well take four tires every time, because you’re going to be right there on the bumper of the two-tire cars or the ones that stay out. I guess NASCAR figures this will result in more pit stops to cover, or at the very least generate some increased tire revenue for Goodyear since the teams can’t really go test anymore.
Not that they need it with the regularity in which they blow out.
NASCAR this week also announced that they would be forming the Citizen Journalist Media Corps. This is an initiative that will give new media members access to cover the sport while maintaining their independence.
What, exactly, could that mean? Glasnost comes to NASCAR? Was there some state-run media (well, besides NASCAR.com) that I did not know of existed before? Does Pravda have a motorsports section that I wasn’t aware of?
“Many of these outlets have covered NASCAR from afar for many years, but now they have the opportunity to cover the sport up close and personal,” said Ramsey Poston, NASCAR’s Managing Director of Corporate Communications on the switch. “The Citizen Journalists will have the very same access as the traditional media including credentials to race events, access to media centers, press boxes, press conferences, teleconferences, news releases, video, audio, photos, stats and graphics.”
“We expect the Citizen Journalists to maintain their journalistic independence and continue to provide unique points of view.”
With that being said, yours truly will be on hand this weekend at Michigan International Speedway to cover the event for Frontstretch in my backyard. Having been there last year to cover the LifeLock 400, I had the same access to the teams, drivers, and principles that make up this sport as the rest of the traditional media did. It isn’t often at your job when you go to a meeting and find yourself seated between Roger Penske and Joe Gibbs. I remember having to share desks and lockers in middle school, but they weren’t with Ray Dunlap or Krista Voda as they were last year at MIS. I think by now you know that I have no problem shooting my big fat mouth off, and offering my unsolicited opinion regarding racing as I see it. Now, the only difference is it will be endorsed by NASCAR.
Tempt not a desperate man? Indeed.
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