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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: No to the Camaro, Stremme v. Gordon & ESPN’s Twittergate

Some involved questions this week, so let’s jump right in. Small-engine repair tips are welcome as well.

Q: I read about the Nationwide Series needing an “identity” every week. It’s a common theme on this site and others. My question is how can that series do so if guys like Mike Bliss, a Nationwide-only driver, gets canned in favor of Cup regulars? And how can the cars on track have their own identity if they are the same as the Cup cars? At least we thought we would get different models with the Nationwide CoT, but now Chevy doesn’t even want to use the Camaro. How can this series survive with decisions like these? – Brenda K. Riney, Orlando

A: You mentioned Bliss, but he’s not the only one. Scott Lagasse Jr., sitting just on the cusp of the top 10 in Nationwide points and a promising rookie in the series, just got the axe, too. He vacates the seat in favor of Cup regular Denny Hamlin for the short-term and word is Kelly Bires could step in as well, which would at least put a non-Cupper in the seat.

Brenda, those choices all come down to money… but I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that. In these times, sponsors are more apt to plunk down a load of cash on a “name.” Marketing strategies, camera time, and proven results of Cup drivers speak to the bottom line that constantly favors them. I know that’s not the answer you want to hear, but it’s a reality.

In terms of Chevy intending to enter its Impala model as opposed to the overwhelmingly-favored Camaro, I have to place some blame on our most esteemed sanctioning body there. General Motors’ head of racing ops, Mark Kent, told us all we need to know:

“At the end of the day, because of the quest for very close competition and the need to have templated bodies in that series, we felt that by forcing the Camaro into the Nationwide templates that we were compromising the body lines of an iconic car. So at the end of the day, we just could not get the Camaro in the Nationwide series to satisfy our requirements.”

In other words, why should GM spend the time and resources getting the Camaro race ready when, in actuality, the racecar is spec? That scratching noise you just heard was one manufacturer finally drawing a line in the sand.

The good news for the Nationwide Series is that as long as NASCAR is behind it and big-money car owners (yes, Cup owners) are still willing to enter the events, it will weather this storm the same as the other two touring series.

Q: Why was Robby Gordon penalized five laps [at Pocono] when he didn’t even spin [David] Stremme out? Stremme surely got his money’s worth and deserved the penalty. But Gordon roughs up Stremme’s fender and he’s sat down, too? I don’t get that call. And what is the chance that Robby gets the ultimate revenge at Watkins Glen with a win? – Janie Inge, Illinois

A: I like the beatin’ and bangin’, which makes it tough for me to answer this subjectively. But I think Robby’s verbalized intentions to his pit crew over the radio had him walking a thin line, and although he didn’t dump Stremme, he was playing bumper tag. When Stremme turned Gordon yet again, NASCAR had seen enough and told both those monkeys to park it for awhile and cool off.

Was it fair to Gordon? Probably not, but as he told Mike Massaro yesterday, the car was so trashed by then it didn’t matter. Gordon was more concerned with not getting set down for the Watkins Glen race, anyway.

As for his chances this weekend, Robby is always a sexy pick on the road courses, but that sex appeal typically wears off when he and his crew don’t pit when they should, knocking them off the point and back to 20-something. He hasn’t hit paydirt at the Glen or in Sonoma since 2003 when he swept, and these days the road course field is just loaded with talent. In fact, I can’t remember a time when the roadies were this wide open; the usuals in Tony Stewart and the Gordons mixed in with the much-improved Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer, Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson and then the NKOTB in Juan Pablo Montoya, Marcos Ambrose, Max Papis and Patrick Carpentier. Throw in wild cards like AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards… man, what once was two races dominated by two or three drivers is open season these days.

Q: Hi Matt. As a follower of yours on Twitter, I saw that ESPN restricted their on-air talent from Twittering. What gives? That was a great way for those reporters to interact with the readers and fans while giving it a real personal touch. It was a great tool! I know not everyone is into Twittering, but it works for some of us. It’s a great way to get NASCAR info throughout the day. I guess a big source of that just went away.

Thanks a lot ESPN. First you ruin race coverage, then this. Thank God for MRN and PRN. – Corby773

A: A loyal follower! Thanks for the shout, Corby. So, I’m not 100% sure what the World Wide Leader has up its sleeve with this move. Ramsey Poston twittered that he suspects ESPN has a strategy, “because it’s a smart company,” but wondered if it was, in effect, taking its reporters off the front lines.

John Daly over at The Daly Planet had an APB out on it early Wednesday and did a fine job of getting the low-down on what had happened up to that point and twittered updates throughout the day.

ESPN.com’s editor-in-chief, Rob King, gave a revealing interview concerning the site’s “Guidelines for Use of Social Media” with SportBusinessDaily’s John Ourand. Whether you Facebook, Twitter, or have no interest in either, it’s a great piece of insight into how media outlets are being forced to handle new means of information distribution in a world where those means seem to change monthly.

Of course, ESPN is most interested in keeping its reporters’ content its own – and I guess that’s understandable. But there are bigger issues at play here, and it will affect not only the media and how it delivers news (breaking or otherwise) but us, the readers, bloggers, viewers and fans. Twitter and Facebook are great interactive tools, but on a corporate level, concerns over how this “social media” could potentially undermine a media outlet’s credibility (to say nothing of any unforeseen libel concerns) must be explored at some point – and sooner rather than later is normally the best policy.

However, it seems we’ll still get our daily tweets complete with what’s happening on Thursdays in the Charlotte airport, photos of the media center, and Eric Church song quotes. Most of the ESPN NASCAR gang was back by midday Wednesday, but there was very little “reporting” going on… most likely because there wasn’t much to report. Or, because ESPN is attempting to funnel the tweets that are newsworthy onto its site.

Having jumped into a world where tweets, followers, friend requests and wall postings are suddenly a part of my daily routine, I’d bet that the mundane stuff will continue from reporters and other media types. As for the breaking, up-to-the-minute “scoop” stuff… that may be another story entirely.

And to finish this Twitter topic off, let’s look at our weekly Matt vs. Montoya follower count. Juan is up to 17,063. I’m holding strong with a respectable 37… two of which I think are spammers.