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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Happy Hour: Don’t Blame Us For NASCAR’s Decline

Recently I stumbled on an article by Richard Allen on “Racing With Rich,” pointing out the recent abandonment of NASCAR by companies like DeWalt and Allstate, and to a lesser extent, Lowe’s and possibly Jack Daniel’s. In the article Allen compares NASCAR to a sinking ship, proclaiming that it simply isn’t worth it for sponsors to spend the money as NASCAR’s ratings and attendance continue to fall.

Nothing Allen said in the article was untrue, although he didn’t delve too deeply into the contracts or the individual reasons behind the departure of each corporation. But he received an angry rebuttal from one Eddie D’Hondt, owner of the newly formed D’Hondt Motorsports and a longtime insider at NASCAR.

D’Hondt claimed the article was garbage in so many words, saying that the struggling economy truly was the reason for NASCAR’s woes, and repeated the refrain that other major sports were experiencing declines as well.

He could have left it at that and had something of a point, but he then angrily took Allen to task for writing articles that forecasted NASCAR’s demise, and strongly implied that people like Allen were partly to blame for struggling teams like D’Hondt Motorsports having difficulty finding sponsors. D’Hondt’s reaction seems to suggest that some making their living in NASCAR are tired of the negativity. Although I’m not sure Carl Long would be one of them.

Now before I analyze this, let me insert a customary disclaimer. I do not wish for the end of NASCAR. I was not happy to see DeWalt break their longstanding partnership with the No. 17 car. I do not like to see people lose their jobs. There.

The D’Hondt Motorsports website proclaims that “Eddie is considered by many in the Sprint Cup circles to be one of the top general managers within the last decade. With a keen eye for talent, the ability to develop talent, manage budgets, marketing and managing business relationships with Fortune 500 companies… D’Hondt knows how to be properly prepared at all levels to win NASCAR and ARCA Re/Max series races while also meeting the personal and business needs of the folks and entities funding the overall effort.”

That doesn’t sound to me like someone who could be stopped by a guy sitting at a computer. The Internet enables those unhappy with a product to voice their opinions and be heard more than ever before, which is a wonderful thing. But to suggest that we, the endless whiners are part of NASCAR’s problems is still beyond laughable.

NASCAR’s audience has been shrinking by the millions. I check my articles’ hits several times on the day they appear on Frontstretch. Trust me, the totals aren’t in the millions. If an article ever reached six digits I’d be ecstatic.

But even if I did have a large audience of disciples waiting to read my opinion on NASCAR before forming their own, should I sit here and say how exciting the racing is to spare someone’s job? Where I come from, we call that “politics,” and it’s not meant as a compliment.

Are there people that simply complain about anything and everything, people for whom NASCAR can do no right? Sure. And I’ll concede that it sometimes gets old. Contrary to the opinion of some, there have been some good races this year, like Martinsville and Infineon and the recent event at Pocono.

But it’s not like NASCAR hasn’t given the complainers a lot of ammo with their decisions in recent years. If a “citizen journalist” publicly denounces something like the Chase, what does it say when the denouncement resonates so strongly with so many fans? A large group of fans don’t like a large amount of things about the current car. Bogus stats about “more passing” don’t change that. People know what they’re watching.

Matt McLaughlin didn’t make the decision to move the Labor Day race out of Darlington in a grab for a perpetually indifferent west coast market, giving a big middle finger not only to a half-century old tradition, but also to fans in the Southeast that brought the sport to the dance. Kurt Smith didn’t force an unpopular playoff system down fans’ throats over their strongly-voiced objections, and then continually insist it has made the title race better when it clearly has not. Richard Allen didn’t repeatedly ignore fans’ desires to start races at noon on the east coast… which might have enabled the airing of a few more events on Sunday this year, and maybe completing a Daytona 500 with a genuine finish.

To those who say we’re never being positive, speaking for myself, this year I wrote an article defending the even-keeled nature of some drivers, when lack of emotion is a long standing criticism of the sport today. I wrote about Kurt Busch’s resurgence this season. I lamented Travis Kvapil’s unemployment but stopped short of labeling it a problem for NASCAR to fix. I applauded Goodyear for their efforts at Indianapolis. Those diatribes were among my lowest-hit articles this season. It isn’t me, folks.

Most of all, I questioned the desire of many fans to side with Jeremy Mayfield after failing not one but two sport-sanctioned drug tests, when no athlete that had done so before ever had so much support. Do you think people agreed with me that that was odd, or that the response was a list of NASCAR’s credibility offenses?

Let’s face it, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s precipitous decline is part of the reason NASCAR is hurting. He has more fans than any other three drivers combined and people just aren’t as into it when their team isn’t doing so well. There isn’t much NASCAR can do about that – but they certainly have tried. There isn’t any better explanation for expanding the Chase to 12 drivers.

Eddie, I’m sorry if you or anyone else thinks that we’re hurting your chances to land sponsorship. I really am… but it doesn’t change my opinion of the current state of the sport. Largely because of an artificial playoff and other annoyances, I still love racing, but I also don’t love it as much as I used to. But at least people like me and Richard Allen are still around. I can’t say that about a lot of people I know. I know it doesn’t compare one whit to your problems, but it’s been a challenge keeping my fantasy league going. Membership turnover is high these days.

For most of us citizen journalists, whiners, whatever you want to call us, our intention with whatever squeaky voice we have isn’t to destroy NASCAR. It’s to point out what we think has gone wrong so it can be corrected. Lose the Chase. Allow innovation. Quit leaving great tracks for lousy ones. Improve the broadcasts.

Judging from the response we get from disgruntled fans, when someone at Frontstretch articulates a complaint, we’re echoing the sentiment of a lot of folks.

Don’t blame us.

Kurt’s Shorts

  • Tony Stewart is auctioning off the towel that he used to wipe off his sweat in victory lane at the Glen. I thought that was gross enough, then I read that Old Spice has raised over $24,000 for charity doing this. Yikes.
  • Speaking of Stewart, I picked him to win this weekend and go back to back. Seeing as I’ve picked the winners two weeks in a row, I’d say that if you’re looking for fantasy advice, don’t touch Stewart, because me being right three weeks in a row is pretty rare. Hell, I’m savoring two.
  • Contrary to the subject of this column, Bristol Motor Speedway announced another sellout, it’s 55th straight, which is pretty impressive with the amount of seats there and the current economic climate. So congrats.
  • Jeff Gordon has assured everyone that his back is okay for this weekend’s Michigan race. I wonder in the future if he’ll be OK if he has another severe wreck on a Monday before a short-track race. Let’s hope we don’t find out. Heal up Jeff.