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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Letters From You on a Red-Flagged Sunday Afternoon

Here I sit, red flagged and broken hearted,
Tried to watch a race, but the asphalt parted.

A few of you had a couple of hours to kill last Sunday and decided to drop me a line.

Q: What’s as troubling as the pothole opening up in the middle of the biggest race of the year is network cronies that lay it on, layer after layer, saying that this is no one’s fault. Sure it is. NASCAR, ISC and Daytona officials have a job to do and one of, if not the most important, is making sure the track is race ready. It’s not. If I have to listen to Larry Mac cover someone else’s butt one more time, I’m turning this off! – Shaun, Jackson, Miss.

A: I’m glad I wasn’t the only person thinking along these lines, because a lot of people are getting a pass for something that, I believe, was avoidable. The now-infamous pothole that everyone from Freddy Coleman to Dan Patrick to the local sports talk radio geeks – none of which follow NASCAR, only “report” on visible, noteworthy issues that they know not of which they speak – leaves me troubled, as well. I want to believe that this was “one of them deals” that happens from time to time. After all, if someone at Daytona really thought a pothole (of all things!) would form in the racing groove during the Daytona 500, surely they’d have taken action… right?

What troubles me, though, is that we’ve been force-fed the idea that this development was completely unforeseen and totally random to the point that no one is questioning it.

Unforeseen. Was it? Random. Really? Let me ask NASCAR, ISC, DIS president Robin Braig, the FOX production crew and all the guys on SPEED and ESPN that have feigned incredulously that this was some fluke of a development that could never have been predicted: After 32 years of running on the same asphalt, did you not think the stuff would ever deteriorate to the point of failing? Have you driven around the streets of Charlotte lately? If it’s anything like it is here in Nashville, the snow, rain and fluctuating temperatures of the last month have gouged potholes deep enough to crack teeth and bust bearings (and my wife has the uncanny ability to never miss one).

No, this is something any good track owner and/or operator should plan for, and could have seen coming 2.5 miles away. It’s also something that costs money to prevent, and ISC’s market share has taken it on the chin of late, hasn’t it?

I’m troubled because, as with all things in racing, this most likely came down to money – and in this case, a company’s lack of foresight and unwillingness to spend what it took to make things right. And now, we’re left as a laughingstock of professional sports leagues once again, as stick ‘n’ ball talking heads wonder how NASCAR couldn’t get it right while the nation watched. A pothole… in a NASCAR race! Isn’t that too bad-jokishly inane to ever actually happen?

And just as troublesome, the most visible and vocal form of media – the television networks and cable outlets that partner with the sanctioning body – will continue to tell you that it was an unfortunate Act of God that no person could have possibly foreseen. Their company-line defense (FOX, you’re not alone on this one) was disappointing at best, inexcusable at worst.

Do I sound rash? Sorry, but you’ll forgive me if my expectations for the biggest stock car race on the planet sit slightly higher than a local Saturday night short-track show.

Q: Matt, I’m sitting under a red flag and not believing what I’m watching. I’m not going to complain, because I’ll leave that to the others. A question: What is Daytona paved with? The announcers just keep saying “the surface.” Is it asphalt? – Sally Baker, Davison, Mich.

A: Yep, just asphalt. A ’78 vintage.

And, thankfully, some feedback on the racing itself…

Q: Loved the plate package, Matt. Still warming up to the multiple green-white-checkers. If not for the pothole, this would be one of my favorite 500s. Congratulations to Jamie Mac! A well-deserved win and a fitting champion that is representing NASCAR with class. The Letterman spot was especially good! – Jacqueline Timmel, Missouri

A: Agree 100% that Jamie makes a fine representative. I watched him on Letterman, then listened to him on the Jim Rome radio show, and he just hit it out of the park in both at-bats. I can’t confess that I’ve always believed in McMurray’s versatility, but I have to admit that his plate-racing savvy has made him one of the boys to watch at Daytona and Talladega.

As for the green-white-checkered finishes, I’m still not sold. Yeah, I know it’s what we’re told “the fans” want, and if that’s what NASCAR’s Fan Council screamed about loud enough, then so be it.

Coming from an old school fan, though, I can’t shake the “contrived” feeling I got while watching on Sunday. It felt like that’s what the TV suits wanted – More action! More mayhem! More demolition! – to appeal to a crowd I thought we had agreed was long gone.

It was also a bit confusing. The FOX announcers themselves were trying to figure out which restart we were on, or if we had even gone GWC in the first place. Even Dale Earnhardt Jr. admitted post-race that he had to sort out where, exactly, the lap count was.

“I just remember going down the back straightaway and getting in between Greg [Biffle], and I don’t remember who was on the outside of me,” Junior said of the final lap. “We all kind of wiggled through that whole deal. Jamie got away from us. I didn’t even know where I was. Then we got into [turn] 3. I was counting in my head how many laps we ran.”

Sounds to me like he was trying to figure out if they’d taken the white flag and if, in fact, they were sprinting to the checkers.

It’s also going to make some of these endings messy. Yeah, I want Darlington ’03 every weekend just like any other race fan, but I’m not keen on fostering wrecks to get an exciting finish. And then doing it again. And again.

Anyway, I’m sure I’ll get used to it like I have all the other changes that have come down the pike. Until I do, though, I’ll grit my teeth and bear it – like the drivers are. The only difference is I’ve got a forum to express my opinion, unburdened by Big Brother and the talkin’-to he gave me during the offseason.

Alright, before I get out of here, a note to Karl: I’m not familiar with the FOX Fantasy Racing game you asked me about. Sorry, bud. My suggestion is to go to SwisherSports.com.

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