Here Beside the Rising Tide…
Come hear Uncle John’s Band by the riverside,
Got some things to talk about,
Here beside the rising tide…
I’m not sure how many writers we have now at Frontstretch. I know we’ve got writers like Disney’s got Dalmatians and maybe more. What you on the other side of that CRT don’t see is the weekly Sunday night scramble. Everyone is supposed to post their story ideas for the coming week, first come first serve. Of course, as one of the older dogs in the pack, I’m typically still banging out my race recap while everyone else grabs the good or easy story ideas. After finishing and submitting my recap, I tend to enjoy a long overdue libation and nap. And as one of the more seasoned (elderly) members of this Dog and Pony show I get to do the weekly twofer, as in I’m expected to bang something out for Thursday as well – when the only story idea left is the economic impact of raising paper towel costs on hot-dog vendors at the track.
It gets ugly out there sometimes. There have been challenges to pistol duels, insults hurled about one another’s mothers, chainsaw battles in our newly-constructed Thunderdome and such egregious behavior amongst colleagues that I am constantly forced to dip to new lows, exceeding even my past efforts to get my way. If forced to, I will claim that I “called” an idea a month ago. Imagine 50 kids “calling shotgun” for the ride to the Piggly Wiggly all trying to muscle their way into the front seat.
Given the recent lack of noteworthy events in the sport, the infighting has gotten particularly brutish. Naturally, this week everyone wanted to jump on the slam dunk story of the week, the Chase. I am gratified that most of my colleagues consider it the same unholy insipid insanity that I do, leaving the senior editor begging some one of us to come up with a column saying something nice about the whole boondoggle concept. Sorry, Thomas, you are shopping at the wrong five and dime. That topic will remain up for grabs. Thus, this evening I am left with two unalterable facts. A) The Chase topics are locked up. B) It’s supposed to be perfect riding weather every afternoon this week.
It’s time to get this done.
So, staring at a blank CRT chewing a pencil, I am forced to consider what to write about if I can’t do a Hate the Chase piece… to add to my already thick resume on the same topic. But remember, gentle readers, I was the first to hate the Chase, after Jimmy Spencer inadvertently leaked the concept on the final episode of RaceDay that season, an episode watched by hundreds if not tens of stalwarts. You can claim you hate the idea more than me, but I hated it first. I’d say I owed Mr. Spencer a few brews for being such a blabbermouth, but he looks like he could put away a considerable sum of suds and I am a man of modest means – so I’ll just offer to be the designated driver to get him home for free (If he promises not to bite me.) You ever seen Spencer’s teeth? They look like he ate rocks growing up.
So, what am I going to write about? Everything else. Trust me, there’s not much else going on. This won’t take long. (Which is what an ex-girlfriend claims is the most romantic thing I ever said to her…)
Let’s start with the troubling fact that Rick Hendrick is still shopping for a primary sponsor for Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 team. The relationship between Gordon and DuPont spans his entire career, from the kid with the cheesy mustache competing at Atlanta in 1992 for the first time through four titles. But apparently, the price of admission is too high for DuPont now. There were prolonged negotiations with Wal-Mart to take over as title sponsor, but they fell apart. Apparently, the price tag was too high, and that creepy yellow smiley face couldn’t roll them back despite the fact Wal-Mart has banked billions on their associates’ underpaid wages, child labor in Red China and the wholesale sacking of small-town, family-owned businesses in the 20-mile fallout zone that is a new Wal-Mart store. Hendrick now says DuPont might be back in play, though presumably at a much lower price tag than originally requested.
It’s the same situation for Tony Stewart, as he’s still looking for more sponsorship money for next season this late in the game. Old Spice is leaving the team at the end of the year. Rumors are Stewart is in play for the Mobil 1 sponsorship, leaving the Penske organization after Roger signed as primary sponsor for Kurt Busch next year. Still, nothing is set in ink. If Stewart and Gordon, with six combined titles, are still chumming the waters for sponsorship dollars despite the constant love-fest of camera time and mentions the networks give them, what chances do the smaller teams that routinely finish in the high teens and 20s have at getting financial backing in this economy?
It would seem that Stewart should have no trouble getting sponsorship dollars. He is one of the few and proud NASCAR drivers still out there that is decidedly overweight, a demographic well represented in NASCAR fandom. I’m not being cruel. As a nation, we are overweight. But sometimes in the grandstands, you see folks and just want to gasp (usually because you are trying to occupy the seat between them, leaving you only three inches to sit and gasping is the only way you can breathe). I see some of these folks and think to myself, who told you lycra bicycle shorts and going topless with D-cup boobs that saggy was a good idea?… and that’s just the guys. Any purveyor of fattening food without an ounce of nutritional value ought to be clamoring to get aboard the Stewart bandwagon to join the mothership of junk calories, Burger King.
Moving on, NASCAR officials say they are in serious discussions to revamp the Nationwide Series, so it is less of a turkey shoot for the Cup drivers and teams. They promise they will come up with the new rules soon (have we heard this song and dance before?). Of course, when announced, the new rules are likely to be unwieldy, ineffective, and ultimately futile; it’s just NASCAR’s way in the Brian France era, which I like to call the Age of Unenlightenment and Capricious Greed.
Here’s what we know already. Nationwide teams next year will have to deal with the horrific costs of that series’ “Car of Tomorrow.” Race purses will be cut by 20% across the board. That’s not a good combination. The Nationwide teams best able to make up that financial shortfall are the Cup teams and their satellite organizations like JR Motorsports. The full-time Nationwide independents? They’re prepared for yet another kick to the teeth with Brian France’s steel-tipped boots. Some folks are already seeing the writing on the wall: Todd Braun, who runs the largest “AAA” team on the circuit, has apparently put his up for sale.
But promoters are screaming they don’t want to see NASCAR exclude the full-time Cup competitors like Carl Edwards, Busch and Brad Keselowski from the mix. Nor do they want to see draws that have Dale Earnhardt Jr., Fat Tony, Jamie McMurray, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick and the rest of the occasional Nationwide competitors out of the series. Those names put some fannies in the seats in an era of already dwindling attendance that, at some tracks, makes it look like fans on hand wandered in by accident.
Here’s my take.
The Cup drivers can keep competing in the Nationwide Series. But for every start they make, their team must provide another competitive entry for an up-and-coming driver with no more than two Cup starts. That second team must share sponsorship dollars with the Cup driver using the same sponsor. Cup drivers currently in the top 20 in Cup points would receive no prize money in the Nationwide Series, either, for themselves or their team owners. That money would trickle down to the best-finishing, full-time Nationwide teams. Cup drivers in the top 20 in Cup points would also receive no points for their finishes, eliminating them from title competition in the “AAA” series.
Cup drivers in the top 20 in that series’ points would have a separate qualifying round and would start at the rear of the field, with any driver choosing to skip qualifying starting the race in the pits and being held one lap before being able to join the race. Any Cup driver who was judged to have purposely wrecked a full-time Nationwide entry to make a pass would be held personally responsible for the cost of repairing or replacing the damage he caused. Such damage claims could be disputed before series officials, but the driver disputing the incident would be ineligible for Nationwide competition until such a hearing was held.
Finally, I’d like to see the Nationwide Series re-emphasize the short tracks, possibly adding a few dirt track races as well. Let’s face it; the races aren’t going to draw a big crowd, anyway. As it is, 20,000 folks at North Wilkesboro or Eldora are going to look better than the same size crowd at Fontana or any of the other McSuperspeedways cluttering the schedule.
Now on to the TV program Kyle Busch: All Access.
I intended to watch this show, detailing Kyle Busch’s every move between finishing second at Richmond and starting at New Hampshire. To a degree, I had a perverse curiosity to see if he actually set kittens on fire, stole change from a blind man’s cup or polished his cloven hooves before bed. I wanted to see if he could got booed at the drive-thru window whilst ordering a burger for lunch. I was going to write a review of the show, and thought I’d have a good deal of fun lampooning young Master Busch. I dutifully set my DVR to record Episode One. What I got was some tennis tournament apparently in rain delay. I’m still trying to figure out why those two guys playing were grunting and groaning like something out of a gay porn flick lobbing the ball back and forth.
I should note I hate tennis. I grew up in the sort of yuppie neighborhood where my mom wanted me to learn to play tennis and golf because the other kids played tennis and golf. I raced dirt bikes instead. While they worked on their forehands, I worked on my Cobra Jet. I started smoking weed entirely too early because I grew up in a neighborhood where the parents of a girl you were taking out on a first date wanted to know what your “handicap” was, which has something to do with golf. I’d usually respond my handicap was being left-handed. My revenge is sweet; all the kids I grew up with who played golf and tennis now have bad knees and torn rotator cuffs. And they told me motocross was dangerous?
But anyway, ESPN’s great experiment with the live Busch show, much touted and hyped, went up in smoke when the first episode aired at 1 a.m. Tuesday morning. If you’re one of the two people who saw it, I’d love to know what you thought of the show. NASCAR fans are used to being disrespected with the NFL, college football and even a horse race taking precedence over races, but tennis? I don’t think ESPN loves us anymore.
One final ironic note. In declaring NASCAR’s intent to promote the Nationwide Series as a stepping stone to Cup, Mike Helton mentioned specifically Justin Allgaier as one of the personable new breed of drivers of the sort the Nationwide Series should help bring along. Only it appears “Little Gator” (gag… but the waitress is cute) may just be out a ride in the Nationwide Series next year despite some success. His sponsor Verizon is frustrated by their inability to do at-track promotions and the like because “Sprint/Nextel” is NASCAR’s corporate sponsor for the Cup Series. So in this instance (as in so many others before) NASCAR’s choosing to sign a corporate deal to line their own pockets is costing one of the few Nationwide teams with a high-profile sponsor and a promising young driver a chance to grow – in the nurturing new environment, of course, NASCAR says it wants the Nationwide Series to be.
Just remember the official slogan of the organization: NASCAR uber all! Remarkably, NASCAR’s network sponsors are not prohibited from airing ads for cell phone and insurance companies by the sport’s “exclusivity” deals.
So there it is. 2,000 words with nary a mention of the damned Chase. It can be done, but it’s getting lonely out here on this high wire. There’s this long open stretch of 282 west of Glenmoore where this time of year, with the sun to your back aboard a Harley you cast a shadow 70-feet long ahead of you. If the sun is just right, you can even make out the reflection of circle of chrome on your engineer boots as you take her up through the gears hitting 85 before gearing down for the stop sign at 82. I’m thinking lately this might just be the last Chase I don’t write about.
Well those drifter days are past me now,
I’ve got so much more to think about,
Deadlines and commitments,
What to leave in and what to leave out,
Against the wind, still running against the wind…
– Bob Seger
About the author
Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.
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