Race Weekend Central

Silence! NASCAR's Unspoken Cry To Opinionated Drivers Needs To Stop

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It’s a mantra that was repeated on the school playground, a lesson taught to us by our parents, and a phrase we have to repeat inwardly to ourselves when the boss is in an especially critical mood on a Monday morning.

It is, however, a foreign concept to NASCAR—a lesson that Denny Hamlin learned the hard way. After making what NASCAR called a disparaging—or, what most of it would call it, honest—statement about the Gen 6 racecar, it was announced that Hamlin had been fined $25,000. Though Hamlin stated on Twitter that he would appeal, NASCAR never balked at the prospect of shutting up the drivers when they say something negative.

It wasn’t but a couple of weeks ago that Keselowski was called to the NASCAR hauler for comments that, too, were made with an honest assessment of NASCAR’s product, though this was about their business model rather than the product of the on-track racing. Still, for some reason, NASCAR is bearing their teeth to any driver who dares gives negative feedback.

The worst part, however, is that it seems to be working. Not only were drivers cordial in expressing their opinions about the new car following the checkered flag yesterday in Las Vegas. From the way it sounded, they were simply delighted in the way it drove! It’s never been better!

In their mandatory post-race press conferences for the top three drivers, Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski were about two seconds from doing rock-paper-scissors to determine who had to answer the question “How did the car drive today?”

Now, to be fair, the race really wasn’t _that_ bad. I felt like it was a decent race considering the kind of “show” intermediate tracks usually put up. While there wasn’t a ton of passing, it looked like the faster cars generally _could_ pass and tire wear played more of a roll than they had in a while.

Still, though, clean air and track position was the most important aspect of the race, which has been a complaint with the car for a long time. Why can’t the drivers talk about that? Why shouldn’t they?

Here’s what I’m concerned about. Right now, NASCAR has a little bit of breathing room because drivers and their crews are still learning the ins and outs of the new car. That can be the excuse for a good while. They can silence the drivers for a good while and fans will probably believe that to be that problem. But what happens afterwards?

This car has its problems. I’m sure anyone could have guessed that it wouldn’t be perfect and that there would be an adjustment period. But after a while, people are going to get sick of waiting around for some of the little quirks and mannerisms to fix itself.

Who better, then, to give the feedback on areas of improvement than the ones who are behind the wheel every weekend? I know NASCAR’s preference would be that the drivers deliver this feedback behind closed doors and not to the media. That’s not realistic, though, either. First of all, NASCAR wouldn’t have its reach, appeal, or popularity without the media.

Also, who is right there in the drivers’ face first thing after they exit their racecar on pit road? Who do the fans turn to when they want to hear their drivers’ thoughts after a hard wreck?

You can’t shut the drivers up about everything except for the rainbows and lollipops of the sport. First of all, fans are smarter than that. The drivers can get out of a single-file race at Daytona, say “What a great race!” and the fans will cry foul. Secondly, it’s completely unfair. If NASCAR is working on a solution to alleviate the issues that the sport is facing, I think the fans deserve to know about it.

Simply put, this whole “don’t talk about our sport unless it’s positive” needs to stop. Like I said, fans are smart enough to see right through it and you can’t be in damage control over damage control. In other words, you can’t try and protect the image of the sport by not letting the drivers say what they feel. They are human beings and many are very opinionated. Let them do so!

After all, negative feedback is only negative if you don’t listen.

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