TV or not TV
Whether it nobler in mind to suffer the slings and arrows
Of outrageous TV demands….
Yes, there have already been a ton of tweets, nasty Facebook comments and articles written about the unsavory farce that was last Friday’s Cup qualifying session and I’ll get to that later. But there’s a lesser-discussed element of the story I want to address first.
When it became clear that a bunch of cars, including those of some high-profile drivers, weren’t going to make it through technical inspection in time for the first round of qualifying, NASCAR delayed the start of that session by 15 minutes. When that still wasn’t enough time to get all the cars through, NASCAR said that they couldn’t issue another 15 minute extension because they were dealing with a tight TV slot with the FOX TV networks. I forgot to check what “must see TV” programming on FS1 might have been preempted had qualifying run long but it was probably something like the Venezuelan Special Olympics Curling Qualifying Rounds.
True, all televised sports to some degree have to accommodate the whims of the televising network. If you attend an NFL game, you’ll quickly grow to hate the guy in the big orange glove who signals for a TV timeout. During those game interruptions, folks at home see commercials but fans in the stands are left twiddling their thumbs, given a chance to suck down another brew or even read a few chapters of a Kurt Vonnegut novel. But I’ve never seen an NFL event that was ended prematurely because it overran it’s allotted time slot. Call that the 60 Minutes Corollary to sports broadcasting.
NASCAR races are unique in sports in that there are no scheduled timeouts, breaks, or stoppages (yet). The racing keeps on going even while folks at home are watching commercials.
Those of you old enough to be reading this (and if you’re of a younger demographic, why are you reading the rambling of a senile old curmudgeon? There’s doubtless some 13-second UFC fight you could be viewing on You Tube) have already heard the story of Big Bill France’s breakfast with Junior Johnson. Johnson, one of the sports most popular drivers in his era, had recently announced his retirement from driving. France contended Junior couldn’t retire because he was “committed” to the sport. Johnson countered that he was only “involved” with the sport. France asked what the difference between being “committed” and being “involved” with racing was. Junior pointed to his ham and egg breakfast and told him. “The chicken is involved with this meal. The pig is committed.”
Thus it is with NASCAR fans at an event. The fans watching on TV are involved with the event. If there’s a stoppage or delay they can go raid the fridge or munch on some Cheesy Poofs while reading Slaughter House 5 (and shame on you if you haven’t.) Fans in the grandstand are committed. They’ve already paid the big bucks for tickets and, in most cases hideously overpriced lodging, and they’re out there in the elements with only what sustenance they were able to pack in their coolers. If waiting out a rain delay at home watching on TV is miserable, waiting one out while getting drenched in the grandstands is infinitely worse.
On Friday, doubtless, there were a lot of fans who’d come mainly to see their favorite driver, Jeff Gordon (or Tony Stewart, or Matt Kenseth, or Jimmie Johnson or any other the other drivers who never cleared tech.) They were sitting in frigid weather to cheer their boy on but never got to see him turn a lap because NASCAR had to accommodate FOX Sports1. One might reasonably ask if, having gotten hosed, some of those fans might not choose to come back next year.
OK, I get it. There weren’t all that many fans in the stands on Friday because of the nasty weather and the fact folks in Atlanta take to attending sporting events like the Three Little Kittens take to soiled mittens, but those who had braved the elements and, in a lot of cases, driven long distances showed up only to find out they shall have no pie. I smell a rat close by.
This time it was only qualifying, but how far is NASCAR willing to go to accommodate the networks? To cite one possible scenario, next week’s race at Las Vegas has a later-than-normal start time because Vegas is three hours behind EST (oops, EDT; daylight saving time starts next week), Say once again weather intrudes on the proceedings and a light rain starts falling shortly after the midpoint of the race. Say the track needs to be dried but the forecast is for rain moving out of the area and, since Vegas has lights, the rest of the race could potentially be run, though it would run into the nighttime hours. Can FOX insist that the race be called official since it’s reached the halfway point and the network doesn’t want to be saddled for an hours long rain delay and the possibility sticking with the race might interfere with their “Animation Domination” prime time slate? Just send all those fans home despite the expense and hassles they’ve endured to be there live? It’s not that it can’t happen; it just ain’t happened yet. When it comes down to a choice between accommodating the fans in the stands or accommodating the wishes of the networks, I’m always going to come down solidly on the side of the fans.
Are We All Bozos on This Bus? So, now on to that qualifying debacle. By the time you read this, you’ll probably be sick of the topic. I’m writing this Sunday night from my office at Stately Eyesore Acres, but it’s run on Tuesday. So my opinion, and doubtless that of most scribes you’ve already read, is there was plenty of blame to go around for that unholy mess. Yes, teams were pushing the envelope with the new rules package and apparently weren’t aware that with NASCAR’s new computerized inspection process, the gray area that lays between black and white has been narrowed down to hundredths of a millimeter. Perhaps down the road that will help level the playing field and teams that were notorious for pushing the envelope will have their chicanery reigned in.
On NASCAR’s part, considering this was the first race that would be run with the new rules package (the rules at Daytona last week were the same as they were in 2014.) and the beginning of the season as well, a reasonable person might have expected some teams (hell, most teams) were going to need a few trips through the Room of Doom to get kosher. Considering the above and the fact most of the teams (with the dramatic exception of Travis Kvapil‘s No. 44 car) were on-site for Thursdays test session why not open the inspection line at dawn to give all the teams the maximum amount of time to get their play-pretties in accordance with the rules?
Talking in Circles In an attempt to explain away the inexplicable, Sprint Cup Series Director Richard Buck said of the unmitigated qualifying disaster, “It was not rare last year for a car or two not to get through inspection, but more than a dozen cars was virtually unheard of since NASCAR went to group qualifying last year.”
Note 1: All the way back to 2014? That’s just flat out amazing.
Note 2: Let’s have a look at the word ‘Virtually.” Thumbing through my dog-eared Funk and Wagnall dictionary, I find the definition of “virtually” to be “Almost but not quite.” So which is it? It’s never happened before all the way back to 2014, or it happened once or twice last year? If it did, I didn’t catch it and nobody sent me the memo. If’n I was in charge of NASCAR PR releases I’d have gone with a different approach. I’d have written, “We done screwed the pooch on Friday. We’re sorry and we’ll never let it happen again.” Then I’d have started a promotion where any outraged fan who complained on NASCAR’s Twitter dealie would get a coupon for free Beanie-Weenies and a 16-ounce can of Red Bull.
Yeah, and We Want Triple Play Service That Actually Costs $79.95 The folks at Comcast have sent word out to the media that when discussing NASCAR’s AAA series they would like us to type out XFINITY in all capital letters. Note to Comcast: NO! NXS it is. Considering the NASCAR drivers and TV folks are still constantly referring to it as “the Nationwide Series,” that’s about the best you’ll get from me.
Tear Down the Walls (How can you have pudding if you don’t eat your meat?) By now you’re probably sick of hearing about how it came to be that Jeff Gordon once again managed to slam the #24 car into a concrete wall not protected by SAFER barriers. Poor Gordon seems to have unwittingly offered himself up as a crash test dummy with this being his fourth trip into the concrete over the last couple years. As an early proponent of SAFER barriers back when NASCAR still labeled them “a cure worse than the disease,” I can only say that what happened just a week after Kyle Busch was badly injured at Daytona is unconscionable , unacceptable and insane. Oh, after a driver suffered injuries that will likely sideline him for most of the season track general managers and owners all had fine words about how they’d gotten the message and were full steam ahead on installing SAFER barriers on every concrete wall outside of the men’s room. (And you just know somehow Gordon will find a way to crash into the urinals as well.) But it seems those perfidious dolts want to talk the talk more than they want to pry open their corporate wallets.
But, Matt, some louse will retort, Atlanta Motor Speedway isn’t owned by NASCAR. It’s owned by Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports organization. I reply to you sir with my normal rapier wit that AMS was hosting an event sanctioned by NASCAR and it’s up to NASCAR to ensure the facilities are safe for racing prior to an event. Oh, and for the record NASCAR doesn’t own any tracks. Those belong to their sister company, International Speedway Corporation. If you get a Christmas card from both organizations and note there’s a lot of familiar faces on both cards. well, let’s just say the relationship between the two is so incestuous the FTC ought to be parachuting agents in any day now.
Despicable Them As you all have heard unless you’ve been living in a cave ,Travis Kvapil’s No. 44 car and the truck and trailer that were hauling it were stolen out of a hotel parking lot in the predawn hours of Friday morning. The race car and truck were recovered but, as of this writing, the trailer is still missing. You want to know the difference between a run-of-the-mill auto thief and someone who would steal a racecar from a team with limited financial means, forcing them to withdraw from the race, putting jobs and the future of the team in doubt? A repentant run-of-the-mill auto thief might get by with a stay in Purgatory. Whatever fool or fools stole the No. 44 car have already had the thermostat turned way up in their eventual bunkroom in Hell and Adolph ain’t very happy about it.
Sub Races A weekly(?) look at how the two drivers filling in for the Brothers Busch did: This week the nod goes to Regan Smith, in Kurt’s No. 41 car, who finished seventeenth. David Ragan, in Kyle’s No. 18 car, was just one spot back in 18th.
Check me out on Twitter (@agingoldhippie or just search for Matt McLaughlin) and look for the one with the Grateful Dead skull. I’m beginning to think this home PC stuff might catch on, and I’m shoveling an extra layer of coal into mine every morning.
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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