NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? How To Get Away With Championship Murder?

Did You Notice? How to get away with murder from a sporting perspective? Kevin Harvick has mastered the craft, deftly dodging questions about whether his Talladega wreck was intentional Tuesday while knowing NASCAR has finalized their decision not to penalize him on the incident.

“Look, I just tried to get going and thinking and try to keep somebody behind me to help me get going,” Harvick said of a final green-white-checkered restart which ended with him turning right into Trevor Bayne’s rear bumper, preserving his spot in the Chase with a car that would never have come up to full speed over the final two laps. “As I moved up, before I even knew [Bayne] was gone, he was beside me. I didn’t even know he was out there until he was already by me. It happens pretty fast. I was hoping the No. 6 would push me. He started behind me.”

Instead, Harvick pushed Bayne, sparking a dozen cars spinning wildly and the field frozen before the reigning champion could be eliminated from the Chase. Other drivers saw what happened; everyone from the normally reserved Matt Kenseth to the more emotional Denny Hamlin called Harvick out, either on camera afterwards, on Twitter or both mediums. Privately, several NASCAR teams are up in arms this week about an incident that they claim is not that far off Clint Bowyer spinning out intentionally at Richmond two years ago in order to ensure Martin Truex Jr. earned his spot in the Chase. In that case, Bowyer manipulated the results intentionally in order to assure a certain result. If someone believes that Harvick made that move intentionally, isn’t the same theme of manipulating the race in play?

The difference, of course is in Bowyer’s case NASCAR had hard evidence in the form of radio communications and even admissions from the team itself at Richmond there was intent to change the outcome of the race. Here’s the problem when athletes see a crime getting committed like that; you learn how to do it better the second time around. Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers weren’t going to say anything to the level of “wreck your car intentionally” on the radio. Barring a shocking surprise defection, there is going to be no “smoking gun” in the form of a crew member or spotter admitting afterward some funny business was going on. Instead, Harvick’s previous move of getting out of the way on the restart before his wreck showcased he had an engine problem and was willing to move aside for other drivers to pass him. That’s enough right there to keep NASCAR from doling out a punishment even though Harvick’s in-car camera appears to show he pulled to the right just as Bayne was going past.

Now, since there’s no penalty what you have is a driver who knows he got away with one and is doing all the right things after over a decade of being involved in this sport and paying the price for bad behavior or aggressive quotes made in front of the press. Harvick, already a champion, turns 40 years old this year and has learned how to play the game of public relations.

Example: When asked about other driver’s anger, culminating in an ugly post by Hamlin that insinuated fans paid money on Sunday to watch “crap” Harvick was understanding, even sympathetic to his rival’s plight.

“Look, Denny is a very emotional person,” he said at Media Day for the Chase Eliminator Round, at which Hamlin wasn’t present because, well, he was already eliminated after that Talladega mess. “I would consider Denny a fair acquaintance. I don’t consider too many of them my friends because we get into situations like this… and so I think as you look at that, he’s a very opinionated person. He’s going to stand behind what he believes in and that’s fair and I don’t think anybody can knock him for that. I’m not going to sit here and throw stones because I’ve been mad at situations.…”

It’s Harvick the sage, understanding old veteran who’s taking the high road while others complain about the end result. When asked about his position in the Chase, the driver maintained a similar tone, sounding almost disappointed in his results thus far while remaining humble in how “lucky” the No. 4 team appears to be to still be alive in the postseason.

“I feel like we’ve been as sloppy as we’ve been in two years, since I’ve been involved with this race team and still hanging around,” he said. “I feel like our pit crew is on point and we’ve had speed in the cars, those have really been the only two things that have been 100%. We’ve had some parts failures and things go wrong, those pieces not being 100%…”

And so the driver moves on even when fans and other rivals remain up in arms. You can appreciate him playing along but for those exasperated by what has happened in the latest rendition of NASCAR’s playoff format the answers they got over the past few days are not going to satisfy anyone.

Did You Notice? For the second straight year in this format, a driver second in points heading into Talladega wound up eliminated from the Chase? Last year, it was Kyle Busch getting involved in a wreck and this time around it was Hamlin, victimized by a roof hatch that just wouldn’t stay tied down.

Look, I understand that in the playoffs you are going to have certain situations where top seeds get eliminated. We see it all the time; the team with the best record in baseball this year, the St. Louis Cardinals were cut down before they even had a chance to fight for the National League Pennant. That being said, putting Talladega in the position where it decides the fate of drivers who have worked so hard to get to this point in their season appears grossly unfair. So much at this racetrack is out of your control; you’re stuck in the draft where a wreck not of your making can appear at any time. A $5 part that cost Jimmie Johnson at Dover appears a bit easier to swallow than the green-white-checkered mess that cost Ryan Newman a spot or even the roof hatch incident with Hamlin, however similar that part failure may be to Johnson’s Dover disaster.

The sport will refuse to remove Talladega from the Chase going forward because they feel the popularity amongst fans is too much to let it go. The 2.6 final Nielsen rating we saw for that event is easily the highest for any race in the postseason; the crowd at the track is among the largest we’ve seen all year.

However, NASCAR’s interpretation of why the race is popular appears to be 180 degrees off base. People tune into Talladega not for the playoff implications but to cling to a once-regular occurrence that the majority of the field could potentially win this event. For one of only a handful of races all year, someone like a Cole Whitt from Front Row Motorsports or Michael McDowell from Leavine Family Racing (who was running inside the top 10 for much of the day) could come from nowhere and score an upset win. New names and new faces combine with the well-funded teams within the Cup Series, battling toe-to-toe and for much of the race they’re doing it inches from each other in three-abreast formation. That’s why Talladega is so intriguing for so many – not because they get to sit there doing math all day as to who advances to the next round of the playoffs and who doesn’t.

The sport, even with the 2016 schedule released would be wise to move Talladega’s position outside the Chase and replace it with another short track or even a road course to introduce more versatility into the postseason. Sadly, that won’t happen but the randomness it introduces into the title race dilutes the championship within the garage and amongst the fan base. You think Kenseth is going to sit there and congratulate Harvick if he’s holding the trophy in Homestead? Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

Did You Notice? The record ratings this playoff season is getting for NBCSN? Yes, NASCAR audiences are down across the board but for a fledgling network like this one it’s the stability executives have long been looking for. The 2.6 final Nielsen number for Talladega was the third-largest audience we’ve seen for that network ever. A channel that was once focused on obscure Olympic sports and the long-suffering IndyCar Series now has a “sport” to hang its hat on.

That’s important because those final numbers are what top-level executives are looking to see with their bottom line. No President of NBC Sports is going to delve into the nitty-gritty of the final laps at Talladega; trust me, kids, I’ve been in television 10-plus years. They don’t have time to care about that as NASCAR is just one card on the table of a desk filled with 24-hour, 7-day-a-week programming that has to be monitored. What they do care about is numbers they can show the stockholders, ones that prove the channel is building its audience. NASCAR’s ratings, as disappointing as they can be for those inside the sport, actually do the trick there as they sure beat an 0.3 for national Gymnastics qualifying that might have run in place of Sunday’s event.

I think NBC and NBCSN have done a fantastic job, to be honest covering the sport in their first season. But if people are looking for someone to throw down the gauntlet there and force NASCAR to make major changes, either to its playoff system or to its Chase schedule in the wake of Talladega it’s not going to come from the network. The people in suits are as pleased as they can get with programming they grossly overpaid for in this world of depleting cable subscriptions. Virtually every rights fee for every major sport is turning into a bad contract but for now, these numbers are the best NBCSN can do under the circumstances and that’s all executives are going to care about. The NASCAR officiating will be left to NASCAR officials, part of the problem as well as the inevitable solution….

Did You Notice? Quick hits before taking off…

  • I counted the comments on an article Bob Pockrass wrote for ESPN calling the latest version of the Chase “a circus.” 66 of those 68 comments were negative, including fans claiming they had watched their last race or that NASCAR’s playoff system had become a true farce. Typically, after 10-plus years of writing I know people will focus on the negative far more than the positive, but that’s a clear message being sent.
  • A lot of people are now looking ahead to Martinsville as a race where drivers could take matters into their own hands. Absolutely, if I was Harvick or Joey Logano I would be nervous their day could end on a wrecker after some angry rival decides to enact revenge on what’s gone on the last couple of weeks. But I’m also not so sure at this point that’s good for the sport either. The second you see a teammate retaliate in football, knocking an opponent to the ground there’s a penalty flag thrown and the move is generally frowned upon. Yes, what Logano and Harvick did the past few weeks isn’t going to be supported by 100% of the fanbase, but kicking the crap of them out on the racetrack doesn’t seem right either.
  • At some point, to me the question is simple in the wake of Talladega and similar questionable incidents we’ve seen the last few years. Is what we’re seeing on the racetrack going to attract new fans? Is a finish like we saw Sunday easily explainable to people and going to cause others to pay money to sit in the stands? I’m not going to personally answer this question; I think the controversy we’ve seen in the wake of Talladega speaks for itself.

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kb

Can we put another myth to rest today. “The normally reserved Kenseth”. That ship sailed for me last year (although I never really brought into it) when he jumped from behind and between the haulers..Brad K. That was sissy move and was no better or excusable than “The Pushers” move. And his Zen like calming presence that the media is always trying to sell is absent this year, I think we are seeing the true colors of the sneaky, sly Matty boy.

Again why is a racing incident and a suspected manipulation considered the same thing. I think this sport suffers from bi=polar disorder..from the top, the media and fans.

What the heck was Harvick suppose to say, he was coached and coached good. The truth has no place when big money is involved.

I don’t like the wrecks, I don’t like RP…so I am hard pressed to see the allure of Dega.

As usual the brass at Castle Daytona has a completely different take on things. Reminds of a old boyfriend of mine. I saw his obit in the paper the other day…(no he wasn’t old). I never, ever thought about him…but the first thing I though of was seeing his obit was…that jerk used to tell me that I was thinking X and I was really thinking Y..my actions and words were Y and he would swear X. Just like Nascar, a bunch of know it all’s, that don’t know it all.

Carl D.

I’m also reminded of the Nascar Fan Council. Yes, it’s still aound. It was supposed to be a forum for fan input into the decisions made by Nascar. If that’s the case, then either Nascar was very careful to select folks who agree with their decisions, or they pay absolutely no mind to anything this “council” says.

kb

You are exactly correct about the Fan Council. They do look for the starry eyed, head in the sand, sheep type fan. Sad. Lots of good input out there.

Sue

Carl D. and kb>>>>> I am surely not starry eyed, head in the sand, sheep type fan. In fact I ‘m just the opposite. Been around a long time and am a Fan Council member and constantly giving my negative thoughts about the BS that has become Nascar. Maybe they think because the TV people constantly are saying how the fans like this stupid chase and the mess they have created. It certainly doesn’t produce a true Champion. In my opinion. My driver( BADBrad) is still alive, but he doesn’t get much coverage. I guess he pi–ed someone in TV off. Back to the Fan Council. I’m surprised they still send me the surveys as I usually always give negative reactions.

kb

Well that is fine, but I still do believe that they take the majority of what suits their likes and disregard the rest. I never even “applied” as I heard much BS about it, and in reality how can one expect them to do anything. Although ever asinine change they make…it is because the fans wanted it…lol. They still pick the pie in the sky folks and many people do think everything is o.k….because they don’t know any better and wanna be nice. Sue, we are all fighting a losing battle…but I haven’t given up yet.

jer

I’ll agree with Sue. I’ve been on the council for years and I tell them what I think and it is very seldom positive.

I agree though that I don’t think they actually listen to any of the feedback unless it fits what NASCAR wants to hear. They quite often structure their surveys to not allow a negative answer of specific questions. I’ve always added comments but since I have no idea where this information actually goes, it is probably a waste of time.

GinaV24

I would bet that no matter what the fans say to the council unless it agrees 100% with what NASCAR wants, it wouldn’t matter one bit.

Tom’s comment about their being a majority of negative comments to Pockrass’s article is telling but BZF and his minions and the tv people don’t really care. ESPN can now write and say what they want since they have no skin in the game. IMO, it would have been a different version of the story if they were still involved in covering the sport.

kb

Good point Gina…

GinaV24

I’m with you on that, kb. This whole calm Matt thing is BS! Many Gordon fans refer to him as Matt the Brat.

Harvick’s PR people obviously did a great job with their spin. I don’t know that the fans (unless you are a Harvick fan) believe it, but they were able to put it out there and NASCAR simply rolled over and said – yeah we have no proof. When has that ever mattered to NASCAR before? They penalize teams for whatever whenever they want. Obviously this junk is all good theatre in NASCAR’s eyes. Let’s hear it for those Game 7 moments! Yuck.

kb

This whole system is ugly. Last year I don’t think people really though about all the uglies that could happen, I did. Now some people seem to look at it this year with fresh eyes. I say if Junior Nation cares about their God instead of throwing beer cans, they should be storming Castle Daytona and demanding the Chase be abolished. I figure the only fan base Nascar give a shitz about is Junior Nation, why don’t they become some useful idiots and tell Brian what they think, he doesn’t listen to anybody else.

Don in Ct

It’s really become a joke. Anyone who keeps watching this farce needs a hobby.

babydufus

one one hand it’s pretty clear that the move the so called sometimes affable havick made on bayne is one of the most clear cut intentional and dirtiest moves in recent and not so recent nascar history.
the intentionally act of causing a yellow that serves to only to keep the perpetrator in the championship hunt and subsequently causes a wreck that effectively determines championship eligibility of other participants (including and not limited to the elimination of a team mate) without penalty serves only provide clear illustration of how ludicrously far this no longer sporting sport has fallen from any semblance of credibility.

On the other hand, can you actually blame harvick for what he did? sure he’s a selfish ass, but he did what he needed to in a situation created by nascar to keep himself as a championship contender. would I have done the same thing back in my days behind a wheel of a much lower class car? I’m not sure, maybe but probably not. The stakes were much lower and heck somebody could get killed. still, he did what he needed to as a pure competitor.

On yet another hand I wonder why the request for change to this train wreck wouldn’t come from the hand that feeds (known to us as the networks.) Rating are tanking, the audience is clearly shrinking and sponsors and advertisers are walking away. I can’t imagine revenues are increasing for anyone but the frances who seem to have a golden deal. Wouldn’t declining income dollars cause some type of action on their part unless the are contractually prevented? In my mind with an unchanged situation I can’t ‘t see how even a new fan could fail to see how utterly ridiculous and asinine the sponsoring body looks right now. They make calls that range from seemingly bias to clearly biased. They make rules that stem not increase competition. How is this even good entertainment. Maybe the frances should just sell out to the kardashians, at least they know how to stay relevant in american culture.

yes, I’m mad as hell and i’m not taking it anymore!

GinaV24

Agree with you. It is a total farce. NASCAR and the networks have no reason to change anything or even to penalize Harvick because as Tom mentioned, the ratings were up, NASCAR THINKS that anything people say about the sport – even when it is negative is GOOD and NASCAR instituted this dumba$$ format and say boys have at it is all good.

I’ll continue to “take it” right up thru Homestead. When Gordon steps out of the 24 car after that race, with or without winning the big trophy, I officially become a casual fan. That way I don’t have to care about any of the nonsense that NASCAR promotes and maybe as Matt pointed out in his column, just maybe I can be amused by it all.

I won’t give my full commitment to another driver – NASCAR has become a joke, not a sport and I’m not willing to spend the emotional energy, time and $ to bother after this year.

babydufus

yeah. great.
Matt’s article got that song stuck in my head and it’s still hasn’t left.
me? my wings aren’t quite rusted and i’ll take the advice and try to be amused rather than just bemused.
if what tom says is true then hope is lost.
i suppose there’s always local short tracks to get me my racing fix but they are hard to come by here in the SF bay area. especially after being spoiled by living within under an hour driving distance to both thompson and stafford springs.

Bill B

I agree with both of you. This is a very slippery slope that NASCAR has started down. So if I’m JGR, SHR or HMS why wouldn’t I pre-plan (prior to the race) to have my non-chase drivers wreck my competitors’ chase drivers? There would be no irrefutable proof and after what Harvick did last weekend there doesn’t seem to be any line now. Very disheartening.

Even if this is a good thing in the short run, it will undermine NASCAR being taken seriously as a sport in the long run (unless you consider WWE style wrestling a sport). If this is intended to put asses in the seats it is appealing to the lowest common denominator. How short-sighted. I can’t tell you how happy I am that Gordon is retiring so that I can stop caring about what the wizards of Daytona do next.

Capt Spaulding

Quiet on the Kardashians, with Texas coming up on the schedule, Eddie Gossage may hire them to sing the National Anthem,,,,,,seems he does have excess available seating.

Steve

And standards are even lower about who tracks choose to sing their national anthems.

J. Smith

It’s hard to pin NASCAR down but I think a reasonable person has to take away the precedent that it is now OK to hook someone into the wall up to and including Talladega. Maybe not if your a non-chaser. Let’s Get Ready To Rumble….Martinsville. Hey you reasonable people, try watching the F1 race in Mexico and NHRA in Las Vegas this weekend.

Od Farmer

All your comments are humorous. There isn’t one other driver who wouldn’t have done the same thing given the situation Harvick was in, and you all know it. The only seemingly logical comments here are the ones wanting the silly chase abandoned.

Steve

Harvicks explanation was a joke. Did he expect Bayne to push his car around the track for 2 laps even though he had no power? That’s about the dumbest thing I have ever heard. Every time he opens his mouth his lie gets worse. He did it on purpose and running away after the race is what clinched it for me. He needed plenty of time to get his story straight so he ran from the media on Sunday.

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