Home / Cup Series / Did You Notice?: The Fine Line Of NASCAR Drivers’ Personal Lives & Where It All Went Wrong
Credit: LAT PHOTOGRAPHIC

Did You Notice?: The Fine Line Of NASCAR Drivers’ Personal Lives & Where It All Went Wrong

Did You Notice? … The taboo subject of an athlete’s personal life? The topic came up Sunday night after Cody Ware went off on Twitter following a wreck involving fellow Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series underdog Matt DiBenedetto.

The point here isn’t to delve into what was said or whether it was even true. It’s if that back-and-forth, fully public in the age of social media should be anyone’s business in the first place.

In covering this sport for 11 years, you learn a lot about drivers and owners’ personal lives. Much of it is off the record and in my opinion holds little, if any news value. But I remember distinctly one of my first weeks roaming the garage area in the summer of 2006. Jeremy Mayfield’s Dodge passed by me in Gasoline Alley at Indianapolis and I remarked to a fellow journalist how awful he’d been running that season.

“Well, you know his owner’s sleeping with one of the drivers, right?”

My jaw dropped. That owner was Ray Evernham, and the journalist insinuated he was in a relationship with development driver Erin Crocker. He went on to explain many people in the media center “knew” but no one would dare report on it.

My curiosity as a newbie was quickly piqued. It didn’t take long for five, six, seven people to all tell me the same story. At the time, this felt different than someone’s personal business; it felt like a story that, if true, could be having an impact on an entire race team. But in the end, I joined the others in not reporting the rumored relationship.

It wasn’t publicized until Mayfield himself rather than a reporter spoke up shortly after his release from the team later that year. Filing a lawsuit against his former employer, Mayfield insinuated his car’s performance suffered from “Evernham’s close personal relationship with a female driver he employs.”

Even then, the relationship was never confirmed on the record until nearly one year later. Why the hesitation from the media in situations like these? I think it speaks to a question of sourcing, ethics and basic human decency.

It’s almost impossible, of course for that type of story to have direct admissions and quotes. That makes sourcing difficult to impossible; you feel like the final product becomes more US Weekly than any type of detailed investigation.

But the real fire you’re playing with is someone’s personal life. Is it a sports journalist’s place to dig deeper into a topic that has nothing to do with a driver’s performance on the racetrack? We’re not reporters for the National Enquirer. It’s not our job, I’d say, to follow someone from their stock car into the bushes behind their house.

We’re also all people, too. There’s the realization of the role we play the second a news story like that is reported on a national scale. You’re not just hurting one person with that type of story. You’re hurting multiple families, a long list of people who wind up innocent victims in the whole mess with information you’d better damn sure be factually right.

That empathy, though as we’ve seen can be diminished these days behind a computer screen and a Twitter account. Social media in general makes it easier to type things that you might not dare say in a face-to-face confrontation. It also creates a permanent record, increasing the curiosity and interest of fans who follow them to know the truth.

Ultimately, it’s the fans who have some say in determining what’s a story and what’s not. If you don’t read us (and Analytics tells us if you’re not), what we write is in some ways irrelevant. So I leave the question to you, one we have grappled with many times at Frontstretch. Should someone’s personal business be fair game once an accusation has been leveled? Does it hold any news value or interest for you… and more importantly, should it?

Did You Notice? … That chances are slim a driver on the outside looking in will win at Richmond? As I wrote yesterday, no one has done so since Jeremy Mayfield clinched a spot with a victory during the first year of NASCAR’s Chase in 2004.

That means it’s one last chance to take a look at drivers who are likely falling short of their goal of a title. Let’s take a quick look at how it all unraveled for them before the bluster of Chicagoland makes them an afterthought for much of the rest of this year.

Joey Logano

When Things Looked OK: A win after Richmond left Logano fourth in points, appeared to clinch a postseason berth and wrapped up a phenomenal eight top-six finishes in the year’s first nine races.

Where It All Went Wrong: Four days later when NASCAR labeled the win “encumbered” due to an issue with the rear suspension. Team Penske never fought it, crew chief Todd Gordon was suspended two races and the team has been virtually invisible since. Logano has just three top-10 finishes since that moment and only 17 laps led.

Why This Is Big: Logano won 14 races the last three seasons, tied with Jimmie Johnson for the most in the Cup Series and had been a perennial title contender with Team Penske.

Is There Any Chance?? Logano did win at this track in the spring. But the team has been so far off base, for so long the chances look better on paper than in reality.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

When Things Looked OK: Did they ever? OK, I guess after a fifth-place run at Texas in April Earnhardt sat 20th in the standings. People felt he was just getting his bearings back after over six months outside the race car.

Where It All Went Wrong: The second Earnhardt got swept up in a Daytona 500 wreck not of his making. That began a run of seven DNFs, the most for him since 2007 and tied for the second highest total of his career. The bad luck kept this team off balance and when they did complete the race? The speed just has never been there.

Why This Is Big: Sport’s Most Popular Driver. Retiring at end of 2017. Never won a championship. He came back this year for a shot at a title. Can you inflate this balloon any more?

Is There Any Chance?? Earnhardt has three career wins at Richmond but ran 30th there in the spring and has looked out to lunch.

Clint Bowyer

When Things Looked OK: Back-to-back second-place finishes, at Sonoma and Daytona left Bowyer 15th on the playoff grid and knocking on the door of Victory Lane.

Where It All Went Wrong: A late-race wreck at Indianapolis took away a potential top-10 finish and precious points. Moments later, Kasey Kahne pulled off an upset and squeezed the spots on the grid for winless drivers. Without that victory, Bowyer would be in playoff position.

Why This Is Big: Bowyer has struggled for sponsorship in his first year replacing Tony Stewart. No wins and no playoffs doesn’t help for a driver entering a contract year in 2018. Keep in mind Stewart-Haas Racing has multiple cars in need of money should Monster Energy leave the team.

Is There Any Chance?? Bowyer would love to find closure at this track four years after Spingate put his career in a tailspin. But since that infamous race in September 2013 he hasn’t led a single lap there.

Erik Jones/Daniel Suarez

When Things Looked OK: Does it ever really seem OK when you’re a rookie? The pressure of visiting tracks for the first time made their seasons completely unpredictable.

Where Things Went Wrong: Slow starts for both men. Jones had three wrecks in the first 10 races, dropping him to 19th in points. Suarez started off with three runs of 20th or worse. That was just enough of a hole for drivers still learning the ropes of the Cup Series

Why This Is Big: Many thought, on the heels of Chase Elliott’s success in 2016 we’d have a rookie in the playoffs a second straight year. But despite another outstanding freshmen class it looks like a bid for the title will fall well short.

Is There Any Chance?? Jones is on fire, earning five straight top-10 finishes. But he wrecked four laps into Richmond this spring. As for Suarez? He’s more concerned with Subway dropping its sponsorship than getting it together on track.

Did You Notice? … Some quick hits before taking off….

  • S.D. Grady had an outstanding piece I agree with in our Frontstretch Newsletter about Suarez. For a company to nitpick a contract like that, with only one race remaining on its deal tells me it wanted out of NASCAR. You don’t see Subway looking at another team for 2018, do you?
  • Along those same lines, it’s important for a team to announce soon that a new sponsor is actually entering the sport next season. Where is that big corporation lined up to replace Target at the No. 42? What about Erik Jones‘ sponsors on the No. 20? I’m not doubting their existence. I just think the sport could use some positive financial news right about now.
  • If Richard Petty Motorsports is leaving it 80,000-square foot shop because the organization doesn’t need the room, it sounds like there’s no need to worry about a second team then, right? So who will it be? Aric Almirola or Darrell Wallace Jr. for next season? If I were Almirola, the longer this goes the more concerned I get.
  • A 1.7 overnight Nielsen rating for Darlington after such positive feedback of Throwback Weekend had to be disheartening for NASCAR. It also shows you the difference between coverage on NBC (2.6 last year) and shifting to cable and NBCSN. I also think with week one of college football, promotion of the sport seemed lost in the shuffle. If I had a choice of Bristol or Darlington on network TV, I’d go with Darlington because it’s important to keep the sport as visible as possible with the start of football season. You don’t want people chasing to find your product.
Support Frontstretch on Patreon

About Tom Bowles

Tom Bowles
The author of Bowles-Eye View (Mondays) and Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 30 staff members as its majority owner. Based in Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild.

Check Also

The Frontstretch 5: Changes We Want to See in Superspeedway Racing

1. Break it up NASCAR needs to find some way to break up the big …

23 comments

  1. Avatar

    I see no problem with airing the “dirty laundry” sorta speak. I get sick and tired of the media fawning over SAINTED SO AND SO, when you hear rumors and whispers of their egregious behavior and nobody says a word.
    Ray and Erin got kid gloves and his business suffered, Mayfield was right…and then they turned on him. Screw Ray and Erin. His buddy Jeff Gordon was sheltered with his first divorce and his actions. I am sure the current Ralph driving is very different from the Ralph presented to the public, and a few others.

    Nope they are public figures, not saying you need to be dogging them for dirt, but come on Saint’s they ain’t. And the kid glove treatment by NASCAR and the NASCAR media is absurd, you fuel their narcissism and arrogance imo. One could make an argument that you embolden bad behavior. IMO.

    • Avatar

      KB is right.
      I think Brian F has some dirty laundry not reported. This guy tried to ruin Almendinger and Kurt Busch with PC. Evil phony people should be exposed.
      Ethics and human decency for journalist doesn’t exist anymore when reading about POTUS.

  2. Avatar

    Please, no more Squire, Jarrett and Jarrett. That was horrible.

    • Avatar

      Hprrible? Really? What do you call good if Ned Jarrett is horrible?

    • Avatar

      The really horrible part is the announcers they all have now. Those old guy were great in their time and should always be remembered and respected for what they did to promote and popularize motor sports. But young people don’t want to see the old people on TV commentating, stumbling over what to say.

  3. Avatar

    When you become a celebrity everything about you becomes fair game. May not be correct but that’s the way it is. I still want to know what happened to Mikey and Buffy. Divorce in NASCAR is taboo as far as reporting it goes. We just learned a few weeks ago that Biffle got a divorce. If we have to read the praises then we should also read the bad. However nothing should be written without irrefutable evidence of the truth. Rumors hurt everyone.

    When are the excuses for poor tv ratings going to admit the facts. It’s not football games, holiday week ends, the beach, social media, the economy etc. France has blown it. To many changes and gimmicks have driven the fans away period.

    The attendence Sunday was pretty normal for the race. Almost a sell out. Whether the throw back scheme helped who knows? It did not hurt but I thought some were dumb. A throw back to Moise gimme a break. And there were others who I didn’t even remember and I was in the souvenir business during the throw back era. Overall I do like the idea.

    • Avatar

      Brian’s divorces have been kept under the radar too. I seem to remember Junior Johnson and Flossie splitting up and Bill Elliott too.

      • Avatar

        Ah…Million Dolllar Bill….one of those “saints” who could do no wrong…in his personal life and on the track. Pffftttt. Now sonny boy is held in the same reverent sphere.

  4. Avatar

    I really don’t care about the personal lives of drivers/owners unless it affects the racing. I commend the race media for largely ignoring airing dirty laundry in public, especially with ‘social’ media availability. So many people seem to enjoy being as nasty as possible when they know they won’t be identified as saying it. I am often horrified at what people are willing to post…as long as they can be unnamed. Cowards all.

  5. Avatar

    IMO Subways pulling of the sponsorship on Suarez is low class. I will be buying my sandwiches at Jimmy Johns and checking out Dunkin Donuts more often. Bubba Burgers (Cody Ware, speaking of low class) not available in my area…I wouldn’t hold the drivers actions against them, but he’s not on my Pray for Texas list.

    Think NASCAR should cut the schedule to appx 25 races and see if the supply\demand can increase. Of course it will not happen in the near future.

  6. Avatar

    I think there’s a chicken and egg question in play. Are races drawing so few watchers because they are on cable, or are they on cable because they are drawing so few watchers? We now have college football on prime time weekend network slots, which probably answers the question. Networks paid big bucks to carry the NASCAR dog, but when it isn’t paying off you have to cut your losses and put something on the network that will pay the freight.

  7. Avatar

    A 1.7 rating for Darlington maybe shouldn’t be that unexpected. Up against a blockbuster college football game, on the first weekend of the college football season. Then its on a Labor Day weekend night to boot. Doubt if many of the younger crowd stayed home to watch the race, if they stayed home at all.

    Then there is the question of the popularity of the throwback weekend. Popular? Evidently so, but popular with who? My suspicion is that its popular with the same people who would be interested regardless. After all if you weren’t already a fan you wouldn’t have a connection to any of this stuff anyway. So while it may be a boost to them how many new fans does it bring in? Apparently few if any.

    • Avatar
      I miss Stevie Gaines

      After all if you weren’t already a fan you wouldn’t have a connection to any of this stuff anyway,, must say Brilliant response!

    • Avatar

      True, but the throwback BS combined with the fact that it is an historical track might make some old, disenfranchised fans that rarely watch anymore tune in. So there’s that, but you are right, basically just pulling in people that were already fans. It’s called, preaching to the choir.

      • Avatar

        Biii B, absolutely is preaching to the choir. Problem is Father Time, if nothing else, is shrinking the choir.
        Really I have nothing against the throwback race, but guess I’m a voice in the wilderness calling it fool’s gold.

  8. Avatar

    Should someone’s personal business be fair game once an accusation has been leveled? Does it hold any news value or interest for you… and more importantly, should it?

    Good question to which I don’t have an answer. Chances are if you report it, I will read it.

  9. Avatar

    If I were NASCAR, I’d be concerned about every race that is not on Network TV. Bristol and Darlington are the events that legacy fans and new fans need to see to be energized about the sport.
    Burying Cup races on Fox and NBC Cable Sports affiliates is only good for the networks (but, that value has minimal impact vs. a sport in demand as there are other ways to view “streaming” and myriad options for entertainment.
    It doesn’t appear that sponsors are excited about the broadcast locations!

    • Avatar

      Exactly! Fox wanted to “grow” its FS1 and FS2 stations and NBC wanted to do the same with their SN station. Doesn’t mean that casual fans are necessarily going to chase the races around to various cable stations. And as Russ pointed out, it was a holiday weekend. Don’t get me wrong, Darlington is one of my favorite tracks, along with Martinsville and Bristol so I watched some of the race but not all of it. I was glad to see the stands filled. I think in many ways fans are still thumbing their noses at NASCAR for moving the Labor Day race to California. TV is NOT the same as being there but overall the racing itself also has to be good and even though NASCAR has continued to fiddle with everything it seems, they still don’t seem able to really make the races great to watch. NBC’s coverage doesn’t help. Like Fox, the booth natters on about nothing, they don’t show the intervals so you can’t necessarily follow what is going on with the race. TV should show us the race but they stopped doing it to the point that many people simply don’t bother with it either.

      the throwback theme is fun to a degree but how much do the new fans NASCAR is trying to attract even know about the history?

    • Avatar

      I don’t get all the complaining about races not being on network TV. The era of good amounts of races on network TV only goes back to 2001. What did people do in the 80s and 90s when most of the races were on a hoge poge of cable networks? Growing up then, I though of cable TV as much more a luxury than it is now with all the various satellite/streaming options now. TNN was a lot more of an obscure cable network than FS1 or NBCSN are now.

      • Avatar

        I don’t disagree with you on the first part. I didn’t get any kind of pay TV until 1998 so I had some seasons as a fan with few televised races. However, people are complaining because with the big TV deal in 1999, they shouted from the mountaintops about how many more races would be on network TV, and how uniform the schedule would be. And for a while there were several more network races. But then they started shifting more and more to cable networks on another tier, and there seemed to be no rhyme or reason as to why one race was on the network while the next was on cable.

        • Avatar

          Obviously there was no stipulation in the contract between nascar and the networks to only have the races on network tv. My guess is, if the network can get higher ratings showing something other than Cup races, they will move the race to cable. Nascar just isn’t popular enough anymore to justify putting it on network tv every week now. It will probably get worse before it gets better.