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Beside the Rising Tide: That’s Just The Way it Is

That’s just the way it is
Some things will never change
That’s just the way it is
Ah, but don’t you believe them –Bruce Hornsby

Just some ramblings, inconsequential and otherwise, in the wake of Sunday’s Daytona 500:

It’s Just the Way It Is

Some things in life just have to be endured because it seems unlikely they’ll ever change. That constantly barking dog next door whose owners won’t take it inside even when you have people over for a BBQ.  People in near-luxury imported SUVs who seem to have mistaken your quiet, curvy country roadway as a racetrack. Yep, even the sight of terrified children fleeing a school building while black-clad SWAT team members hurry in. You look, you shake your head, you sigh then you say: “Pass me the salt, would ya, Karen?”

That pretty much sums up plate racing. There were a huge amount of wrecks during Speedweeks, and no one was surprised by the carnage. It’s just the way it is. Pass the salt, Babe. In most cases, how the fans feel about a wreck has more to do with who got wrecked than who wrecked him. If it was your driver who knocked someone else out of the way, well then, that’s just racing. If, on the other hand, it was your driver who bounced off some other SOB’s front bumper into the wall then that offending driver ought to be black-flagged, banned for life and flogged with desert thorns.

And heck, sometimes you can’t even tell who the villains are until they wreck one of the good guys. Kyle Busch got what he deserved with that blown tire because his team had obviously cheated up the rear suspension geometry, some folks tell me. Jimmie Johnson was just a poor innocent victim with Darrell Waltrip’s ultimate absolution; he just didn’t have anywhere to go!” (That pedal in the middle still slows a car down, right?)

One of the less colorful and thus printable emails I got last night after Austin Dillon went out and got a tattoo on his ass to celebrate his Daytona 500 was that the RCR driver ought to have had an ass tattooed on his face instead. Did Dillon cross the line? Nah. That’s just the way it is. Pass the salt.

We’ve had this debate before. Remember last year when Denny Hamlin knocked Chase Elliott out of the way when the younger driver seemed poised to take his first win at last? Lawd Almighty, did Hamlin get beat up in the court of public opinion. That was dirty driving, dagnabit. Now, had Elliott knocked Hamlin into the cheap seats, almost certainly fans would have accepted that as just good hard racing and a “never say quit” attitude.

It’s ironic that some people will excuse any on-track barbarity, even on the first lap as forgivable because that’s the way “Dale Earnhardt the Original” would have done it. Oddly enough my recollections are a bit different. More than once Earnhardt called out another driver for needlessly causing a wreck and in Darrell Waltrip’s case at one point even demanding NASCAR suspend Ol’ D.W.

Then you had that infamous night at Bristol in what history had dubbed the “rattle his cage” wreck with Terry Labonte. Earnhardt just flat out parked Labonte that night and the crowd reaction was swift and near universal. Earnhardt was still grinning in victory lane but he was grinning rather sheepishly as the crowed lustily booed his tactics, the normally taciturn Ned Jarrett in the booth called the move “the dirtiest thing” he’d ever seen at a stock car race, and Jimmy Spencer admitted had he caught the No. 3 car he’d have wrecked him in retaliation for what Dale did the No. 5 car. A somewhat confused Earnhardt claimed he hadn’t meant to wreck Labonte. He just meant to “rattle his cage a little.” As to the crowd reaction, Earnhardt finally shrugged and said “if they ain’t cheering they better be booing.”

Of course we can’t ask the man if his opinion has changed any since that night. In addition to having been the 20th Anniversary of Earnhardt’s sole Daytona 500 win, Sunday was also the 17th Anniversary of Earnhardt’s fatal wreck on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, another plate race. But that’s just the way it is. Pass the salt, wouldja?

TV or Not TV

If you were to ask a fair amount of NASCAR fans (and there’s supposed to be 80 million of you out there, NASCAR says. They may have to have a role call soon.) if they saw the end of the Sunday’s Daytona 500, they’d likely reply with a bare minimum of irony, “No, I watched it on FOX.” Yes, the commercial load towards the end of the race was stupefying and made following the flow of the race nearly impossible. At one point after a commercial break we were treated to a review of the race to that point from the Hollywood Hotel, followed by another commercial break.

Fans were left wondering who the heck had finished second and third as they saw someone crashing into the wall in the background but weren’t sure on which side of the start/finish line the incident had happened. Nor did anyone know where Aric Almirola had ended up finishing after he got booted out of the way. But man did we get a good look at Austin Dillon trying to blow out his rear tires doing doughnuts. Perhaps not unexpectedly his team and crew members were pleased that Dillon had won. Who would have thunk? But to the victor goes the spoils and we got to hear Dillon’s reaction to winning the big race right out there on the front stretch. (no relation to this site) an ill-considered strategy NBC  started last year. Yep, a winner interview is a standard part of the program, god bless their pointed little heads. But then less than five minutes later the winner gets interviewed again in victory circle to see if in fact he is still happy about having won the race. Oddly enough he usually is. And he’d like to thank the same sponsors he thanked on the front stretch. Meanwhile everyone is sort of wishing that they’d at least show the top 10 finishers in that tough to read text-box on the left side of the screen. Note to FOX. Stock car racing fans are a graying population. You might want to up the font size up a notch and ditch the gray on black graphics.

On a more positive note, the FOX broadcast of Sunday’s Daytona 500 annoyed a lot less fans than their previous efforts. In fact the Daytona 500, oft proclaimed at the Super Bowl of the sport, received an overnight rating of 5.1, a dismal result that has to cause great concern. (For comparison’s sake the first Daytona 500 FOX broadcast drew a 10.0 rating in 2001 and the event’s ratings peaked at 11.3 in 2006 on NBC.) To be fair, Sunday’s  race was up against the Olympics this year and it seems fans of the Olympics have been given more reasons to hate NBC than race fans have to hate FOX. At least FOX did get the winner right on Sunday as opposed to that one skiing event on NBC. (We also learned that folks from the Netherlands are such good skaters because they commute to work on ice skates daily. So they must be pretty good swimmers too to get to work during the summer.

But were the Olympics enough to torpedo the Daytona 500 ratings beneath the waterline? What else changed over last year that caused ratings to drop 22%? Well, obviously Dale Jr. has retired though he was on hand for the festivities. And of course last year’s race started a couple hours earlier which fans seem to prefer. Even West Coast fans. And we found out just how much the Koreans enjoyed being occupied by the Japanese for half a century, a factoid that had escaped me and in fact a good many Koreans.)

The Olympics alone can’t be blamed for the ratings drop. Not only did the 2014 Daytona 500 have to compete with the Winter Olympics it featured a six hour and 22 minute rain delay. During that delay the stands had to be evacuated due to a tornado threat. Still that race managed a 5.6 rating.

That historically low rating the 500 earned has to be some cause for concern. It is in fact the lowest rated 500 as best I’ve been able to research. (Oddly enough a lot of sites that once posted historical ratings no longer do.) But then the highest rated Daytona 500 was held way back in 1979, the first Great American Race ever broadcast flag to flag. And that record will never be broken because back in those days by and large TV viewers only had three channels to watch, CBS, NBC and ABC. Add to that, the fact an epic blizzard had most of the eastern half of the country snowed in and desperate for any sort of entertainment. (Or an excuse to put off going out and shoveling the driveway.)

The Takeaway

So class, what did we learn from yesterday’s Daytona 500 that will help predict how this stock car racing season will turn out? That’s, right. The same as every year. Absolutely nothing. Because of its nature, the Daytona 500 isn’t even a very good indicator of this year’s other three plate races, another here at Daytona in July and the two Talladega races.

The Fords seemed strong all week but that wasn’t unexpected. Toyota had a new car last year and Chevy has its new Camaro this year. (A couple notes here; Despite what you heard repeatedly Sunday, Toyota did not dominate in the early events of last year. Martin Truex, Jr. won three of the first 18 Cup points races in his Camry. Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota’s big guns, didn’t win a race until New Hampshire, the 19th race of the season. All of us in the media spent a lot of time in the first months of last year wondering what the heck was wrong with JGR. The Toyotas did in fact come on strong later in the season. It’s surely a coincidence that the Toyotas came alive right about the time Toyota actually released the street version of the same Camry they’d been racing all year last fall. And a note to Jimmie Johnson: It’s actually the Chevy Camaro ZL1, not the LS1. An LS1 is probably what your gardener has in his pickup truck.

It seems counterintuitive, but having the oldest body style has turned out to be an advantage for the Fords on the plate tracks. The newer Chevys and Toyotas were designed to increase downforce, giving them an advantage at the intermediate tracks that dominate the schedule while serving as a hindrance at the plate tracks. So don’t expect to see the Fords dominating at Atlanta, the first of countless 1.5 mile moderately banked ovals which have taken over the NASCAR schedule the way dandelions take over a suburban front yard in the spring.

But Darrell Wallace, Jr. proved he was the real deal, correct? He’s ready to join the legions of the sport’s superstars. Wallace did in fact have a strong run Sunday and that’s encouraging. But if you look at the team he drives for (Richard Petty Motorsports, not Petty Engineering which went away in 2008) their last win was scored on a plate track by Aric Almirola and their last five top 5 finishes have all occurred at plate tracks. Remember when Brian Scott finished second driving for RPM at Talladega in 2016? No, I didn’t think so. I wish Wallace good luck just as I wish the best for all the new drivers coming into the sport and even the guys who’ve been here seemingly forever. But in this case, Wallace’s strong run Sunday is almost definitely one of those “Past performance is not always indicative of future success” disclaimers on an investment prospectus.

She’s Gone

It’s not just a Hall and Oates earworm of a tune anymore. Danica Patrick has in fact packed her bags and quit the NASCAR side of racing. In a move worthy of a country song of its own, she left her boyfriend behind but took the dogs with her. There was no word on who got the truck and who got the shaft.

In 191 career Cup starts, the final results show Patrick scored zero wins, an equal number of top-5 finishes and all of seven top-10 results. Perhaps most notably in her years along the Magical Mystery Tour, Ms. Patrick won the pole for the 2013 Daytona 500. Her best points finish in the season standings was 24th, twice. Coincidentally enough her career average Cup finish was also 24th. Five and a half years is a long career for any driver with that sort of journeyman statistics but Patrick was one of the most recognizable faces in the sport especially in her early years.

In politically correct terms suited to the situation Patrick at least hinted her team had given up on her at some point. Car owner and former fellow competitor Tony Stewart went on record as disagreeing that was the case. His assessment of the situation was that based on his and Greg Zippadelli’s infinitely more in depth knowledge of the sport, he wanted to pair her again with Tony Gibson as a crew chief. Patrick disagreed and wanted a crew chief with more of an engineering background like she’d had in Indy-Car. Stewart said in that regard Patrick was her own worst enemy. (Stewart also noted he’d been keeping that opinion “under his belt” which A) is an incredibly awkward thing to say B) is probably as big in circumference as Martinsville.) To be fair and try to find some semblance of a positive takeaway in the modern era no former open wheel driver has come into NASCAR racing and set the joint on fire either even some with a career record more enviable than Patrick’s. (Jacques Villeneuve had an Indy 500 win and a F1 title before attempting unsuccessfully to race in NASCAR.) And in her final Cup start let the record show Ms. Patrick finished better than seven time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.  Hey, before you go, Danica, can you pass the salt please?

Weed, Whites and Wine

The ever irascible Denny Hamlin was at his best again in the days leading up to the Daytona 500. The well-known comedian/driver bought down the house on an internet blog, Pardon My Take, stating that he felt somewhere around 70% of NASCAR drivers used Adderall to increase their focus while they’re racing. Somewhere, Jeremy Mayfield and AJ Allmendinger were falling out of their chairs clutching their sides, so great was their mirth. Even NASCAR officials were so incredibly amused that they called Hamlin to their trailer to thank him for a good chuckle. Because right now in this country what’s funnier than pharmaceutical drug abuse?  Perhaps Hamlin can next direct his wit towards what the funniest form of cancer is or how child abuse victims are such whiners and ought to grow up. Obviously Hamlin’s remarks were only made in jest. What he really intended to say was that NASCAR fans might need to take some sort of amphetamine to stay awake for 70% of this season’s races. Look for Hamlin on Kimmel in the years ahead or actually as soon as Joe Gibbs can find another younger driver with a lower price tag.

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18 thoughts on “Beside the Rising Tide: That’s Just The Way it Is”

  1. I dunno, this seems like an awful unpopular win, looking at many of the comments on social media. This jerk just isn’t a likable person. His whole identity has been him “duplicating or stepping into anything that has to do the with NUMBER 3, and invoking DALE Sr’s. name at every turn. Like EDDIE HASKEL I see on reruns sucking of to MRS CLEAVER. It is too transparent, imo.

    NASCAR is very invested in the $$$$$$$$$ that the mere whisper of an EARNAHRDT anything can bring them, including those that really think DALE is still driving that number and would support it no matter what creation was driving it. NASCAR and RICHARD (Hold my watch) CHILDRESS are very aware of that fact, and imo exploit it. It is a business, I get it.

    Also leading up to DILLON doing the deed all we heard about endlessly was this was Dale Sr’s. 20!!!!!! They seemed to have had it all planned. Dillon cannot seem to find or care about an identity of his own, down to the BS penny. NASCAR’s mouth pieces did not come out and say he flat out wrecked Aric, which he did. But the script needed to be followed and I am damn certain if it was a handful of other drivers the condemnation would have been swift and never let up, and be a key talking point till Atlanta.

    • Eddie Munster is the name. Spot on about Dillon penny vs and most everything else too. Look at a picture of Eddie Munster.

  2. I thought the calling of the end of the race was a bit awkward. I sensed the guys in the booth at a loss for words with the way Dillon punted Almirola. Like they weren’t sure what they should say one way or the other and they were afraid to cast a disparaging word toward anything associated with the 3 car. And you are right, the coverage at the end was terrible. It was like they forgot it was the end of the race and there were people watching that were depending on them to cover the finishing order. Maybe it’s because there were so few cars left to cover.

    Wow, those low ratings should make Monster Energy’s decision easier or give them additional leverage to lessen the amount they pay for the benefit of being sponsor.

    “To be fair and try to find some semblance of a positive takeaway in the modern era no former open wheel driver has come into NASCAR racing and set the joint on fire either even some with a career record more enviable than Patrick’s.” I agree with one exception. Tony Stewart was considered an open wheel driver when he entered NASCAR and he did pretty well.

  3. I really feel bad for these veteran drivers and they are being driven out of the sport. NASCAR must be pushing the media to really push the “young guns”. That’s mostly what was talked about was the youth movement and very little for the guys that have helped build the sport for the past 10 years. Everything is Bubba, Ryan, and Chase and not much for the Harvick’s, Busch brothers, etc.
    The Danica Experiment is now over and it appears that it is moving onto the Bubba Wallace Project… I just don’t understand why all teams and drivers can’t have more of an equal coverage. In my opinion, that would be healthier for the sport giving different sponsors more coverage all the way around rather than just a select few… Just my two cents and that doesn’t go far…

  4. hummm…..unfortunately bubba will have the focus that princess sparkle pony had because of his race. what i’m waiting to see is when kyle busch self-destructs with all the younger driver attention. he’s already voiced his opinion on this in preseason meet and greets and press days. i watched racehub monday evening and even harvick, he played nice, but he kept saying one race does not a season make. na$car needs something huge to fill the void of jr. why do you think he was at the race sunday? just knowing he was there probably was worth a few extra butts in seats.

    why was there a 3 hr pre-race show and then the race still didn’t start til almost 3 pm. how many times did we have to see the replay of 20 yrs ago dale won stuff? they milked that all week long. i’m surprised the widow earnhardt doesn’t want some of royalty for the mentioning of her late husband so much and showing his likeness so many times.

    why on earth was michael waltrip the post-race victory lane interviewer? had the other people caught the flight home?

    there was little post race coverage cause fs1 even had something else to get going with at 7 pm sunday night.

    i wonder how fox will do this weekend if race starts late or runs late cause of weather. today it’s 80% chance of rain on sunday here in atlanta and monday doesn’t look much better.

    this stage racing, especially at plate tracks, is a guarantee of carnage. all that torn up equipment.

    • They had pre-“race” crap from 11 to 2. Then more crap from 2 to 2:30 and I had the “race cars” crossing the start line at 3:07. If they started Brian’s event at say 2:40 they wouldn’t have had to worry about running over the time slot from 2:30 to 6:30. But we can say that about all of Brian’s products.

      Imagine what Childress would have done if the roles were reversed at the end? Who’d hold the watch?

    • 70% chance of rain here in north central Alabama. Look at the bright side, it’ll be this year’s first opportunity for the fox commentators to talk about the vortex.

      OT: I thought the Hamlin / Adderall thing was funny.

  5. A) Fox…Does it seem that Daryl and Jeff each try to contradict what the other just said? Gold to Jeff, Silver to Daryl, Bronze to Michael… mowing accident? B) 500 finish….. Bronze to Dillon, Silver to Hamlin, Gold to Mark Martin! C) When you lay your head on the pillow and reflect on the day ever so briefly, it’s all about how well you will sleep. Is it… That’s just the way it is ? Or is it …. It is what it is? You will know in the morning. C) Matt’s recollection of Earnhardt (The Original ) driving style is not odd to me at all.

  6. Immediately after making disparaging remarks about Tony Stewart you say:

    “To be fair and try to find some semblance of a positive takeaway in the modern era no former open wheel driver has come into NASCAR racing and set the joint on fire either even some with a career record more enviable than Patrick’s.”

    Well, “to be fair” the aforementioned Tony Stewart, Patrick’s former boss, did exactly what you claim has not happened: “in the modern era no former open wheel driver has come into NASCAR racing and set the joint on fire either”.

    With a 1997 Verizon Indy Car Championship (that would be 1st place) “under his belt” Stewart came to NASCAR and won 3 championships, had 308 top tens, 187 top fives and 49 wins.

    “Can you pass the salt, please?”…

    • Yep, Stewart completely slipped my mind. I guess it was because he raced in NASCAR so long I considered him a stock car racer. But wrong is wrong and I was in this instance.
      The list of those who tried and failed includes some doubtlessly talented drivers. In addition to Jacques we had Dario, John Andretti, Marcos Ambrose, Christian, and to an extent Juan Pablo though a fair argument could be made that he did all right by himself compared to some of the others. But that whole thing with hitting the jet-dryer is tough to forget.

      • To put it into perspective:

        Patrick had 191 Cup starts, Franchitti had only 10 Cup starts. In fact he had only 29 starts in the top 3 NASCAR series, less than Patrick had in Xfinity alone (61). Certainly not a large enough sampling for Franchitti to make a reasoned comparison.

        Andretti had 2 wins and average a top ten every 10.6 Cup starts. Patrick? No wins and a top ten average 29.3 per Cup start.

        Ambrose – 2 wins and a top ten once every 4.9 starts. Plus he did not come from open wheel so that comparison is totally invalid.

        Christian Fittipaldi – Like Franchitti, he had so few NASCAR starts (just 16 in Cup and a total of 21 in the top 3 series) there is no way to make a valid comparison to Patrick who had the best of resources as well as 252 starts in the top 2 NASCAR series.

        While it’s common for folks to try to compare Patrick to other open wheel drivers who have “tried and failed” it’s clear by the numbers (facts) that Danica failed far worse than any of the others that are often mentioned.

        P.S. – You left out one of the more obvious choices: Sam Hornish. However, even he had 12 Cup top tens in 167 Cup starts for an average of 13.9. BTW, Sam had Xfinisy season finishes of 4th in 2012 and 2nd in 2013 (Austin Dillon beat Hornish by 3 points for that year’s championship).

        Finally, if one were to look at Patrick’s NASCAR statistics without knowledge of gender there is no question her results would be universally proclaimed “dismal”.

  7. Lowest rating ever for the 500 and 36 cars entered next week at Atlanta…hmmm. On the bright side, Busch and Trucks will have full fields, if the rain doesn’t mess everything up. FOX no longer covers the races….they dictate a narrative and run as many ads as possible before the real complaining begins. I also wonder what happens when Monster leaves after this year….

  8. Michael Waltrip has GOT TO GO. He is just awful. I sense the drivers don’t like his “Grid Walk”, but they have to tolerate it for Nascar’s sake.

    • it’s like they go and run in the opposite direction when they see him coming. i’m still trying to figure out how he ended up doing victory lane interview.

  9. Dillon said that he would have expected the same had the roles been reversed. Will be interesting to see how well he and “Pop Pop” take it when it happens – and I believe it will!

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