Did You Notice? … The raging debate on NASCAR privacy left over from Bristol Motor Speedway? The post-race altercation between Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick turned sour when they discovered a quiet place in the garage area was hard to come by.
No one disagrees the first part of their argument should have been covered from all angles. As both drivers got out of their cars, parked into each other following frustration over late-race contact, a large swath of crew members, media and NASCAR officials swarmed around them with cameras rolling.
NBC Sports Network then went on to get comments from both Harvick and Elliott after the wreck, interviews each driver agreed to. Harvick then went on to answer a second set of questions in front of assembled NASCAR media members.
Where the controversy came is when The Athletic’s Jordan Bianchi caught both drivers continuing their argument in the Bristol Motor Speedway garage area, choosing to videotape it after those media obligations were complete. Note he isn’t the only one; NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan was there as well, among others.
Bianchi got about a minute in before Harvick realized what was happening, asking the reporter to stop. When Bianchi lifted up the phone a second time, seconds later, Harvick had words with Bianchi, then walked with Elliott to the NAPA Racing hauler to finish the conversation in private.
The reaction to Bianchi’s video has been strong, a case of the journalist unintentionally becoming part of the story as people gave their opinions over his decision to press ahead.
Yeah, and you needed to stay out of their "chat". When two racers are in that type of discussion, the media needs to realize that they must not interject themselves into such a moment.
— Ken Johannesen (@BurgundyBurner) September 19, 2021
Was there a line crossed here? And should athletes expect any amount of privacy anymore in this era of social media?
Here’s Harvick’s point; part of journalism involves respecting boundaries. If someone prefaces a comment with it’s “off the record,” they’re making clear they don’t want what’s being said connected to them in print. Problem is, it’s hard to enter off-the-record mode when video is involved.
What Harvick did, in my opinion, was as simple as an athlete asking for a conversation to go off the record. He knew that every word said in that more personal one-on-one with Elliott would be broadcast to the world at large. The driver was seeking a private conversation and wanted his wishes respected.
I wonder if Bianchi just sat there taking notes off the record, turning off his phone, if this convo would have moved out of sight. It’s possible we would have even learned more from Bianchi’s notes listening as an experienced, respected journalist; large portions of his minute-long video wound up inaudible. Good lip readers can figure most of the language out but you have to make educated guesses for most of it.
The other point Harvick has is, at what point have fans been given enough access? Everyone got to hear the initial Elliott spat; after that, Harvick voluntarily gave not one but multiple post-race interviews. What more were we going to learn from another confrontation unless fists started flying?
Which brings me to the journalist’s point of view. What if things got out of hand and Elliott-Harvick started punching? Everyone would immediately want to see video of who got triggered when. NASCAR officials would top the list, wanting video evidence of everything that happened up through the physical fight itself. Some of the same fans critical of Bianchi butting in would also be wondering why no one was there with a camera covering it.
There was a good chance we could have seen more fireworks when Bianchi pressed the record button, too. The duo had just gotten broken up by pit crew members a few minutes earlier only to hear each one criticize the other over the Bristol loudspeakers. Didn’t seem like they were about to both sit down, have a beer and call it a day, right? The story wasn’t over.
Which leads us to where Elliott-Harvick chose to talk; it’s not exactly a restricted area of the speedway. Since Bristol is a half-mile track, there’s no room for a driver motorcoach lot inside. So both men stopped and talked in the middle of the garage, by the haulers. It’s the same place journalists can run to catch drivers that may not otherwise make it to the designated bullpen. It’s a busy place after the race where cars are getting loaded back on haulers and all types of people are milling around.
Once both drivers realized what was happening, they had every right to move the conversation to a private spot. Of course Harvick should have been more tactful in his response. But the line can and should be drawn so athletes can settle personal business outside the glare of cameras and microphones. If Harvick chose to call Elliott from the car instead, would we have heard that conversation? No, unless either driver wanted to give their side of the story. It’s their prerogative to do so.
Not every conversation needs to be listened to by the entire NASCAR fan base. It’s why there’s such a thing as a closed locker room in stick-and-ball sports.
In this case, the locker room was the hauler. Their mistake was not heading there in the first place.
Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off..
- NASCAR now has increased year-to-year viewership for five straight races on television. That’s the longest such streak since 2013, significant considering two of those weekends have come head-to-head against the NFL. A closer look at the numbers (thanks to Frontstretch‘s Mike Finley) shows those increases came primarily from the coveted 18-49 age demographic. While the numbers are small-ish, it’s promising to see a new generation finally giving the sport more than a casual look.
- I’m getting concerned about Austin Cindric being pushed around. His Bristol post-race comments showed the epitome of professionalism Team Penske is known for after coming up short. But compare that to the fire Harvick showed after Elliott cost him a victory a day later. It isn’t the first time we’ve seen Cindric lose a race he should have won this year: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course comes to mind, a race that was also won by (guess who?) AJ Allmendinger. If a rival in racing sees you’re not going to stand up for yourself, well … that’s trouble.
- Eleven of 12 drivers remaining in the playoffs come from three teams: all of Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske. Does that give Harvick and Stewart-Haas Racing a little bit of an advantage the next three weeks? All the resources within SHR, a four-car team, can be dedicated toward advancing Harvick into the Round of 8. There aren’t any worries about making sure things get split equitably among teammates.
- Here’s the car owner breakdown of the last four Cup race winners at Las Vegas Motor Speedway: Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports. It’s a level of parity that truly makes this weekend unpredictable.
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