Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Busy news week leaves lots to talk about

It's been a busy week in the motorsports news cycle. From Mark Martin scoring his second win of the year at Darlington to Helio Castroneves winning the pole for the Indy 500 there are great stories all around. Unfortunately, there is also the Jeremy Mayfield story, one that seems to have more questions than answers at this point.

- As for Mark Martin, what more can be said? He is the surprise of the season to this point and is now making himself a solid threat to not only make the Chase but contend for the crown too. Who ever would have thought that the guy that would step up and challenge Kyle Busch as the dominant force at the front of the field would be a 50-year old who has only run a partial season the past two years and previously declared he was retired from the sport?

- The Darlington race has re-evolved into one of my favorites of the year. There was a time, maybe when there were two races at the fabled facility, when I thought the racing had lost it's luster. I had also tired (pun intended) of the tire wear issues that were the big story every time NASCAR came to town for the past several years. Now, with speeds approaching 190 at the end of the straightaways and very little racing room to be had, it reminds me of the Darlington of old. Yes, it's trecherous and mean and a tad on the dangerous side and that's exactly what makes it so appealing.

- It's a shame Kyle Busch lost the Nationwide race on Saturday night in the fashion that he did. He avoided the crash on the backstretch involving Joe Nemechek but picked up some debris and lost a tire as a result. He did the right thing and came down pit road to have the tire changed, but as it turned out Morgan Shepherd crashed on the ensuing restart and the field was instantly frozen and the race was over. Had Busch stayed out, all he would have had to have done was made it to turn one in the lead and he would have won the race. I recall Jack Sprague losing a Truck race at Darlington under similar cirumstances: he had a flat tire on pit road during a rain delay. The race restarted under caution and he came to change the flat, and as soon as he did the skies opened up and the race was declared official. Both are extremely tough ways to lose.

- Busch may be the most intense and competitive driver in the field, but there also needs to be a little perspective added to the mix. It's not like the Nationwide car is his top priority. Winning is great and should be celebrated, but losing should be handled with class. Stomping off in a huff isn't necessarily the most mature way to handle the situation. Sure, there will be those who claim he's very busy and was obviously in a hurry to get to some obligation (much as they said when he left Martinsville after he gave away the Truck race last month). No one is in that much of a hurry that they can't stop and talk to the TV cameras for 30 seconds. I love Kyle for his on-track performance and even for his off-track attitude and demeanor, I'd just like it a little more if he handled defeat a little better, especially when he's dipping into the minor leagues. Can you imagine Bobby Allison or Ken Schrader reacting like that after a tough loss somewhere?

- So NASCAR is going to do some investigation on why their television ratings continue to decrease. No race has had a ratings increase this season and the average throughout Fox's first eleven telecasts is a -11% change. Here is my advice, free of charge, to NASCAR, Fox, and the rest of the sport's television partners: start the races at a regular time. The RACES not the broadcast. Fans should know well in advance when the green flag is going to fly. Everyone knows that when you tune into an NFL game at 1 P.M., you are just minutes away from kickoff. That isn't the case any more with NASCAR. You can tune in at 2 P.M., exactly when the program guide on your digital cable box or satellite box says the race is going to start, and still be subjected to 80 minutes of pre-race yip-yap. Sometimes I want to see the pre-race. Sometimes I want to tune in exactly when the command to fire engines is given. NASCAR needs to do what the NFL does: offer a one-hour pre-race show that starts at 1 P.M. for every daytime race and 6 P.M. for every night time race. That pre-race show should conclude with the Star Spangled Banner. Exactly one hour after the pre-race show starts, the race broadcast should start with the command to fire engines. A brief recap of the weekend - any incidents in practice and qualifying, personnel movements, and major news of the week - can be offered during the time the cars are warming up on pit road. Once the cars roll off, give the complete starting grid. This means no chit-chat with a driver on the pace laps until everyone has had their name and starting position given. Once the line-up is given, the analysts can break down the race (i.e. Larry Mac can give us the FedEx Race Breakdown or whatever it's called). It's a simple formula, and the networks have gotten too far away from it. Ease up on trying to get us to buy your swag at the track or online and give us what we want to see: the actual race itself.

- Good for Helio that he will start the Indy 500 from the pole. I tend to agree with the Indianapolis Star's Curt Cavin: Helio has a very good shot at joining A.J., Big Al, and Slick Rick as four-time 500 winners.

- While talking about the 500, I sure wish we could return to the pre-IRL feel of the race. I miss the innovation that the 500 used to create. There was always some wild chassis/engine combination trying to make the field. There were track record speeds. There was a constant element of danger. While I will always love the 500 for the race that it is, the rest of the Month of May is now meaningless. That said, I am anxiously awaiting the traditional pre-race ceremonies, the command to start engines, the balloons being released, and eleven rows of three to come screaming down the frontstretch and barrell off into turn one at 200 miles per hour.

- Maybe some of the relevance of the Indy 500 would return if the purse increased. Emerson Fittipaldi won a million dollars for his victory in 1989. Now, twenty years later, the race still pays around a million bucks to win. I still think that if the race paid five million to win it would again become one of the most talked about sporting events in the country.

- If Charlotte is as those who live there proclaim it is, the World Capital of all things motorsport, then why is there ever an event at Lowe's Motor Speedway that isn't a sell-out? With all these race fans down there they can't find 100,000 of them to buy tickets? Maybe three Cup races there is an oversaturation? Look at what happened to Darlington as an example: they cut one date and instantly made the other one a must-have ticket. Charlotte and California could easily trim one of their dates and see their remaining events become healthier.

- Is there anyone out there that actually believed the first driver busted for substance abuse by NASCAR would be Jeremy Mayfield? Yes, he's somewhat hard to work with (based on his history with Penske and Evernham), but he never seemed like the type to be doing anything illicit. I know the NASCAR drug czar is going to stand behind the results of the test he administered, and I also know Mayfield is going to proclaim his innocence. This is where the NASCAR system needs to be refined: there are still too many questions to be answered even after the announcement of Mayfield's failed test. What was he on? How valid are his claims that it's a mix of OTC and prescription medications? If he failed his test at Richmond, why was he allowed to participate at all at Darlington? I go back to when Aaron Fike was suspended for shooting up heroin in the back of a rented SUV at King's Island leading up to the Truck race at Kentucky a couple of years ago: at least we knew what he was doing. There is always speculation in situations like this, and in many instances the speculation is much worse than the actual offense. Take Shane Hmiel for instance. He is suspended for life by NASCAR. For what? Is smoking marijuana on a Tuesday of an off-week the same as shooting up heroin two days before a race? But no one knows what Hmiel was doing with any degree of certainty because it's never been released what he was busted for. It could have been pot. It could have crack, or heroin or meth or whatever other poisons people like to inject, smoke, or inhale. The journalist in me wants to know exactly what these guys did wrong, not just vague generalities.

- It's a damn shame the race fans of the state of Ohio don't have a Truck race to look forward to this Memorial Day weekend.


  1. I agree with you about the whole pre-race yip-yap. It is WAY too long and after awhile I tune out, find something else to watch and end up tuning into the race late.

  2. The content of the pre-race show isn't really my cup of tea, but I know there are people out there who want to tune into Chris Myers, Jeff Hammond and DW clowning around. That's fine. But NASCAR and the broadcast partners need to serve their audience: start these shows at the same time every week. And keep all of the pre-race ceremonies on the pre-race show!

    I can't imagine the NFL having their pre-game shows at noon one week, 3 pm the next week, 12:30 the week after, and 7 pm the week after that. It's nonsensical. NASCAR had the right idea when it consolidated the television contracts, now it needs to take it to the next level and standardize starting times.

  3. Pre-race shows are absolutely rediculous and disguisting.
    I don't understand why would tv network pay tons of money to air that nonsense.
    Being as loyal fan as I am it is becomming obvious that almost nobody watches it so it is basically a waste of air-time.

    NASCAR, Fox and all the others - stop it before it's too late.
    Perhaps you can learn from Formula1 on Speed network broadcasts - 30 minutes of pre-race that's all it takes. Short and to the point.

    Loyal racing fan.