Some thoughts on some recent off-track news in the NASCAR world...
- It comes as no real surprise that the appeals board denied Carl Long's appeal of penalties levied by NASCAR after the All-Star Showdown at Charlotte. Yes, Long's engine was 0.17 cubic inches over the 358 c.i. limit, and therefore illegal. But is that really worth $200,000? Considering the engine blew up after three laps of practice and was never on the track in qualifying or the race, I say no. I am not suggesting a sliding scale, harsher penalties for bigger teams and smaller penalties for the little guys, but some common sense has to bubble to the surface here. Long was running a used engine that he had no hand in building. Maybe it's time NASCAR penalize the engine companies that supply the engines to the teams instead of the teams themselves.
- Some NASCAR track operators are pushing for standardized starting times, a move that should be applauded and implemented starting with the 2010 Daytona 500. The starting time should also be the time the green flag waves, not the time the pre-race show starts or the national anthem is performed. Standardized starting times should be something like this: daytime races in the eastern or central time zones go green at 1:30 P.M. Eastern; daytime races in the mountain or pacific time zones go green at 4:30 P.M. Eastern; night races - regardless of time zone - go green at 7:30 P.M. Eastern.
- I've been to almost 60 short tracks all across the country, and I can count on one hand the number of tracks that had double-file restarts. Maybe they do it that way in the Northeast where Mike Joy is from, but the vast majority of short tracks have single file restarts.
- An anonymous NASCAR executive reportedly has blamed Fox Sports' ill-conceived gopher cartoon character as the reason why television ratings have declined precipitously over the past two years. I wouldn't pin 100% of the blame on it, but it surely plays a part. The fact that millions of viewers only watched to see one particular driver do well has something to do with it too. The sport saw it's audience grow disproportionately on the back of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Now there is nothing wrong with being a Jr. fan, but the networks banked on Jr. to draw in viewers and by showing him even when he's running poorly it turned off a significant segment of the audience. Now, with Earnhardt running poorly, another significant chunk of the audience that tuned in only to see him run well is gone too. Those viewers may or may not come back when Earnhardt starts to improve on the track. Many viewers who can no longer tolerate Larry McReynolds' constant butchering of the English language and Darrell Waltip's conflict of interest-filled commentary towards his brother and his entire racing team probably won't be back until those two have retired. Fox came into the sport with a bang in 2001 and in many ways has raised the bar when it comes to covering motorsports of all types. But now Fox relies on too much bufoonery and self promotion and too little coverage of the actual event. What we need is much more Dick Berggren and Krista Voda and much less Chris Myers and Digger.
- NASCAR has announced it will support a group of Citizen Journalists to enhance the sports coverage in the media. I read Michael Knight's SpinDoctor500Blog regularly, and he was upset that bloggers and fan sites were given room in the media center at the Indianapolis 500. I enjoy Knight's commentary and have learned a lot from reading his blog archives over the past few months, but I disagree with his stance on this one. As a former track public relations representative, I appreciated coverage wherever I could find it. Granted, not all bloggers are created equal. But like the Supreme Court says about obscenity, you know a good one when you see it. There is nothing wrong with inviting a talented blogger to sit next to a professional journalist in today's modern world. In fact, in some of the media centers I have been in, finding a "real" journalist that is truly knowledgable about the sport (particularly the Nationwide or Truck level) can be a real challenge. Kudos to NASCAR for openly welcoming Citizen Journalists into their media circle.