Thursday, March 22, 2007

We now venture into dangerous waters

I come today to say that NASCAR isn’t always wrong. Nor is it necessarily corrupt.

This, of course, means that I have been forced to drink the Kool-Aid. Or paid to walk over to the dark side. Or threatened to have my garage pass revoked if I don’t toe the line.

It can’t be that I am giving you an honest opinion.

Nobody’s allowed to do that these days, in a world where the truthful definition of “fair and balanced” is anything but that and where people are no longer allowed to respectfully disagree.

You’re either for us or you’re the enemy. That’s that.

But what the heck, I am stupid enough to try this anyway.

We’ll start with “debris cautions.” Late last year, after a race at Atlanta in fact, I wrote a column in which I said NASCAR is damaging its credibility by throwing caution flags for suspect reasons. I have not changed that opinion, at all, but after last Sunday’s race at Atlanta I also feel it’s important to point out that not every caution flag should automatically be considered suspect.

Just because a television broadcast doesn’t follow the safety truck around the track to show workers picking up debris, that doesn’t necessarily mean there was no debris there. I’m convinced some fans wouldn’t be satisfied unless the safety truck brought a piece of debris to the “Hollywood Hotel” so the experts there can offer their analysis of what the debris actually is.

You have to remember that NASCAR has to make decisions in real time. If something is on the track in the racing groove, officials have to decide if it constitutes a hazard. It might be a harmless piece of plastic, or it might be metal with a razor-like edge on it. If there’s any doubt, the yellow has to come out.

My main criticism of NASCAR, then and now, is the double-standard they seem to apply. In my opinion, the right thing to do is to throw the yellow when there’s any doubt that the track is unsafe for racing. But that should be done 10 laps into a race or with 10 laps to go – with no difference in how quickly the decision comes. I still maintain it was absolutely ridiculous that no yellow was thrown on the final lap of this year’s Daytona 500 until after Kevin Harvick and Mark Martin crossed the finish line.

It’s a problem for NASCAR that fans assume a late-race caution is bogus until they’re convinced otherwise. That’s the credibility issue I keep harping on, and one day I hope NASCAR realizes it’s a problem it needs to go work on.

That notwithstanding, however, it’s absurd to believe that NASCAR throws a caution with 20 laps to go in an attempt to manipulate the finish of a race in any particular way. The late-race caution at Atlanta was not an effort to hand Jimmie Johnson a victory, no matter how convinced you are that’s what happened. Sorry, but that’s just now how the sane world works.

We move on.

NASCAR got sued last Friday by AT&T, and Brian France had a pretty good line about it on “The Morning Drive” radio show on Sirius NASCAR Radio the other day. He said it’s flattering, in a way, to have companies suing for the right to stay in the sport.

The deal is that Jeff Burton’s No. 31 Chevrolets have been sponsored by Cingular. But Cingular, as a brand name, is going bye-bye. Cingular has merged with AT&T and the new company wants to put its logos on Burton’s car. NASCAR, however, says no because changing the brand would violate the terms of a grandfather clause in its agreement with Sprint Nextel.

The easy stance to take here would be to say Nextel should take a chill pill and let AT&T do what it wants to do. But how is that fair to Nextel? They’re paying $70 million a year for 10 years to be the title sponsor of Nextel Cup, and part of what they were supposed to get in that deal is exclusivity in the wireless sector.

Remember when Winston was the title sponsor? How close to a NASCAR garage did Marlboro ever get? That was being “loyal” to the title sponsor. How come Nextel doesn’t get that same “loyalty?”

Nextel allowed Cingular and Alltel to stay in the sport as long as they stayed where they were – they couldn’t move to another car or change from an associate to a primary if that had been a possibility. But one of the things Nextel was “getting” for its $70 million was the right NOT to have AT&T and Verizon and other competitors come into the sport and counter its involvement with sponsorships of their own.

I’ve got nothing in the world against Richard Childress Racing and Jeff Burton’s team – in fact, I know as many guys on Burton’s team as I do any other team in the garage. It stinks that this Cinuglar-AT&T merger puts their sponsorship deal in peril, and if there’s a way it can be worked out so everybody’s happy, that would be great.

But if can’t, I think NASCAR is right to take Nextel’s side on this one.

I hope you don’t think that makes me one of “them."

14 comments:

Jeff said...

David,

You seem to be a good man, and an honest one. For that, I thank you. I enjoy your insights into the NASCAR world that I will never see, and I try to learn lessons from your teachings.

That being said, however, I can't help but comment on how much it seems like NASCAR is turning into a type of "WWE-on-wheels". It's just a little hard to swallow that (1) the Alltel team can't win anything after Sprint/Nextel take over; (2) the new South American driver brings one home for the Hispanic fans in Mexico; and the ever-present (3) Lowe's car (#48) wins every freakin' race at Lowes Motor Speedway, and now even wins the Kobalt Tools 500 with - guess who - Kobalt Tools on the side of the car. And I could go on and on and on...

It's gotten to the point where my friends and I - all die-hard NASCAR fans for twenty-five years plus - can just about accurately predict the winner of a Cup race about 85% of the time, just by looking at the obvious. And to tell you the truth, it's driving us away from the sport. I guess the France family will soon succeed with their plan to drive the good 'ol Southern boys out of the sport and hand it over lock, stock and four-barrel to the "new breed" of NASCAR fan. Looks like our money, the money that made them the billionaires they are today, doesn't shine as brightly for them as it once did.

Oh well, at least we can always count on our one remaining true-to-life, honest-to-goodness real-man hero - Ric Flair - to provide us with a REAL sport to watch. Here's to rich sporting history and tradition!

Doug in CA said...

David, I admire 90% of what you write. (I don't like 35 guaranteed starters!) I don't think NASCAR threw a yellow so Johnson could win, but I DO think they threw a yellow so there would be a close finish. Either reason stinks.

As a Burton fan, though, I reluctantly have to agree with you. In fact, there's nothing reluctant - you'e absolutely right. Tough, that's business.

When does your book on the 31's chase come out?

nezer said...

It really stinks that the whole Cingular/AT&T and Nextel issue is an issue. Unfortunately, NASCAR's hands are likely tied with regards to contractual language. As much as it sucks that the courts are getting involved, this is why we have courts. Both sides likely have a legitimate argument in this case and it's highly likely that someone isn't going to walk away very happy. The courts will work this one out and, regardless, you can bet the next round of contracts will have tighter language.

For the debris, I don't really think there's any conspiracy on NASCAR's part. However, you have to expect these sorts of accusations when debris cautions are thrown for no obvious reason. And then you have the CTS race on Friday with a huge chunk of metal flying all around and where was the caution then? Sure, mistakes are expected and should be allowed, these are humans calling these races from a remote booth at the track in real-time. Still, they need to do more to explain the cautions... Even if they are wrong. It would be nice if they threw the caution claiming debris on the backstretch and either explain, after the fact, what that debris was even if it's just a mylar balloon or a shiny hotdog wrapper. Of course, there will still be some "fans" that question everything and will insist that the debris was planted... Heck, there will probably be drivers that think the same, but something needs to be done sooner rather than later before this whole thing gets out of hand.

If NASCAR wants to mandate a "competition caution" with somewhere around 10-laps to go, let them. Their sport, their rules. That might put an end to this late-race debris-caution controversy. Of course, this isn't likely to be a popular idea.

BruSimm said...

Opinion: A belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof.

We've all got them & it certainly seems like things are up with NASCAR. But statistically, put 30 people in a classroom, and at least 2 of them will have the same birthday. Freaky, huh? Stats are that way.

Jeff made some pretty interesting observations and presented them convincingly. Dang.

And those pesky yellow flags sure are creating quite a few close finishes.

But it seems that NASCAR is now the in the shoes of J Gordon or D Earnhardt. The more popular they got, the more boo's they got and the more scrutiny they got.

Call a yellow, get lambasted. Don't call a yellow, something happens, they get lambasted. Might as well take the safest course of action if your'e going to get lambasted anyway.

Remember when Ryan Newman was winning a lot, and everyone was pretty sure the team was cheating, and all it turned out to be was an innovative approach to their fuel management. But the opinions flew hard and heavy.

I know things seem interesting, but I think we need to be patient.

///

On the other hand, all the exclusivity for sponsors limits the sponsors that can come on board. Exclusivity helps the sponsors who pay money, BUT in the long run, how long will this go on, where NASCAR is wrangling these big buck deals for exclusive deals, before they realize they're hurting the teams trying to survive financially in this industry. Hurting the teams, can hurt the fans.

Keep up the good work David. Chat with you later.

Monkeesfan said...

I don't particularly think debris yellows are either here or there, nor can I particularly recall a race whose outcome was changed because of a late debris yellow. NASCAR may have a bit of a double-standard on yellows, but I well remember races such as Talladega in 1998 when there were tires popping at both ends of the racetrack but NASCAR hesitated to throw a yellow until a third such incident happened.

As for NASCAR not throwing the yellow when a wreck erupted on the final lap of the Daytona 500, what good would it have done? All it did was finish the job of discrediting the premise of freezing the field.

AS far as these recent sponsorship controversies go, Brian "Chuck Sullivan" France continues to prove his ineptitude. What business does NASCAR have writing exclusivity clauses into sponsorship contracts to begin with? NASCAR had no right telling Robby Gordon not to run Motorola sponsorship and Nextel had no right demanding NASCAR do that. "But how is that fair to Nextel?" Easy - they're sponsoring the series, so they 're always going to get exposure.

The Marlboro analogy when Winston was the sponsor is flawed because Marlboro's focus was Indycar racing, not stock cars, and US Tobacco was all over the place with sponsorship and promotion during the 1980s and 1990s - where did that hurt RJR?

Nextel needs to shut up and accept a full AT&T sponsorship of a racecar, Motorola sponsorship, and on down the line. NASCAR needs to welcome many sponsorships, regardless of whether they "clash" with existing official sponsors.

Anonymous said...

The problem with the nextel discussion is simple. Just like Cingular, Nextel doesn't exist anymore. It's SPRINT! So it's sprint that has no right to keep ATT or Motorola out.

Anonymous said...

RCR and ATT knew this would happpen, yet they still carried on with their business relationship.
Will ATT pull their sponsorship if they can't transition to the ATT logo?
Will RCR run an unsponsored car all year???
Does some lucky writer get to go to all the races free??

Anonymous said...

David,

Good points, any chance of you being a guest on Tradin' Paint anytime soon??

Anonymous said...

Cautions..you mean those "Hot Dog"
Cautions... "Beer" Cautions.I've
said for years that Nascar throws concession stand cautions, you have
to let the track owner get his money.

the man with no name said...

Oh....... I see they got... to... you........................

Anonymous said...

Not allowing certain sponsors is more NASCAR double speak. NASCAR continually says the race teams aren’t part of NASCAR, but independent contractors. NASCAR has has an exclusive contract with Nextel, not the teams.

The Frances have no business regulating sponsors this way when Coke is a NASCAR sponsor but the ISC tracks are all Pepsi.

Jeff said...

David,

After yesterday's race, I now have a couple other "coincidences" to add to my previous posting.

1) The 48 car goes a lap down and in less than half a lap a caution flag for debris is thrown. And guess who gets the "lucky dog"? Yep - Mr. Lowes/Kobalt Tools/Hendrick Motorsports once more. Who woulda figured?

2) Chevy needs a win to reach the 600-win milestone and Hendrick needs a win to reach number 200. Before the race I had already predicted that a Hendrick Chevy would end up in Victory Lane. Of course, I must admit I did miss one thing...I predicted Jeffy Gordon, because NASCAR needed to make it up to him for Kenseth's bump & run last year. He almost made it, too! Guess somebody forgot to tell Kyle Busch what the "big picture" plan was. Oh well, at least Chevy & Hendrick are happy this morning!

By the way, in case you're curious - I'm a Chevy man myself...own 5 of them. I just can't believe how obvious it is that Hendricks' teams get such extra special treatment. Say what you want, Hendricks' money talks - and NASCAR's ears (and pockets) are wide open. Breaks my heart to see what the sport has become.

BruSimm said...

I think you're seeing more into it than there is Jeff.

Chevy's make up a majority of the field, so you'd probably see a chevy anyway.

Kyle won because Burton is a racer, not a chrome bumper kind of guy.

The debris caution came out way too soon for it to be related to Johnson, and, there was debris on the track. Go figure!

It's easy to predict sunshine in Ca, just as it is to predict the team that makes up ~10% of the field will win.

They got the bucks, they hired the drivers. It is what it is. Try not to ruin it too much for yourself Jeff because you can see this kind of stuff in any sport if you look hard enough.

It was still, all in all, a good race, despire my expectations. Regards

Anonymous said...

"The Frances have no business regulating sponsors this way when Coke is a NASCAR sponsor but the ISC tracks are all Pepsi."

EXACTLY the point!

If NASCAR can write off the teams as "independent contractors" then they have no right to say what can and cannot be painted on the car so long as it applies equally to all sponsors and teams.

Either no one has a wireless sponsor, or anyone can have one. It's that simple.

RCR is getting screwed despite having a legitimate contract that has existed longer than NEXTEL's relationship with NASCAR. A contract that allows for the sponsor to change the artwork on the car as it sees fit. NEXTEL's agreement with NASCAR says that wireless providers cannot move to another team or increase their advertising stature on the car. Unless a great many people have been lying to the racing media, it says NOTHING about a carrier changing their logo on the vehicle.

Anyone saying that NEXTEL has a right to manage NASCAR's independent contractors has at least been sipping the Kool-Aid, if not guzzling it.

Larry