Tuesday, February 20, 2007

NASCAR isn't always like other sports

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Some leftover thoughts and opinions from Speedweeks:
– I sometimes get criticized by longtime NASCAR fans for making analogies to "stick and ball" sports when I write about racing. The comparisons don’t work, they say.
Sometimes I think they do. I think there are aspects of big-time racing that compare nicely with the other major professional sports. But there are also times when you have to be careful to consider the differences. I think the final lap of Sunday’s Daytona 500 is one of those instances.
Some of the national, nonracing columnist guys were saying on Monday’s talk shows that letting Kevin Harvick and Mark Martin race to the caution flag with cars wrecking behind them was OK. They compared it to a basketball game, where a player might be going for an uncontested layup and an official won’t call a foul off the ball to prevent that. Or to hockey, when a penalty call is delayed until one team completes a scoring opportunity.
The points have some validity, I guess. There’s also the fact that referees "swallow the whistle" late in close games, declining sometimes to make calls that could swing a final score. Let the athletes decide things, not the officials, the thinking goes.
But the racing equation differs in two ways, I think.
First, there’s the safety issue. By holding off on the yellow Sunday night, NASCAR required drivers to keep going wide open as they headed into a patently dangerous situation.
This business about how the cars were all going toward the apron is silly. NASCAR couldn’t have known that would continue to a point where the track would be safe for racing. Remember, these guys will throw a yellow for a ball of tape on the track – the hated "debris caution" – if they think it’ll pick up the pace of a race. How do you justify that on the basis of safety and then let action continue through a 10-car pileup?
You either race back to the checkered flag or you don’t. That’s what a rule is. You can do this or you can’t do it.
Second, there’s the fact that the drivers who were not in front of the wreck are competing, too. Teams won and lost a lot of money and points based on whether they got through that wreck, and the teams that didn’t also had expensive cars torn all to heck. Every competitor deserves a safe track to run on, not just two guys who happen to be racing side-by-side to win the Daytona 500.
– I learned something Monday that I didn’t know.
NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston was on "The Morning Drive" on Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128, and Marty Snider and I asked about the finish of the truck race Friday.
Johnny Benson went below the yellow line and passed Travis Kvapil for second in the three-wide finish with winner Jack Sprague. Callers and e-mails had asked us about that, so we asked Poston.
He said the yellow line rule includes a caveat. "When the drivers can see the checkered flag, you can get all you can get," he said.
That was news to me. He’s saying that once the flagman has the checkered flag in his hand and is waving it, the area below the yellow line is not out of bounds.
– There might be ways to explain why the rating for ESPN2’s first Busch Series race were down 26 percent from the same race on TNT last year. But any way you slice that, it’s not good news.
ESPN had its hype machine going full blast for weeks leading to Saturday’s race. I don’t think it’s television’s fault. NASCAR, as evidence by lower ratings for the Daytona 500 on Sunday, has some real issues to face forthrightly. And the Busch Series is in real, real trouble of further losing its identity and, thereby, its appeal.
– Having said that, ESPN has assembled a great staff of people to contribute to its racing coverage. Marty Smith, Terry Blount, Tim Cowlishaw and Angelique Chengelis are first rate. If they’re allowed to do their jobs the way they know how, everybody else is going to have to work a little harder to keep up.
– Speaking of other people in my business, I don’t know how often this happens, but the Daytona Beach News-Journal ought to win a bucketful of awards in Florida’s respective newspaper awards contests for how it covers Speedweeks. My own employer, The Charlotte Observer, does a good job for our readers, too, I think. But if you’re ever down there for Speedweeks, make sure you buy the local paper every day. Those folks get it done.


Anonymous said...

Great commentary as always!

ESPN's coverage of the BGN race was excellent, I can't believe ratings are down because Tony Stewart and Dale Jr. race in that series sometimes....maybe Nascar's 24/7 availibility is causing viewers to pick and choose what they watch.

Anonymous said...

As a loyal NASCAR fan for 40+ years, and a Mark Martin fan, I can only say this: If NASCAR throws a yellow flag on that last lap, Martin wins the race, but they lose this veiwer...Its the last lap of the biggest race in the world...race to the line. (The cars behind Busch and Kenseth are gonna wreck, either way.

Anonymous said...

When Mark Martin gets out of the car and states he was waiting for the caution, thus the win, it is truly a sad state of affairs. What 'racer' wants to win a race that way ? I'm all for saftey, I am just tired of hearing about it.

Bruce E Simmons said...

RATINGS: Ratings are going to hurt across the board only because the viewership is being spread thin with the networks all jumping on the bandwagon and offering their own NASCAR programming. We the audience are being over saturated. We may look at one show and say the ratings have dropped, but if you look at all shows, as a composite, the ratings may very well be up. It's hard to tell. This viewer has to eat, sleep and work, so I have to pick and choose my exposure while also sharing the TV with the rest of the household, until I've bent their wills to my way and make them NASCAR fans!!

YELLOW FLAGS: Rules are constantly broken to acheive results, and not by anyone's fault. (Who broke a rule [speeding] today driving to work?) A yellow flag is an excellent option when any track has cars spread all about the circuit racing hard, and the cars would be coming around the corner heading into a melee. In this case, the drivers were already in a compacted draft group in the meless and it looked like drivers were going to have to do what they already were doing, even if they had received the yellow flag.

I don't think it was the wrong call, but it sure wasn't the right call, unless NASCAR adhere's to that caveat about how anything goes when the checkered flag is flying. (Isn't that a nice out?)

Bruce Simmons
Menlo Park, CA

Monkeesfan said...

brusimm -

The ratings are down across the board. The saturation argument does not work because the credibility of the sanctioning body, the competitive product, and the overall direction of the sport are major issues that have turned off much of the audience. There has been saturation coverage for well over ten years and the decline in ratings didn't start until the competitive product became weaker and weaker, the sanctioning body began losing credibility, and the sport's direction detoured in the wrong direction with gimmicks, absurd rules, and overt neglect of the sport's core demographic, a demographic far more important than the mythical "casual" or pinkhat fanbase that the sport is trying to attract.

The sanctioning body's credibility is an issue here because of the sham reasoning for its poor officiating of a rule (freezing the field) that itself is of questionable sagacity. They didn't throw a yellow at Daytona, both in this 500 and in the 2004 Firecracker 250, and yet they froze the field at Talladega the last three Autumn 500s and nullified a Ward Burton pass into the lead with seven laps to go in 2003 because of a yellow.

The reality is the sanctioning body has to release some of the control it has over the racing. The rule needs to be to race to the yellow, period.

Unknown said...

My interest in NASCAR declines a little bit more every year because the race, if not fixed, often seem "stage-managed" to me, and the Daytona 500 is another example of NASCAR manipulating a result. To me, the yellow should have been thrown immediately after the big wreck on the last lap started happening, and it has nothing to do with the race to the finish line between Martin and Harvick.

It's because all the cars behind the wreck should never be forced to drive full-speed into a still-unfolding mess like that. How NASCAR can, with a straight face, throw a yellow for a small piece of debris on the track but then not deem "the big one" not worthy of a caution until some poor driver is sliding upside down through the tri-oval is just laughable.

I'll never lose my love for motor sports, but NASCAR becomes more and more like the WWE every day.

Monkeesfan said...


Where were cars "forced" to drive full-speed into a wreck scene? And exactly how would throwing the yellow have stopped cars from wrecking in that situation? It's a ridiculous argument.

This whole controversy stems froma rule that never should have been put into place. NASCAR should never have implemented freezing the field to begin with and it needs to rescind the rule now. Go back to racing to the caution. The only legitimate area to determine the running or finishing order of a race is the start-finish line, not some stupid scoring loop in Turn Three or elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Monkeesfan - why would a driver continue to drive full force into a massive wreck just because his spotter wasn't shouting "caution" on the radio. I can't believe a driver seeing the wreck in front of him wouldn't slow down or try to avoid it - but continue full speed because of no yellow flag. At 185+ and with everyone in the tight packs - would it had made a difference who in who wrecked? I believe it should be race back to the start/finish line for the position during a caution.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe all of the complaining by so called NASCAR fans of 30 plus years concerning the end of the Daytona 500. I have been a race fan for all of my 50 years of life, I went to my first NASCAR race over 35 years ago, and the idea of racing to the line is something which this sport always did until teams started hiring drivers with only go-cart experience. How many of Richard Petty's wins (including #200) were a race to the line under yellow. To all race fans "suck it up" and go race!

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more ! They should just continue to give the first car a lap down his lap back, and only that car. That way there is no more leaders letting cars back on the lead lap, thus no reason to race back to the yellow until it matters. The drivers decide, that is who we pay to watch.


Anonymous said...

I was disappointed in Mark Martin. Did he really want to win a 500 under caution? If he did, that's said. I don't even like Kevin Harvick, but when Martin bobbled, it became Harvick's race to win.

Anonymous said...

What none of your learned responders seems to realize is that not only is safety at stake when you alter your rules on the fly, so is credibility. If NASCAR followed their own rules on when the yellow flag flies, (like they have many times in the past at Dega and Daytona) the points standings would have been significantly different than they are now. Seconds before the wreck started, kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth were running 3rd and 4th. Had the caution been waved according to the rules, their finishing positions would not likely have been outside the top ten. If NASCAR decides to hold off the yellow flag at Homestead and the result is a would-be champion losing his title this way, what will we all say then?

By the way, as a long time Mark Martin fan, and having watched the tape several times now, I'm not convinced Mark was ahead when the flag should have waved anyway. I had Kevin leading by a nose when I hit the switch to throw the caution lights on. But what do I know, I'm just a fan.

bigbearvo said...

With this year's Daytona finish, Nascar has solidified its image as a poorly regulated and officiated sport more interested in sensationalism than real competition. It's rare we see a race where skill and teamwork wins. It's all about who survives arbitrary rules, and wrecks resulting from too-agressive, even mean-spirited driving, and too often to perpetrators win races and championships. I need only mention Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, both of whom won championships by taking out more talented drivers in key races. What a joke! Nascar will continue to lose ratings, including this once devoted fan, until it cleans up its act. I love racing, but what we've been seeing ain't racing, it's WWF on wheels.

Anonymous said...

I think the ratings are declining for two reasons. One, a lot of the recent growth was just a fad among casual fans, and a lot of those have lost interest (the comparisons to WWE are apt, the same thing began happening with pro wrestling in the early 2000s). Two, a lot of the racing is just not interesting to watch. DP has written before that the thing that distinguishes NASCAR from other major circuits is passing. There's too little of that.

With all of the talk about the end of the race, has everyone forgotten that the first two thirds of were pretty awful? Single-file, very few lead changes on the track, under green (where they're supposed to be). Is anyone really looking forward to tight, fender-rubbing action at Fontana tomorrow?

Nope, me neither. I might watch the end, and I'll certainly read DP's take on Monday, but not much else.

Anonymous said...

I've never understood the fun in watching a bunch of cars go around in a cirle 500 times. The only exciting part of the entire race is the last lap anyways.

Monkeesfan said...

john, good thing you're not an NBA fan - it seems the NBA assigns inept officiating crews to the home games of trailing teams in the playoffs knowing those crews will be swayed by the home crowd and officiate the game to better get closer playoff matchups.