By admin | September 2, 2012
By Richard Allen
In the interest of full disclosure, I will start off this column by saying that I did not watch Saturday night’s Nationwide Series race from the Atlanta Motor Speedway. It would be considered a major no-no for a serious journalist to write about something not witnessed but since I didn’t go to journalism school, I guess I’m allowed to break the rules. Besides, there are only a very few of those ‘true journalists’ covering NASCAR whose opinion I care about anyway.
That said, no one should be surprised by the fact that there was a controversy over a late race debris caution in the previously mentioned Nationwide event. With Kevin Harvick dominating, a yellow flag waved on lap 184 of the scheduled 195 lap distance. This served to tighten the field and ultimately, after another caution for a crash, allowed Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. to catch and pass Harvick for the win.
Harvick immediately confronted fellow Sprint Cup driver Brad Keselowski on pit road after the race believing that a water bottle thrown from Keselowski’s car was the reason for the caution.
Keselwoski did say that he threw a water bottle out of his car but added that, “Everybody in the garage throws water bottles and tear offs off the nose and NASCAR doesn’t throw cautions for that.”
Obviously, Harvick felt as though the caution gave the other drivers a chance they would not have had otherwise and was willing to point the finger of blame. In his post-race television interview, the frustrated driver accused Keselowski of intentionally causing a caution. He also went on to declare that NASCAR uses the yellow flag to artificially create drama.
“Why did you guys keep showing it on the replay then?” Harvick replied when told by an ESPN reporter that the caution was not called for a water bottle. “The caution came out when the water bottle came out the window. They can say what they want. They throw cautions when they want to. Tonight they threw it and they got what they wanted.”
I didn’t have to see the race to know what the problem is. Whether fair or not, NASCAR has over the years developed a reputation of having “well timed” cautions that help bring about close finishes and sports highlight show replay material.
Harvick’s criticism is nothing new. It has been repeated on multiple occasions by multiple drivers.
NASCAR countered the complaint by producing a photograph of a safety worker picking up a piece of metal during the caution period in question to show that the yellow was not thrown for a water bottle. But in the end, the damage had already been done. Many of those who saw the post-race interviews now believe that a caution came out for a water bottle thrown out the window of Brad Keselowski’s car.
And that brings me to a second point. Not only has NASCAR contributed to its own woes in this matter by how often mysterious cautions are thrown, but their television partners do not help them either.
When in 2001 NASCAR accepted the huge money that came with a new TV deal, they also got the influence of their partner networks. What’s more, they got partners whose profits are driven by ratings. And controversy sells much better than simply telling the story.
ESPN didn’t have to even say that the caution was caused by a water bottle. Simply showing the bottle was enough to stir drama. Apparently the bottle was shown enough for Harvick to see it on a big screen from inside his car as he cruised around under caution.
It is ESPN’s job to look after the best interests of ESPN, not necessarily the best interests of NASCAR. If controversy can boost the ratings or provide an intriguing highlight for SportsCenter, then that may be what is conveyed.
Bottom line, it would have been a bigger surprise if there had not been a controversy regarding that late race caution in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race. NASCAR has a reputation and the TV networks have ratings to achieve. Those two factors came together in Atlanta.
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