By admin | August 16, 2009
By Richard Allen
Perhaps there was something in the water in Michigan but NASCAR drivers actually showed some personality and dared to speak their minds this past weekend. (More on Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers in another piece.)
Leading the pack was Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who decided to let his feelings be known about the fact that NASCAR racing is simply not very exciting more often than not.
Before going any further, it would be easy to say that Junior is merely complaining because he is not winning and this is simply the whining of a guy who wishes he was doing better. Well, Earnhardt is not doing well and it is a fact that his performance has dropped off drastically since the inception of the Car of Tomorrow. However, he is not the only driver complaining, he is just one of the few who has dared to question NASCAR in public.
Every race all any fan has to do to hear virtually every driver complain about the CoT and the lack of competitive racing is listen to a scanner at the track or Trackpass from the computer. Almost every driver grumbles to their crews about how hard the car is to drive and the near impossibility of staging a competitive race with the CoT beast.
However, when those drivers get out of their cars there is rarely a harsh word about the car, the tires or anything else that might raise the ire of the sanctioning body. Prior to this weekend only a few such as Kyle Busch and the pre-owner Tony Stewart have said publicly what they will say to their crews.
The main target of Junior’s scorn was the lack of competitive racing currently in the sport.
“What I’m getting at is I think we need to open our eyes a little bit,” Earnhardt declared. “Everyone. NASCAR could probably be a little more urgent in improving our product, where the ultimate result is great, exciting racing that the fans will enjoy, that the drivers enjoy, so everyone is happy.”
You mean the product is not that good? Races in which cars a strung out with little passing and winners decided on pit road rather than the track is not what fans want to see? How dare Junior to say such a thing.
Why is it that the race in Pocono, with its last 50 laps of exciting racing, was so talked about? The answer is because it was an oddity.
Junior also added that before the addition of double-file restarts, 95% of the race wasn’t worth the price of the ticket. The empty seats in Indianapolis and other tracks speaks volumes about that statement.
“I’m not trying to start a crusade against nobody or cause nobody any problems,” Earnhardt said. “I think the drivers, myself included, we would all work together with NASCAR to do this. I’m just trying to remind everyone of the optimal goal and prize for us is to have better racing.
“Even when things are good, we shouldn’t rest on any success we may be having. We’re not really where we want to be, I don’t think, as a sport. We need to do things to excite corporate America and excite the fans. We need to be proactive immediately to make that happen.”
Corporate America is not excited when they are being asked to continue funneling huge amounts of money into a sport that is seeing lowered attendance and television ratings on an almost weekly basis? The fact that three major sponsors, Lowe’s, DeWalt and AllState have announced they are reducing or even eliminating altogether their role in NASCAR backs Earnhardt’s statement.
The fact that Junior was willing to speak out is refreshing. It’s about time someone of his stature did in a significant way. If others would follow it could serve to better the sport, and that’s what everyone has as the ultimate goal, the betterment of the sport.
Of course, NASCAR handled the criticism as they always do. NASCAR President Mike Helton insisted that “the racing we’ve got on the racetrack is as good as I’ve seen it in a long time.”
There’s no way to argue with a statement so far from reality. NASCAR will point to bogus statistics such as the number of cars to finish on the lead lap and lead changes to back Helton’s claim. They just will forget to mention the ‘debris’ cautions so often used to artificially bunch the field and the fact that so many of those lead changes take place during pit stop sequences both under green and under caution.
Way to go Junior! Glad to see you were willing to speak your mind. Hopefully, those comments will open the door for more of the same. And most importantly, those comments will hopefully lead to an improved product.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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