• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Monday, February 16, 2009

THE DAYTONA DOWNER

If Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball who routinely gets bashed in the media like Ryan Howard does a fastball, realizes how inappropriate it is to allow rain to end a World Series game before nine innings, then it's time for those who run America's two most important races -- the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 -- to wake-up and understand the same.

Last November 3, I posted here "The Selig Doctrine" -- calling on Daytona and Indy to follow baseball's example and mandate those events run to the full 500 miles. Here's a link:
http://spindoctor500blog.blogspot.com/2008/11/selig-doctrine.html .

Sunday's disappointing Daytona 500 proved the point. Congratulations to Matt Kenseth and Roush Fenway Racing's Ford team, but what a downer. The anti-climatic ending, with 120 miles to go, guaranteed that the Dale Earnhardt Jr.-Brian Vickers tangle would be the race's dominant story -- and that's a disservice to the winners, the series, and the sport.

Here's what's obvious to me: The finger rightfully gets pointed right at Fox, for hanging NASCAR with a 3:42 p.m. EST green flag. That's an insult to every true race fan. And, please, spare me the talking points about a late start to attract a larger audience. The dumbing down of the production has reached a stage where I'm expecting one of the pit reporters to be laid off -- in favor of more time for "Digger." We'd have seen 500 miles, no problem, with a proper and traditional and more respectful to the ticket-buyers 1 p.m. start.

At Daytona and Indy, "500" actually means something. It's truly important. Everywhere else, it's just a number, a marketing gimmick. Plus, Daytona and Indy have the advantage that the following day is a national holiday, making it easier for fans to return.

By the way, according to Weather.com, it was sunny Monday in Daytona.
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I intentionally steered clear of Daytona here last week, highlighting Mazda's driver development program as a contrast to the celebrity/star culture of which NASCAR has worked most hard to join.

That doesn't mean I wasn't paying close attention to what was happening in Florida, though. Some quotes, specifically as uttered during media day, cry out to be put in this spotlight.

Ryan Newman was asked, as virtually every driver was, about the economy and its impact on racers and fans.

“I hear everybody complain and I mean everybody complain about how bad the economy is and I don’t think it’s that bad. I think it’s just not as good as it was. I think that everybody from an organizational standpoint whether its NASCAR, Stewart-Haas Racing, Hendrick or Roush, whatever has to keep their pencil sharp and put themselves in a position to where they can be strong for the future. I think the economy is going to have more of an effect six months from now than it will now. If the economy is as bad as everyone says it is then, realistically, we are living off of our reserves whether it’s financially, or whatever, and we’ll have to see who has the biggest stockpile of reserves. I’m no economic adviser but that’s just my gut hunch about it.”

“I think it’s mentally affected everybody more than it has physically. Maybe this is my opinion but when we go to the gas station, and we can’t get a gallon of gas and a gallon of milk, then the economy is really hurting. Now gas is half of what it was last fall when the economy was good and there’s no shortage of milk. I mean how bad is it really? That’s just my gut feel. And I’m probably a little na├»ve from the standpoint that I think NASCAR spoils you a little bit. Spoils me personally, you know my lifestyle is not the same as somebody that is greeting at Wal-Mart, but in the end, I don’t think the economy is that bad. The cream is always going to rise to the top and I just think it separates it off from the weak individual. It’s like a minor plague, I guess.”

It must be nice to live on whatever planet Ryan is on. Unfortunately, the automakers, sponsors and ticket-buyers aren't acting like this is "minor."

Newman obviously didn't get the talking points, because his new boss, Tony Stewart, had this to say:

“It’s hurt everybody, obviously. We still have 13 races to sell on Ryan’s car. Haas Automation stepped up and is going to sponsor some of those races, but not all of them. So it’s no different for us than for anybody else. It’s hurt everybody this year.”

Clint Bowyer, had to explain -- if not defend -- that new jet he got during the off-season.

“That plane is a big part of what I do for all my sponsors. I can’t reach out to all my sponsors anymore without that. I can’t continue doing more for my sponsors without a means to get there. I can’t do what the media expected those auto execs to do. They had to drive a car there (Washington, D.C., for Congressional hearings) and it took more time to get there just to appease the media to keep them off their backs and what’s that doing? That’s taking away time from them trying to take care of business and keeping people’s jobs. That’s the way it is as far as transportation goes so those people can have at least a little bit of life and reach out to their responsibilities with their jobs. They have to have that. It’s no different than the president. Yeah, he reached out and put a (salary) cap on them all, but he had a pretty expensive party a few weeks ago too (inauguration). You gotta keep that in mind, too. There’s pro and cons to everything and there’s repercussions to everything. He’s our leader and we all have to have confidence in him and his programs.”

“He has the No. 1 one plane in the world. His plane
(Air Force One) is badder than any other plane out there. It is what it is. The biggest thing is not to get negative and not to get down on everything. It’s what we make out of it. If we work hard and make good decisions as a country, I think we’ll be just fine and our sport will be no different. I’ve been over to the dirt track in Tampa and, normally, I wouldn’t know anything about anything that was going on with our country, but the reason I know all this is because I’ve been sitting in the dirt hauler for the last two days watching the news for the last two days and it makes you want to put a gun to your head. The world’s over if you listen to CNN. There’s nothing positive. For four hours I watched the news and not one thing came on that was positive. Even ESPN -- everybody’s doing drugs. Come on guys, somebody’s doing something good. I finally quit and got on the racetrack and nothing happened good there either. It didn’t change there. Maybe it is bad out there. I think just with our sport I want to encourage the media to find positive things for our sport, too. There are good people doing good things out there and working their butts off to make this sport better for all of us. There are negative things going on in our sport, but there’s a helluva lot of good, too.”


Enjoy the jet, Clint. No one's saying you shouldn't have it if you can afford it. Just don't put out a news release release about it! (I'll bet Chevy's racing brass cringed.)

Finally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was asked, "What's the hardest part about being Dale Jr.?"

“Answering a lot of questions. I got to answer so many damn questions. I never wanted to be asked so many questions. I just wanted to drive but that’s not all there is to it.”

Oh, OK. I can't end without a contribution from Kyle Busch. This, on NASCAR's new single-file restart within 20 laps of the checkered flag rule:

“Now when there’s a caution inside 20 laps, everybody’s coming to pit road. I guess they just wanted even more cautions in the last 20 laps and that’s just the way it’s going to be. Guys are going to come to pit road and they’re going to be driving erratically in the last 20 laps to try to get up through there and make up all the spots they can and probably running into each other. It will be pretty crazy when there’s cautions in the last 20 (laps). I’m not in favor of it, but whatever they want to do.”
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Here's a link to my new "All Business" column in the February Drag Racing Online (it's on two pages, so be sure to click over at bottom of the first page): http://www.dragracingonline.com/columns/knight/xi_2-1.html
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David Poole of the Charlotte Observer had the best story datelined Daytona Beach:
http://www.thatsracin.com/135/story/3681.html .

$ign of the Time$: No USA Today Daytona 500 special section (first time in memory; there was, however, an NBA All-Star Game section) and no Indianapolis Star staff coverage.
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President Obama's town-hall meeting in Elkhart, Ind. last week reminded me of this long-lost-to-history tale from CART in the 1980s. Upon hearing that the Marlboro team would be racing that weekend in "Elkhart," a New York-based Philip Morris manager traveled there, not Elkhart Lake, Wis. (!)
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I'll be NHRAing it this weekend, covering the Arizona Nationals for the Arizona Republic. You can check out my stories (and Mark Armijo's) at http://azcentral.com/. And good luck to Lachelle Seymour, who has left the NHRA PR staff for a job at Chicagoland Speedway.

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]