Tuesday, February 28, 2012


BILL FRANCE Jr. HONORED: The late NASCAR president had a statue unveiled last week outside Daytona International Speedway. Jim France (left), Betty Jane France, Brian France and Lesa France Kennedy are in front.

UPDATE: I'll be on SiriusXM NASCAR radio Thursday at 1 p.m. ET with Rick Benjamin and Chocolate Myers.

As Trevor Bayne proved last year, there's a certain appeal to surprise winners.

With all due respect to John King and James Buescher, however, that didn't apply to their Truck and Nationwide victories at Daytona International Speedway. Not, at least, as it pertains to what I wrote here last week -- NASCAR's need to launch its season in the boffo way it did in 2011. At first glance, the Daytona 500's first-ever rainout and delay to Monday afternoon seemed to put a KO punch to that hope.

Until, that is, more rain pushed the race to Monday night. PRIME TIME on Fox. As I post this, the ratings aren't in, but if in fact they do turn out to be HUGE, will NASCAR and ISC give serious consideration to a permanent rescheduling to PT? (Especially if it's not up against the Academy Awards.) With the The Great American Race's move off the President's Day holiday weekend, that could well be a problem for ticket-buying fans, but something no doubt we'll read and hear about a lot more.

Congratulations to Matt Kenseth -- no surprise, there -- for winning a sometimes crazy, sometimes bizarre, sometimes routine Super Bowl of stock car racing.

Upon further review in my trained and experienced mind, though, I'm not sure how much it all mattered. It was Danica's Daytona -- and that had been ordained by the media Lords before the first wheel turned near the Florida beach.

All one had to do was watch the opening minutes of Fox's Budweiser Shootout telecast to know what was coming. Even though she wasn't in that race, it didn't take Fox a minute to showcase her, right there live-and-in-person on the set. Dear Danica was guaranteed to be making her Daytona 500 debut -- thanks to some owner points game playing -- and Fox had decided it was high time it grabbed its share of Danica away from the loving attentions offered by ESPN since 2005. Krista Voda's early Tuesday a.m. interview of a crashed-out (for the third time in three races) Patrick put a bow around the whole package.

Not that it was anything other than business-as-usual over at ESPN. "She's a better race car driver now than I thought she'd be three years from now," gushed ESPN reporter Marty Smith, obeying orders from Bristol not to miss any opportunity for breathless hype.

The most honest reaction of all Speed Weeks came from Allen Bestwick, when Danica was wrecked in Saturday's Nationwide opener. "Oh, no!," moaned Bestwick, undoubtedly echoing the thoughts of network management as visions of viewers clicking away raced through their heads.

Sunday morning, on ESPN Radio's Coach and Coleman show -- always the place for intellectually lightweight sports talk -- it was NASCAR/Danica conversation that made Brad Daugherty sound like a real racing expert. Oh, the agony for hosts like these two -- and all of the ESPN networks -- having to divert time and space away from its precious NBA for NASCAR.

(Over on Fox Sports Radio, four hours into the rain delay, a host whose name I didn't get said come the green flag Daytona fans "would be so drunk they won't remember what happened." Yes, I said this was on FOX. ESPN-like discipline to follow?)

Other than poses and sound bites, Danica did contribute video highlights which TV's bad-taste bottom-feeders delighted in. The various angles of Patrick's last-lap qualifying race crash were replayed by Speed almost instantly and, seemingly, on a continuous loop. I don't know about you, but when she hit the wall, I wasn't sure Danica would climb out OK. Which made the immediate use of her in-car camera, looking right at her, troubling to me. It was the most exploitive use of racing video since Carl Edwards flipped into the catch fence at Talladega a few years ago -- and remember, that left spectators injured. The legitimate news value of the video quickly gave way to the grotesque imperative for hype.

If you want a bottom line assessment of how ridiculous much of this got, just consider the amount of time wasted talking about how Danica positioned her hands when she was going to hit the inside wall at the end of the qual race. Much ado about nothing.

Except when it's about Danica and NASCAR. Unless you're a Patrick fan, it's going to be a long season. The media Lords and their obedient "journalists" will make sure of that.

Mark Armijo and I will have coverage of this weekend's NASCAR races at Phoenix International Raceway in the Arizona Republic. Below is a link to my Sunday NASCAR preview, and the rest of our work will begin Tuesday. My now traditional Sunday Newsmaker Q&A will be with AJ Allmendinger. If you aren't in AZ to buy the paper, see our stories at http://www.azcentral.com/ . Thank you.


Posted a little early, but here's my March "Drags, Dollars & Sense" column on CompetitionPlus.com . It's about the future of the Arizona Nationals:

[ more next Monday . . . ]