• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, January 27, 2013

I DON'T CARE WHO DANICA IS DATING

I don't care who Danica Patrick is dating.

I would only care she's dating a fellow Sprint Cup rookie driver if there was clear evidence it was affecting competition. The media and chatroom stir-it-up types are playing to the American public's lowered bar of civility (one just got hired for that reason) and seemingly are unfamiliar with the concept of PROFESSIONALISM.

Apparently, because of short attention spans or maybe because it doesn't fit the pre-determined storyline, they forget/ignore that Jack Roush parked Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for two races in 2010 when he was involved in accidents in five of his first 12 Nationwide series races. With all that Roush and Stenhouse have riding on putting Ricky in the team that won the Daytona 500 last year, what would make anyone think Jack would tolerate love-sick driving or that Ricky -- or Danica -- aren't smart enough to understand everything that's at stake here. Any on-track nonsense could destroy their racing and marketing credibility and end a couple of careers just like that. Let's give them credit for knowing that, until they show otherwise.

As I also said Saturday on SiriusXM's Press Pass show with Rick Benjamin and Jerry Bonkowski, isn't it logical to believe that Stenhouse will be more competitive, certainly early in the season? I don't expect we're looking at a situation where Ricky and Danica will be battling side-by-side for the lead.

And, once again, I'm embarrassed for the media. Those already predicting that a dating relationship will overshadow everything else in NASCAR -- including the sanction's bet-the-house move to a new car for competition and business reasons -- again play to a sad, declining standard. IF all else is overshadowed, it most likely will be because the media decides to do that -- not because the facts will justify such coverage. 


What a weird year this will be in American sports car racing. The long past-due common-sense move to reunify Grand-Am and ALMS in 2014 unfortunately creates an awkward year of lame-duck split tours in '13. That opened last weekend with the Rolex 24 at Daytona, won by Scott Pruett, Juan Pablo Montoya, Memo Rojas and Charlie Kimball. (Pruett proving again he's America's most underappreciated champion driver. How about a Driver of the Year vote, panelists?!)

I'm a sports car racing fan -- especially true endurance sports car racing -- so I'm delighted that this merger (in favor of NASCAR-owned Grand-Am) is happening. But it means '13 is essentially a get-through-it season. I'm concerned with what has been outlined for '14 in terms of class structures -- possibly as many as five. TOO MANY! Grand-Am's beauty was an easy-to-understand two class system and I doubt everyone directly involved in ALMS has a real grasp on its complex and puzzling class structure.

I'm sure the world economic situation and impact on automakers is dictating the rules for '14 and '15. Eventually, though, it's got to get back to a two -- three at most -- class structure with the highest emphasis placed on a strong and competitive prototype class. Prototypes -- not GT -- historically have made this type of racing. As I've said before, it would be like trying to promote drag racing without the crowd-pleasing nitro Top Fuel and Funny Cars.


For those who complain corporate sponsorship has turned too many race drivers into vanilla personalities, consider the case of golfing great Phil Mickelson. With federal and California state taxes going up -- taking more than 60 percent of Mickelson's earnings -- he said he was considering "drastic changes." (Most figured that meant he'd move to Nevada, Florida or another state without an income tax. Some thought he'd move out of the country.) But negative publicity for being "insensitive" meant the multi-millionaire faced bad PR and pushback from some of his own sponsors. Predictably, Mickelson's apologized.


This is how the PR game is played these days: Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o retained  celebrity spinner Matthew Hiltzik for counsel in the girlfriend-who-didn't-exist saga. Hiltzik then booked Te'o's first on-camera TV interview with Katie Couric on her daytime syndicated show. Hiltzik also happens to be Couric's spokesman. Just coincidence, of course!


The question -- Will Jeff Gordon ever race in the Indy 500? -- hasn't been asked much in recent years. With good reason: Jeff's made it clear that's a no. But, at Barrett-Jackson, I couldn't help but ask if he'd ever race a sprint car again. I guess it was on my mind as the 2013 National Sprint Car Hall of Fame class was recently announced, and I'm a voter on that committee. Jeff's answer didn't surprise me, but for the record, here it is:
"No. I always joke around, talking about wanting to drive one again, because they’re so much fun to drive. Tony (Stewart) and Kasey (Kahne) tell me how awesome the cars are today. I certainly would like to, but, competitively, no, because when I do something I want to feel like I’ve got a shot to win. If I don’t do it all the time, I don’t feel like I’d be competitive to win."


A reminder I'm now on Twitter at @SpinDoctor500 . See last week's blog for an explanation of how I will, and won't, be using Twitter.

[ more next Monday . . . ]