Sunday, November 21, 2010

MY FINAL TOP 12 of '10

For what anyone wants to think it's worth, here's my final 2010 driver top-12 rankings:

1. Larry Dixon
2. (tie) Kyle Busch and Sebastian Vettel
3. John Force
4. Jimmie Johnson
5. Dario Franchitti
6. Scott Pruett
7. Denny Hamlin
8. Fernando Alonso
9. Jason Meyers
10. Steve Kinser
11. Will Power
12. Tony Schumacher

There's been a lot of news in recent weeks. What's gotten my attention is HOW that news has been announced.

Let's start with the IndyCar series' huge, breakthrough story of Chevrolet's return. That was made official on Friday of the Chase semifinal weekend in Phoenix, which meant a lot of key journalists were automatically not going to be able to pay attention. Why write-off so many important market areas represented by these media outlets? Because, I'm told, that was the day and time convenient for the executives involved.

Here's what I told an egomanic Texaco VP two decades ago: News conferences need to be scheduled at appropriate times in the news cycle, and for the convenience of reporters. Not for the convenience of the suits. Those who "get" that get the biggest and best coverage.

IndyCar has had a troubling history on this front. Let us recall that Randy Bernard was introduced as the series' new CEO on the same day the hometown Indianapolis Colts were doing Super Bowl media day. Even going back to 1996, the IRL's first season, the announcement that Nissan would be an engine supplier was made Daytona 500 week. I well remember being in the deadline media room at Daytona when several journos had to interrupt their otherwise busy schedules to (at least briefly) listen in on a conference call. "Don't they know what week this is?" one of the Biggest of the Media Big Foots complained to me.

As for my recent experience covering the NASCAR weekend at Phoenix for Arizona's largest newspaper, well, it was pretty much more of the same. I would not need more than the fingers on one hand to count the number of team/sponsor "publicists" who outreached in advance, just to check in, see if they could be of help. That number would be about the same to total those who actually bothered to come to the PIR deadline media room to say hello. For those not familiar with PIR, it takes about one minute to get to the media center from the garage area. Shame on the team owners/sponsor managers who pay so little attention to how they are being represented that this is tolerated.

The Dumbest of the Weekend Award goes to Coyne PR, the agency apparently repping Diet Mountain Dew for a Dale Earnhardt Jr. contest promotion at the Phoenix Coyotes' hockey game. On Thursday afternoon, I received an E from the Coyne rep, informing me he had a "phone interview opportunity" with Junior Friday night.

Think about that -- which is what this so-called "PR" person should have done. I was just a few hundred yards away from Junior all day Friday. Why would I want to do a telephone interview with him that night? Oh, I was a little busy covering the Truck race that evening.

What a stupid "pitch." About 10 seconds of thinking/research should have turned on any existing mental light bulb of just how stupid it was. You'd be shocked at the large fees clients pay to agencies -- for this?

I'll close with this: Given the ESPN Chase ratings collapse, and the wide-ranging bad reviews for the production and announcing, one might have thought some involved would think it a good idea to do a little relationship-building, question-answering, damage-control with writers. Of course, not one of the TVers who fall into the above category, bothered to make the effort.

FAST LINES: As forecast in my exclusive Arizona Republic story about future changes at Phoenix International Raceway, the ISC Board did vote to approve the budget to repave. That will happen after next February's NASCAR weekend . . . Ray Evernham says he no longer has any contractual obligations to George Gillett, so I'll be surprised if he doesn't have some non-crew chief role with Hendrick Motorsports, at least in part, trying to get into Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s head and turn around the No. 88 team . . . I've been asked a few times about who I think will be NASCAR's newly minted chief communications officer. I don't know the "who," but I'm betting it will be someone with a VP-corporate communications background. I just hope the person comes from a consumer products company rather than some B2B enterprise . . . If I were that person, here's the first sentence I would say in my first meeting with team/sponsor PR reps: "The current system for pre-race -- ticket-selling time -- driver availability to the media is broken, and we're going to fix it" . . . I hated to hear this: A recent caller to the Rush Limbaugh radio show compared the NFL's recent actions against helmet-to-helmet hits to NASCAR and said people want to see the "Roman Colosseum" and "blood sport." I repeat, a CALLER said this, not Limbaugh . . . Before the fact-less chatroomers get too zoomed-up, let me report that Tony Stewart was emphatic at Phoenix: No, he's not going to drive a Chevy in the Indy 500. No, he's not going to field a car for someone else. I was there. I heard him say it. He could not have been any clearer . . . I'm not sure anyone else has done it, but Peter De Lorenzo deserves a "congratulations" for breaking the Chevy-to-Indy story . . . It was fun to see sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson having fun at PIR with his 30-year hobby, photography. A guest of Getty Images, I watched Johnson on the photo stand in victory lane. He even stood patiently in the media food line before the Cup race! Johnson said he had recently been in Iraq, taking photos at Camp Victory. He noted NASCAR doesn't have a No. 51 (his jersey number) and said he might have to do something about that. Only when asked about baseball did Johnson not want to talk . . . When I interviewed Mike Helton for my Arizona Republic Newsmaker Q&A, I began by noting it was the 10-year anniversary of his appointment as NASCAR's president, and ended by saying next February will be 10 years since Dale Earnhardt's death. That reminded me to write this -- I expect Junior will have yet another new crew chief, and if somehow he wins the Daytona 500 on this sad decade-later anniversary, well, the Grassy Knoll conspiracy types will be out in such force they could invade a small country . . . Ponder this: In a disappointing season for Ford, Carl Edwards won the last two Cup races, two of the last three Nationwide events, and Roush Fenway drivers ended-up fourth, fifth and sixth in the Chase standings.

[ more next Monday . . . ]