Sunday, September 22, 2013


Maybe, just maybe, Michael Waltrip finally gets it. Too bad it just might be too late.

It apparently took the multi-million dollar loss of his longtime NAPA sponsorship for Waltrip to understand the depth of his problems coming out of Richmond. Because, at first, he sure didn't sound like someone who understood the profound consequences of what happened in attempting to manipulate the Chase.

Waltrip was a posterboy for the modern pseudo-celebrity who gets in trouble. On his first TV interview, he whined about Twitter posters being "mean" to him. Chicagoland morning he cited the mistake as merely sending Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers down pit road on the last lap at Richmond. That was completely outrageous and proof the team owner wasn't honestly addressing the real issue. Even the statement issued on behalf of MWR after the NAPA decision came across with an undercurrent of defiance.

But then, finally, came a statement directly from Waltrip. For the first time, he apologized and accepted responsibility. “To the fans and those who made their voice heard through social media, as the owner, I am responsible for all actions of MWR. I sincerely apologize for the role our team played and for the lines NASCAR has ruled were crossed by our actions at Richmond." Waltrip then met the media Friday morning at New Hampshire. The Charlotte Observer's story began this way: "Sounding contrite and rattled . . . "

As I wrote on Twitter, in an age of declining standards, NAPA did the right thing. It stood tall for integrity, sportsmanship and -- yes -- its own image. I feel sorry for Martin Truex Jr., who has driven his can off with an injured wrist. Whether MWR can actually field a competitive No. 56 entry next year without major sponsorship is certainly questionable. And, have no doubt, such sponsorship will be extremely difficult to find this late in the game. And, let's be honest, it's going to take a brave CEO or marketing VP to take the place of a sponsor who opted-out of its deal early because of the team's ethical lapses.

If the team is shut down, if employees are laid off, then it is Michael Waltrip's responsibility to reach into his own pocket and pay them full salary and benefits for a full year if they can't find other employment. It's his name on the door. The buck stops with him.

And, let me close with this: Fox Sports cannot allow its employee, Waltrip, to use its network or cable channels as outlets to try to rehab his image. (And neither can brother Darrell.) Frankly, Fox management should have, by now, told Michael he's parked for the rest of the season.

Helio Castroneves will likely win this year's IndyCar series championship but hasn't been a real race winning threat at the Indianapolis 500 for 3-4 years. Will Power hasn't had the pace of the last three years and, having blown three consecutive championships, has shown himself to be more Kevin Cogan than Rick Mears. Those are the reasons Roger Penske signed Juan Pablo Montoya for an open-wheel return in 2014 even though there is no sponsorship in place and, let us remember, Penske has cited lack of sponsorship in the past for not running the likes of Ryan Briscoe and A.J. Allmendinger(both, like Power, are not mentally tough enough). Penske apparently felt Montoya was a better choice than available free agents Tony Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe, proclaimed by some in the media and the chatroom crowd as the new "face" of IndyCar, which made me laugh. No doubt Montoya himself is on a one-year deal with Penske-favorable options, and if he succeeds, non-performing Power or Castroneves could be on the outs depending on sponsorship with Helio a possible Indy-only driver.

Just asking: What was the point of ISC spending all that money to build an infield road course at Kansas Speedway but IMSA (i.e., NASCAR) not awarding the track a United SportsCar Series event for 2014? Says to me KS took a big financial bath on its Grand-Am race earlier this year.

Why we continue to despair about the media: Only months after the embarrassing examples of inaccurate "get it first, not necessarily right" reports after the Boston Marathon bombings, the mainstream media were right back at it again with last week's Washington, D.C. Navy Yard shootings. NBC and CBS were forced to retract false reports. Across the board, media went with an inaccurate description of the weapon. Nothing has been learned and I, for one, refuse to accept (and am sick of hearing) excuses about how mistakes are going to happen when covering breaking news. How about this? Waiting for confirmation of actual, real, truthful FACTS!

Twitter followers saw this last week: My new column -- Improving the Fan Experience is a Must!

[ more next Monday . . . ]