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NASCAR's not ready for prime time players

Updated on October 31, 2013
NASCAR created the Air Titan to avoid scenes like the one above. Of course, it helps to if they're at the track
NASCAR created the Air Titan to avoid scenes like the one above. Of course, it helps to if they're at the track
The Air Titan system dries a wet track in half the time jet dryers require
The Air Titan system dries a wet track in half the time jet dryers require

Sometimes, NASCAR just can't help itself.


On Thursday, NASCAR brought in its much-hyped Air Titan track drying system to help “condition” the track at Chicago prior to Sunday's race. After the work was done, the dryers loaded up and left town- despite heavy rain being in the weekend's forecast. Let that sink in for a moment. On the eve of the Chase kickoff, the equipment was already in town- and then it left. NASCAR's bean counters may have saved a few nickles with the move but it's yet another short-sighted decision that threatens the very future of the sport.


NASCAR's explanation for the Air Titan departure was that the track hadn't budgeted for using the equipment this year. Yet this ignores the fact that International Speedway Corporation (controlled by the same France family that owns NASCAR itself) owns the speedway! NASCAR has become sports incarnation of the “Not ready for prime time players.” It was a selling point for Saturday Night Live but in a sanctioning body it's a nightmare.

See the original "Not ready for prime time players" on DVD

Newman made the Chase while Bowyer received virtually no punishment
Newman made the Chase while Bowyer received virtually no punishment

Aside from the Gen 6 car's debut and the Stenica romance, no story at Daytona received more play back in February than the Air Titan. It was billed as a way for NASCAR to quickly recover from rain delays by cutting the time required to dry a track in half. In announcing the Air Titan, NASCAR head Brian France said, “With its far-reaching potential and impact, we believe the Air Titan is a big win for the motorsports industry,” and that fans should not have to wait long before racing resumes. Well, he was half right at least. Fans shouldn't have to wait two hours plus after the last raindrop before the action begins. Particularly when the sanctioning body itself created and built equipment to prevent that from happening.


Yet it was just the latest short-sighted act in a week filled with them for stock car racing and the sequence of events was worthy of Abbott and Costello on their best day. The drivers left Richmond hearing there would be no change to the race-ending results because there was nothing out of the ordinary. After an outcry from fans and media members alike, Michael Waltrip Racing found itself penalized 50 points per car- and Martin Truex Jr. was out of the Chase. Ryan Newman slipped into the second wild card slot and all was well once again. Sort of.

Gordon didn't get to celebrate at Richmond this year but he's in the Chase all the same
Gordon didn't get to celebrate at Richmond this year but he's in the Chase all the same

A few days later the hue and cry began once again. Apparently David Gilliland, under orders from his team, allowed fellow Ford driver Joey Logano to pass him and gain the critical point that raised his total into 10th place. Remember that Penske Racing was already on probation thanks to a parts issue earlier in the season. NASCAR's response? A firm slap on the wrist in the form of extended probation for both Penske and Front Row.


Which would make sense except for the utter lack of consistency the ruling had when compared to the one made just a few days prior. In announcing the penalty MWR received earlier in the week that NASCAR said they weren't in the business of making judgment calls and that they could not prove Clint Bowyer intentionally spun out. Instead, the punishment stemmed primarily from Ty Norris' lack of discretion of saying on the team radio how much the team needed that one point. That one point was the same motivation for David Gilliland to pull over and let Logano into the top ten. So if the act was the same and the motivation was the same, why did MWR get a points penalty and Penske Racing got another dose of probation?


As if those two moves didn't cause enough confusion, NASCAR compounded the problem by adding Jeff Gordon into the Chase field by executive fiat. Again, the decision had some merit- particularly if one ignores the “ripple effect” argument that was the heart of NASCAR's decision announced Tuesday. Once again, the sanctioning body completely contradicted their stated logic from less than a week ago. Because even if Logano didn't pass Gilliland at the end Gordon was not going to make the Chase. With one race win, Logano owned the tie-breaker over Gordon. The only good reason to add Jeff to the field at this point was if someone ahead of him dropped out (as happened for Ryan Newman).

2013 Chase drivers, Take 2
2013 Chase drivers, Take 2
Colin Powell didn't mind making people angry if he did the right thing
Colin Powell didn't mind making people angry if he did the right thing

What drivers want from NASCAR is very simple; consistency. They want to have a reasonable expectation of what's acceptable and what's not from the sanctioning body's perspective. NASCAR knows this. It's why the series held a meeting Saturday afternoon to lay out their new, “All in, all the time” rule. It's why the rules surrounding restarts were recently modified after several controversial ones occurred over the past few months. The rulings of the past week are totally devoid of that consistency and the reason why is simple. NASCAR reacted to public opinion instead of acting to shape it.


Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell is famous to have a number of different quotes under the glass of his office desk. One of the less-publicized ones applies here; being responsible sometimes means pissing people off. In a nutshell, that means a leader should make decisions based on what's best for the long term interests of those he or she leads. You cannot lead by responding to what will make people happy in the moment.

ESPN stuck with the coverage on Sunday despite the extended delay (and made sure its audience knew where the race was). Will NBC have the ability to do as well?
ESPN stuck with the coverage on Sunday despite the extended delay (and made sure its audience knew where the race was). Will NBC have the ability to do as well?

Adding Gordon into the Chase field did accomplish one NASCAR goal, though. They averted the risk of having a popular driver become irrelevant. They pleased his large fan base and ensured those viewers and ticket buyers will stay interested in racing for at least a few more weeks. That means more tickets sold at the track and more viewers watching on the television. In the short term, it's a financial windfall to have Gordon as driver #13 in NASCAR's Chase.


But like every other decision made of late, it's one that ignores the downstream consequences. NASCAR made a similar decision in its recent TV rights negotiations. Instead of working with a long-term partner in ESPN that has America's largest sports bully pulpit, they set an asking price almost guaranteed to make the network walk away. NASCAR will receive billions of dollars from NBC but at what cost in terms of coverage, availability, and relevance to the American sports market?

It would be interesting to learn which ISC or NASCAR official decided to pull the Air Titan with rain in the forecast
It would be interesting to learn which ISC or NASCAR official decided to pull the Air Titan with rain in the forecast

Sometimes it takes years for the long-term consequences to take effect. Sometimes they can be felt almost immediately. Sunday's rain delay extended to 10pm Eastern. Had the Air Titan dryers been at the track, it's likely the race could have restarted closer to 9pm (if not sooner). With the night's NFL game delayed due to inclement weather, NASCAR could have had much of the entire American sports world's eye. A prime time restart with little competition might have drawn great ratings and provided the sport with a much-needed high note to start the Chase. What a difference an hour makes.


In the most literal sense of the term, NASCAR showed that right now, they truly are the sporting incarnation of the not ready for prime time players.

Need more NASCAR news and opinion?

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      Mike Roush 2 years ago from Newark, DE

      Thomasz I appreciate the read. As the article was written in 2013, you're right to note that some of the uniforms and teams will change. If you're looking for new articles, please feel free to click on the main page for Another Left Turn, which lists past articles in chronological order. Hope you find something that's more to your liking and thanks again!

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      Tomasz 2 years ago

      I really hate to say this, but I am geittng more disappointed with your blog everyday.This is a very old commercial, and it has been out for over a year. Did you notice tony in his OLD uniform???I guess I was expecting a blog that reported real stuff happening at NASCAR, and not just someone taking pictures and using a press pass to meet drivers.Maybe I need to give it more time, but PLEASE help me here!!

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      Yadi 2 years ago

      Hi Julie, I'm sorry to hear that. The Coke Zero ad, the first video player on the page, is the new ad that duebted during the Coke Zero 400. The second one is the old one which I did say was the old video. As for your comments about me using a press pass to meet drivers and take pictures. The only driver that I've actually met in person is Travis Kvapil, and that was when I was interviewing him. I take obtaining and using media credentials very seriously.If you feel you need more/better inside news on NASCAR I suggest you visit NASCAR.com, Yahoo Sports, or FoxSports.com. There are many traditional news outlets and other bloggers in general that are reporting on NASCAR.

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      Merve 2 years ago

      THANK YOU! It just takes the focus off of THIS year, and while I would be DEEPLY into any speculation over where Kasey Kahne would or would not be going (and for that matetr, Kenny Francis), (a) I don't expect to hear about it 24/7 and (b) in the end, all the wishing/hoping/debating/ranting/anxiety/fretting/discussing would mean the driver is going to end up right where they were going to go And I have to say this, it really irks me when that is all that is discussed on race weekend TV. Especially when it seems like one driver (no names mentioned) is getting all the time and press over their dang contract talks. Helloooo, there are 42 other drivers I would like to hear about! Even the ones I don't like! Say they are still talking and get on with talking about the upcoming race!!!Boy, Valli, you must have hit a sore spot with me I didn't even know was sore!

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      ken 4 years ago

      It starts and ends at the top. Brian is in charge. If the people under him make stupid decisions then Brian should take action. Trouble is, Brian is CEO and his "name is on the building" so he can't be fired. NASCAR needs new blood at the top.