NASCAR looks to silence drivers critical of the sport
Here's a good one: what do
Yes, they're all superstar owners and athletes. But each of them has also been fined in the last year for actions the NFL or NBA feels are detrimental to their brand. Whether for criticizing officials, taunting, or being just plain nuts (Ochocinco), these gentle reminders are given to athletes to let them know who's really in charge. Criticism can only be tolerated so much, a line drawn in the sand so that superstars don't send a freedom-of-speech message that shackles the industry to sagging ticket sales. Whether you like it or not, today's sports are also businesses where money talks -- not people who have a handful of public complaints about the rules.
That's why, to a certain extent you can understand yesterday's
"No business owner would permit employees, vendors or partners to damage their business -- nor can we," said NASCAR's Managing Director of Corporate Communications,
But in hiding these infractions, NASCAR misses the boat on the one big difference between the sports and its stick 'n' ball brethren: public transparency. Those other sports may hide from their problems, but when it comes to crime and punishment you know every minute detail. It's part of an extensive checks and balances system, one where fans, the media and a players' union can ensure their sport doesn't cross the line between firm discipline and terrorizing its participants.
By keeping these fines secret, NASCAR doesn't give the public the right to judge. Instead, they come off looking like Big Brother, selectively managing a rehearsed "script" in private to fit their needs. At least the "Have at it, Boys!" message is becoming clearer; and by clearer, I mean more mixed up than the water in the Gulf of Mexico these days. Feel free to drive like hell on the race track, but make sure you tow the company line as soon as you're off it? That's a direct contradiction if I've ever heard one.
Let's move on to the mailbag. As always, real questions from real readers, and what a fine bunch we had this week. Put yourself in position to make the cut by emailing email@example.com or Twitter at
This argument is something I get a lot, one that's gaining momentum after this latest breaking news. But I don't think NASCAR's policy is about separating champions and challengers. They're not protecting
By keeping these fines private, the sport was hoping to divert any criticism from penalizing people for freedom of speech, another way in which they felt fans would turn away. But in the end, a long history of meeting behind closed doors is what people like the least, which means they've shot themselves directly in the foot by trying to hide.
I think that's the biggest question, Ms. NASCAR -- How much is the threat of fines truly keeping people from saying what they think? This information went public on Monday, but you bet drivers talk in private inside the garage. People had to know others got fined -- yet we've still seen virtually everyone speak their mind at some point this year. Just like
I can tell you this much: it's a question we'll have the answer to by the end of Friday Media Day at Pocono. Everyone and their mother will be hammered about this policy.
On to Indy attendance, which has now dropped 50 percent for the Brickyard 400 since 2005. There are two competing schools of thought here:
Joe's got a great point. Since the 2008 tire debacle turned local fans off, Goodyear's overcompensated by bringing a tire that's too conservative over the course of a full fuel run. It makes passing anywhere from difficult to impossible, providing a product that's too much of a single-file parade for fans to spend their hard-earned money to go pay attention.
Of course, not everyone agrees...
We'll let Kaye's comments stand on their own. It's definitely a topic we could debate long into the night, but what's not debatable are the TV ratings (down 12.5 percent) and the attendance numbers. If the downward trend continues, it becomes unprofitable for Indy to stage the race -- and then, voila! The Brickyard 400 gets wiped off the schedule no matter what the silly reason is.
One other note about tickets. We mentioned last week how out of control Chicagoland prices are, with the caveat they charge for not just the Cup race but all the events over the course of the weekend -- even if you're just coming for one day. Well, check out this email a fan actually wrote to the head of Chicagoland Speedway -- fascinating stuff:
On to Carl-Brad...
Au contraire, Dale. Let's give some highlights of Newman's response to the incident (which could probably have left him on the secret NASCAR fine list):
"I don''t think NASCAR has taken care of the situation. What is that for Carl, his second probation this year? I don't know what probation actually means anymore. So, yeah, when we used to get probation for the season, and then when you crash somebody and put them upside down and they almost get killed, you get probation for three races. I don't quite understand that."
"Going out there and purposely crashing somebody; turning right or turning left just to crash 'em on purpose, whether you're winning the race or not, is not at all 'Have at it, Boys'. Some people have thought of manslaughter or attempted manslaughter, but that's closer to what it is. That's not 'Have at it, Boys.'"
"We should paint up a No. 99 or No. 88 Chevy Impala for Carl to go race demolition derbies with, if that's the case. Brad just needs to go up there, lay one across his lip, and everything will be fine."
Maybe it's just me ... but I don't think Ryan and Carl are in the same corner on this one. As for other drivers being hypocritical, absolutely I agree with you. Keep in mind that Harvick especially has always been Edwards' enemy, the two even getting into a bit of a scuffle at Charlotte in 2008. It's been a theme in sports since the beginning of time; when a fellow rival goes down, pour on the agony and go for the knockout punch. But Edwards wasn't as isolated as you might think inside the garage. There were plenty who supported him, with perhaps the most shocking ally coming in
See? Enemies today, friends tomorrow under the right circumstances. It's just how this sport works.
Great point, Jim, and reason No. 75 why NASCAR is addressing the issue of too many Cup guys running full-time in the Nationwide Series. It's hard enough for these drivers to compete against the big guns, but when a wreck like that tears up the only equipment they've got? Unacceptable.
Hard for guys to develop as drivers when they're bringing home a hunk of burning sheet metal at the checkered flag, all due to a fight that should be confined to the big leagues.
That's exactly why NASCAR had to act for both drivers, James. I'll let another fan take it from here...
I don't agree with what Skip says, but I understand his logic. On probation: Brad retribution is their biggest fear, so now they can give him a one-race suspension or worse if he pulls something. Of course, Kes has had a miserable season in Cup, so there's still really nothing to lose anyways if he wants to enact revenge.
I don't agree on the penalties, but I do think NASCAR is painted into a box now when comparing this Nationwide race at Gateway vs. Atlanta. Yes, there's building history involved, but everyone will always think the flip in March was the worst wreck we've seen in NASCAR, with the exception of maybe Talladega 2009. Why not a bigger penalty then if officials weren't happy?
Once again, I'm having a mega-mailbag the end of August that's all fans' suggestions on how to fix the Chase. But Darrell's suggestion works perfectly for what we have this year. The list of winless drivers inside the current top 12 includes some big names:
I still think the system's not perfect, though. It doesn't address the "zero advantage" given to the regular season points champion, and also leaves too many guys battling inside the playoffs. Unfortunately,
Looks like we have a buyer for you, Ron! Proof positive next year's May Dover race won't have a 100 percent attendance decline.
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