The blood-alcohol legal limit for all states is .08. Imagine, then, what Nationwide Series driver Michael Annett must have been feeling when he blew a hefty .32 early Sunday morning after rear-ending the car in front of him and getting pulled over and arrested by police. There's straddling the line of common decency, and then there's jumping so far you can barely see the line.
Considering NASCAR revolves around driving, there's no better statement than to suspend Annett under the drug policy, order him into rehabilitation and make it clear this type of behavior isn't acceptable. NASCAR's busy "gathering all the facts," but there's no indication yet from Annett's new race team -- run by a public figure, ESPN's Rusty Wallace -- that a suspension awaits. Here's their statement:
"RWR is currently working with Michael to develop a package of sanctions which will address this issue. Among these will be successful completion of a comprehensive alcohol awareness program, a zero tolerance policy toward alcohol use, a yearlong community service program and additional internal sanctions. Stated Annett, 'I am deeply remorseful for my actions and my extreme lack of judgment. I let down my team, my sponsors, my fans and my family; I sincerely apologize to everyone that I hurt. This was truly a life-changing moment for me. Despite all of the negativity that will undoubtedly arise from it, I'm going to strive to use this incident as the impetus to make a lot of positive changes in my life.'"
In case you get bored, I'll translate:
This isn't the first time a NASCAR driver could avoid punishment. Scott Wimmer ran third in the 2004 Daytona 500 after an offseason DWI -- he hid from the cops behind his bed after being chased -- while A.J. Allmendinger was never suspended after his indiscretion while driving for King Richard Petty (who won't even put alcohol stickers on his car) in 2009.
Some might say these are off-track incidents, unrelated to performance once the green flag drops. Sure, but what message does it send when a sanctioning body is suspending people like Jeremy Mayfield for drug use, then allowing others to participate after pleading guilty to a practice that contributed to 37 percent of all car accident fatalities in 2008? Not exactly the publicity car manufacturers are looking for, right?
For a sport that preaches its family roots, it's a bold move to turn the other cheek. I just hope the guilty parties stop before someone else gets killed.
Time to start with all your questions and comments. Tbowles81@yahoo.com, or Twitter @
No, Annett wasn't. He's had a few years to develop and seems to be hitting a wall. Now, perhaps we know why...
As for Bayne, it was actually 2010 at ORP where he nearly won the race, putting him on the map before Michael Waltrip put him on the street. Not finding sponsorship to keep Bayne may turn out to be the biggest regret of Waltrip's career in a year or two.
Damon, I write about Danica because you fans want to hear it! For every Danica-basher, there's three in my inbox asking me how she's doing or to touch on her performance.
As for the other drivers, I think Pastrana is key if he can put up some big numbers over his seven-race stint in 2011. If he grabs a top 10 finish and turns heads -- something AMA star Carmichael hasn't fully done yet -- the extreme sports crowd might really make a move toward NASCAR and give it a shot. Last I checked, he had more Twitter followers than any full-time driver not named Juan Pablo Montoya, and virtually all of those are an untapped market this sport desperately needs.
Allgaier? Stenhouse? Not as likely to draw from outside sources, but they're good stories and drivers who deserve their chance to prove themselves on a top-level stage -- without being beaten down beforehand.
I disagree, but it's good to hear the other perspective. Over the short-term, sure, fans are going to tune out this division because they've been brought up on Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, and others dominating Victory Lane. In 2005, the last year Nationwide-only drivers had a foothold on things (Martin Truex Jr. won the season championship), they combined for 10 wins out of 35 races, with Cup drivers sprinkled in for the rest. Since then? Nationwide guys have just 16 wins out of 175 starts, with six of them coming from Brad Keselowski alone (before becoming a "Cupwhacker" himself, dipping down to win the Nationwide title in 2010). When faced with those kinds of numbers, of course you're going to tune out when the cup drivers leave because you haven't seen anybody else on TV contending for victories.
But in the '90s, before this Cup Series dominance, the Nationwide (then Busch) Series reminded me of NASCAR's "AA" version, the Camping World Trucks -- whose ratings have for the most part withstood the recent collapses elsewhere. Back then, Cup guys would drop down in the Busch Series to play from time to time, but many were with small, underfunded teams or driver/owners so they didn't have more resources than their competitors. There were a few exceptions (Mark Martin was that generation's Kyle Busch), but those drivers always ran a limited schedule, allowing others to gain some victories, a fan following and, most importantly, the season championship. I think over time that mix can happen again, and the key to luring fans back is as simple as the car design. Have you seen those Mustangs go around the track at 200 miles an hour? Now THAT's a muscle car design worth watching, and something I think will at least be enough to get people to give it a chance during this transition.
Now, it's on those young drivers Damon mentioned earlier -- Allgaier, Stenhouse, Truex, etc. -- to pick up the pace and move the series forward before it dies on the vine.
OK, Matt. I'll expand more on this in another column, but among the "feel good" stories I'm looking forward to watching this year: Vickers' return, a Nationwide championship won by a Nationwide driver, the inaugural Cup race at Kentucky, Jeff Gordon getting his best chance at a title in years and the resurgence of Ford to make the title race a three-owner duel between Roush, Hendrick and Gibbs. Plus, this year's Daytona 500 will break the lead change record, and I fully expect better, more aggressive racing at the short tracks of Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond.
Does that make you feel better? The problem is, I'm getting too many emails like this one...
OK, Matt. Time to move on.
There are a lot of economic stories like this around NASCAR involving price-gouging and early reservations needed each year. Try getting a hotel two weeks before the 500 right now, for example: You're likely to pay close to $400 a night down in Daytona Beach, at least. People must stay hours away -- in Orlando or a similar locale -- in order to get those numbers down to a reasonable total.
One thing NASCAR should pledge to work on in 2011 is making it easier for fans to participate in the sport more cost-effectively. Why not work with local motels and merchants to create better deals? It means nothing to have $10 tickets if you're staying in a hotel for $300 a night to get there, and it means nothing to park in the infield if the customer service to get there is so terrible you're in a sour mood by the time you pull in.
Here you go, Tom! Your moment in the sun, seeing as most of the Southeast finds itself buried under snow. I feel your pain on qualifying, and I'm beginning to lean toward awarding points for the pole if NASCAR's keeping the Top 35 rule. Although track position's becoming more important, if you're "locked in" to the race qualifying loses a lot of its meaning and a 3-2-1 points system for first, second and third starting spot would bring some of it back. There's a reason tracks are moving qualifying to Saturdays right now -- fans aren't coming -- and perhaps that would drudge up enough interest to keep things at a three-day weekend.
If that stat speaks volumes, how about this one: The Super Bowl set a record for U.S. television viewership, with 111 million people watching, while the 46.0 Nielsen rating was its highest since 1986. Compare that to the 2010 Daytona 500, which posted a 7.7 rating and had 13.294 million viewers. Looks like stock car racing is just a bit behind...
It didn't always use to be that way, but it's clear the NFL has a steam train nothing but its own lockout can stop. I'm not opposed to moving start times for multiple races in NASCAR's Chase, which ESPN did (from 1 to 2 p.m. ET) in order to avoid direct NFL start-time competition. But why move the races BACK instead of up? By 2 p.m., most people are already engrossed in their football and would be less likely to switch over if the games are exciting. Start the races at noon, by comparison, and maybe viewers stick with an entertaining race instead of switching to the NFL at 1. Sigh.
I think that rule -- along with the wave-around -- is one of the primary reasons the racing's not as heated early on. Now, during a 500-mile distance, the desperation to get back on the lead lap isn't there if you blow a tire; you just patiently wait for a caution flag, put yourself in position and boom! You're back in contention.
The problem with fixing the Lucky Dog, though, is that you can't make it impossible for people to get laps back, and with the new double-file restart rule (which fans like, where lead lap cars start side-by-side up front), it's impossible for them to race their way back. Call me crazy, but I was a fan of the old rule with lapped cars, double-file starting on the inside line. It created more natural obstacles for the leaders, more strategy and often times better racing. So what if occasionally cars stayed out under yellow, moving to the front of the line and landing "at the tail end of the lead lap?" If NASCAR fans are smart enough to figure out the points, I think they can figure out where and when the leader is at the drop of the green.
I say bring the old rules back and still keep the Lucky Dog, but that's it; no wave-arounds. And each driver should only benefit from the Lucky Dog one time during the race. You use it? You're out of luck, similar to an NFL Challenge flag.
And finally, the "out of left field" email of the week comes from a reader with some writing aspirations of his own:
You know what? I don't agree with all of it, but this post makes some very good points about what's going on with the sport today. Well worth a read.
Rodney Ferguson from Enterprise, Ala. has it nailed, which is a good thing: I missed the mark and hit my hand with the hammer.
He's right. Awesome Bill from Dawsonville did it in the modern era (1972-present) but let's not forget four-time 500 winner Cale. Only Richard Petty (seven) has won more editions of the Great American Race. For the record, Mr. Ferguson double-dips too: He wrote me from his new living outpost of Wolframs-Eschenbach, Germany. Try saying that three times fast.