Edwards losing his thunder, drivers scared to win and more mailbag
NASCAR struggled for attention this week, facing Tiger Woods and Opening Day
Carl Edwards' 42-race winless streak makes it seem like he's losing his edge
While the media may resent Tony Stewart's attitude, they can't ignore him
As a native Philadelphian, I'm still in shock over the Eagles trading star quarterback Donovan McNabb to the Redskins. It's a blockbuster trade, the likes of which we've never seen in NASCAR. McNabb's trade is like Jeff Gordon heading over to Jack Roush this offseason because he hasn't won a championship since 2001. Trading your best player is never easy ... and boy, does that stir up a lot of off-track buzz.
On this slow week for stock car racing, NASCAR could certainly use that type of extra visibility. Through my agony, I'm reminded how the NFL benefits from McNabb's trade in two ways: keeping people talking and keeping the NFL in the news during the offseason. How does NASCAR compare? The best 2011 free agents available are Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne, who have combined for five Cup wins since 2007. Jimmie Johnson? Kyle Busch? Matt Kenseth? They're all locked up for the long-term, leaving little in NASCAR's upcoming Silly Season for people to get all worked up about.
That leads me to my second point. Big news elsewhere means an outright burial in the news cycle for NASCAR. During a week that saw MLB (Opening Day), the NFL, Tiger Woods and NCAA Basketball take center stage, Denny Hamlin's ACL surgery paled in comparison ... and that's not a good thing.
So let's do our best to raise the sport's profile and have a little weekly Q&A. If your question didn't make the cut this week, don't despair, you can always try again at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at NASCARBowles.
I'm not a huge NASCAR fan, but I thought the Car of Tomorrow was supposed to bring equality to all the teams by making everything the same. Seeing the No. 48 dominate the race, week after week, is getting ridiculous. I also think they made a big mistake in the Race to the Chase. You watch the last 10 races of the year, and guys get out of the way because they are not a Chase car. Absolute madness if you ask me.
- Joe Ausanio, Marlboro, NY
Joe, I picked your e-mail because it summarizes two main worries that bubbled to the surface after a fantastic race at Martinsville:
1) Jimmie Johnson has taken over the point lead. Fans are so focused on this guy that even though he had a horrible day at Martinsville (9th), just the realization he'd moved to the top was enough to drive them over the edge. I've never seen more "Jimmie Johnson is winning, so I'm not watching NASCAR anymore" comments/e-mails than in the last two months of this season.
2) Discouraged drivers are shying away from winning. Many fans jumped on this quote from Matt Kenseth, upset over his brouhaha gone bad with Jeff Gordon in Martinsville's final few laps:
"It was a dumb move on my part. I should have just finished third and collected some points and got one of our best finishes at Martinsville, but I figured I'd go for the win, which, I guess in hindsight, was probably a mistake."
While I think Kenseth's frustration got the better of him, just saying those words is alarming enough. Would you ever hear any batter in the MLB say, "Well, I wish I went for the walk so I could up my on-base percentage instead of going for broke with a home run that would have won us the game?"
Of course not. And while NASCAR made a litany of positive changes for 2010, the Chase is one area where it has still fallen short. It's so easy for "revenge" to come into play in, say, the Nationwide Series, where Cup drivers moonlight and it doesn't matter if they get wrecked out. But with a title in the Chase based on consistency, scoring that fifth-place finish is often worth more to drivers than going that extra mile for a win. When not taking a risk is rewarded, drivers will continue to back down from going for the win until NASCAR changes the system.
Carl Edwards is as exciting as watching paint dry. I don't dislike him, but I think he has lost his fastball!
- Mike Henry, Dallas, TX
Wow, Mike! I'm thinking fans at Talladega and Atlanta -- who saw Carl get flipped and then flip someone else, respectively -- might take issue with the excitement factor. I've heard a lot of adjectives to describe Mr. Edwards, but "boring" is definitely not one of them.
But when we look a little deeper, you're right about one thing: Edwards has lost his edge. Sure, he's leading the Nationwide standings and sits on the fringe of Chase contention, 14th in points with three top 10s after half-a-dozen starts. But he's still without a top 5 finish in Cup and carrying a 42-race winless drought in NASCAR's top division. In order to break it, Edwards has to lead a lap, something he has yet to do in 2010. Even backmarkers Joe Nemechek, Robby Gordon, Boris Said and Dave Blaney have managed that.
Last year, Edwards' shortcomings were blamed on a system-wide struggle within Roush Fenway Racing. But with Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth second and third in points, with 11 top 10s between them, it's clear Edwards' No. 99 has lost a step in comparison. Add in the weeklong distraction caused by the Keselowski flip, and Edwards is clearly suffering through a roller coaster 2010.
Whether that will wind up costing crew chief Bob Osborne his job is another question. Edwards desperately wants to keep him, and points out the last time the two split up (in '06) things got even worse. But with AFLAC paying $26 million a season, it's getting harder for Roush to justify the status quo with each passing week. I'd give it to Charlotte in May ... if things don't get better, you could see a change on the pit box.
Your column states that fans are being hypocritical after reacting negatively to Newman's statement that the moon landings were fake. Being politically incorrect and being ignorant of history are two completely different things.
- Mike, Midland, MI
Do I agree with what was said? Absolutely not. But isn't the beauty of this country freedom of speech? Newman's comments are radical ... but it's not like he's saying the Holocaust was a hoax.
Look, we're talking about the lone Cup driver with a college degree (Newman holds an engineering bachelor's from Purdue.) So it's not like he's spewing ignorance when speaking about scientific issues. I think it's his right to tell us what he believes and why. Would you rather have that, or a generic interview in which he thanks his sponsors and says nothing at all?
So feel free to disagree, but make sure you don't drive Newman back into his shell by forcing him to issue a public apology. You can't have it both ways. If you want drivers to speak their minds, you don't get to control what comes out of their mouths.
I liked your comment regarding Stewart's reaction to a reporter's question. Going along with that thought, I would love to see the Tiger Woods-bashing reporters and analysts go public with any instances of marital infidelity in their own lives. Of course, that should not be used to judge the quality of their writing, but neither should Tiger's marital mistakes be considered when evaluating his golf game.
- George Vann, Columbia, SC
Solid point, George. I think what you mean is the media shouldn't let their own personal biases against Stewart affect their coverage. But not everyone feels that way.
For athletes like Tony Stewart who don't think the media are asking smart enough questions or who show contempt, reporters should completely ignore them. Don't interview them, report only the barest information, then see where they'd be without media coverage.
- John Holder, Batavia, NY
John, as much as I know half the NASCAR media would love to take you up on that offer, they simply can't do it. When all is said and done, the purpose of being a journalist is to report the news as it happens, not create it or reshape it based on our personal biases. If Tony Stewart lights it up with five wins in seven races, we need to write about it. And if he snipes at every question we ask, so be it. How he treats us isn't a story.
So as much as we as sportswriters like to pump ourselves up, the bottom line is that you don't click on this column to read about us. Our struggles are meaningless in the face of a sport that millions tune in to watch every week. Let's not stand in the way of what's really happening.
Any connections in the NASCAR world? We have a 5-year-old boy who has stage 4 neuroblastoma, and he's a HUGE Jeff Gordon Fan. We're trying to get tickets to the race in Richmond, May 1. Please email email@example.com if you can help.
- Kris, Boston, MA
Sending it out to hundreds of thousands of loving, caring people is the least I can do, Kris. Good luck!
Tweet of the Week
"Woke my daughter up at 12:30 am to get ready for school. She got dressed and even ate breakfast... April Fools on her." - @StrokerAce, retweeted by @KevinHarvick as one of his favorite April Fools' jokes