Posted: Wednesday February 9, 2011 4:21PM ; Updated: Thursday February 10, 2011 11:34AM
Tom Bowles
Tom Bowles>INSIDE NASCAR

NASCAR's lack of DWI discipline troubling; more Mailbag

Story Highlights

Michael Annett has yet to be suspended despite blowing a .32 on Sunday

Travis Pastrana may play a key role in boosting Nationwide's visibility

NASCAR should work with vendors to make accommodations cheaper

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Michael-Annett.jpg
The fallout from Michael Annett's recent DWI arrest raises questions about NASCAR's stance on off-track incidents.
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR

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: Wrist-slap, wrist-slap, well-written apology, hope you'll forget about this whole thing before Daytona next week. Let's go!

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 @NASCARBowles is where it's at. Let's go!

I'm curious about your "Who To Watch" column yesterday. Was Michael Annett on the longshot list during the rough draft period of your piece? By the way, I totally agree with you on Bayne; been on his bandwagon when he ran with the leaders at ORP in 2009, I believe.
-- Steve K., Columbus, Ohio

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.

Hey Tom, I was reading your five biggest questions heading into Daytona and at No. 3 was "How will the Nationwide series re-identify itself?" Toward the end, you talk about the success of the series, in a way, depending on Danica, but I don't think that's completely true.

Yes, the cable rating for the races she was in rose to a 1.5, up from a 1.3 when she wasn't racing, but there were plenty of other stories to pay attention to during the Nationwide season even when she wasn't around.

Obviously, Justin Allgaier winning at Bristol as a Nationwide-only driver stands out, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.'s amazing comeback from a disastrous start to win ROTY honors, Brian Scott running well as a rookie too and almost claiming the ROTY title from Stenhouse, etc.

Now you add another level of interest with Travis Pastrana, I think the Nationwide Series will be all right regardless of how Danica does and if the media pay attention to all of it, not just slamming Danica all the time. I think the media and even the fans would be pleasantly surprised by the level of talent currently in the series and enjoy the races. I know I enjoyed them even more so than the Cup races last year.
-- Damon G., Hilliard, Ohio

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 never watched Nationwide to see the up-and-coming drivers. I watched every race for six years because they let anyone who wanted to race ... RACE. It was a mix of young and veteran drivers and a great series, but now they don't want it to be "hard" for the young guys so they are "fixing" the race rules to make it easier for them. I see a huge drop in the series ratings on the horizon. How many watch the NFL but don't watch the college games? That would be me and millions of other people. See ya later, Nationwide ... the networks will probably do the same.
-- Joanna, Mesa, Ariz.

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.

If NASCAR did a 180 and changed about 100 things, you and your media friends would be complaining that NASCAR is changing too much. "They are forgetting about their roots," etc ... blah, blah, blah...

I know you need something to talk/complain about in order to earn your pay check. But there are plenty of other stories to discuss rather than bashing the sport. Vickers coming back? Change in the points system... oh, wait, isn't there some big race coming up this month? The Daytona 5 something?

I am a huge NASCAR fan. However, the casual fan who really doesn't know much about NASCAR would never guess our season is about to start...

Thanks for listening!!!
-- Matthew Niper, Carmel, Ind.

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...

I don't know how many people take the time to write a columnist to say that they agree. I suspect far less than write to say you are "a moron" (or something to that effect). But this column absolutely hit the nail on the head (sorry for the cliché). It is what I have been telling my friends all along. Some are casual fans and some are as rabid as they come. I feel I fall somewhere in between. But, it is hard to continue to look forward to each new season as many of the same issues that have caused my interest to wane are still staring me in the face.
-- Gordon Edwards, Boyceville, Wisc.

OK, Matt. Time to move on.

Good article on NASCAR Friday. Our group of 12 attended Talladega for 20 years, both races until 2003. Up until this time it was first come, first serve. We got there late on Wednesday and got in line to enter the infield. Then it was decided that we were to pay almost a year in advance for a spot on the infield. Hard to plan a year ahead of time. I missed the 2003 race with open heart surgery. My group went ahead. This is the last race we went to. Decided it wasn't worth paying a year ahead of time at the prices wanted by the Frances. We haven't been back and we had between 12-15 in our group.
-- Tommy Witt, Tupelo, Miss.

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.

I e-mailed you the suggestion of having points for qualifying (43 for the pole, all the way back to 1 for 43rd). Seems NASCAR liked the idea and made it the new points system. I am sure I will have my name mentioned by the announcers at each race. My question is why doesn't qualifying matter? I know the Top 35 rule has you locked in but, as a fan, I want to see more than Ryan Newman and a handful of others really trying for the pole. I know you can win from any position, but geez ... give us fans something to watch. Qualifying is extremely boring, especially when the mouth, DW, is talking about Mikey and other meaningless things.
-- Tom Young, Montgomery, Ala.

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.

I was surprised by this stat from one of your articles:

"NASCAR's Chase finale drew a 3.3 rating, less than half that of the Pro Bowl last Sunday"

NASCAR Pro Bowl is the biggest waste of time in sports television and last season NASCAR finally had a close "chase" that came down to the final race. How does NASCAR remotely think that it is in competition with the NFL? I am convinced that NASCAR needs to turn the focus away from the points and get back to focusing on the individual race. Drop six races, drop the playoff format and focus all energies on the importance of the next race on the schedule.
-- Paul Viola, Annandale, Va.

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.

Tom -- you're so right about NASCAR needing changes. Undoing some of the terrible ones would even be an improvement. The Lucky Dog is ridiculous. How you can award a "lap back" on any track bigger than 1 mile is beyond me. And that's downright insane at Pocono and on road courses. Oh, and if "The Race for The Chase" is such a good thing, why don't they have it in the Nationwide and Truck series?
-- Johnny, Baltimore, Md.

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:

I had a back & forth with Steve O'Donnell of NASCAR on Twitter Sunday night/Monday, and decided to expand it to a blog post - maybe you'll find it interesting. Thanks in advance for reading.
-- Kyle Rohde, Kansas City, Mo.

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.

Last Week's Trivia Question: Who is the only driver in NASCAR history to sweep both the pole and the race at the Daytona 500 ... twice?

Rodney Ferguson from Enterprise, Ala. has it nailed, which is a good thing: I missed the mark and hit my hand with the hammer.

"I think I've got the answer to your trivia question and actually there's two drivers who have done the sweep of Pole Position and the Daytona 500 in the same year: Cale Yarborough in 1968 and 1984 and Bill Elliott in 1985 and 1987."

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.

This Week's Trivia Question: Since its name change in 1998, who is the lone driver to win both the exhibition Budweiser Shootout along with the Daytona 500 in the same year?

Tweet of the Week: "Yahoo! Fantasy League is now open. Group ID# 34 and the password is 11in11. Wow... 1k people in 1 hr... keep it going. Let's see if we can get 10k by the start of the season..." - @dennyhamlin announcing his public Yahoo! league where he'll compete against his fans during the season.

 
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