NASCAR rebounded nicely after poorly handling Nationwide wreck
I've gotten a lot of mail and tweets this week concerning my story from last Saturday night about the horrifying wreck at the end of the Nationwide Series race at Daytona -- to me, that was defining event of the weekend. In the piece, I wrote that ESPN should have shown more than one replay of Kyle Larson's No. 32 car barreling into the catch fence. Several ESPN staffers told me that this was done out of "respect" for the injured, and I understand that.
But my point is this: It was eminently possible to show the replay without revealing the carnage in the stands, which is what every other broadcast outlet on the planet seemed to do. This was a major news story and it should have been covered as one -- with replays of the on-track accident and informed analysis of what in the world just had happened. In my view, ESPN came up short last Saturday by erring too much on the side of caution.
I was also critical of how NASCAR and Daytona track president, Joie Chitwood, performed during a Saturday night press conference. Specially, I was baffled by the prepared statement Chitwood read that tersely stated that thoughts and prayers were with the injured and then, almost in the next breath, he informed everyone that, despite had what had happened, the Daytona 500 would go on as scheduled the following day, as if that was as important as dealing with the worst wreck (in terms of fans injured in a race-related accident) in the history of NASCAR. It came off as cold and sounded as if a lawyer had written it.
Since then, however, Chitwood and NASCAR have made all the right moves. Chitwood spoke eloquently on Sunday morning about what NASCAR and the track were doing to help the injured and then Chitwood spent the opening laps of the 500 sitting in the section that was turned into a debris zone in the wreck. There was genuine compassion in these actions and they hit all the right PR notes.
Bottom line, it was a nice rebound for Chitwood and NASCAR, and none too soon. On Tuesday, Feb. 26, a lawyer representing three of the injured held a press conference to announce he was considering filing a lawsuit that would focus on the track's 22-foot tall catch fence. So stay tuned.
Without being a fan of NASCAR or Danica, I was fascinated by those last few laps when she couldn't try to make a run at the lead ... and then on the final lap dropping five places. Was this because of the good ol' boy system and no one was willing to give her any help? Or what other reasons?
-- Tom Yoder, Aspen, CO
Patrick basically got bamboozled at the end of the race by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Patrick headed into Turn 3 on the final lap in third place. Junior was in fourth. But instead of sticking tight to Patrick in the draft, Earnhardt backed off the throttle, dropped back to Mark Martin, then mashed the gas and used a push from Martin to slingshot past Patrick. Martin stayed on Earnhardt's bumper and he, too, sailed past Patrick, who then was pushed up the track. She lost the draft, fell back through the field, and finished eighth.
Patrick admitted afterward that it was her inexperience in the art of drafting that caused her to lose so much ground on the final lap. But overall, she earns an 'A' grade for her performance in the 500. She consistently ran in the top five, didn't make any major mistakes on pit road and proved that she could keep her fenders clean for 200 laps. No question, this was a terrific start to the year for Patrick.
Do you think part of the problem with getting a younger audience [to watch NASCAR races] is the TV announcers? When they showed the announcers for the Sprint Open, it struck me that the three were the same from 10+ years ago. Darrell Waltrip is using the same lines. Also, if his brother Michael is the best Fox can up with for a "younger" announcer, the ratings will continue to stay low (Michael on, mute on).
-- Mark, Atlanta, GA
Several years I ago I was asked to speak to about a dozen ESPN staffers about different aspects of NASCAR. At some point I gave my thoughts on the sport's TV announcers. What I said then -- and what I still believe now -- is that it hurts the image of NASCAR to use announcers who are grammatically challenged and fail to speak in clear, complete sentences, because it feeds the worst stereotypes that many stick-and-ball fans have of NASCAR and those who participate in the sport.
That said, I think DW is still at the top of his game and, years from now, he'll be remembered as much for his broadcast career as his driving. Could younger, fresher voices lure younger sets of eyeballs to the sport? Perhaps, but that's pretty far down the list of what needs to be done to reinvigorate NASCAR, which may actually be starting to happen right now, given that the TV rating of 9.9 that this year's Daytona 500 garnered was the highest since 2008 -- and an increase of 24 percent from last year's 500.
I realize that one person doesn't indicate a trend, but I am one of the casual fans that NASCAR has lost in recent years. I can verify that the Chase format is the primary reason that I no longer follow the sport. When you change the rules to try to artificially manufacture excitement, I will turn you off.
-- Doug, West Lafayette, IN
I know there a lot of old-school fans that feel exactly the way you do, Doug. NASCAR chairman Brian France took a big risk in 2004 when he scrapped the old points system in favor of the Chase, but I'd say that, a decade later, France would make the same decision again. I know the playoff-style format diminishes the importance of the first 26 races of the season -- NASCAR certainly isn't like college football where an early season loss can potentially knock you out of the national championship hunt -- but France felt strongly (justifiably, in my view) that the sport was losing fans late in the season because championship were essentially being locked up with a month left on the schedule.
I definitely agree that NASCAR should move one of the existing road races into the Chase, or adding a new road race in the Chase. I also think the rest of the tracks used need to be more balanced. Currently the 1.5 milers have too much of a roll in the Chase. One super speedway, one road course, two short tracks, and that leaves room for three of the cookie cutter 1.5 mile tracks, and maybe Dover or some other funky track plus two one-mile tracks. Or something like that. This will ensure that the champion and their team is well-rounded.
-- Peter Stambaugh, High Point, NC
I agree 100 percent, Peter. One of the reasons Jimmie Johnson has been so dominant in the Chase era is because he excels on 1.5-mile tracks. Another idea would be to mix up the playoff tracks every season.
Did RPM sign a long-term deal with Ford or is it just for this year. I wish Dodge had stepped up with a big offer for the Petty Blue cars.
-- F. Long III, Cleveland, NC
Richard Petty Motorsports hasn't revealed the length of its contract with Ford. But this is the fourth year of the partnership between RPM and Ford and I'd expect it to continue for the foreseeable future. As for Dodge? Even though the manufacturer won the championship last year with Brad Keselowski, it pulled out of NASCAR after the 2012 season and it doesn't appear Dodge has plans to reenter the sport at least within the next two years.