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Did You Notice? … NASCAR Leadership Needed… It’s Only A Matter Of Time
Credit: CIA Editorial Photography

Did You Notice? … NASCAR Leadership Needed… It’s Only A Matter Of Time

Did You Notice?… It’s now Wednesday morning, four-plus days after Saturday’s tragic incident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park that claimed the life of Kevin Ward, Jr. Racing controversy is still front and center, included inside the first few minutes of every newscast or SportsCenter update. Tony Stewart’s name has been mentioned more in the press than Barack Obama, his career hanging in the balance while a potential criminal investigation looms. One of the sport’s biggest stars is grieving, out of the public eye, while a few in the public hide behind a computer, shout “murderer” and trumpet a suspension or worse from NASCAR. Clearly, this story, regardless of one’s opinion, has become the biggest the sport has seen in several years.

Credit: Phil Allaway

Brian France has been mysteriously quiet through the last four days surrounding NASCAR’s biggest story. Credit: Phil Allaway

So where’s Brian France?

If you remember, just a few short months ago Donald Sterling rocked the NBA with his racist comments caught on tape. A volcanic eruption occurred during the sport’s playoff push, angry fans and even players calling for instant justice. So you know who swooped in with instantaneous leadership, direction, and support? Commissioner Adam Silver. His actions were decisive, effective, and quickly put the focus right back where it belonged: on the court. Not everyone agreed with every point made, but in the Sterling case Silver made it clear that the NBA would handle it.

That reaction is similar to every DUI, drug or serious domestic violence case involving an NFL player. How long does it take before Commissioner Roger Goodell pops up? Sure, some critics might joke he’s there holding the handcuffs along with police. But the head honcho’s “disciplinary conduct policy” rarely suffers from ignorance. Goodell makes his presence felt, in times of need, to ensure the NFL’s “Bad Boys” don’t give the sport they play in a bad reputation.

Compare that to France, who has stayed silent through a flurry of emotional, and sometimes inaccurate reporting on the Stewart case. Yes, the tragedy involves a race that was not NASCAR sanctioned, but the fact it’s one of the sport’s biggest drivers, a four-team car owner and one of its most famous names should be more than enough. So far, the sanctioning body has been limited in its official statements, praying for the Ward family while noting it will “stay in touch” with the Stewart investigation. It seems like the PR philosophy is one of silence until there’s a firm resolution, one that could take at least two more weeks based on the latest words from the local county sheriff shepherding the case.

In the meantime, what little we do know revolves around an “innocent until proven guilty” philosophy. Sunday morning, until Stewart had a change of heart, NASCAR said there was nothing “precluding” them from keeping the driver/owner from running the race. Barring major changes, that appears to be their stance for Michigan, forcing the decision on Stewart rather than stepping in to make it themselves. It’s as if the fire is going on next door. NASCAR sees it but would rather wait for someone else to put it out until they’re feeling the heat on the doorstep.

So far, reaction to Stewart within the motorsports community has been positive. A few sponsors have pledged their initial support, with that all-important caveat as long as he’s not charged with a felony. Drivers have privately sought out their friend to provide comfort. But there’s also a subset out there, fans who will be at the racetrack this weekend whose decision on Stewart is already made. Just check out any comment board under virtually any article mentioning this subject and you’ll see the cruel words of trial and execution. It’s enough to make a strategy of “let’s wait and see what happens” somewhat concerning, especially if Stewart’s plan is to push forward and race before the investigation gets completed.

What is NASCAR’s plan for such a scenario? And what about safety concerns, brought up in the wake of the Ward tragedy that also apply to NASCAR? Ward’s not the only driver who’s gotten out of his car angry before the ambulance rolled up. Heck, Bristol was built on drivers throwing shoes, helmets, even pieces of debris on the track towards someone else before stepping into the arms of safety personnel. Are there plans to change procedure? What else can be done to ensure future prevention of such a horrific act?

As the premier motorsports series in the country, NASCAR should feel a burden, a responsibility to take the lead in cases like this one. I think, in the long-term they will but it’s a little worrisome we’re four days out and for all we know, the sport’s CEO hasn’t found out the news about Mr. Stewart. So step up and say something, Mr. France. The silence is deafening… and disappointing.

Did You Notice? … The Watkins Glen race took only two hours, 26 minutes under green-flag conditions but in reality lasted well over four hours? Two red flags totaling one hour, forty minutes delayed what was otherwise some of the most compelling action all season.

Those setbacks are in line with a litany of weather delays, racing surface problems and track repairs that have plagued NASCAR all season. During an era where efficiency is the name of the game – see one hour, 45 minute college basketball games – stock car racing is finding more ways to drag their races out.

Now I’ll admit some stoppages, like what we saw at the Glen, can’t be prevented. Safety is of the utmost priority and you can’t leave an Armco barrier out in a high-speed area of a racetrack. But at the same time, should a red flag pop out, why not revert to a timed race? Putting a three-hour limit on the proceedings could lead to additional strategy, the hallmark of any race now at Watkins Glen or Sonoma. It would also ensure a race fan can hit the DV-R, from 1 to 4 PM, come back and watch without searching for illegal footage on YouTube. (Or, even worse, getting to 4:30 and pursuing other plans instead of watching one of the best endings NASCAR’s given fans all year).

Putting a time limit on it isn’t a new concept; for open-wheel racing and sports cars, it’s done like clockwork. (See what I did there?) By the way, you know what’s growing in racing right now? Sports cars. Hmm. Maybe consider taking a page out of their playbook?

It’s hard for NASCAR, with rain delays, to turn in a timed race on an oval. What, you’re going to end an event after 40 laps of a scheduled 500 because of Mother Nature? However, it’s the best idea yet to tackle a growing problem of “too long” for the ADD generation. When the cars slow to a stop, it helps for fans to know at some point, the race is going to stop… instead of piling on delays through eternity.

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before we take off…

- Finishing second Sunday may be what ultimately tips the scales and sends Marcos Ambrose to Australia for 2015. But don’t expect the No. 9 team to give up just yet. Ambrose, while known as a road racer, has three career top-5 finishes at Bristol, including a fifth this spring. He has also won a pole at Michigan since the repave. A surprising oval win would earn him a Chase bid, the second for Richard Petty Motorsports, and change how he’s perceived within the sport. It also might tip the scales the way Juan Pablo Montoya’s near-miss at Richmond last spring, which might have kept him in NASCAR had the pendulum swung the other way.

- How awkward will the next Race Team Alliance meeting be now that Rick Hendrick has stripped a major sponsor from Jack Roush? Yes, the practice occurs all the time but 3M’s move to the No. 24 car and Jeff Gordon, starting next season, leaves Roush Fenway Racing in dire straits. Now we know what Greg Biffle meant a few weeks ago at Pocono when he cryptically mentioned his contract was signed “regardless of sponsorship.” A failure to keep 3M after months of negotiations means Roush has a patchwork of sponsors for Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., just one for newcomer Trevor Bayne (Advocare) and a gaping big hole for a 44-year-old that currently sits outside the Chase. Michigan, once a RFR stronghold, has suddenly become crucial for Biffle’s future. Making it on points is far from certain, and MIS is likely his only chance to cash in on Victory Lane before the end of the season.

- Speaking of sponsor holes, with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. now needing fill-ins on the No. 88, you wonder if that could make Kasey Kahne a little nervous. Chase Elliott, who is already set to run some Cup races in 2015, has the high-end backing from NAPA. He’s outdriven Kahne this season, and despite a recent turnaround at the No. 5 Chevy, the team remains outside the Chase. It’s clear everyone at Hendrick loves Kahne, the way they loved former Jimmie Johnson buddy Casey Mears, but never underestimate the value of money…

- Watkins Glen ratings up 21 percent? During a year when NASCAR Nielsen numbers are falling off a cliff? Nah, I guess we don’t need a road course race in the Chase. It’s not like the Sonoma numbers were up, either… oh wait. They had a slight increase in viewership, too? You don’t say… maybe the fans are trying to tell NASCAR something, huh?

About Tom Bowles

Tom Bowles
The author of Bowles-Eye View (Mondays) and Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 30 staff members as its majority owner. Based in Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild.

16 comments

  1. The leader of Nascar is simply a lucky sperm. I would hope that he he wouldn’t comment on this situation by saying some meaningless thing like “we are praying for everybody”. Jenna Fryer will take care of the Nascar image. She’s in the club.

  2. If I were to buy tickets and travel 1000 miles to watch a race and it only went 40 out of 500 miles due to a time limit, I would spend my money elsewhere next time. Bad idea.

    Whenever BZF opens his mouth something stupid comes out. It’s probably better that he stays quiet.

    I’m afraid Ambrose is planning on going back to Australia. During the press conference after his win on Saturday, he started a sentence with “one thing I’ll take away from NASCAR is…” (or something along those lines). It struck me as an indication that he will be leaving. I’d hate to see him leave, but the V8 Supercar series is great and I understand a desire to go home again.

  3. If Nascar had a real leader it would be great for them to show some leadership. Alas, Nascar has Brian France, and with that in mind I’m just thankful he hasn’t opened his mouth. Who would be able to understand anything he had to say anyway?

  4. I don’t blame Brian France or NASCAR for not saying anything until we know if there will be any charges. This was not a sanctioned NASCAR race and it wasn’t a NASCAR sanctioned track. They already got called out by Keith Olbermann on Twitter Sunday. I don’t think there is anything NASCAR can do if Tony wants to race before the investigation is done.

    On timed races, I don’t want to see them. Red flags happen for various reasons. Red flags happen. The best way is to correct preventable issues that lead to long red flags (track issues) and try to keep all races, except the big ones (Daytona 500, Coke 600 and Southern 500) at 400 miles or less.

  5. So Tom what oval series does timed races? waiting for examples? yep that’s what I thought NONE.
    The timed races also race in almost any conditions, lightning and snow being the exceptions.

    The rules have to say the same for each of the 36 races. That means racing to the scheduled distance or longer or at minimum to half way due to weather. These have been the rules for decades why change them now for fans that do not exist. Keep in mind that the rating and attendance in many cases are still up from the late 90′s just fell back to the norm.

    I for one agree with the posters above, thanking the heavenly people to not have Brian France speaking at all. The NBA issue is not the same. That is an owner of a franchise of the NBA not one of the players, not a staff person etc. Wonder if the same sentence were said by say Kevin Durant would have illicted the same reaction. Plus as one of the other posters indicate what would France even say other than a public expression of condolensences to the Ward family. Again, it was not a NA$CAR event, it was not at an ISC owned track, yes it involved a NASCAR driver/owner but it is not the same thing. Best thing France is doing is letting Stewart get the proper due process. For once he is one of the few actually doing the right thing and not saying much. I bet you he has talked to Stewart already about what is going on.

  6. That Brian France is an idiot is a given. But, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Instead of announcing a verdict before the trial NASCAR has elected to withhold judgement until the investigation is completed and the facts are in. What a concept! Just imagine if our media reported facts as they became known rather than what they think the facts should be. Hard to imagine isn’t it.

  7. Wonder what could do other than a statement of condolences to the family? Any more doesn’t seem appropriate in this situation.
    As to the ratings, I think it probably has more to do with the tragedy of the night before than the race itself. Remember the old adage “if it bleeds it leads”. Reality will return for Michigan in all likelihood.

  8. No to the timed races, hate that idea. They set the distance, let them race to it unless weather stops it.
    Start timing races and all the sudden a strategy call which may win the race is meaningless. It’s bad enough that most tracks don’t have much tire fall off anymore, let’s not take another element out of play.

  9. Okay Tom, what exactly should NASCAR (or France, to be specific) do to exhibit leadership? It’s all too easy for someone (you) to whine and complain and say someone should do something, but what specifically is it that you want done?

    When Goodall shows up, it’s usually announce a suspension. When Silver took the podium it wasn’t just to ‘do something’, it was to announce that Sterling was going to be forced out. So when France steps up to the podium, what is it he is supposed to do?

    Like you, I’m not a France fan, but it’s childish to rant about him not doing something when you don’t say what it is that you want done.

  10. Tom, leadership from a guy who only has $ signs in front of his eyes, nah, I would never expect that. I don’t really need him to tell me what to think since usually I disagree with his point of view anyway.

    I don’t know which way Stewart will go about racing in Michigan but you can bet that if he does, he can expect to encounter a lot of reaction. I’m trying to stay neutral on this since I don’t know anything other than what I saw in that terrible video and in the news reports.

    Well I’m not sure about the whole clock thing for NASCAR races. I don’t enjoy sitting around for long rain delays or red flag issues and I’ve found myself in the position of having to leave a race in order to catch a flight on race day but if they are going to do it, consistency – which is not a strong point for NASCAr – would have to be part of the rule.

  11. I get your point regarding BF’s deafening silence but, do we really want the hole on that face to open and start spewing out meaningless clichés? No matter how many words he says and how long he talks, he still won’t say anything.
    Yes ratings were up but I doubt anyone with power will acknowledge that maybe more road courses should be on the schedule. It’s not what they want to hear.

  12. Brian has made a mess of Nascar and it is his idea so it must be good. When the core fans were shunned in favor of being hip you lost those who would take their kids and then grand kids to the races, these ticket prices are getting out of hand also. Nascar is making all the same mistakes Indy cars did back in the 80′s.
    As for Tony he has done a lot of generous work but we live in a society where dirt sells,.

  13. Ashley McCubbin

    Great points with regards to Brian France as I was surprised by NASCAR’s lack of response on Sunday. Beyond that, with your tidbits at the bottom, I’ve always thought since they hinted that Elliott is moving to Cup in 2016 that Kahne was in trouble. With Kahne’s contract up at the end of 2015 and Gordon now signing sponsors for beyond 2016, that is becoming even more in full view.

  14. Leadership? From Nascar regarding this incident? Why..pray-tell why? I am a grown adult, as most of us are, I don’t need anybody offering their words on the direction my thoughts should take. Silence sometimes is golden and this is one of them. Really..leadership in Nascar has been absent for over a decade and anything Brian and company could say will only make it worse. On big sponsors leaving the lesser of the rich guys, well I don’t think it’s healthy. Last year with Napa getting on their soap box of blah, blah..then signing with JRM (a farm team for HMS). Signing on as a sponsor for a kid that caught more than once in a race car not up to snuff before NW and HMS is laughable. Oh please, when will it stop. Napa and 3M are free to spend their dollars as they see fit, and I thank them for their service to Nascar and fans. I also am free to spend my dollars where I see fit and it isn’t with their products or services.

  15. it’s hard to defend a driver with the rep of Smoke and all his past that will definitely loom in his foreseeable future.

    The winner Sunday, has overcome his past indiscretions and that’s the good news!

    I disagree on timing races with some sort of on the clock management. Your last paragraph (if true) tells you that ratings are up. Apparently a red flag stoppage did not keep viewers from wanting to see whom got to the checkered flag first!