Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Silly Season Contracts, Old-School Drivers & the “Blow-Up” Crowd

No time to waste with an intro this week; it’s sunny and 70, and I need to hit a patio. Good batch this week, boys and girls. Keep ‘em rollin’ on in.

Q: The Silly Season rumors are driving me nuts. Whatever happened to loyalty in NASCAR? Jamie McMurray has a full year left on his contract (to Roush Fenway Racing) but because he hasn’t performed quite to the level of his teammates, his head is on the chopping block (if you believe what the media sells).

Jack Roush needs to give McMurray time. At the very least, he needs to honor the contract he and Jamie signed. It is a performance-based business and Jamie has not been as successful as many expected; but loyalty and ethics should come in to play too.  MaddMaxx

A: Your last line is the basis of my argument, man. I know comparing the NBA to NASCAR is genuine leather to rubber compound, but parallels can be drawn. In the last month alone, Mike D’Antoni (Phoenix Suns), Avery Johnson (Dallas Mavericks), and Flip Saunders (Detroit Pistons) have all joined the list of NBA coaches who led their respective teams to the playoffs, but got canned for not winning the big prize. Heck, Saunders was shown the door despite guiding the Pistons to three consecutive Conference Finals.

See also
Thompson in Turn 5: Jamie McMurray, Unfulfilled Expectations

The point is, professional athletes and coaches are paid unfathomable sums of money to get results. In McMurray’s case, the results have simply not come. Whether he’ll be back at RFR remains to be seen, but if I’m Jack Roush, it’s hard to justify keeping a guy that I’ve paid a reported record sum to if he’s just not getting results.

The move I make instead? Make his No. 26 program the third Yates Racing team; honor the contract to that extent, anyway.

Q: How about my boy Kyle Busch? Not only is he dominating on the track, but he’s become NASCAR’s bad boy. Am I wrong to think that his driving style and persona are more like Dale Earnhardt‘s than even the Intimidator’s son and fellow 2007 free agent Dale Earnhardt Jr. Rowdy Rush

A: No doubt, Rowdy. Kyle very much reminds me of an early- to mid-’80s Earnhardt, Sr. in terms of driving style. Senior cultivated his persona over the years, morphing from “Ironhead” into “The Intimidator,” so we’ll see how Kyle evolves. Earnhardt Jr. even agrees with your point of view.

“On the racetrack, there may be some comparisons there,” Junior said the week after his tangle with Busch at Richmond. “He’s very fast. He’s running well. He’s quick and he’s aggressive. This is Dale Earnhardt from ’89 and earlier. My daddy quit doing that stuff (over-aggression) after a while. That’s the way my dad raced. Kyle has that same style. He’s very aggressive.”

Aggressive Junior ain’t. At least not in the mode of Daddy. He’s much more give-and-take, which is the MO of many of today’s top talents, it seems. Busch is an exception, though, and coupled with the fan’s apparent disdain for him, makes for an easy comparison. Just don’t go any further than that.

“Personality-wise, they’re polar opposites,” Junior went on. “Give me a break. You knew my dad better than that.”

Q: Besides Mark Martin, who would you say is the most “old-school” driver on the Cup circuit right now?  Dale Petty

A: That’s an interesting question, one that may have a few right answers. On the Cup side, the no-brainer is Tony Stewart, who is basically an AJ Foyt clone… and who’s more old school than Foyt? I love that Stewart would rather be slingin’ dirt in a winged sprint car or late model simply for the thrill of it, and that he lets his emotions rule the day when others would toe the company line.

Others you’d have to mention, but who I believe fall just short, are Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Busch, Earnhardt Jr. and even… Juan Pablo Montoya, believe it or not.

In the Nationwide Series, I’d have to give a nod to Jason Keller and Bobby Hamilton Jr.; but the Truck Series is just chock-full of ‘em. Take your pick.

Q: I have noticed at the Nationwide races that attendance is close to miserable. If NASCAR says they need Cup drivers in the Nationwide races to draw in crowds, where are the crowds? Instead, the Cup drivers keep beating the Nationwide drivers to death every week – which brings us back to square one, which is the Nationwide Series is not fulfilling the role it should, which is a training ground. How can NASCAR continue to ignore this major problem?  Debbie Howard

A: A friend of mine works in the music video and commercial productions industry. She told me that they use a “blow-up crowd” for many of the shoots. Yes, they more or less take giant balloons painted to look like people, and use them in some wide-angle scenes. Bet you could make a million selling that concept to NASCAR.

The point you make is a valid one, Debbie. It’s a vicious cycle in the Nationwide Series at the moment; big name drivers are, in theory, supposed to draw in big crowds. Problem is, with the economy in the condition it’s in, that’s not happening (for reasons I believe you’re fully aware).

There are drivers getting their shot in the junior circuit, though. Brad Keselowski, Kelly Bires, Marcos Ambrose, Steve Wallace, Landon Cassill, Joey Logano, Brad Coleman, Cale Gale. These guys are the future of the Cup Series and are cutting their teeth against some of the best. Throw in ARCA and the Truck Series, and suddenly the pipeline doesn’t seem so clogged. Yes, the Nationwide Series will be dominated by the powerhouses of the sport, but Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Biffle, Busch and Kevin Harvick won’t be running it forever. I’m of the opinion that the ARCA Series is the one that may be most vital to the future health of big-time auto racing in America.

Before I go, let me get the horse racin’ plug in. The Belmont is this weekend. Tune in to see history… it may be another 30 years before we get another Triple Crowner.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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