Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? NASCAR & Politics, Raining on Goodyear & Penske’s Nasty Divorce

Did You Notice? That on the heels of Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw his sponsorship of a Sprint Cup car – remember, Pocono was the weekend he was supposed to put his name on the side of the No. 49 BAM Racing Toyota – another political party was spotted making waves at the Speedway.

Presumptive Republican nominee John McCain’s wife, Cindy, made the rounds in the garage area Sunday morning, shaking hands and making small talk with teams before appearing on stage for driver introductions. The move follows a similar visit by the campaign at the IRL race in Nashville, where Ms. McCain was a bit more visible. At that event, she rode in the pace car, held the winner’s trophy and had a private chat with the series’ most well-known driver – Danica Patrick.

However, in the midst of the controversy surrounding whether Obama should have put his campaign on a racecar, McCain appeared a little more low key during her activities on the NASCAR beat. ESPN’s pre-race show focused far more on 24’s Kiefer Sutherland, the grand marshal, than making a big deal about McCain’s appearance or focusing on her during the show. One thing’s for sure; it certainly didn’t seem like fans were making a big deal out of it.

And along those lines, I thought the Pocono Record had an interesting unofficial poll they took relating to this whole issue. The newspaper asked 200-plus fans who they were going to vote for in November, and the numbers favored John McCain – but not by much. He led Obama just 33% to 26%, with another 24% undecided and 15% claiming they’re just not going to vote at all.

Why do I mention politics, something I found most NASCAR fans want to keep out of their world entirely after my SI story about Obama? The numbers are so split down the middle that Republicans – who have looked to fans in the past as a conservative “NASCAR Dads” contingent they could rally for support – may not be as inclined to appear at a race where the audience is more divided.

Unlike ’04, NASCAR is reluctant to release statistics such as nine out of their 10 Chase drivers are supporting a Republican candidate, for doing so would be a 180-degree shift to their message of diversity. And since we’ve already seen Obama is reluctant to enter into the world of stock car racing, the bottom line is we may avoid any type of presidential candidate appearance for the first time in years! Take that for what you will; I’m sure some fans are cheering about that, while others recognize the loss of publicity for a presidential appearance is also a big deal.

Just think about how much positive attention the sport would receive if selected for such an event; it’d be far better than hearing about the various economic, discriminatory and competitive problems besieging the sport as of late.

Did You Notice? Carl Edwards’s argument with Bob Osborne reminded us that this guy isn’t always like Leave It To Beaver. He just likes to make it appear that way.

Did You Notice? That if Matt Kenseth does fall out of the Chase, the two races he’ll look to that cost him his opportunity were a failed fuel-mileage gamble at Pocono – the race won by track position, not pure speed – as well as an explosive tire failure at Indianapolis. That makes me think the sport shouldn’t count points from that race. If the results at Indy were that controlled, aren’t you controlling who makes and misses the Chase by shutting out guys who had poor performances there?

Did You Notice? That, speaking of controlled, I hope Pocono’s lap 20 competition caution is the last one we see out of NASCAR this year. Oh, wait, I forgot about mystery debris. We’re screwed!

Did You Notice? Ryan Newman’s comments during and after the Pocono race on Sunday? During the rain delay, he criticized his team for the choice they made to bring his car down pit road (a move which turned out to be the right call). Then, after the race, these were his comments concerning a 14th-place finish, a run which actually bumped him up the points ladder to 15th position:

“Strategy was important, but our Avis Dodge was disappointing. It would not go [no horsepower] down the straightaways. You’re not going to win races like that. It’s disappointing.”

See also
Mirror Driving: Fuel-Mileage Snooze, What Did Roush Lose? and Grading Rain Tires

It’s clear Newman’s no longer holding back what he feels about the operation; and with the possibility the team will need a new sponsor next season due to the Verizon/Alltel merger (remember, Sprint can block Verizon’s sponsorship) is it really in Penske’s best interest to employ a driver who has no incentive not to throw his team under the bus anymore?

These situations are always the trickiest; just like with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and DEI last year, drivers in the 13th-23rd positions in points aren’t doing poor enough they won’t have a job the following year, but don’t have the incentive of either the Chase or the Top 35 to keep them motivated.

Rusty may have been “wrong” (or at least publicly rebuked by revealing a secret) about Penske firing Newman, but you wonder if it’s in both parties’ best interest to part ways before the end of the year – especially if Newman announces his move to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009 while the No. 70 remains a rotating merry-go-round of drivers like it is right now.

It’d be good for Newman to get a head start on that program, and for Penske to try a fresh face; by putting his new driver in the seat, at least he’ll have someone committed to improving the program over the long haul.

Did You Notice? Scott Riggs is still waiting for an answer as to whether he’ll be retained by Stewart-Haas for 2009? What the heck are they waiting for? Tony, just call the guy and put him out of his misery… for right now, the whole world knows Riggs won’t be in the car except for Riggs himself. That’s just silly.

Did You Notice? Speaking of Tony Stewart, he was helping none other than Chrissy Wallace with her ARCA ride in the absence of father Mike at Pocono. It seemed Wallace got a raw deal when Chase Miller came down on her entering turn 1, causing a spin and leaving her with a torn up racecar after she smacked the outside wall. But with people like Stewart helping in her corner and the famous drivers behind her last name, you’ve got to think Wallace is in one of the better positions to succeed than women who have come before her in the past.

Did You Notice? Despite the fact the rain tires at Montreal were deemed “a great success,” NASCAR refuses to consider using them for the Cup Series, instead leaving the Nationwide cars as a guinea pig for these nearly decade-old pieces of rubber. To me, that says something; if you were truly confident about the performance of these tires, wouldn’t you want to show them off at the sport’s highest level? So much has been said of the Montreal weekend being a huge success for these things, but I don’t necessarily determine success by “the tires didn’t blow up.”

Nobody knew what to expect, as testing hadn’t been done in quite sometime; so, as expected, people played it safe in the rain, running slower and more conservative. And how many times have we said “playing it safe” is the exact opposite concept of what the bare bones goals of racing are all about? It seemed to me this intrigued people because of the novelty, not because of the competition.

Did You Notice? One other fishy thing from Montreal. The names Don Thomson and Scott Steckly may not ring a bell, but for Canadians, they’re huge – it’s the top-two drivers in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series points standings, the very series the sport is trying to grow by having a successful Nationwide Series event in Quebec.

So, imagine the fans’ surprise when they bought tickets to see Steckly and Thomson, only to see those two park their cars for no reason after just two laps. The reason? NASCAR hooked them up with rides on the MSRP Motorsports bandwagon; you know, the No. 90 and No. 91 cars we’ve been railing on all season for starting and parking in every race.

The sport had no problem advertising these wheelmen, though, as native entrants into the starting field and big time threats for the win. Man, what an awesome experience I’d have listening in on the scanner if I were an innocent Canadian fan of these drivers. “Scott, don’t get near anyone! Don’t crash! OK, it’s lap 2. Let’s pull it in and call it a day.”

Did You Notice? That security at Pocono was absolutely ridiculous this past weekend? I’ve been at the track multiple times, and never been harassed with a hard card to the degree it happened this weekend. There was a private company hired for the event – BCM Security – which seemed equivalent to too many people with too little knowledge of the sport looking for any possible way to kick you out of places you needed to go.

I was hanging out with a friend at the ARCA race, a PR person who had a hot pass – and I kid you not, his pass was checked seven times as we were standing on pit road. At the ARCA race! I’m all for tighter security, but I think Pocono might have bungled this one up.

Did You Notice? There’s still no refund for fans who watched the race from the stands at Indianapolis. Just pointing it out.

About the author

The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside 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. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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