Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? NASCAR’s Vague Meeting, Eury’s Imminent Departure & the Poor Become Penniless

Did You Notice? All the wholesale changes that took place after NASCAR’s meeting with teams and owners Tuesday? No, I didn’t notice them either… and whether any happen at all is what’s really going to make or break this “town hall” affair a longtime source explained was “nothing more than a PR move” after debriefing with others who attended.

That’s a little disconcerting to me, but based on what little I’ve heard so far in both private and public, the words generic, uneventful, bland come to mind… ladies and gentlemen, today’s password is “vague.” A lot was discussed, ideas were gathered, that much we know, but nothing was actually done or promised as of yet.

The problem is – and I speak for the cross-section of fans who I speak with, email, etc. on a daily basis – they want changes yesterday, not “in a little while.” Any more “state of the sport” gatherings, like the one that was had at Michigan last summer, mean absolutely nothing unless some substantive changes come out of them.

After all, it’s not like NASCAR fans sit and live in a bubble where they don’t understand how the real world works. Many, including myself, have been in work situations where they’ve gone to conferences and people “share ideas” during “special meetings,” but how often do those concepts ever get taken to the next step?

Yes, I do understand you can’t expect wholesale changes to fix things like the “aero” push and wholesale deficiencies with the Car of Tomorrow in the matter of 24 hours. I also know that in this type of town hall format, inviting some of the sport’s owners and drivers to tell NASCAR what they’re doing wrong is absolutely unprecedented for a sport that’s bent on control. It’s a positive thing.

Still, we heard a lot yesterday and will hear over the coming days about what could happen, but we haven’t heard of anything definitive that will happen. NASCAR said they’re more open for change. OK, that’s nice. So show us. Throw the fans, drivers and teams a much-needed bone, an adjustment they’ve been asking for to inject some energy into a sport too often accused of being stagnant as of late.

And despite their new democratic stance, I have a hard time believing the sport has suddenly given up all control. All week, we heard drivers nearly threaten mutiny until they got an official list of what substances were banned. Tuesday afternoon following the meeting, suddenly everyone was towing the party line that NASCAR’s current policy was acceptable. Right along with it came plenty of extra pomp and circumstance about the fans, as well, and that we need to do what’s best for them in this “tough economy.”

Gol-ly, did the sponsor reps attend this meeting too? Here’s the problem – and I hate to bring up those pesky fans again – but too many of them are saying the economy has nothing to do with why they’re not attending races these days. People aren’t coming to see us because – let’s take a deep breath – they think the racing sucks.

As someone as passionate about this sport as I am for the past 20 years, a person who will always try and think positive and actually thinks we’ve had some damn exciting racing at times over the last six weeks, that sentence I just wrote is both alarming and hurtful. But for the longtime fans who’ve been loyal for well over a generation, I just hear that too much, too often, to completely ignore its existence.

As for NASCAR’s younger generation of fans, words like that are nearly the equivalents to the kiss of death. Because in my ADD 20-something generation, the second we think a product sucks we’re on to doing something else. There’s just too much out there to grab our attention. With iPods, Facebook, TV and video games it’s a classic case of overstimulation that leaves no time for waiting around.

Right now, there’s no question in my view that with declining attendance, ratings and sponsorship support, the status quo for the sport is no longer an acceptable course of action. That’s why people are getting so impatient. After all, why spend all their hard-earned money on a product they no longer believe anyone’s willing to fix? Say what you want about our president, but whether you agree or disagree with his policies, no one can sit there and claim Barack Obama is sitting on his butt.

Point being, America in 2009 is looking for at least an attempt at solutions, not inaction. You need to send a better message than “we’ve been talking, we’ll get back to you,” but that seems to be the early pulse of what came out of these meetings. Hopefully, top NASCAR brass will change that perception quickly, publicly reminding us they’re working feverishly to implement changes to captivate the fanbase… before the fanbase isn’t there to keep waiting any longer.

Did You Notice? Both NASCAR and Jeremy Mayfield refuse to fully disclose the substance he failed his test for? I brought this up in DYN a couple of weeks ago, and felt I did some shoddy reporting on the issue of whether or not the sport would be in hot water if they ever revealed Mayfield’s test results. Well, it turns out after doing some digging the key element here is that Mayfield is not a contracted employee of NASCAR.

As such, I’ve confirmed he doesn’t fall under the context of the current HIPAA rules. Those laws, brought up by some dedicated fans of the column, would have made it a federal violation of privacy for the sport to release his test results.

So, if that’s the case – that NASCAR faces no criminal penalty for sealing Mayfield’s results – why are both parties continuing to keep their mouth shut? It all seems to revolve around the seriousness of the substance Mayfield tested positive for. Whatever it is, the driver himself won’t want to release it until it’s under the controlled environment of a lawsuit – a time when he’s in perfect position to defend his character. And as for NASCAR’s side, revealing the name of the substance on their own would open them up to a possible civil suit if it turns out their lab made a terrible mistake.

Hopefully, that didn’t make things any more confusing. I know when you mention “lawyer,” “civil” or “lawsuit” in a sentence, people tend to either roll their eyes and/or fall asleep on the spot. But the bottom line is until the substance does get revealed, this story will refuse to go away anytime soon.

Did You Notice? Mike Bliss followed his unexpected, upset win in the Nationwide Series Saturday night by starting and parking in the Coca-Cola 600 two days later… with the same team. Yes, that’s right… apparently, the lion’s share of Saturday’s purse just wasn’t enough for the crew to break even over the course of the weekend, so Bliss pulled in after 42 laps as the only retiree of the Cup race with a “vibration.”

Now, James Finch starting and parking the No. 09 car is nothing new, but after a Nationwide Series win the day before? Really? Wouldn’t that motivate you to maybe want to go the distance on the Cup side, especially since this is the same team that already won a race this year at Talladega?

Finch made a compelling case for his start-and-park snafus during that winning press conference in April, saying he uses the extra money to go out and buy better equipment for his Nationwide program. But for a team that spent Saturday night in victory lane to pack it in early the following day was a move that just didn’t seem right. There’s no question a win gave them the extra money to go the distance, so why wouldn’t they?

Did You Notice? Building on the Finch snafu, some of the voices we didn’t hear coming out of NASCAR’s town hall meeting were the group of hardscrabble owners struggling to survive. The entry list for Dover looks pretty healthy at 49 cars, but oh-so-many organizations are leaning towards the troubling start-and-park. When that happens, those cars become a virtual non-factor as the multi-car organizations continue to run circles above them.

Nowhere is the dominance of rich vs. poor more evident than the current Cup owner points. The top-33 positions are held by car owners affiliated with just nine Sprint Cup programs: Roush, Hendrick, Gibbs, Childress, Earnhardt Ganassi, RPM, Penske, MWR and Red Bull. (Remember, Stewart-Haas and Yates/Hall of Fame Racing are more satellite operations than anything else). That leaves the highest-rated independent single-car team as Robby Gordon at 34th in the standings. He’s also the only one with full-time primary sponsorship out of the eight others attempting a full schedule.

There were big dreams for these owners back in February, hoping to be the ones capable of breaking through and challenging the sport’s elite. But with the Top-35 rule locking the country club from the previous paragraph in place, cleaning up their scraps has left it difficult to near impossible to get a sponsor.

As a result, organizations like Tommy Baldwin Racing have gone from doing what it takes to race to pulling into the garage early most weekends in order to simply keep surviving. If NASCAR is considering some changes, doing something to help them gain traction in the sport should be an important priority – because after all, the more the merrier in terms of enhancing the overall competition.

Did You Notice? Hendrick’s comments regarding Tony Eury Jr.? While I first broke the story of his imminent departure on Sports Illustrated Monday, I’d prefer to keep from expanding my comments on the specific move itself until a decision gets publicly announced. After all, one should never count their chickens before they actually hatch.

I will tell you this much, though… statements like those we saw from Hendrick – where he claimed “changes could be coming” and didn’t publicly commit to Eury Jr. — in the past have equated to, “We’re going to be doing something within our team, but I’m not telling you until I’m damn well ready.”

And if a change does occur, let’s not be shocked the man changed dramatically from his hardline stance of keeping Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Eury together two months ago. Circumstances have been dramatically altered since then; Junior’s now in serious, serious jeopardy of missing the Chase, while criticism from outside the organization has gone from mildly tolerable to a full-fledged media frenzy.

And just because a car owner gives a public quote doesn’t mean he’s actually telling the truth. As it is, Hendrick also told us back in 2007 that Casey Mears wasn’t going anywhere weeks before he wound up getting released from his contract. Remember, car owners are very powerful creatures, and they’ll tell you what they want to do when they’re damned good and ready – whether you’re speaking the truth or not.

So now, we simply wait for Hendrick to speak.

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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