Race Weekend Central

MPM2Nite: Clearing Off the Desk

There’s darn few weeks off included in the modern Cup schedule, three all together if I am counting correctly. The second of those three falls this weekend for Easter and the final one three months hence sits in late July. Before starting my much anticipated riding break I had some notes scribbled on various bits of paper scattered around my desk, none important enough to warrant a column of their own, but combined perhaps enough to elicit some debate.

Yellow Line Fever

If you are even moderately clever it isn’t hard to find still images or even video footage of Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 car with his left front tire clearly on or below the line racing to the front at Talladega on the final lap. Was there a rules infraction there and should a penalty have been imposed? I don’t know and apparently neither does anyone else. The rule I hear stated most often is a driver is not allowed to go below the yellow line to advance his position at Talladega or Daytona.

Firstly we need to define “below.” Is a driver only below the yellow line at these tracks when his passenger side tires go below the yellow line? Is running on but not over that line OK? Then we need to define the “yellow line.” There’s actually two yellow lines (similar to what you might see in a no passing zone on the highway with a strip of gray asphalt between them).

Which one is “the” yellow line? If a driver dips below the uppermost yellow line, but not below the lower one has he crossed “the” yellow” line or “a” yellow line. Then how do we define “advancing his position”? Clearly if a driver is second, crosses the line and returns above it in first he has advanced his position. But if he’s second, a car length and a half behind the leader, dips below the line and returns to the track on the leader’s rear bumper has he advanced his position or merely furthered his cause?

On Sunday it appeared Johnson got right down there on the line in doing so forced Mark Martin, who’d been coming down to block, to give way to avoid wrecking his teammate, Johnson, opening the lane ahead for the No. 48 and No. 88 cars.

Then there’s the rule that states that a driver may go below the yellow line(s) if he is forced down there. Define “forced.” Does there need to be sustained side-by-side contact, or is the fact the other driver is coming down on a fellow and it appears collision is imminent does the lower driver have the right to keep moving inside the track? One could make an argument that even Jeff Burton wasn’t “forced” out of bounds Sunday. He could have locked down the brakes and stayed above the yellow line. What a merry mess that would have been as the field got decimated in the resultant wreck.

This would all be vastly easier to understand if fans questioning the “no call” on the No. 48 could grab up their copy of the rulebook and read how the rule was spelled out like in a real sport. But of course NASCAR steadfastly refuses to release that book to the fans claiming it contains trade secrets and intellectual property. In fact it might be the only item related to the sport they haven’t tried to cash in to make a quick buck. Meanwhile we’re left scratching our heads as folks try to figure out if there’s a different rule concerning the yellow line for folks like Regan Smith and another for Johnson and his ilk.

So Was the Cure Was Than the Cold?

The debate goes on. Which is worse on the plate tracks, the “old-style” pack racing, or the new style 2×2 racing? Forced to decide, which is like choosing between a wide awake colonoscopy or a no-narcotic root canal, I come down on the side of the two-by-two racing. At least the number of cars gathered up in the big wreck is lower and they tend to stay on the ground, thus returning some degree of driver control and skill to the equation.

Burton and Ryan Newman’s lurid slides would almost certainly have wound up in field decimating wrecks under the old system with 30 cars stacked up four wide in a single pack. But don’t look for me to put on a short skirt and pick up my pom-poms for the new style of racing anytime soon either.

According to the drivers, the second (pushing) driver has no view of what’s going on ahead of them, as they race in close quarters at 190 mph while occasionally glancing down to change radio frequencies to find out if the race is over yet. Whose decision was it that was a good idea? Maybe to even things out between the leading driver and the pushing driver all the cars should have their windshields covered in duct tape with a postage stamp sized cutout to allow them a quick glimpse of where they are?

The spotters can direct the drivers how to steer their cars and make laps. (Or perhaps eventually we can eliminate the drivers all together and have the spotters drive those cars by remote control from the rooftop?)

Spotting is a difficult job. I’ve seen it done close up standing shoulder to shoulder with the usual suspects. It worries me that the spotters are now responsible for clearing not one car, but the two-car tandems, with various degrees of success. After all if my driver has just made a pass for the lead with the help of someone else pushing him is it not in my team’s best interest late in the race to tell that second driver he’s clear when’s he not to take out two of my guy’s primary opponents? There’s only one signature at the bottom of my spotter’s paycheck, not two.

See also
Fan's View: Changing Channels Distracting NASCAR's Drivers

The basic problem here is the plates, used only at Talladega and Daytona. The size of the track, the banking and the speeds the cars run as a result are the root of the evil. Since both tracks were recently repaved and the banking wasn’t lowered it looks like we’re stuck with this mess. NASCAR and the ISC have always been more liberal spending the team owners’ money than their own. The plates were a “temporary” solution that have haunted up for over two decades now. The speeds need to be lower to make the racing better though that might seem an oxymoron to newer fans who know what that word means.

This isn’t the first time I’ve proposed this idea but it’s been a couple years now. I have to trot this dead horse out every once in a great while to see if I can make it gallop. To me it would seem a better solution would be to run sealed “crate” motors at Talladega and Daytona. (Note the plural sense “motors” which are actually engines. Each make would have its individual engine, not a generic engine). We’d want those crate engines to put out 375-400 horsepower and to cost between $4,000-$4,500 bucks each.

They’d be available not only to the race teams but to gear heads to stuff in their ’32 Ford or ’70 Chevelle as well. That would save the teams millions of dollars over the current plate engine program and NASCAR is always banging their big bass drum saying they want to cut the cost of racing. (Like those new pit-road rules that eliminate the catch can man from the over the wall crew but forced Jack Roush to spend $160,000 on new gas cans which apparently don’t work too well).

Crate engines would eliminate the plates which would finally put racing at Talladega and Daytona back in the drivers’ hands. That seems like a good idea to me, but then I am a stupid guy, though not stupid enough to earn a six-figure salary working for NASCAR.

Trouble in TV-Land?

There are very few things long time race fans agree on as far as who is the best driver, what’s the best brand of racecar or which tracks are the best. Hell, we can’t even agree on what’s the best brand of beer (“cold” is my vote). But one thing nearly everyone I speak to agrees is FOX’s coverage of the races sucks hind-teat. (Or something less polite). They’ve had 10-plus years to straighten the mess out, but the coverage seems to get worse weekly and it was pretty damn weak to begin with.

You know as soon as you hear DW screeching weekly “Boogity, boogity, boogity” it’s going to be awful. Though this year, Larry Mac has dumped the “Reach up there and…” schtick and DW seems to want to modify the BBB rap with something like “Talladega style” to show what an improvisational genius he is.

A few weeks ago someone in the booth noted that as races start they claim most of the fans are staring at the announce booth waiting for DW’s call. Put on your glasses, guy. How many of them are extending a middle finger at you? The sound of 43 cars coming off turn 4 to take the green has always been the sweetest music this side of American Beauty to me and I don’t need some egotistical fool hollering over that music to ruin it for me. But since we still can’t get rid of the damned gopher I hold limited hope it will ever get better.

Anyway, before I stray so far off the trail that the hounds can’t find me, I know a goodly many of you long-timers follow John Daly’s Daly Planet TV blog. The site focuses on the TV coverage of racing rather than the race itself to an extent. Each week fans join the blog live to add their “live” comments during the race and to comment on Daly’s articles. If you think the comments below my articles are sometimes harsh, you ought to read those fans live comments. Sometimes they are so toxic they’d send the Fukushima Fifty running stripped naked and hysterically blind towards the sea to swim to Washington.

See also
Talking NASCAR TV: ESPN Drops the Ball With the Big One at Talladega

Two things stood out for me on the blog last weekend. First, based on comments posted and comments Daly himself received, Sunday’s Talladega race might have been the most DVR’ed NASCAR event ever. Fans knew what was going to be served up and they decided en masse that they weren’t going to waste a nice Sunday afternoon watching it (or in some unfortunate parts of the country, pumping out the basement and clearing the storm debris.

God bless, ya’ll. The water here only reached ankle depth down the basement and the sole damage was a gutter nicked by .22 fired at coyote flushed out if its den by the rain fired by a drunken neighbor here at Eyesore Acres).

There were also several comments made by a posters who called himself or herself “Foxhole.” Said poster claimed to be a former NASCAR on FOX employee who was recently fired for having spoken up against some elements of the coverage. Now, I could sit here and pretend to be a roadie for the E-Street band on a message board, but this fellow knew all the names and the backstage workings of sports TV coverage well enough he came off as credible. You can visit last Sunday’s live race blog on that site and decide for yourself on Foxhole’s credibility HERE.

The poster claims that the current producer (Barry Landis) not the director of NASCAR on FOX (Artie Kempner) is waging a reign of terror and refuses to listen to any voices of dissent. Those who speak against him are subsequently hollered at, berated or even released. The poster goes on to say that even some of the lesser on-air talent have adopted a battle-siege mentality, toeing the corporate line to protect their careers though they know changes to the coverage are necessary.

David Hill, former FOX Sports head honcho and the father of that dirty little bastard gopher he loved so well has apparently turned his attention to FOX’s National Geographic channel, so he’s out of the equation.

In even more incendiary comments, Foxhole claims that many higher-ups in the FOX Sports group have an open animosity towards NASCAR racing thinking it’s a redneck sport not worthy of comparison to their baseball or football coverage. He claims he has heard several disparaging remarks those folks have made about race fans.

If these folks truly do dislike racing and race fans the reasons for the low quality of FOX’s racing broadcasts becomes more evident. Either us dumb little Bubbas can take what they’re spoon-feeding us and like it or we can go back to playing horseshoes in the trailer park Sunday afternoon. Any input from such fans isn’t worthy of consideration. They already give us Digger and DW and now we want to see who finished second in the race as well rather than seeing an obligatory shot of a crew celebrating? Let them eat Twinkies! Bring back Neil Goldberg!

Sunday Afternoon Cartoons

While on the topic of FOX, it seems the latest marketing strategy involves turning NASCAR racing into a cartoon. I’m sure you’ve seen the cartoon graphics during the bumpers going into and out of commercial and during promotions for the races. We’re not talking “cartoonish” here we are talking actual hand drawn cartoon depictions of drivers, tracks and racecars.

The announcers booth seems determined to turn the drivers into some sort of cartoon superheroes. Dale Earnhardt has been “Junior” since he arrived in the sport. But then we added “Smoke” in place of Tony Stewart and “Rowdy” in place of Kyle Busch. More recently Johnson has become “Five-time” and unless you’re deaf you’re probably tired of hearing Kevin Harvick referred to as “The Closer.”

Matt Yokum is still trying to get folks to refer to Jeff Gordon as “Super-G” though over the last few season’s Gordon has left a lot of “super” at the table. If I were Greg Biffle, a perfectly normal name and not hard to pronounce, I’d bitch-slap the next person who called me, “The Biff.”

Folks, this isn’t a cartoon strip or a really crappy movie based on a comic book popular in the ’50s. This here is stock car racing and it’s real life. The drivers have names their parents decided on shortly before or after they were born and compared to the Formula 1 and IndyCar circuits, most of the names are relatively short and easy to pronounce and spell.

The action is live and unscripted (or I hope it is anyway) and I’m not ready to start calling Matt Kenseth “Closing Time” because he runs with booze sponsorship, Carl Edwards “Flipper” or Danica Patrick “Wonder Woman” unless used in context of “I wonder why that woman is running the Nationwide Series when she can barely manage a top-10 finish in the open-wheel series that is her day job.”

Backstage backstabbing worthy of Macbeth? Cartoon superhero, NASCAR drivers with silly nicknames? Comparing stock car races to the prom? Yeah, that’s enough for this week. I’m loading the bike into the pickup truck and heading for Richmond. It’s 75 degrees and sunny there and 55 degrees and raining here. Just call me “The Nightster”… out.

About the author

Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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