Did You Notice? … The taboo subject of an athlete’s personal life? The topic came up Sunday night after Cody Ware went off on Twitter following a wreck involving fellow Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series underdog Matt DiBenedetto.
The point here isn’t to delve into what was said or whether it was even true. It’s if that back-and-forth, fully public in the age of social media should be anyone’s business in the first place.
In covering this sport for 11 years, you learn a lot about drivers and owners’ personal lives. Much of it is off the record and in my opinion holds little, if any news value. But I remember distinctly one of my first weeks roaming the garage area in the summer of 2006. Jeremy Mayfield’s Dodge passed by me in Gasoline Alley at Indianapolis and I remarked to a fellow journalist how awful he’d been running that season.
“Well, you know his owner’s sleeping with one of the drivers, right?”
My jaw dropped. That owner was Ray Evernham, and the journalist insinuated he was in a relationship with development driver Erin Crocker. He went on to explain many people in the media center “knew” but no one would dare report on it.
My curiosity as a newbie was quickly piqued. It didn’t take long for five, six, seven people to all tell me the same story. At the time, this felt different than someone’s personal business; it felt like a story that, if true, could be having an impact on an entire race team. But in the end, I joined the others in not reporting the rumored relationship.
It wasn’t publicized until Mayfield himself rather than a reporter spoke up shortly after his release from the team later that year. Filing a lawsuit against his former employer, Mayfield insinuated his car’s performance suffered from “Evernham’s close personal relationship with a female driver he employs.”
Even then, the relationship was never confirmed on the record until nearly one year later. Why the hesitation from the media in situations like these? I think it speaks to a question of sourcing, ethics and basic human decency.
It’s almost impossible, of course for that type of story to have direct admissions and quotes. That makes sourcing difficult to impossible; you feel like the final product becomes more US Weekly than any type of detailed investigation.
But the real fire you’re playing with is someone’s personal life. Is it a sports journalist’s place to dig deeper into a topic that has nothing to do with a driver’s performance on the racetrack? We’re not reporters for the National Enquirer. It’s not our job, I’d say, to follow someone from their stock car into the bushes behind their house.
We’re also all people, too. There’s the realization of the role we play the second a news story like that is reported on a national scale. You’re not just hurting one person with that type of story. You’re hurting multiple families, a long list of people who wind up innocent victims in the whole mess with information you’d better damn sure be factually right.
That empathy, though as we’ve seen can be diminished these days behind a computer screen and a Twitter account. Social media in general makes it easier to type things that you might not dare say in a face-to-face confrontation. It also creates a permanent record, increasing the curiosity and interest of fans who follow them to know the truth.
Ultimately, it’s the fans who have some say in determining what’s a story and what’s not. If you don’t read us (and Analytics tells us if you’re not), what we write is in some ways irrelevant. So I leave the question to you, one we have grappled with many times at Frontstretch. Should someone’s personal business be fair game once an accusation has been leveled? Does it hold any news value or interest for you… and more importantly, should it?
Did You Notice? … That chances are slim a driver on the outside looking in will win at Richmond? As I wrote yesterday, no one has done so since Jeremy Mayfield clinched a spot with a victory during the first year of NASCAR’s Chase in 2004.
That means it’s one last chance to take a look at drivers who are likely falling short of their goal of a title. Let’s take a quick look at how it all unraveled for them before the bluster of Chicagoland makes them an afterthought for much of the rest of this year.
When Things Looked OK: A win after Richmond left Logano fourth in points, appeared to clinch a postseason berth and wrapped up a phenomenal eight top-six finishes in the year’s first nine races.
Where It All Went Wrong: Four days later when NASCAR labeled the win “encumbered” due to an issue with the rear suspension. Team Penske never fought it, crew chief Todd Gordon was suspended two races and the team has been virtually invisible since. Logano has just three top-10 finishes since that moment and only 17 laps led.
Why This Is Big: Logano won 14 races the last three seasons, tied with Jimmie Johnson for the most in the Cup Series and had been a perennial title contender with Team Penske.
Is There Any Chance?? Logano did win at this track in the spring. But the team has been so far off base, for so long the chances look better on paper than in reality.
When Things Looked OK: Did they ever? OK, I guess after a fifth-place run at Texas in April Earnhardt sat 20th in the standings. People felt he was just getting his bearings back after over six months outside the race car.
Where It All Went Wrong: The second Earnhardt got swept up in a Daytona 500 wreck not of his making. That began a run of seven DNFs, the most for him since 2007 and tied for the second highest total of his career. The bad luck kept this team off balance and when they did complete the race? The speed just has never been there.
Why This Is Big: Sport’s Most Popular Driver. Retiring at end of 2017. Never won a championship. He came back this year for a shot at a title. Can you inflate this balloon any more?
Is There Any Chance?? Earnhardt has three career wins at Richmond but ran 30th there in the spring and has looked out to lunch.
When Things Looked OK: Back-to-back second-place finishes, at Sonoma and Daytona left Bowyer 15th on the playoff grid and knocking on the door of Victory Lane.
Where It All Went Wrong: A late-race wreck at Indianapolis took away a potential top-10 finish and precious points. Moments later, Kasey Kahne pulled off an upset and squeezed the spots on the grid for winless drivers. Without that victory, Bowyer would be in playoff position.
Why This Is Big: Bowyer has struggled for sponsorship in his first year replacing Tony Stewart. No wins and no playoffs doesn’t help for a driver entering a contract year in 2018. Keep in mind Stewart-Haas Racing has multiple cars in need of money should Monster Energy leave the team.
Is There Any Chance?? Bowyer would love to find closure at this track four years after Spingate put his career in a tailspin. But since that infamous race in September 2013 he hasn’t led a single lap there.
When Things Looked OK: Does it ever really seem OK when you’re a rookie? The pressure of visiting tracks for the first time made their seasons completely unpredictable.
Where Things Went Wrong: Slow starts for both men. Jones had three wrecks in the first 10 races, dropping him to 19th in points. Suarez started off with three runs of 20th or worse. That was just enough of a hole for drivers still learning the ropes of the Cup Series
Why This Is Big: Many thought, on the heels of Chase Elliott’s success in 2016 we’d have a rookie in the playoffs a second straight year. But despite another outstanding freshmen class it looks like a bid for the title will fall well short.
Is There Any Chance?? Jones is on fire, earning five straight top-10 finishes. But he wrecked four laps into Richmond this spring. As for Suarez? He’s more concerned with Subway dropping its sponsorship than getting it together on track.
Did You Notice? … Some quick hits before taking off….
- S.D. Grady had an outstanding piece I agree with in our Frontstretch Newsletter about Suarez. For a company to nitpick a contract like that, with only one race remaining on its deal tells me it wanted out of NASCAR. You don’t see Subway looking at another team for 2018, do you?
- Along those same lines, it’s important for a team to announce soon that a new sponsor is actually entering the sport next season. Where is that big corporation lined up to replace Target at the No. 42? What about Erik Jones‘ sponsors on the No. 20? I’m not doubting their existence. I just think the sport could use some positive financial news right about now.
- If Richard Petty Motorsports is leaving it 80,000-square foot shop because the organization doesn’t need the room, it sounds like there’s no need to worry about a second team then, right? So who will it be? Aric Almirola or Darrell Wallace Jr. for next season? If I were Almirola, the longer this goes the more concerned I get.
- A 1.7 overnight Nielsen rating for Darlington after such positive feedback of Throwback Weekend had to be disheartening for NASCAR. It also shows you the difference between coverage on NBC (2.6 last year) and shifting to cable and NBCSN. I also think with week one of college football, promotion of the sport seemed lost in the shuffle. If I had a choice of Bristol or Darlington on network TV, I’d go with Darlington because it’s important to keep the sport as visible as possible with the start of football season. You don’t want people chasing to find your product.
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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