Instead of focusing on one big story, today I’m going to tackle five of the bigger stories coming out of last week’s media conferences and interviews.
Tony Stewart criticizes Brian France for not being around often
On SirusXM Speedway last week, Tony Stewart commented that Brian France is never around and that he wants to see him be more active. Tony is right on the ball with these comments. The Frances, both Bill and Bill Jr., were very common around the garage area. Brian wouldn’t be caught dead near it. It kind of reminds me of what happened at Dale Earnhardt Incorporated in its last few years of existence, when Teresa Earnhardt wasn’t around and team performance dropped off greatly. With everything Brian France has done in the last 12 years, probably more than his father did in his 30 years in ownership, it’s strange not to see him around. I was at Richmond in the fall of last year and it seemed crazy to me that France was nowhere to be seen for the start of the second season of what will ultimately be his legacy (The 16 driver Chase format). When introducing such wild changes to a sport or team, you need to be there and show your employees or players that you care. If you don’t, why should they?
Denny Hamlin’s Knee Still Not Healed
After tearing his ACL playing basketball last season, Hamlin told USA Today that he still is only “about 50 percent” but that he’s fine to get back in the car. You can say a lot about Denny Hamlin, but you have to give the Virginian credit; he has shown time and time again that he doesn’t slow down when he gets injured. Just look at Martinsville in 2010, where he won with the same exact injury before getting surgery. He’ll be fine this year.
Tommy Baldwin Racing replaces Alex Bowman, Bowman finds out on Twitter
Where to begin with this. You just can’t do this in today’s world without it completely backfiring on you. It would have been perfectly fine had Baldwin informed Mr. Bowman a month or even a week ago that he was out of a job. It’s not perfectly fine to make a deal on your new driver on Tuesday, tell your current driver on Wednesday night everything is fine, then officially announce the change Thursday. And then, just to make things even better, Baldwin doesn’t even really apologize to Bowman in their third press release of the week. Instead, he takes a shot at the media for leaking the story out before he could inform Bowman. Mind you, Baldwin didn’t need to announce his driver change almost as soon as the news leaked; look at how long it took a couple of years ago for Carl Edwards to announce his move to JGR after it leaked out online. Plenty of people want to root for the underdog like Baldwin’s team. But a move like this could kill any good feelings race fans may have had for TBR, and it’s because of such an easy thing to prevent.
XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series Chases
It’s about time. It has always been strange that the XFINITY and Truck series determine their champions in a different way from the Cup Series. Hopefully, in 2017, the Homestead ban extends to the entire chase period. It’s understandable NASCAR might have been squeamish about cutting such a large portion of the schedule out from Cup Series drivers on relatively short notice.
Caution Clock in the Truck Series
Probably the most controversial new change announced this season is the addition of the caution clock in the Truck Series, where every 20 minutes of green flag racing a competition caution will come out. It’s certainly controversial and definitely the brainchild of Brian France.
Why is it happening? Because it’s a test to see if this can work and bring in the fan base NASCAR has been marketing to; the young millennials. The NASCAR audience is the oldest in sports today, according to just about every study done in the past five years. NASCAR just hasn’t attracted young fans since the sport was in its late 1990s boom period, and that’s a huge problem for advertisers/sponsors craving the 18-49 demo. And it’s not for lack of trying; just look at Fox Sport’s Daytona Day commercial aired this past weekend. Not one person among the hundreds of people in that ad looked above 30.
You can’t say “Well, it’s because all the drivers are old,” because even in the late 90s plenty were over thirty. It’s because my generation simply doesn’t have patience and wants to see everything happen right now. Look at the smartphone, for example. Within seconds, I can watch almost anything that has ever been put in front of a camera. Why should I, hypothetically speaking, sit down and watch an hour long green flag run when I can watch, say, a few episodes of Top Gear on Netflix? I’m not going to miss much and because fast cars are everywhere (Like in Top Gear), I’m not impressed with how fast these go.
So overall, putting marketing aside, is this new rule good or is it bad? I’m going to reserve overall judgment on that one. Why? Two simple reasons –
- Let’s not pretend cautions are frequently called in national series races anyway. There are legitimate debris cautions, but there is also, say, the tiny piece of metal that caused the final caution of the 2015 season at Homestead. Is it really going to make a huge difference calling a caution every 20 minutes instead of calling one every 40?
- Truck races are only around an hour and a half long. So we’re talking maybe 1-4 time cautions as it is, which is probably the same amount of debris cautions in these races to begin with.
This rule will have one of two results. It could be a complete failure and NASCAR does away with it by mid-season. Or it brings excitement to the sport and goes to the XFINITY and Cup Series in 2017 (albeit with a modified time). Is it fabricating excitement? Yes, it is, but that’s to be expected in today’s NASCAR.
As I was finishing up this article, news broke that Barney Hall, the lead track announcer for the Motor Racing Network for many years, has passed away. Barney was an absolute legend and many in and around the sport grew up hearing him. He was a person I looked up to as a journalist and it will never feel right to me hearing anybody but Hall calling these races over the radio. There were more famous announcers over the years, such as Ken Squier, but there was only ever one voice of NASCAR, and that was Hall.