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Minter: Smoldering Issues Flare Anew After Pocono

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 2 2010

Greg Biffle leads the field into a turn at Pocono on Sunday. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

The events of the past week on the NASCAR circuit show among other things, just how many difficult issues are being faced not only by NASCAR officials and track owners but also by the members of the ever-shrinking media corps and fans themselves

When word of NASCAR’s decision to fine drivers for comments that were deemed detrimental to the sport leaked out, media members who got the news second- or third-hand were faced with the decision of whether to go with the story without an on-the-record verification or sit on the news.

That problem was solved by an AP report confirming the fines.

Then, when the circuit arrived at Pocono Raceway and the regular media sessions got under way, media members and the fans who read their stories had to wonder whether drivers were answering questions truthfully or whether they were trying to avoid trouble with NASCAR officials.

Those journalists were put in a difficult but all-too familiar position – do you simply write what someone tells you on the record or do you work even harder, and take more career risks, to try to get at the truth?

The issue ratcheted up a few more notches Sunday afternoon after Elliott Sadler crashed into a section of the track not protected by SAFER barriers. In earlier races at Pocono, drivers had been critical of the lack of modern safety features at Pocono. Much of the inside of the track is lined with steel guardrails that have long been replaced at other tracks. And in many portions of the track, there’s no catchfence atop the outside wall, only trees to catch a flying car.

Veteran crew chief and TV analyst Tim Brewer compared Sadler’s crash, one in which the engine and transmission were thrown from his car, to Don McTavish’s fatal crash at Daytona in 1969.

But in the post-race press sessions, drivers seemed reluctant to address the safety situation at Pocono.

Here’s what Tony Stewart had to say: “I’ll be honest, I haven’t even looked that far off the race track….  Obviously, without knowing the problem, I don’t know the solution either.

“I don’t think it’s a big drama or anything.”

Carl Edwards had similar comments “I don’t know what happened,” he said. “From my standpoint, though, this is a fine race track. I feel safe driving on it, but I didn’t see that hit.”

Jeff Gordon, to his credit, did offer a more reasonable-sounding opinion.

“I think the incidents speak for themselves,” he said. “I think that there are times where we’ve got to step up the technology and safety and certain facilities. We’ve seen two incidents here this year. I think it is going to be a wake-up call for some improvements. It is a great track here at Pocono, we love coming here, but, there are definitely some areas where it could be improved.”

So where is the truth? Are Tim Brewer and Jeff Gordon shooting straightest or are Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart?

This is an easy one. It only takes one look at a replay of Sadler’s crash to come up with a reasonable conclusion that Brewer and Gordon are on target.

But there are other issues that require some thought for fans and media types. For one, an aerial view of the track seemed to show that only about half of the grandstand seats were occupied while there did appear to be more campers in the infield that in previous races. Do we believe the official crowd estimate of 100,000 or do we try to come up with our own?

And can we believe the information listed on the official records as it pertains to the reasons drivers dropped out of the race. The same cast of characters – Dave Blaney, Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek and Landon Cassill in the No. 09 –  once again parked early in the race, listing causes such as vibration, transmission and brakes. And there were others who dropped out not long after them and did so in an era when cars routinely run 500 miles without a mechanical hitch.

Most of those teams have admitted in the past that they’re simply starting the race and parking the car to collect the significant paycheck that goes to any car that starts the race.

The bottom line is that no matter what drivers say or media members write or what’s contained in the official reports, the people that really matter, the fans, seem to be plenty capable of sifting it all out for themselves.

They’re the ones that NASCAR really has to worry about, and no fines can silence them.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 2 2010
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • Jerseygirl says:

    Yes, the fans can and have figured it out for themselves. I don’t need to hear it from a driver before I believe it. NASCAR has screwed up its credibility over and over by “manufacturing excitement” and some of the ridiculous statements made by its management.

    The past few years of silencing any and all critics with heavy handed threats and “shut up and drive” meetings, now capped by fines for the drivers make me a lot less interested in following the sport with the enthusiasm that I once had. I know have to assume that any words coming from a driver will be politically correct. Gordon has always been really good at it and I don’t want that to sound like a criticism of him. There is an art to getting your point across without insulting people.

    It is just a shame that NASCAR, like Pocono, would rather put their heads in the sand or some other place where the sun doesn’t shine, than deal with the real problems at hand. Pocono has had multiple incidents over the years and no one has been in any hurry to make sure the safety issues are corrected. they’d rather put in solar panels for $15.5 million and NASCAR is too busy using methods that would make the KGB proud reading direct messages on twitter.

  • Richard in N.C. says:

    From my personal experience with the press over the past 20 years I have learned that most in the press have an agenda and, in my view, very limited credibility, but more than ample arrogance and condescension.

  • Randy says:

    NASCAR, despite being compared to MLB, NFL, etc, is nothing like those other leagues. Those leagues all report to the owners of the individual team owners. The commissioner serves at the pleasure of the team owners. NASCAR is a privately owned company. It reports to no one. There are no checks and balances in NASCAR. The only thing we had was the drivers and car owners to speak out publicly about issues that concern the sport. NASCAR has creditability issues. People don’t trust them. They have been inconsistent and secretive about issues important to the sport. They have a history of being arrogant and condescending. This past behavior calls into question all the decisions and discipline they make. Too bad too. Having been a fan for 25 years I have learned to ignore the off track crap that NASCAR causes and just enjoy the race.