Pedley: Bowyer Not Only Victim Of Childress-gate
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
The saying there there is no such thing as bad publicity is as absurd as it is trite. It certainly didn’t apply to the media frenzy which surrounded the Childress-gate saga the last couple of weeks.
That, the guess here is, only made a bad situation horrible for NASCAR and the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
The 2010 NASCAR playoffs got off to a critically successful start at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last month.
The racing at Loudon was exciting – good exciting – as drivers appeared determined to give the boot to the notion that NASCAR these days is all about the points. Drivers – including Chasers – roughed each other up but good. And they snarled at each other and that’s good too.
When the race ended, the Chase was shaken up – good shaken up – and a new, fresh winner, country boy Clint Bowyer, was covered in confetti in Victory Lane.
Talk about this being the best Chase ever was volumed up to 11 (it’s one louder than 10, isn’t it?)
Then, two days later, came a statement from NASCAR that Bowyer would be penalized 150 points and knocked back from second to 12th in the standings.
Bowyer’s shot at winning a championship was, pending an appeal “process”, over. Jimmie Johnson would win the next week at Dover, finish second at Kansas to move to the top of the standings and suddenly the status quo had NASCAR by the throat.
But perhaps the worst part of the two weeks which started after New Hampshire and finally ended Wednesday with denial of the final appeal of the penalty, was racing being replaced by dogs and ponies.
Many of the press conferences held in those two weeks were monopolized by questions about penalties and appeals. Reporters spent more time staking out the NASCAR research and development building in Concord, N.C. than they did at race race tracks.
And fans, well, let’s just say if they were voting with their television remotes on the matter, they were giving it all a thumbs down.
The Sprint Cup Series’ television ratings have been abysmal this year. Attendance at tracks has been worse.
A variety of potential causes for all of that have been discussed ad nauseum. One of those reasons has been waning confidence in the series’ decision makers. If comments and correspondence I get are any indication, fans just don’t trust NASCAR any more. Especially the old-school fans.
Then comes the Bowyer deal. The car passes pre-race inspection and post-race inspection at the track. Fans leave Loudon and TV viewers leave their couches thinking; cool.
Two days later, the car is disassembled and crushing penalties are issued. And, what initial indications were, for 60-thousandths of an inch on a car which had spent three hours on a hot, crowded race track and which ended the day being pushed by a tow truck.
The fact that justice was delayed – and less than adequately explained by series officials – was bad enough. But during the appeals, suddenly, it became known there was more to the story.
In the garages at Kansas last weekend, about every insider I talked to told me there was much more to the story than we are being told.
And suddenly, issues of transparency have wormed their way into the discussion.
And automobile racing was wormed aside.
I asked Jeff Burton, who is as respected as much for his thinking as his driving, if the publicity generated by Childress-gate was good publicity or bad publicity.
“I think the more we can keep the action on the track, the better we are,” Burton said. “I think that drivers going at each other, racing hard, disputes about their racing – I think all of that is cool and that is part of the sport.
“I think the more that we can keep the business things and conflict post-race, pre-race, the more we can keep that to a minimum, the better. People want to see the action in racing and practice – the on-track stuff is I think what the fans want to see.
“I think that anytime that the authority has to make a decision, it opens the door for people to question because people always question authority, right? Everybody always thinks the ‘man’s’ trying to get you. The more that NASCAR doesn’t have to do that, I think the better the sport is.”
The 2010 Chase may yet shape up as the best ever on the track. But it will not be as good as it could have been.
That tow truck may or may not have crumpled Bowyer’s car but it sure crumpled the sport.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at email@example.com Comments