For NASCAR, 2013 Had A September To Remember
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
A couple of weeks ago during a eat-and-schmooze at Kansas Speedway, Kurt Busch was asked what was then the mandatory question du jour. It was the question about the blemish-to-the-sport incidents which occurred at Richmond in the final non-playoff race of the year.
Busch gave an answer that was pure Busch. It was an answer that was almost comical because it seemed so separated from the reality of the culture. It was an answer that pegged the off-the-wall-o-meter.
Turns out, it was also an answer that was prophetic.
Busch said he would expand this year’s Chase field by including more than the normal 12 drivers.
Then, three days later, NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France and NASCAR president Mike Helton would sit down on the media center dais at Chicagoland Speedway and announce that this year’s Chase would consist of 13 drivers.
And that is how bizarre September of 2013 was in NASCAR: Kurt Busch, known almost as much for disassembling and reconstituting the English language as he is for being one of the top wheelmen in all of stock car racing was on the same thought plain as NASCAR leadership.
And that was only the start of the remaking of the NASCAR. France and Helton promised that meetings would be held with teams and drivers at which the new laws of the land would be laid out in detail. Laws governing abuse of restarts as well as on-track etiquette.
NASCAR has long been accused by its critics as being a make-it-up-as-they-go operation when it came to rules and enforcement. Competitors would whisper – sometimes publicly – that it was impossible for them to follow the letter of the law when the letters were were written not up paper, but upon capricious whimsy.
Back in the days of Big Bill and Bill France Jr., questions about rules and penalties were often answered with questions. Questions like: Do you know who I am?
There is little doubt that NASCAR pre-September 2013 was a dictatorship: The benevolence or malevolence level of the dictatorship left for each competitor and fan to decide.
Assessing whether NASCAR’s September of change of mood is a good or bad thing will be the group that matters most in modern sports: the money people. In NASCAR, that means sponsors and television.
Busch also nailed that aspect of rhyme and reason for change in racing. “At the end of the day, this is all a sponsorship-driven world,” Busch said.
In racing, as in politics and history, following the money remains a handy tool in understanding the world in which we live and play.
Witness the announcement by NAPA that it was unloading its sponsorship deal with Waltrip Racing at the end of the year. (Dripping with irony much? MWR crosses the line by rigging the race to get Truex and NAPA into the Chase and winds up chasing NAPA out off the team and perhaps out of the sport.)
And the announcement that Nationwide was ending its entitlement sponsorship of Cup’s No. 1 developmental series.
And the 5-Hour was pondering its future. And that Quicken was accompanying Ryan Newman to Richard Childress Racing.
Those sponsorship announcements were followed with a very high level of interest in places like Charlotte and Daytona Beach. While not strictly about the on-track product, they were ever bit as important as announcements concerning things like equipment specs and scheduling. They hit the sport in its most vulnerable place – it’s pocket book.
Assessing the benefits or lack thereof that accompany the new view ’round NASCAR will be the sponsors’ not-so-silent partners: race fans.
Emails and comments about stories written about the the MWR affair at RacinToday.com have been pretty consistently negative. The negative comments are based on everything from tampering with history to manipulating of results by NASCAR.
Of course angry people tend to be more moved to sitting down and attacking a keyboard than are content people so you always have to factor that into the reaction equation, but, still, the angry seem really angry these days.
The question is: Does this fall represent NASCAR’s Prague Spring or is it something considerably less populist?
Not really that debatable is the fact that 2013 had a September to remember for those who follow the internal dynamics of NASCAR.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgOne Comment