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For NASCAR, 2013 Had A September To Remember

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 1 2013

NASCAR CEO and chairman Brian France and series president Mike Helton took center stage in September. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

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.

So what?

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 jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 1 2013
One Comment

One Comment »

  • NASCAR No Credibility says:

    NASCAR and credibility have no relationship with each other. Why sponsors poor millions of dollars into such a manufactured sport puzzles me. NASCAR has fixed more races than carter has back pills, the good old bogus caution for debris that far to many times is never to be found or the debris is so far off the racing surface that only mud boggers would ever be effected by it.

    Yep, good old NASCAR has duped the ignorant masses for decades but for the past decade fans have been slowly waking up to the bogus state of NASCAR and have been leaving in droves.

    Funny how both Rick Hendrick and Richard Childress have manipulated races by qualifying extra cars at the last race of the season with orders for those cars to pull into the pits and drop out of the race on the first lap or within a few laps all to secure a championship instead of racing for it for 500 hundred miles like the fans paid to see. Cowards is what comes to mind when those races are recalled and Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick, Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon are the biggest cowards to ever be involved in NASCAR by pulling those stunts that cheated the fans from watching them have to race for the championship.

    Old phony NASCAR never had a problem with those teams, Chevy teams by the way manipulating those races and championships.

    Then we get to the bogus caution thrown towards the end of Sundays race at Dover for a spring rubber so far off the racing line that any driver would have had to intentionally driven from the racing line to even find it. But that caution sure did help the favored Chevy teams who all had to pit one more time thereby taking all of them out the equation for the win until that bogus caution allowed them to pit under yellow.

    I rarely even watch a few laps of any NASCAR race anymore and I have watched exactly ZERO laps of the chase races so I ask the sponsors where is your money going? The stands are full of empty seats, television ratings have been in the toilet for a few years so the return on their investment can’t be very good.

    Brian France and Mike Helton have truly killed the goose that laid the golden egg.