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Stars Doing Their Best To Sell NASCAR Changes

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 29 2014

Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon faced the critics on Tuesday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

For the most part, it’s pretty uncomfortable watching sports stars as they attempt to cross over into the field of acting. They tend to be, um, unconvincing in their roles. And, interestingly, it seems the bigger the sports star, the poorer the actor. Think Wilt Chamberlain in “Conan the Destroyer”.

On Tuesday, four of the biggest stars in NASCAR attempted to convince fans and media and perhaps themselves that they were thrilled to death with changes to their sport: Changes already announced and changes which were announced on Thursday.

The view from the couch was: Olivier they were not.

The drivers were those of Hendrick Motorsports. They were seated on a dais during the annual NASCAR/Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour.

Sitting shoulder to shoulder, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne addressed the changes; changes that include “knock out” qualifying, which was announced earlier this year, and the massive revamp of the Chase playoffs which features three round of eliminations.

With lights on and with cameras and recorders rolling, all four drivers voiced support for the changes. Kind of.

The common element in the endorsement of the changes by the HMS drivers seemed to be: We need to do something to drum up fan support for NASCAR and maybe this will help.

When Tom Jensen, a reporter for Foxsports.com asked how the drivers felt about the changes – announced and reported – there was moment of mass awkwardness among those on the dais.

Johnson went first: “If that’s the bullet that we need, then I’m for it.”

Kahne went second: “I think you have to keep as much excitement and things down to the wire as possible because that’s what people want to see.”

Earnhardt went unintentionally sarcastic: “I wasn’t really excited about change all that much up until a lot of changes started happening. Then you had to kind of get used to it but now, uh, let’s change it all (laughter).

Finally, old pro Gordon: “It’s all about entertainment and this is definitely a big step toward keeping the entertainment level very, very high.”

With all four drivers, the voice volume seemed to waver and the body language conveyed watery conviction. Sir Laurence doing “Richard III” it was not.

Actor/director/writer Orson Welles is quoted as once saying, “Acting is like sculpture, it’s what you take away from yourself to reveal the truth of what you’re doing that makes a performance.”

But through repeated listenings of the audio and multiple viewings of the video from the Hendrick tour stop, I kept seeing Dan Marino selling Isotoner gloves.

Despite some gains in interest level in 2013, NASCAR – and all of auto racing in North America – is still going through a recession. The changes that are coming thick and fast and increasing radical on everything from spoiler heights to qualifying procedures are attempts to end the recession.

Many of the changes being proposed and made are not sitting well with some segments of fans; the apparently sizable segment which values tradition over flash.

In an attempt to turn that around, NASCAR and all its partners are engaging in a united PR front-strategy and that’s understandable.

Time will tell if the changes will re-inject major life into NASCAR. The thought here is that they might.

But for a couple of minutes during Day 2 of the four-day Media Tour, four of the biggest stars in NASCAR looked more like they were playing the role of good soldiers rather than living the lives of rabid reformers.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 29 2014


  • Ron says:

    So — the first 35 races now mean NOTHING — and the “Championship” — (cough) — will be decided SOLELY on the finishing position of one event –( can’t call it a race) – among 4 anointed combatants, surrounded by thirty nine moving chicanes, — that were ALL ” elimintated”, but for some reason, are still on the track —- BRILLIANT !!!!!!
    I remember when racing was a competition —- not “entertainment” — no more.

  • Steven says:

    If Brian France thinks he can manufacture success while alienating older fans he is sadly mistaken. Trying to imitate the success of the NFL in any way just isnt going to work. Every company has an asskisser and it looks like Jeff Gordon has his lips puckered.

  • Gina24 says:

    Since NASCAR started fining drivers if they voice any disagreement or opposition to anything not the “party line”, I can’t trust anything that the drivers say – not even my favorite.

    I’ve always been able to form my own opinions about what I like or don’t like about racing. I don’t need the drivers or the media to tell me if it’s good or not.

    This newest grandiose idea of Brian France is another one of his gimmicks, one I don’t like and the drivers can say “how great” and I’ll still hold my own opinion.

    How many seats did ISC tracks take away from multiple tracks? Close to 10,000 more or less. I realize that the idea behind that is that if there are less seats, the track can charge more money, but there still has to be a product that the fans are willing to pay for to make that work.

  • Sal says:

    Unless drivers want to start the season several hundred points in the hole, they know they have to pretend enthusiasm for the latest ‘bright idea’ from BZF. Yet another gimmick that drains even more importance and interest away from the individual races…after all, only the last race determines the ‘champ’, right? Remember when it was a Big Deal to win the Southern 500 or other important races? The focus didn’t used to be only on the championship.

  • KYBOY says:

    This will set them back light years! The one thing they always had from their fans was loyalty. Real fans now know that NA$CAR doesnt care what they think. Im a JR fan since forever, but it would be hilarious if JJ JR Kyle and smoke got eliminated in the stupid first elimination and everyone just tuned out and viewership tanked! I think it will anyway. I think some fans will make a statement this year with their wallet and remote. Dumbest idea in the history of auto racing!

  • Bill B says:

    It doesn’t matter what they say. We fans know that NASCAR penalizes drivers that don’t toe the company line. We also know that NASCAR continually p#sses on our heads and tells us it’s raining. So most of us just see right through the bull.