Media Days Come, Go, And Stay The Same

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, February 16 2018

Media days can be shows within shows. Take Wednesday’s for example. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Media Day for Speedweeks was held Wednesday. Never fun, seldom insightful, occasionally entertaining and often embarrassing, the 2018 edition of the gathering produced more of the same.

For example?

No kidding, somebody asked this of Alex Bowman, new driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy: “Do you feel like you’ve inherited some of Dale’s fans?”

Insert this question into the embarrassing file.

Bowman is a decent story this month as he won the pole for the 500 in the 88 which had long belonged to living icon Dale Earnhardt Jr. He’s certainly paid some dues; he spent two full years driving cobbled-together Cup cars at the proud but overmatched Tommy Baldwin operation. And he seems quite likable.

But one can only hope the question-asker meant, like, what, two of Junior’s fans?

Earnhardt was the most popular driver in the sport’s history. Though not its greatest driver, Junior’s appeal was the result of, yes, being his father’s son, but also because of a winning personality that resonated with everybody from hard core fans to jaded media.

He was one of the few drivers worth listening to on the topics of the day because he was so dang candid. He was so dang interesting. He was folksy eloquent.

Bowman’s answer to the question gives a bit of insight into Bowman’s eloquence if not his candidness.

“I hope so. It’s hard to say where Dale’s fans are going to go. I just hope to keep the 88 up front and give them something to cheer for.”

It’s going to be a long time before a driver reaches the popularity level of Junior.

Sharing the embarrassing file would be this question to Danica Patrick: “Would you ever consider a mentor role? If a driver came to you and said, I need help, would you consider doing it?”

Right, drivers are going to line up 10 deep to seek driving advice from somebody who in 151 major NASCAR series starts has exactly zero wins. Wait, that’s not fair. She has won two poles.

Now, if a young driver wanted some mentoring on, say, temper tantrums and/or deflecting blame and/or self promotion, that young driver could not pick a better teacher.

Patrick’s answer: “No, that’s not really something that interests me. I don’t really think I’m a great coach. I have a tough love. You should see me in the gym. Nobody wants to work out with me because I no rep everybody.”

Yet one more for the embarrassing file. This baby is cringe-worthy and was directed at Austin Dillon: “It’s Valentines’s Day. What is some advice you would have for guys who are having their first dates tonight and this weekend?

Um, don’t bring your date to Media Day? Get a gig that pays seven figures?

Dillon’s actual answer was,“Well, I would say to do a good job. This day does mean a lot to a lot of pretty women out there.”

The champ was not spared the indignity of questions that ran the gamut of unanswerable to well, duh.

Martin Truex Jr., the winner of the 2017 Cup championship was asked this: “Do you feel you need a Daytona 500 to be nominated for the Hall of Fame?”

The guy has 15 wins in 441 starts. Hall of Fame? Seriously, Hall of Fame. This might be a good question 10 years from now – providing he can add another championship or two and, say, double his number of wins. Both things are possible but again, let’s ask this question when they do happen.

An uncomfortable Truex responded like a champ. “I don’t know. Honestly, I’m not really thinking about that right now. I’m not worried about what my career looks like from an overhead view right now. I’m not worried about what races I have or haven’t won. Just taking them one at a time, trying to win every one I can. Obviously this one, we’ve been really close on it. You never know what’s going to happen. We’ll just keep trying and do our best.”

Truex was also asked about Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s victory in the 500 20 years ago. Yes, Truex said, he remembered it.

Then, “How did you celebrate?”

Geez, he was 17 years old. One could probably guess with reasonable accuracy that he didn’t run naked through the streets.

His actual answer was an obvious, what do you think I did?

“Just got excited. That was that. I wasn’t old enough to have a drink for him or anything.”

While obtaining interesting insight from competitors gets harder – partially as a result of sponsor money getting harder – you can find some scraps of insight scattered among the clutter laying around the Media Day floors.

Driver Chris Buescher was asked about pit stops under the new, less-people-over-the-wall rules.

“Everyone is going to figure out how to make it as efficient as possible,” Buescher, who will drive the No. 95 Chevrolet Camaro, said, “It is not as slow as I think we were originally thinking, but it is definitely not as elegant as it used to be.  There is a lot more of that chaos going on during a pit stop now.”

Using the word elegant was very good when laid against the term chaos later in the answer. Nice imagery.

Based on Media Day, it appears that Kyle Busch has the best chance to follow Junior in the category of king of candidness when answering questions.

Earnhardt seldom showed fear of offending NASCAR’s powerful and mighty. He knew that fans could see right threw the sycophant line-toeing of less secure competitors. The guess here is he knew that more fans could be won over to the sport by those who stood up rather than keep their heads down.

Busch, a member of the driver council, was asked about new data-sharing rules set down by series officials. Rules that many believe are just one more offering to the god of level playing fields.

It went like this:

Busch: “The data sharing, yeah, the thing that’s coming out through SMT that all the manufacturers are buying into now. It’s sharing all the driver traces, so anybody can see my driver trace any time they want to now. That’s a big issue with me especially. Some of the other drivers have also voiced their opinion on that. We’re still trying to work on that.”

Q: Why is that a big issue?

Busch: “Because I’ve spent 13 years in this sport to figure out how to drive a racecar, make it go fast, do the things I do to win races and championships. Now you’re going to hand all that on a piece of paper to a young driver, they’re going to figure it out, as long as they know how to read it.”

Q: Whoever gets it still has to be able to do that.

Busch: “Yeah, they still have to do it, but at least they know what I’m doing. If they study up on it enough, you’ll know how to beat me, I’ll know how to beat you, whatever it might be. Also the other part about it, too, that’s our signature. Us driving the racecar, that’s our way of figuring out how to make cars go around the racetrack fast. It’s not necessarily what we’re doing or how we’re driving or racecar in particular moments, that’s how we’re setting up our cars. The other part of it, too, the more and more like how I became good at Martinsville (Speedway), it wasn’t just by myself, it was from Denny Hamlin, it was looking and studying and learning and talking to him, figuring some of the things he was doing and why. That’s how I became good at Martinsville. Well, if everybody else starts to do these things and drive Martinsville a particular way, you’re going to have a boring ass race, nobody is going to pass each other, they’re going to be doing the same dang things, because that’s the fastest way to get around there. I don’t see it as being any positives to anything we’re doing as far as the sport. When you have everybody that’s going to have an opportunity to figure out how people are doing things, drive the same, that’s not a positive thing.”

Q: Did you express your displeasure with NASCAR?

Busch: “Yes.”

Q: Did you get a response?

Busch: “They’re saving the manufacturers money because other manufacturers were scraping the screen through the race view thing, the video game, so they were getting this information already. It’s not quite the same information. It was very choppy and dirty. So that’s why they just decided to hand it all out to everybody and give it away for free.”

Q: Are they getting more data off of Race View?

Busch: “Yes.”

Q: Better quality?

Busch: “Both, more data and better quality.”

Q: Is that like an NFL team giving the other team their playbook?

Busch: “Essentially, yeah, because it’s the drawn‑out lines of how you do your job, how you’re doing stuff. So absolutely, yeah.”

Good old media day. Good to see something in NASCAR remains the same.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, February 16 2018
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