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See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil

“Keep Your Trap Shut” 

Things seem to be getting a bit more rocky in the kingdom of NASCAR by the week.  A season that promised to get back to some good old fashioned fender banging racing and began with the words, “Have at it boys,”  has become the season of  “Keep your trap shut.”    
Declining attendance and TV ratings, topped off by the a day-long national TV display of empty grandstands at the recent Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, have really got the sports powers that be with their knickers in a twist.  It’s circle-the-wagons time at NASCAR headquarters.  

The Associated Press broke the story last week that at least two of the sport’s top drivers  had been secretly fined by NASCAR for comments detrimental to the sport. NASCAR President Mike Helton stated he wanted the drivers to feel free to express themselves. That is, just as long as they don’t say anything that could reflect negatively on the sport.
Helton said “The emotion of the sport, we encourage. The passion and the emotion of a driver wanting to win and, within reason, his driving style to do that, we encourage.  What we discourage throughout the sport though, is sending the message that the sport isn’t worthy of following.”  
 Last Wednesday ESPN reported that the two drivers were Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin, and all around good guy Ryan Newman. Reports put Hamlin’s fine at as much as $50,000. Hamlin and Newman admitted they were the drivers fined. Denny Hamlin raised an interesting question last weekend at Pocono asking, “What was the point of fining me if you’re not going to tell anyone?”  Hamlin was reportedly fined for statements he made at Michigan complaining of a phantom debris on the track caution flag late in the race saying,  “I didn’t see any debris, but I realize it’s show business. I’m not saying it’s accepted, but what can you do?”
Newman said he was fined for comments he made following the spring race at Talladega, an event that saw the race extended 12 laps past its scheduled finish because of  NASCAR’s new overtime rule that allows three attempts at a green, white, checkered finish. Newman questioned whether this was the type of racing the fans wanted.
Undoubtedly NASCAR has got some serious problems, but they go a lot deeper than  beating on drivers for speaking out about management’s constant use of phony baloney caution flags to keep the field bunched up and adding contrived drama to the end of a race when a driver clearly has the race in hand, barring loss of control or mechanical trouble.
Any fan watching on TV can clearly see the meaningless small piece of debris and know it is of insignificant danger to the competitors. Even worse, it has gotten to the point that fans know there will be a debris caution as the race winds down to its conclusion.  The World Wrestling Association has nothing on present-day NASCAR.  
Like the chase for the Sprint Cup?  Wish they’d bag the whole idea and let the drivers compete over the full season for the championship like auto racing has done for decades?  Either way, be prepared and be forewarned, NASCAR is not done messing with you.   
CEO Brian France recently announced that they are seriously considering a serious overhaul of the Chase format. Reportedly they are considering a system that would eliminate drivers from the playoffs as they go along. Reportedly they are talking about starting with 15 drivers in the Chase. They would eliminate the bottom five drivers after four races, and another five after the next four races, leaving the top seven drivers to duke it out over the final; more cheap manufactured phony drama.   
France recently commented, “If we have the perfect Chase that we would love to see, it would be just like every commissioner would tell you. They’d like to see great playoff events, action packed, close games, great story lines. That’s what everybody’s after. We’re no different.”
If NASCAR management really wants to get a handle on what is wrong with the sport, they need to look no further than the daily comic pages.  I believe it was the popular comic strip character Pogo who said,  “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
You may reach Pete Barber at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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