I really wanted to do a few more blogs about anything but NASCAR, since that series is the subject of most of these blogs series. However, I felt compelled to give my proverbial two cents about the proverbial war of words that has taken place this week. This week, racing fans have been subjected to a glorified pissing contest that is not between two drivers. Instead, it?s between NASCAR (via the Vice President of Propaganda and Inculcation Ramsey Poston) and the network that, in between commercials and sponsor plugs, covers the last 17 races of the season, ESPN. Call me a limp-wristed fence sitter, or simply a contrarian, but it?s rather difficult for me to choose a side in this battle.
The ?race? at Talladega was inane at best. Seriously, it was. To be fair, this sentence can describe most of the restrictor plate races over the past few years. The first three-quarters of the race consists of riding around, staying in the contrived pack of cars, making sure to pit with others so you don?t lose the draft. Then, with a few laps to go, a series of wrecks takes place, one usually involving a car going airborne. It sets up a green-white-checker finish, which usually contains another wreck.
To me, the hastily-passed (so hastily that no discussion was needed/wanted) Bump Drafting Limitation Act of 2009 really didn?t have much of an impact. The ?racing? is so manufactured already that rules like these are superfluous in reality. The only deviation from the norm was the fact that a driver who, get this, actually had one of the better cars in the race actually won. I cannot attempt to provide a solution to this situation, except to remark that the days where Bill Elliot could possibly make up two laps on the track are long gone.
It surprises me not that the NASCAR PR machine would paint a different picture of the event, but the tenacity in which the organization responds to the critiques does leave me a bit intrigued. Writing on his blog, Poston characterizes the race by stating ?Love it or hate it, Talladega is about strategy; it's a chess match on wheels and sometimes takes time to develop and play out.? What Poston fails to mention is that, while most races begin to play out on lap 1, Talladega races begin to unfold on about lap 150.
Poston also points to the fact that loop data indicated that there were 13,438 passes during the race. That would, I guess, suggest that there were 13,438 moments in the race in which one car moved from behind another car, to in front of the car. We know that this isn?t even close, that most of these ?passes? consisted of two cars remaining side by side, sandwiched in between two other cars, trading milliseconds worth of scoring intervals. I guess those drivers who got caught up in the big wreck were ?passed? as well. Jimmie Johnson ?passed? several drivers who ran out of fuel before the last restart. ?Passing? numbers are thus viewed in the same light as the Zimbabwe dollar.
Speaking of the four time champ, his strategy has already been discussed heavily this week, but it does need to be mentioned. Poston described some of the racing as ?seriously intense? I supposed it would be intense, trying to keep the car solidly in the back of the field, as the majority of the race goes by. Remember Dale Jr.?s heart pounding struggle to find out what the score of the Redskins game was. To be fair, I don?t blame Johnson for employing these tactics. He knows what the script for restrictor plate racing is.
With all this being said, much of the attention has been directed towards Poston?s remarks about ABC?s coverage of the event. ?The ABC broadcasters certainly weren't happy with the race and they felt compelled to remind viewers of that virtually every lap,? Poston writes. ?They seemed to blame NASCAR's enforcement of the rule prohibiting bump-drafting in the corners for every moment they didn't like. Along the way ABC missed a lot of very good racing.?
The days of Bob, Benny and Ned calling a race are relegated to history, replaced by hype, storylines, and the AT&T Pit Crew Challenge. ESPN, once a network where knowledge and insight could be combined with wit and creativity, is now Disneyfied and made bland for the casual fan.
With the event at Talladega, ESPN did the race no favors by insisting on covering pre-set storylines at the expense of the race itself. How many times were we updated on Jimmie Johnson?s quest to fall to the back? Do we really need to see ?Points as of Now? on the ticker instead of the leaderboard? The viewer is simply relegated to the ABC version of the race.
What?s most astonishing in this whole scenario is the fact that neither NASCAR nor ESPN seems to even acknowledge that interest in the sport has declined. NASCAR lazily points to the economy as the culprit, even as TV ratings as declined. (The NFL, which has also seen a decline in attendance, has seen its ratings go up across the board.) I suppose ESPN is too busy counting their short term profits to even notice a potential long term problem, much like what has happened over the past decade. Yet, NASCAR will continue their double-talk of telling those who dare point out a flaw to ?hush?, while telling the world how much they love the fans. ESPN will simply plug in more commercials to make up for lost revenue.
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