Friday, June 13, 2008


With qualifying rained out, there wasn't much to talk about at Michigan International Speedway Friday.

(Kyle Busch, by the way, starts on the pole, as the order is set by points. Hopefully, weather is better for Sunday afternoon.)

The big story was a mandatory meeting with NASCAR honcho Mike Helton and Cup drivers/owners.

The subject? Stop whining about the Car of Whenever.

Things apparently reached a critical mass last week at Pocono, where it appeared nobody was happy about the rough track or the so-called “Car of Tomorrow” that is still being developed, or the intense heat that had many drivers near exhaustion after a 500-mile race most of them believe should be no longer than 400 miles.

Apparently, the main bone of contention is the almost constant grumbling over the new car, a more uniform construction intended to cut costs for the teams and enhance competition on track.

...The complaint level hit a season high in the wake of Pocono, and Helton reacted.

“He wanted to remind our drivers about their responsibility to the fans,” said NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter. “He felt it has become a negative environment and reminded them to think about the fans, what they are facing, the rising cost of gas and the hardships, particularly in an area like this that has been hit so hard by the economy.”

The drivers generally reacted positively to Helton’s message.

“I think it just got a little out of hand this week, everybody complaining so much about everything,” said Carl Edwards, the defending winner of Sunday’s Lifelock 400. “It’s almost a little bit silly.”

I think it's natural to complain about change. And this post isn't about ripping the drivers for the issues they brought up. When you become as comfortable with something as the drivers and crew folks did with the old car model, it's hard to switch to something new.

The new car is a good thing for NASCAR, but it will take time for everyone to get used to how it handles at certain tracks. Last year's phase-in was a good thing, because it allowed everyone a chance to get a feel for the car at the shorter tracks. But NASCAR made a mistake not using it on more of the bigger tracks. They had the fall race at Talladega, but could have used more work at the "cookie-cutter" 1.5-mile tracks, like Michigan.

That said, it's been a year and a half, and it's time for everyone to buckle down and figure out how to make the car work for them. Complaining about it is only going to make the powers-that-be at NASCAR upset.

Helton also brought up another good point, relayed afterward by NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter.
"We remind them if it weren't for the fans we wouldn't be here," he said. "The fans are paying over $4 a gallon for gasoline. [We told them] to keep the fans in mind when you're talking, to show your appreciation to the fans. Without them this wouldn't be like it is."
Sounds hokey, but NASCAR doesn't like it when races don't sell out. The last reports I heard had the Michigan race coming ~10,000 tickets short of a sellout, and other races have fallen short this year, too.

There are so many fans and so few races that there really is no reason for a race to fail to sell out. In today's tough economic times (and Michigan is in a real bad spot right now), more should probably be done to make fans feel welcome and appreciated. Non-stop whining about the cars isn't going to qualify.

Fans don't want to hear that crap from multi-millionaire drivers and owners when they're scraping by just to afford tickets and gas to go to the races. It's a tired argument (bringing up the money involved), but it matters these days more than ever.

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