Friday, November 9, 2012

Familiar Topic: A Sport Or A Show?

A common theme of the fan comments on the Chase for the Championship has been the caution flags displayed by NASCAR without an accident, rain or fluid on the track. Once again this season the debris caution is on the minds of the fans.

Since 2007 and the start of this blog, it has been a topic visited several times. The issue always comes back to one burning question. Is NASCAR ultimately a true sport or just a show for the fans and TV viewers? There are strong supporters on both sides of the topic.

The Chicagoland race was a rough one for me. Debris cautions that were never paid off by the TV team in terms of showing the offending item were just tough to take. One one side, NASCAR is clearly handcuffed this season in terms of the lack of racing action on many tracks.

Click here to read a TDP post from 2010 where multi-car Sprint Cup Series team owner Michael Waltrip talks about an idea he has for closing up the racing action on the tracks. His comments came after a late caution flag for debris in a race at MIS.

Here is an excerpt:

"I am a huge fan of a late caution. In basketball they just call it what it is. A TV time out. In football its the break in change of possessions. In baseball its either a walk to the mound or the end of an inning. Its sports. NASCAR needs to have those too."

"The last caution today was well thought out by NASCAR. Everyone had pitted and no one was adversely effected by the caution. The 100,000 plus fans that drove to MIS to be entertained I'm sure appreciated the late race reset."

"Crews had to make the right calls on pit road and drivers had to get up on the wheel to close the deal. What's wrong with that? Thank you for buying a ticket and gas and a hotel and etc.."

Waltrip's comments drive home the point that the racing dynamic is very different than most sports because of the inability to stop the action. Sports like tennis and baseball contain natural breaks in the action, while NFL football is built around a made-for-TV commercial format disguised as four quarters of action.

SB Nation NASCAR reporter Jeff Gluck addressed the issue in May and featured comments from NASCAR VP of Competition Robin Pemberton. He was responding to a controversy after a late race questionable caution thrown at Richmond that basically cost Tony Stewart a win.

Click here for the full SB Nation story. Here is an excerpt:

"Sometimes, some people are a little more needy than others and they want to see that for whatever reason," Pemberton told reporters attending a function at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "And whatever their thought process and beliefs with the governing body (are), they think they need proof.

"Sometimes you see (the debris) and sometimes you don't, and that's based on TV coverage, basically."

But Pemberton said he doesn't mind TV not showing the reason for debris caution because, "I don't have an issue with (the reason for the caution)."

He also said NASCAR does not keep the debris as evidence of why it called the caution.

"We don't inventory it, we don't tag it and put it a library anywhere or anything," he said. "It's just trash."

Ultimately, the man pictured above is responsible for the officiating in the sport. The calls of his staff shape the event when a caution is waved and fans start searching for the reason why.

Click here for a good read from Jeff Owens at The Sporting News on this topic. Here is an excerpt:

The problem is that it’s not fair to the competition on the track—namely the leader—and it looks bad, damaging the sport’s credibility. Throwing a phantom caution is like an umpire suddenly shrinking the strike zone to make a baseball game move along faster, or football referees ignoring pass interference to create more offense and make the game more exciting.

Manipulating the competition to produce a better show is crossing the line between sports and theatrics, making games a bit too much like professional wrestling (for which, ironically, Stewart once got into trouble for comparing NASCAR to).

But NASCAR can’t get itself into a position where its credibility is constantly questioned because of an overabundance of debris cautions. What it must figure out is why there has been a decline in close racing, leading to fewer natural cautions and taking away from the excitement of close competition. If it can solve that dilemma, there won’t be a need for questionable caution flags.

As the Sprint Cup Series heads to Phoenix, this issue will once again be in the spotlight. Stewart's issue at Richmond where a late caution was thrown seemingly to bunch the field up for the finish proved that it's not only the 1.5 mile tracks where this happens.

The sport is looking for some drama, more storylines and better competition this weekend. It should be interesting to see if the selective use of the caution flag becomes a tool to accomplish this goal.

We welcome your opinion on this topic. Comments may be moderated prior to posting.


Lou said...

Hello JD,

Sad you feel as I and others. And surprised it took you longer than I to see how bad nascar and tv coverage have lowered the morals of the sport.

Only have watched two races start to finish this season. And the two are the Dover races I attended, as you know I live 13miles from the track.

I have reduced myself to only watching the end of the races this year. And what do I get is another yellow to bunch up the field. Even though the 2 and 48 made an exciting so so finish . the 2 probably would have won that race without the yellow.

Yep, it is now a show on tv . We enjoy just attending, tailgating and watching the race in person and see ALL THE RACING AROUND THE TRACK..

I guess it is all about the show. I really miss the racing on tv. And it does not matter how big a lead the leader has. I just put it in perspective. I am still a Robby Gordon fan.


James said...

Nascar has "used' caution flags to keep the competitors either from going a lap down or closing up the field on tracks larger than a mile for forty years. It is only recently that drivers have admitted to "riding" around logging laps till the last quarter of the distance or when there was a possibility of weather preventing the race to run its intended length. Tony Stewart ran a plate race staying in the rear of the field till 50 miles to go and then ran through the field to the front to win the race, having not been a factor in leading a lap until the last few laps. This opened many eyes and soon after fans realized this as a tactic to "save' the car from potential wrecks during the event and be around for the finish. Jeff Burton is usually the first to preach to finish first you must finish. This may be a smart process, but it certainly makes the fans feel somehow cheated, when they thought the drivers were racing the entire distance. Ironically Stewart ran the last five races of the Chase last year as if his hair was on fire. These caused many to question the MYSTERY DEBRIS or MS T REY debris cautions. Whether it is fluid, sheet metal, or parts on the track, a spin by a car, it will always be a judgement call by NASCAR and will almost always be subject to discussion by the fans.

Anonymous said...

It is a business and a show,just like a circus.Sport is racing at the Bonneville salt flats,or the local short track.

Darcir said...

If NASCAR demands more action and excitement, instead of these perceived phony debris cautions, how about mandatory yellow flags every 75 to 100 laps where every car is required to pit? At least something like that would remove the questionable phantom debris cautions.

The Loose Wheel said...

I take this issue pretty personally JD. Been an avid NASCAR fan since 1997 and a casual fan since 1995. I've always viewed it as a sport and that has never changed. Debris cautions are a sore spot for me because they fabricate racing. Jeff Burton said something a few years back when he was asked if the racing was "boring." Paraphrased, he said there is nothing boring about a race car at full speed. I don't care if a race has 0 cautions or 18 as long as there are legitimate reasons for them. NASCAR absolutely has to find out how to generate more side-by-side racing which in turn will sort out the caution issue as well as the perception of a lack of excitement. It seems that more and more as time passes, I am falling into the minority in my beliefs. The Chase could stay or go as far as I am concerned. I was happy without the double file restarts since I felt there was more strategy in figuring out how to restart with single file restarts. Lucky dogs and wave arounds paired with the debris cautions inflate the competitiveness numbers of the sport.

To make it simple though, I am 1000% against mandatory cautions.

Anonymous said...

Hope it is a sport, not much of a show anymore.

Anonymous said...

This is an easy one. All you have to have is at least one eye that works and reasonable hearing. Begin by counting how many times you hear the word SHOW spoken during all of the days broadcast and if you hear the word Race even said one time during the days broadcast. That includes all network personalities and drivers and or anyone interviewed. Then as the day progresses it IS easy to see that WWE NA$CAR IS nothing more than a manipulated SHOW these days.

OSBORNK said...

In recent years, reality TV shows have become very popular. Fake reality is what NASCAR apparently thought was needed. That is what they decided to feed the sheeple that watched racing. However, reality television is not sports and sports fans are not interested. We just went though an election where most things were fake and manipulated. We don't need the same thing when we want to watch a race.

I suspect I am like many others. I don't care who wins the chase. I'm not a fan of either of the remaining two contenders and they are not going to show or talk about anyone else unless they get in the way.

Sam said...

At a non-NASCAR track a certain rule is a competition caution after XX consecutive laps are run, regardless of when that may be, up to XX laps before the end of the race. This insures breaks are taken for various reasons that aid the show and the smaller teams. In that respect, manipulation is kept to a minimum by the transparent rule and its application. But transparency is anathema to NASCAR, or a similar if not identical rule would be instituted. To that end, everyone would be on a level playing field and that is what a competitor most wants. However, we must come to terms with the fact that under the current management, NASCAR has transformed itself into television content, a reality show of a sort, and the track attendance has taken a backseat to the television money.

Anonymous said...

I think you need to back off this topic. You aren't doing anything but trying to get people upset, and smearing NASCAR. The people running NASCAR and good, hard working, spiritual individuals. They don't deserve this treatment, and the sport of NASCAR does not deserve this treatment.

JT said...

NASCAR could fix both the "integrity of the race" problem and having races decided by gas mileage by simply putting in a competition caution at say, 25 laps to go on 2.0+ mile tracks, 30 laps to go on 1.5 to 1.0 mile tracks and 50 laps to go on tracks less than 1 mile.

This would be no different than the NFL's 2-Minute Warning.

Anonymous said...

Question for all those who advocate "competition cautions", "wave arounds", "lucky dogs" etc.

Don't they fly in the face of racing? Racing is supposedly being about getting to the finish line ahead of the other guy/gal. Everybody knows where the finish line is.
So if you are going to reset the competitors at a certain point why even do anything prior to that? In other words, if you are going to have a "competition caution" with 25 to go, everything before that was a waste of time, gas, etc. Just run a 25 lap race and be done with it. Anything else is just fooling around.

53 yr. fan said...

Thanks for telling the truth about
NA$CAR and it's TV partners. The product & presentations now are a
farce. As stated before, I will
turn to a race between innings or
PATS. I can only hope that my
limited tuning in doesn't count
as a bona fide viewer of the merry
go round.

sbaker17 said...

If what is presented by NASCAR is considered to be a sport, it's not wnat I want, as I prefer events with alot of competition. If it is a show they are producing, then the plot and main character actors are not what keeps me entertained. As far as Mikey's suggestion of a late caution to facilitate a close finish, why not just run a 30 lap feature and call it a day?

diane said...

Just start running a series of short sprint type races. Instead of a 400 mile race have 4 100 mile races with 4 winners and winner points. Everyone would race full out the whole race, and the audience would still see the 400 miles.

Anonymous said...

Is it any wonder Nascar is a show when they have a ferris wheel and a carnival outside of just about every racetracks now. A clown show run by a bunch of clowns. Wasn't this weeks race called the "Wild Asphalt Circus"?

When Nascar was actually popular, you didn't need that crap because the racing put on a great show and nothing else was needed to hype things us.....thus the word "Show" stuck.

Now its all about the hype. too bad the product doesn't live up to it. When's Snooki going to be grand marshall? She would be perfect for what Nascar is looking for.

Alex Jordan said...

From races coming down to fuel mileage, mystery debris cautions and lack of racing action, Nascar seems to be a sport and a show. Last week's race at Texas was boring as Johnson dominated most of the race. The only excitement in the Texas race came in in last ten laps as Johnson and Keselowski battled for the win. Nascar needs to have the races more exciting and not come down to fuel mileage. If Nascar can figure out how to make the races more exciting and not come down to fuel mileage, then there would be no need for mystery debris cautions.

Anonymous said...

There have been debris cautions for years, even in more exciting times and there will be still. The problem is the fact that now they seem to be about 90% of the cautions. Until NASCAR makes the cars less aero dependent and harder to drive like the old car was, nothing is going to change.

No greater statistic pointed this out to me than one pointing out cautions during the Chase Charlotte race from 2004-2007 and then 2008-Present. There were triple the cautions from 2004-2007 than there were in the last four years there. The Chase can't be blamed for that because it was there all 8 years. The absolute difference between those two sets of years is the car. Clearly the new car is too easy to control and until they change that its going to continue to be more boring.

53 said...

Better than race-killing cautions,
maybe a portion of the purse could be awarded at the halfway point. Remember when that used to happen? Also something like five points at the 1/4 intervals would be pretty good incentive, especially since last years tie.

Anonymous said...

I hate to be blunt, but the comments by Pemberton show just how far up NASCAR's rear end he is. You cannot compare a FAKE DEBRIS CAUTION to a pitcher change in MLBor a TV time out in the NFL and I'll tell you why:

When NASCAR throws a FAKE DEBRIS CAUTION it ALTERS THE OUTCOME OF THE RACE! Sorry for the all-caps, but the point needs to be made. When you throw a caution flag, what typically happens? Cars come down pit road and they never come out in the same order they were in when the caution was thrown. That ALTERS THE OUTCOME OF THE RACE! It is unfair to the driver that was leading the race and may have won the race. Now, after the FAKE DEBRIS CAUTION, he may be in 2nd, 3rd, or where ever, with no chance to win the race since he is back in the pack. It's common knowledge that these cars do not like "dirty air" being back in traffic.

You know what? Let the knuckleheads in Daytona Beach keep running NASCAR into the ground and let them keep enjoying empty seats. If they had any sense whatsoever, they would start removing seats at these tracks so at least the 'appearance' on the "TV shots" wouldn't look as bad because there would be the 'illusion' of fewer empty seats. And let them keep blaming the economy when the NFL and many MLB cities have no problem selling out games. Sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling "I can't hear you!" isn't working, NASCAR.

Ken's Tales said...

If you want racing you have to score only at the start finish line and race back to the line when the yellow comes out. Throw out the lucky dog and the wave arounds.Get rid of the green/white/checkered.Get back to basics and let them race. The "SHOW" is a waste for everybody.The stats don't lie Nascar!!

Ken's Tales said...

If you want racing you have to score only at the start finish line and race back to the line when the yellow comes out. Throw out the lucky dog and the wave arounds.Get rid of the green/white/checkered.Get back to basics and let them race. The "SHOW" is a waste for everybody.The stats don't lie Nascar!!

Anonymous said...

knowing a caution is going to be thrown, whether it be a phantom or competition, will only make the racing more boring. Why try to chase down the leader, or the person ahead of you, when you know a caution will come out? It would cause even more of a parade. MC

Colorado said...

Anon. 9:29: I laughed so hard, milk came out my nose!Hard working? Spiritual? Those people are long gone, my friend. Brian France hasn't seen the inside of a church since his wedding day. But, I guess, if they worked as hard at trying to maintain integrity, as hard as they work to beat the fans down, then we wouldn't have this conversation. Well, as they say..."The Show Must Go On."

Anonymous said...

On my gosh!!! Just showed debris caution during practice. Wonder who that helps?

Buschseries61 said...

Well after today, I guess show is the answer.

Once Gordon tried to kill Bowyer this race became a circus. The rules are enforced and applied based on entertainment value. That last lap crash should not have happened.

I don't know what to say. We got drivers to show emotion, but this was embarrassing.

Buschseries61 said...

The positive of all this: this is the most excited I have ever been to watch the post race shows in a loooong time.

Anonymous said...

a really good race turned into a fiasco and severely damaged NASCAR's reputation. Gordon should be fined and parked. Gordon's crew chief should also be fined for remarks made to Jamie Little on air after she told him it was intentional. Gordon took out Almirola and Logano and almost took out the point leader. This cannot be acceptable.

OSBORNK said...

The race today showed it is now 100% show and 0% sport. They throw caution flags for fake debris when it benefits their schedule or when one of their chosen needs it but they don't call a caution with a wrecked car is sitting on the track with fluids running out of it and the entire field coming around the track. They don't seem to care that they put a bunch of lives in danger just for an "exciting" and contrived finish.

Anonymous said...

I second the circus sentiment. Between Gordon's premeditated and intentionally wrecking not just bowyer but logano was just sickening. I've lost all respect for someone who's quickly turning into a once was. As for Danica I'm shocked they didn't throw a yellow for her wreck. But my god the finish was absolutely disastrous. NASCAR is lucky harvick didn't spin coming to the checkers. Everybody slid in her water. And it created a pileup at the finish on a level with dega or Daytona. Except here nobody had any control. The only people with control was NASCAR and they failed to act. Now I'm left with little faith in the 'sports' integrity after yesterday events

TEX said...

Want to know why F1 doesnt have any fans in America?
Cause its not and infield party with dance poles, loud music, drinking, screaming and letting it fly...

For pre reace their fans are in parking lot kicking a soccer ball.

Yes Nascar, is a show.
America is a show.
Just look at us!

Michael Stoffel said...

NASCAR lost control of its sport yesterday. The police standing guard outside of the NASCAR hauler should have been there to arrest Gordon for assault with a deadly weapon.
But until Johnson blew a tire, the laser like focus on only the 48 and 2 was maddening.
And I was so scared for Danica Patrick as she sat on the front stretch in a wrecked car, unable to move as the pack roared at her. I was nice of ESPN to wait and make sure she was okay before they went to her in-car.
And strictly on the coverage, they had great camera angles on all the fights and wrecks.

Anonymous said...

Didn't watch the Phoenix race (but saw the highlights on ESPN as I was waiting for the NFL highlights), and noticed NASCAR didn't throw the caution flag for the oil slick on the track ! lol! Yet they'll throw a FAKE DEBRIS CAUTION for air being on the track! lol!

Further proof of why this series has become the laughing stock of the sports world.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Gordon and the 24 should get a 2 race suspension. Having to sit out the 500 next year might make him contemplate on whether he wants to continue or hang it up. Gordon should pay the other car owners for the torn up cars out of his own pocket.

Personally, I'd be so ashamed of myself, I'd hang it up.

Anonymous said...

WTH happened to this blog? It has gone from being a source of useful, interesting information to being a whiny message board. C'mon Daly, I'm pulling for you man. Go back to giving us some features and interviews, idea, and commentary. Not a big weekly pile of sour grapes.

GinaV24 said...

I'm not in favor the "late race caution" especially not when it's sole purpose is the bunch up the field. To me, not only is it fake, but it produces lots of wrecks. The same with the GWC concept. It can totally ruin someone's good run and again, produces lots of wrecked race cars.

On the one hand some of the NASCAR media want to call the fans "bloodthirsty" and "only wanting to see wrecks". NASCAR is the one officiating the race, so it seems to me that it is that entity that has control of it.

Fans want to see good racing - passing, side by side racing, not single car parades. It's up to NASCAR to find a way to make that happen. Parity and a kit car haven't worked out. Based on the observation of falling ratings and attendance, the chase hasn't done it either.

GinaV24 said...

For all of you jumping on Gordon, how about the multiple races that Bowyer caused him to have an issue? You wonder why NASCAR runs things the way they do now, it's because of the fans whining that Gordon should be fined, suspended, retire, etc.

Dale Earnhardt is admired by lots of fans, venerated into almost saint-like status and yet, his nickname was the Intimidator and he was well known for wrecking his competitors. This in an era when there were no SAFER barriers and the cars were certainly less safe, but then again, people also weren't so PC about every little thing.

I'm a Gordon fan and the poster who says he's a "has been". Let me put it to you this way. If he had continued to let Bowyer get away with running over him, he would be.

So, obviously my perspective as a long-time Gordon fan may be different than others on this. NASCAR is probably happier than heck about the publicity it got them.

Get the hell out of the race car if you've got feathers on your legs or butt. Put a kerosene rag around your ankles so the ants won't climb up and eat that candy ass.” ― Dale Earnhardt

Michael Stoffel said...

Bowyer would love to get hold of Gordon and settle it like men out back of the garage, but Jeff won't have any of that...(feathers on his butt?)
The 24 intentionally interfered with the Championship picture. And his crashing Bowyer benefited his owner and the team he has a financial interest in.
How he is let anywhere near Homestead this week is a mystery to me.
What's to stop him from wrecking the 2 so his buddy can win the Championship?

Anonymous said...

GinaV24 - I rarely disagree with you, but this is such a time. A few years back, Kenseth wrecked Gordon at Bristol late in the race. After the race, Kenseth tried to apologize and Gordon tried to punch him out. At the next race at Chicago, Gordon wrecked Kenseth at 180+mph by driving through him rather than around him. Kenseth had his day ruined, but nobody else had their cars smashed or their race ruined. Nobody batted an eye, and NASCAR issued no penalties. If Gordon had waited until Homestead and wrecked Boyer with no harm to anyone else, nobody but Boyer fans would have cared.

Instead, Gordon chose to wreck Boyer in the middle of a race where he was almost guaranteed to catch up other cars. His actions could have easily had a big effect on the championship. Keselowski narrowly made it through. Logano who was running nearby in about 7th place was caught up and finished 27th, a 20 point swing caused by Gordon. Suppose Jimmie Johnson hadn't had trouble earlier and had been running 7th. If Gordon's move had cost Jimmie Johnson 20 points in the championship, would you still be OK with that? Would Rick Hendrick think that was OK? Would Chad and Jimmie think that was OK? Maybe Rick Hendrick would have had one of his famous milk and cookies meetings. I would have paid admission to that meeting.

If Gordon's move had cost Brad Keselowski 20 points and given the championship to Johnson, are you still good with that?

If Jeff Gordon had been in the top two in a championship contest and somebody else caused a wreck near him, what do you think his reaction would have been? Understanding and accepting? Hardly. He would have been screaming and crying the loudest about some nobody affecting his chance at a championship. He would have been crying about the lack of respect shown to other competitors.

I think Gordon and Tony Stewart are a lot alike in certain ways. Both have one standard for themselves and another standard when someone else does the same thing. I have no respect for hypocrisy in racing or real life.

If Gordon had waited for Homestead to retaliate and not affect other people, I have no complaint. Doing it the way he did in Phoenix was a bonehead move, and I lost a lot of respect for him.

We do agree on at least one thing. NASCAR loved it. NASCAR is selling the show; and if a little racing breaks out, well that's OK, too. In the past, there have been incidents where NASCAR issued fines and penalties and then used footage of the incident in NASCAR commercials for future races. But like I said, I have no use for hypocrisy.

Maverick24 said...

Michael Stoffel, I'm certain that if both Bowyer and Gordon had come to a stop in the same place, whether that was on the track or in the garage, both would have gladly "settled it like men". And I'm sure if there weren't a million crew members and NASCAR officials hovering about, Gordon would have loved to have met a charging Bowyer head on.

And in any event, he settled it like men with Burton at Texas, and many years ago with Mike Bliss at the airport, and as I recall, was criticized for both of those too. Seems like a no win situation no matter what he does, no?

The championship picture argument is an extreme reach from all those that are using it. Have you ever played any kind of sport remotely competitively? If you have, you know as well as I do that when it's time to settle a score, you don't think about fines or the "big picture", you're focused on one thing only. Revenge. Period. I really doubt when he decided it was time for Bowyer to get some his thought process involved anything to do with the championship or his teammate or his ownership stake. The fact that Bowyer was at best mathematically alive is an unfortunate coincidence. Sucks for Logano and Almirola too, but it's not the first time innocent race cars have become collateral damage, and it won't be the last.

Why won't he wreck Keselowski? Seriously? Nobody is that big of a moron. Least of all Jeff Gordon.

Alex Jordan said...

After Sunday's race at Phoenix, Nascar has become a show. Nascar got the drama that it wanted after a wild finish. Unfortunately for Nascar the championship drama kind ended with Johnson's crash.

AveryNH said...

I mean being completely realistic bowyer would've been between 25 to 30 points back had he not been wrecked. He would've needed more of miracle than JJ needs come Sunday. But he would've at least had a chance. Now he's eliminated and in 4th place as a result. Things certainly got interesting though on Sunday to say the least. Got everybody talking about the sport, whether it's good or bad. NASCAR will take some mainstream chatter any day.
Now as for that Dale quote, I want that stuff on a T-shirt. Only he could create a metaphor like that.

GinaV24 said...

Michael, Bowyer was late to the party, he let his team take most of that on for him. How is it a fair fight for a bunch of guys to jump on one?

When you get a chance, read Jenna Fryer's AP article about why NASCAR made their decision.

Also think about the fact that Carl Edwards came out with a wrecked race car and hunted Kez down, launched his freaking car airborne and got a 3 race probation. No $, no points lost.

Gordon didn't affect the championship, Bowyer was out of real contention for it before Gordon wrecked him. Maybe Bowyer should have thought about that before he decided to hit Gordon not just once, but twice in the same race knowing that Jeff was out of contention, too.

We'll probably disagree on this no matter what the other says. So as JD asked - is it a sport or a show?

The fans got a lot of "show" this weekend.