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Some second thoughts, and more, about Danica Patrick and the new Hall of Fame and Jeff Gordon and Brian France

Some second thoughts, and more, about Danica Patrick and the new Hall of Fame and Jeff Gordon and Brian France

Dale Earnhardt (L), the man who made the All-Star race so hot and controversial (Photo: CharlotteMotorSpeedway)



   By Mike Mulhern

   Idle musings while awaiting some real action on a cloudy, rather cool so far, Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and wondering if it's true that Michael Andretti plans to move into NASCAR....

    -- Just curious, when was the last time the talk around the Monday morning office coffee pot began with "Hey, did you see that NASCAR race?! Now was that a great race or what?"
   After Jimmie Johnson's runaway in last weekend's 135-mile All-Star sprint, probably not.
   Which raises the question – why did Johnson make such a mockery of the race? Where's the showmanship?
   The late Dale Earnhardt always realized it's about 'the show,' more than just about the winning.
   Remembering back when  the late Bill France Jr. warned an in-his-prime Bill Elliott "Now don't stink up my show."
    But then maybe the last 10 laps would have been different if the track had been cleaner for the restart and Matt Kenseth hadn't gotten squeezed up into the speedy-dry at the green. (And wonder why Brad Keselowski wasn't sharper on that restart, by the way, when Johnson opened the door on the inside....)


    Bill Simpson, the legendary racing safety guru, has a major new safety project -- designing new helmets for the National Football League.

    The NFL's current debate about concussions has raised awareness of the whole helmet issue, and Joe Gibbs, the former Washington Redskins coach, says the standard NFL helmet is much, much heavier than its NASCAR Sprint Cup counterpart, which is perhaps somewhat counterintuitive.

    That makes Simpson's new helmet project quite interesting. Simpson's new NFL helmet is extremely lightweight, with carbon fiber and titanium, and special energy-absorbing inner liners. And the NFL is quite enthusiastic about the project. No word on the price tag.


   Marcus Smith -- the face of Charlotte Motor Speedway (Photo:  Getty Images for NASCAR)

   -- Marcus Smith, who  runs this track, wasn't pleased some gripes about Saturday's All-Star race, and he suggests it's better live, in person, than on TV.
   TV once was good for attracting curious, new viewers to the sport, and for giving regular fans a look-see at races they couldn't attend. But that was back when.
   These days TV almost seems to do more harm than good to the sport.  Visually poor coverage and analysis of  the two-car drafting at Daytona is a prime example.
    Last season's two-car drafting dramas at the sport's two biggest tracks were intense, and much better than most of the 'pack' action so far this season. Yet TV men failed to convey the storylines at Daytona and Talladega last year.
    Either NASCAR's TV producers don't know how to cover this sport, don't care about the production, or have some other agenda.
   And don't even start up on the lack of decent TV game analysis. But why do all those guys tend to sound like house shills?
   The All-Star race itself had some really good action, three-wide at times. But when drivers of the two of the best cars in the field, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth, decide it's smarter to ride around at the rear of the pack rather than risk wrecking before the big cash dash, there's something wrong. Fans aren't paying to watch sandbagging.
    Maybe the All-Star race is simply past its prime. The Cup tour drags on from early February through late November, with 38 events. A week off somewhere along the line might be good for all.
    But no, there is a place for an All-Star event in this sport, though the current running may need some major tweaking.
    And maybe we should all just recognize that the real impact of the All-Star race was Dale Earnhardt himself. The Big E made the All-Star race a surreal event. Without him, it just hasn't been the same show.


    Tim Richmond: wonder how long till the legendary wild man makes it into the NASCAR Hall of Fame...if ever. Ol' Tim wasn't always politically correct. But he was a showman at the wheel. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   -- Talking with NASCAR's Brian France the other day, about the state of the sport, and he seemed a bit testy and short when asked about drivers complaining about the pressure of the points and drivers like Jimmie Johnson and Darrell Waltrip raising a question about drivers' possibly 'gaming' the points deal and running conservatively in order not to fall out of the top-10 ( http://bit.ly/JZydcj ).
    But then France may have a very good point – there could be a good battle for the two wild cards spots in this year's playoffs that go to winners still in the top-20 in the standings but not the top-10 at the Richmond cutoff. At the moment the men on the hot seat are some formidable ones –Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch are both almost certainly going to have to win races AND fire themselves into the top-20 to make the playoffs, and Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer are likewise all outside the top-10.  And Carl Edwards , 10th, is sweating things and knows it.
    Those drivers  behind in the points will eventually have to step it up.

  Brian France may see his two wild card playoffs spots -- to winners not in the top-10 -- turn this year's championship game quite interesting in late summer, when guys like Jeff Gordon have to win, not just earn points, to make the playoffs. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   --  Maybe we're just slow to realize it, but doesn't this 'sport' seem much more about marketing NASCAR these days than about the actual competition on the track?
   Nothing wrong with marketing, sure, and NASCAR's marketing over the years has been Hall-O-Fame stuff, that rival sports can only dream about.
   However the beef is supposed to be out on the track. And sometimes lately it seems like the on-track stuff is just a sidelight to the 'real' job of marketing NASCAR.
    Now marketing this sport these last few years hasn't been easy, with the still sluggish economy, and NASCAR execs get kudos for getting it done (the most recent move, the charity/communities synergies with the NFL, NHL, NBA and others).
   But a little too much Danica Patrick, you think? At Iowa last weekend she ran mediocre, then melted a sealing bead (too much brake, most likely) and blew a tire. She finished 30th. And how many Sprint Cup regulars were in that Nationwide field?
   Patrick gets game points for being game enough to try NASCAR. But she's been at it for 2-1/2 years now and promise can only take a driver so far.  
   To some NASCAR purists Patrick –particularly given the huge marketing push around her that NASCAR itself has established – may come across as a 'silver spoon' racer who has yet to earn her stock car spurs.  
    However, as she showed at Darlington two weeks ago, in a gutsy weekend at one of this sport's toughest tracks, Patrick can survive.
    Nevertheless pretty soon Patrick is going to have to deliver some real results.
    Is Danica Patrick really 'The face of NASCAR,' as some TV people are insisting?
    BTW, Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, who has actually won a Sprint  Cup event, is still struggling to find sponsorship.  
   And to be blunt, when it comes down to sheer talent on the track, fellow Nationwide driver Ricky Stenhouse has it all over Patrick. Stenhouse might well be ready to win in Cup, on a good weekend, and yet without much sponsorship he's not scheduled to run Cup again until September, which is a shame.

   Jimmie Johnson: a runaway winner in the All-Star race. Bill France Jr. might have told him 'Don't stink up the show.' (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   -- Something's going on downtown at the new Charlotte Hall of Fame, though not sure what.  
   With this month's Charlotte Speedweeks' All-Star race and the Coke 600, this is a crucial moment for the Hall, hopefully one of its best weeks of the year.
   So far the big news appears to be that the venture lost only $1.3 million last year; it is still struggling to catch hold.  (Fortunately the tax payers of Charlotte and tourists-taxed are subsidizing the place.)
    The key phrase seems to be 'attendance is stabilizing.'
    Yes, that 800,000-a-year prediction for its 2010 opening was wildly off the mark. And last year's 400,000-a-year prediction was likely wise far, far off the mark.  This year the hope is for 200,000 by year's end.
    Some specific numbers: February 2012 attendance was 12,989, compared to last February's 13,091. March 2012 attendance was 16,270, up from last March's 15,882.
    NASCAR continues pushing all the area race teams to take their big events and press conferences to the Hall, to boost its profile.
    The facility itself is cool, with loads of memorabilia. However its downtown Charlotte location may be something of a hindrance, given difficult and expensive parking. Logically the Hall should have been near Charlotte Motor Speedway, where parking is wide open and free.
    Another problem – while the sport of NASCAR has been around since 1948, the new Hall has only 20 men in it.  On the face of it, that's absurd. Only 20?
    Another problem – the latest balloting by  NASCAR's hand-picked panel of voters put Rusty Wallace in the Hall, over legends like Fireball Roberts. Now Wallace is certainly Hall-O-Fame material, and his feisty duals with Dale Earnhardt are a delight to watch on videos. But over Fireball? Now that may raise questions about this panel of voters, handpicked by NASCAR.
    Certainly Herb Thomas, Leonard Wood, Cotton Owens and Buck Baker are solid picks.
    However, nothing against ol' Rusty, but many other NASCAR legends are far more deserving: for example, Curtis Turner, Bruton Smith, Fred Lorenzen,  Banjo Matthews, Ralph Moody and John Holman, Maurice Petty, Alan Kulwicki, Smokey Yunick, T. Wayne Robertson, Jerry Long, Ralph Seagraves, Humpy Wheeler,  Chris Economaki, Wendell Scott, Clay Earles, Raymond Parks, Les Richter, Robert Yates, Waddell Wilson, Ernie Elliott, Ray Evernham, Herb Nab, Harry Hyde, Bobby Isaac, HeHHand Paul Sawyer among them. And how to avoid picking Indianapolis'
   And if selecting Wallace, why not include fellow drivers Ricky Rudd, Bill Elliott, Tim Richmond, A. J. Foyt, Harry Gant, Bobby Hamilton, Terry Labonte, Neil Bonnett...
   This new Hall of Fame has an opportunity to make some dramatic moves, but so far it hasn't.
   First, every NASCAR champion should be in the Hall of Fame, and every championship team, including team owner, crew chief and engine builder. That should be obvious.  
   Second, every female driver to run at the Cup level should also be honored, from Louise Smith, Sara Christian and Ethel Mobley to Janet Guthrie.
   And how about a 'Journeyman's Room, for those hard working independents who toiled loyally for so many years, perhaps without many headlines, from J. D. McDuffie to Elmo Langley and Dave Marcis.
    There are a lot of intriguing twists for the people running this Hall of Fame to consider. The Hall should be about celebrating more than just a select handpicked few...and fans know that.
    To do anything less is a disservice both to the fans and to those who helped build this sport

    Danica Patrick: not a good run at Iowa (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



I don't like the fact that NASCAR's chairman

I don't like the fact that NASCAR's chairman and other executives are on the voting panel. IMO it should be former drivers, crew chiefs, owners, press, that can focus independently from any NASCAR yea or nay. Take the next 5 years or so to include say 10 new inductees to get some kind of realistic base to build on. The hall will never begin to include all those deserving at five a year while including the more recent as with DW and Rusty and that's not to say they aren't deserving. It was great to see that Rusty didn't expect his getting in and his reaction to it, after DW's whining and begging and pouting. Lets also prevent the hall from becoming a France family monument, like putting up Annie France for induction, that was sheer nepotism. Although she did set the NASCAR trend for counting dollars!


WHy wasn't Danica in the ALL STAR RACE? NASCAR could of found a way to get her in. She is SUPPOSE to be the best out there. accoding to ALL THE COVERAGE SHE GETS.

There are several real Rookies running circles around her in the Nationwide series.

Hall of Fame

John Holman and Ralph Moody should be in the Hall before Hendrick, Childress, Gibbs, and Roush. They were the first "super team." Pearson won two of his three championships with them and Mario Andretti won Daytonia in an H-M car. Lee Holman is still alive and the de-legitimizaiton of the Hall is this: John Holman and Ralph Moody have not been nominated. Until they are and inducted along with Fred Lorenzen, Ralph Moody, Tim Flock, and Curtis Turner, the Hall is minimized.
Now, for parking. Park in Pineville and take the Blue Line to the Hall. Darrell Waltrip should not have gone in before Buck Baker.

I always appreciate reading your

I always appreciate reading your thoughts/comments - so many nails hit on the head.

I'm on your side, brother

Excellent article. Brian France should know that I\'m not willing to wait until September so that I can see a battle for the two wildcard spots. I want racing now, and don\'t care who the wildcards are. The likelihood of either becoming champion is slim. Tony Stewart\'s run for the crown was far outside the norm.

I disagree that the Hall should have an exhibit for racers who happen to be women. It\'s discriminatory to give someone a leg up based on their sex. It\'s worth mentioning that women have competed since the beginning, but as a seasonal exhibit only.

There\'s a lot of talk about Wendell Smith and his hardships. I\'d like to see equal attention given to those others that you mentioned. Wendell and JD McDuffie each won only one race. Fat chance JD will ever be mentioned except in a memorial roll call. As with the women\'s exhibit, I\'d like to see a four month honorary to the journeymen of the sport who toiled for years and had less than a handful of top tens.

Speaking of independents, James Hylton was a fierce racer who came close to winning the championship a couple of times against full factory teams. Do we have to wait for him to die before he\'s recognized. He deserved in before Rusty. So does Winston West patriarch Herschel McGriff.


Interesting on the new NFL helmets by Bill Simpson.

The All Star Race has undergone so many changes in format that the necessity of having one to begin with has long needed to be questioned. The racing is universally subpar and the changes in format never do what is hoped - force the drivers to fight for the win.

If Brian France thinks worthwhile a "battle" for two wildcard spots in a playoff format that has already been a colossal failure, then it shows further his lack of qualification for his job.

Where TV coverage blew it on the tandems in 2011 was it didn't challenge the criticisms of it, and this is a general Race Stream Media problem, not just a TV one. And it's making the same mistake again this year. No one in the Race Stream Media has discussed the fact that tandems won all the Cup preliminaries at Daytona and won the Winston 500 at Talladega, and that the gripe that the tandems took away drivers' control of their destiny is nonsensical, period, and doubly do in the face of drivers having to breathe their cars instead of race.

Marcus Smith MBA or Nepostistism

Marcus has stunk up the show since Humpy was moved out in the nepotistic move by Bruton. As we've seen in FRANCECAR, just because you have an MBA, doesn't mean you can keep the business and fans growing and happy.

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