According to some, 2009 was the most boring year ever in NASCAR. Boring racing, the same champion as the previous four years and a cast of characters who talked in PR speak like it was their primary language.
As soon as the TV ratings, the numbers those who are in the financial side of the sport live and die by, started to go down many began to scream that the sky was falling. They blamed the racing going on the track; despite the fact that according to statistics there were actually more passes in 2009 then in the previous year. And they blamed the vanilla drivers who endorsed their sponsor’s products in every sentence and never uttered a disparaging word.
The cries, and more importantly the downturn in those all important revenue generating TV numbers, prompted a look by those who run the sport and suddenly the changes started coming. More standard start times, the loss of the yellow line rule, bigger restrictor plates, and the abandoning of wings in favor of spoilers among others.
One lone voice is expressing his opinion though. Jack Roush, who has been in NASCAR longer then many fans have been alive, is pointing a finger of blame for NASCAR’s supposed woes in one direction.
Never a man to hold back, Roush let his views be known during a stop on NASCAR’s Media Tour this week. According to Roush, who fields four teams, the blame isn’t on the racing or the drivers.
“We had more passes last year than we ever had,” Roush said. “We had more passes for the lead than we’ve ever had. We had more different winners than we’ve ever had. We had more cars finishing on the lead lap than ever had. The competition was great. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t subject to criticism for every move that NASCAR made or every move a team made but sometimes it sounded that way back from the communication box.”
Roush also pointed out that International Speedway Corporation, which owns many of the tracks NASCAR races on, didn’t have one complaint from fans that bought tickets and attended a race in person.
“So there’s no complaint from the fans regarding competition,” he said. “The complaints have come from reporters and from media that has maybe a vested interested. If you look at Darrell Waltrip, you look at all the other ex-drivers, Rusty Wallace, the ex-crew chiefs that are out there; it’s not unreasonable to say that they’ve got some ax to grind over something that frustrated them in their careers on the firing line. We need to reel that back in. That needs to be something that is not carried out front to the fans and to the public.”
Bottom line; Roush blames the coverage provided by the networks, not the product produced by NASCAR. And Roush added only those who cover the sport can change the wrong perception they themselves have created.
“We need to talk about how many passes we’re having,” Roush said. “We need to talk about how close the racing is on the final laps, we need to talk about how contentious things are in the garage and the rest of it and not fault the teams for the decisions they make and not fault NASCAR for the government they provide. NASCAR racing is the best-run form of motorsports any place in the world. They may be the best form of sport any place in the world.”
Whether the actual coverage of NASCAR is to blame for its boring perception may be a matter open to discussion. It has to be remembered though that while there are hundreds of thousands of fans that attend races every year, millions more watch on TV. No complaints from the fans that were there, but accusations from those who watch from afar.
NASCAR has certainly done their part to make changes. Hopefully the changes for 2010 won’t be restricted to the track; ESPN has already made changes to their raceday announcers. As the season gets underway it will be interesting to see if there will be other changes at the TV networks a well; Because as Jack Roush pointed out, perception could be the root of most of NASCAR’s woes.
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