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The first of a nine-part feature addressing the biggest issues in NASCAR
Each day from mid-February through late November, a small band of motorsports journalists work nearly around the clock — this being the digital age — to keep rabid NASCAR fans as up-to-the-second informed as possible. Many of these media members are ensconced in the sport’s “traveling circus,” working in garage areas, media centers and pressboxes nearly 40 weeks a year. So who better to go to for a “state of the sport” talk than them?
While drivers may toe the company line — keeping sponsors happy and staying in the sanctioning body’s good graces are important to their livelihood — it’s the job of these journos to provide news, insight and opinion in a sport that has no shortage of any.
In this nine-part feature, Athlon Sports sits down with seven media professionals from different outlets to get a healthy cross-section of ideas, opinions and feedback on the biggest issues alive and well in the sport of NASCAR, circa 2014.
Undoubtedly, the biggest story of the 2013 NASCAR season was the actions and ensuing fallout from the Richmond race. Five years from now, what will the legacy of “Spingate” be for the sport of NASCAR?
Ryan McGee (ESPN.com/ESPN The Magazine; @ESPNMcGee): The lesson learned is that you have to think big picture before acting. One idiotic idea made the entire sport look awful for weeks. Past that, the legacy will be embarrassment. I think back on incidents like the nitrous oxide mess at Daytona in 1976 or the “jet fuel” disaster of ’07, even Richard Petty’s 198th career win, which came via an illegal engine at Charlotte. All of the people involved in those, from Darrell Waltrip to A.J. Foyt to Michael Waltrip, still get questions about those, even now, years later.
Over time it’ll fade and the topic will come up less, but this will be like the “black spot” for Michael, Clint Bowyer and Ty Norris. It’ll never fully go away. I just hope we don’t look back and say this was the night that Martin Truex Jr.’s career died.
Bob Pockrass (The Sporting News; @bobpockrass): The legacy will be more scrutiny over every maneuver by every driver at Richmond and Homestead. Just listening to Brad Keselowski’s radio in the Nationwide race at Homestead and his asking about what he should do (with Penske teammate Sam Hornish Jr. in a championship battle) — and the reaction of fans that followed — means that this is not over. It is the nature of teammates to do subtle things to help teammates.
NASCAR has opened up a quagmire that it could have prevented if it just had penalized Clint Bowyer for intentionally spinning under caution. It also has opened itself up to scrutiny with an ambiguous “100 percent” rule as well as the precedent of adding an additional driver to the Chase.
Nate Ryan (USA Today; @nateryan): In late September, in the wake of the announcement of NAPA’s impending departure, I’d have said the team orders scandal at Richmond International Raceway probably would rank as triggering the biggest sea change in 21st century NASCAR competition. But as with most Sprint Cup controversies that have a half-life of roughly three to five days, Richmond faded much more quickly than anticipated.
Aside from the Michael Waltrip Racing repercussions, its impact seemed negligible by the midpoint of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Its legacy will be more about how it challenged perceptions and changed the personas of the major players — Brian France taking charge and weathering crisis with his predecessors’ iron-fisted panache; Michael Waltrip facing the greatest escape act in a career filled with them; Clint Bowyer stripped of the happy-go-lucky charm that made him a favorite of fans and peers — than whether it significantly influenced philosophies in the long term.
Richmond will stand among the most apocryphal tales in recent NASCAR history, and it’s unlikely that such dirty pool ever will unfold that way again. But the multi-car business model and consistency-based points structure still ensure there will be future scandals of a similar ilk.
Nick Bromberg (Yahoo! Sports; @NickBromberg): Unfortunately for NASCAR, it will be the way that the incident was handled by the sanctioning body, simply because there will forever be a 13th driver listed in the (Chase) box score. Whether it’s via teammates moving over for another to lead a lap or a start and park car being entered to pull off the track early, manipulation isn’t a new phenomenon. No other sport would add another team to its playoffs, and the addition of Jeff Gordon will be forever annotated.
Mike Hembree (Athlon Sports; @mikehembree): Tighter scrutiny. It often takes an outlandish event like this to spur serious action by NASCAR, but, once it’s in place, it’s generally productive. Radio chatter isn’t as much fun.
Pete Pistone (Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio and MRN Radio; @PPistone): As much as some want to sweep it under the carpet I think the Richmond scandal will hang over the sport for years to come. The actions by MWR and NASCAR’s response by altering the Chase with a 13th driver will go down in history as a couple of dark days in the sport’s legacy while the “100 percent rule” is fraught with complications.
Mike Mulhern (MikeMulhern.net; @mikemulhern): No, the biggest story of 2013 was Brian France pulling off the multi-billion-dollar NBC TV deal and getting FOX to also agree to funding the sport through 2024. “Spingate” will hardly be recalled next season, except as just one more poorly handled issue by NASCAR and the Daytona brass.
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
For coverage of Speedweeks and the entire 2014 NASCAR season, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro