In the effort to “protect the brand,” NASCAR is treating its elite class like they were frat hellions from “Animal House”– and the drivers are playing along.
Years ago, it seemed as if prominent NASCAR figures – drivers, crew chiefs, owners, sponsor reps – were always leaking things to me.
They’d pass along some piece of juicy information, invariably preceded by, “You didn’t get this from me, but …”
At one point, I responded to one of these bits of gossip by telling the source, “You know, for years and years, black people were treated badly … but eventually, Dr. Martin Luther King did come along.”
These folks wanted me to fight their battles for them.
The NASCAR equivalent of Dr. King is still nowhere to be found. Earlier this week, the news broke that the absolute ruler of stock car racing had been fining some drivers secretly. Apparently, they were guilty of “damaging the NASCAR brand.”
Isn’t it funny when men whose job involves stock cars racing one another for hundreds of laps/miles use words like “brand.” It’s a softer way of saying, basically, “Don’t you dare say something bad about us.”
The game is known as “spin.” A group of prominent figures get together, agonize over being caught doing something they didn’t want anyone to know about and discuss just how they can possibly talk their way out of a mess.
“They fine coaches in basketball for criticizing the officials.” Yeah, and they announce it when they do.
Of all people, Ryan Newman, who happens to be one of the drivers fined not-so-secretly-after-all, actually said on Friday, at Michigan International Speedway, that he was OK with such subterfuge.
“It’s no different than any other sport,” he insisted on Sirius XM satellite radio. “It’s just that we don’t want to publicize the fact that we’re penalizing people for what they say. And other sports do it non-stop, continuously, and you have repeat offenders just like you do other crimes. It’s nothing that anybody wants to be a part of, but unfortunately it’s something that we have to, a part of our sport that we have to address.”
Gee whiz. Remember the line from “Animal House”? “Thank, you, sir, may I have another?”
Jeff Burton, of whom the adjective “statesmanlike” is often used, said he didn’t think he’d ever said anything that merited a fine, so he wasn’t worried about it. It was unusual to see Burton reduced to “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.”
Tony Stewart, as usual, blamed the media. There is no truth, however, to the rumor that he blames the media for oil in the gulf, water on the knee and soap scum in the shower.
What could be worse for an allegedly mainstream sport than to punish people without admission or explanation? For years, people have joked about “double secret probation.” (Gosh, I’ll be darned. Another “Animal House” reference.) Apparently, it wasn’t a joke.
“I look at this being a private matter and think that it’s actually a good thing,” said Jimmie Johnson, even though, apparently, there were no electrodes attached to shock him if he departed from the company line. “The fact that they went to the drivers that they didn’t like what they were saying, and penalized them and fined them and talked to them about the comments they made and how it could hurt our sport was good.
“I don’t think that it’s good to have everything out in the press because all we continue to do is focus on negative things time and time again, and the circus builds around it and it goes on and on and on.”
Brian France isn’t merely the chairman. He is apparently a monarch by divine right: omnipotent, omniscient and, by his own admission, multifaceted.
Here’s the bottom line from the flip side of the equation: Fans have a right to the whole story. Start whitewashing everything, and it ruins the luster of the wood. This is just a fairy tale, and NASCAR has been playing Chicken Little to its drivers by claiming the sky is falling.
Unlike the aforementioned Mr. Little, the drivers still believe it. And they get what they deserve.