The NASCAR-related headlines that have popped up particularly in the last week have very little to do with the on-track product itself.
Yes, there has been news of NASCAR’s new pit road technology system (more here from NASCAR.com), which should be fascinating to watch when it is implemented. Yes, there have been sponsor bits and pieces as Joe Gibbs Racing put together with a new FedEx scheme and Sport Clips for four races. And yes, today, we have had a driver signing with Cole Whitt confirmed as third driver at Front Row Motorsports.
But, as Sporting News’ Bob Pockrass pointed out earlier this week, almost no one is talking about driver/crew chief combinations or planning the season ahead.
Without the usual NASCAR Preseason Thunder at Daytona, the news has instead been a tornado of crazy sweeping through the headlines and making national news beyond the specialist motorsport media.
And that is rarely a good thing, because generally speaking that means it’s not talking about the on-track product itself, but rather some tragedy, bizarre headline or twisted bit of news.
Having witnessed the construction in progress at Daytona Rising last week, it’s great to see how far that is coming as Daytona International Speedway enters its new era. But Richard Childress racing Austin Dillon in an “Escalator Duel” screams “we need cars on track.”
Then we have the curious case of Keith Olbermann, never one to hold back an opinion, and now getting himself into NASCAR by way of the bizarre headlines.
A disclaimer first, Olbermann can be brilliant and spot-on in takes – his tribute to the late Stuart Scott earlier this month was a poignant one.
But back to this case. He first incorrectly called Kurt Busch his brother Kyle Busch in the midst of Kurt’s ongoing testimony/legal situation/inadvertent comedic sideshow with ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll. After issuing a correction tweet, he then attacked NASCAR fans and called this the “something interesting” moment happening in the “simplest of sports.” He later issued video commentaries on, of all things, a shift from Jeff Gordon’s tricycle race to the Busch saga.
Then six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson got involved. Johnson, you may remember, got involved the last time there was a non-NASCAR regular attempting to appear an expert – when Donovan McNabb stirred the hornet’s nest by saying Johnson wasn’t an athlete after Johnson won his sixth Cup title in 2013. Johnson tweeted to Olbermann, and Olbermann, I’m not sure if this was in jest or serious, then replied back with a “And you are who, sir?” snarky answer.
There’s a reason I don’t write about golf, or hockey, or football on a regular basis – and that’s because I don’t have enough of a grasp on the respective subject to author a piece coherently and with enough informed analysis to make it readable. I’m not sure why it is predominantly stick-and-ball types then feel they must offer an opinion, however misguided it may be, on NASCAR or other forms of motorsport other than to troll. That’s what Mr. Olbermann is doing here, and it shouldn’t be getting the amount of attention it is.
But because we don’t have cars on track and we’re in the dead of winter, it’s a story.
This all of course is secondary to the biggest story of the NASCAR offseason, and one that isn’t even NASCAR-specific other than it does affect one of its driver, in Kurt (not Kyle) Busch.
The Busch/Patricia Driscoll back-and-forth testimony has been fascinating to read, downright bizarre to analyze and utterly chaotic as it’s taken almost all eyes off the forthcoming season. There’s no point re-linking everything you’ve already read here; if you’ve followed the story, you’ve followed the crazy.
Will there be a resolution soon? One would hope. We’re less than a month out from Daytona Speedweeks, with the Sprint Unlimited and duel races upcoming before the Daytona 500 itself.
On the whole though, my hope is for the specialist NASCAR media to take back the storylines during NASCAR media days in Charlotte later this month, and put the focus, words and headlines on where they should be: the on-track product, coming off one of NASCAR’s more interesting seasons in years.
And by that point, the 2014-2015 Offseason on Weird Avenue will hopefully have run its course.