Commentary

Here's 10 good questions for NASCAR

Updated: October 6, 2010, 3:37 PM ET
By Ed Hinton | ESPN.com

Maybe we should change the nature of NASCAR discussion just this once. We're always talking about what NASCAR did. Maybe we should turn it around.

So I've been thinking: What if NASCAR didn't …

1. Throw cautions for debris that may or may not be clearly visible to TV cameras and/or spectators?

For all the public suspicion of "phantom" cautions, these nitpicky ones are necessary evils.

[+] EnlargeDale Earnhardt
ISC Archives/Getty ImagesBefore you go complaining about "phantom" debris cautions, realize that sometimes there is debris no one clearly sees. Dale Earnhardt fans wish NASCAR had seen some before he cut a tire on the final lap of the 1990 Daytona 500.

Think of the clamor that would arise over all the extra random wrecking with cut tires and damaged suspensions when hard-to-spot debris really is there. Old-line fans will remember the piece of metal Dale Earnhardt ran over, shredding a tire while leading 499 miles into the 1990 Daytona 500. Some said that debris had been there for three laps.

Would you like that sort of thing on a regular basis? Possible anywhere from Daytona to Homestead? If not, the murky debris cautions are just something we have to live with.

2. Force Chasers to run for the championship, play the playoffs, with 31 regular-season also-rans all over the playing fields?

What if the Colts and Saints were in a Super Bowl and members of the Lions and Browns were allowed to run onto the field and make plays that affect the outcome, just to be fair to all the franchises that want to keep playing?

That's what running a Chase with non-Chasers in the races amounts to.

If Chase season is supposed to be special anyway, why not split each race in half with two separate winners? Sort of like the Showdown and then the All-Star race. First 200 or 250 miles for non-Chasers, second half for the real thing.

3. Let also-rans get away with wrecking Chasers intentionally and affecting the championship?

This has been a hot button of mine ever since the first race of the first Chase, at New Hampshire in 2004.

Non-Chaser Robby Gordon got angry at non-Chaser Greg Biffle and went after him. The payback also took out Chasers Tony Stewart and Jeremy Mayfield and ruined their chances at the championship right out of the gate.

At that time I advocated a simple penalty for an also-ran deliberately interfering with the playoffs: Park him for the remainder of the season. Period.

I stand by that now, following Sunday's payback of Chaser Kyle Busch by non-Chaser David Reutimann.

Under the old full-season points format, NASCAR used to warn also-rans not to cause trouble for championship contenders in late-season races -- give them room, let them by, don't beat on them.

Now, rather than parking Reutimann until February -- which you can bet would put a stop to playoff interference -- NASCAR will do nothing to him.

And that is about as outrageous as you can get in a playoff system.

4. Vary so widely, sometimes up to 180 degrees, in its daily police work.

Here NASCAR does nothing to Reutimann for so blatantly affecting the playoffs and yet delivers such a devastating points penalty to Clint Bowyer that NASCAR itself has now had a huge effect on the playoffs.

Get real and reasonable somewhere in the middle. If you consider Bowyer's penalty just, then penalize Reutimann somehow, some way. If you consider Reutimann's offense forgivable, then don't be so hard on Bowyer.

5. Run its most critical inspections completely out of sight of the media and therefore the public?

Some fans lately have said NASCAR treats them "like mushrooms" -- and you know that old line about being kept in the dark and fed unsavory stuff.

Running critical inspections out in the open, before TV cameras, not only would eradicate all the suspicion and bitterness from fans over being told but not shown, it would make for fabulous TV.

Take the going-over of Bowyer's car at the NASCAR R&D center. The cameras zoom in, NASCAR officials apply their measuring devices and explain what they're seeing, and right there is a TV tech expert, e.g. ESPN's Tim Brewer, to explain the findings.

6. Run its most critical penalty hearings out of sight of the media and the public?

Bringing the appeals process out from behind closed doors not only would create waves of goodwill, it would be a sure-fire media hit -- witness all these years of popularity of all sorts of court shows.

Imagine hearing and seeing the initial hearing of Richard Childress' appeal of Bowyer's penalty, and seeing how and why Childress came out miffed that he hadn't gotten a fair shake.

Then imagine the contrast of what Childress told reporters Tuesday was "a very, very fair" hearing before the final appellate officer, John Middlebrook.

We could see and understand the differences, if any, in the procedures.

7. Police the current car so closely, almost microscopically?

For all but the very recent history of NASCAR, tweaking a car body by 60 one-thousandths of an inch was considered innovation, the ingenious gaining of an edge over the competition.

[+] EnlargeClint Bowyer
Kevin Liles/US PresswireCars such as Clint Bowyer's are pored over repeatedly by NASCAR officials, but not always in full view of the public or media.

But because of NASCAR's zero tolerance on some areas of the current car design, the RCR infraction on Bowyer's car was treated as a competition felony.

I thought zero tolerance was to make sure the car, designed with safety foremost in mind, stayed as safe as possible.

But NASCAR cited no safety concerns in the Bowyer findings.

So, under the old spirit of innovation, why hammer what could have been one of the most fascinating dark-horse stories in the Chase's brief history?

This almost microscopic obsession with car dimensions is costing NASCAR something far more important: human interest, and therefore public interest.

8. Allow drivers to have motor coaches in the infield?

They weren't allowed until about 20 years ago. Before that, there was wonderful interaction between drivers and the public, drivers and the media.

Drivers stayed in hotels, and in the lobbies and parking lots, the likes of Richard Petty, David Pearson and Bobby Allison actually mingled with fans and enjoyed it.

Even Earnhardt, who later led the reclusive movement to the motor coaches, in his youth could be spotted in motel parking lots having a beer with fans.

And the fans loved them for it, in a way that no fan can love any driver nowadays.

In the garages, media access was wide open. We could tell wonderful, thorough stories about drivers because we actually knew them so well, because we could talk with them so freely, so often.

Now, with bigger crowds and more media, if a driver needs a break from all that, well, the haulers all have nice, big lounges. That's enough privacy, without a secure compound, an all-day hiding place, at every track.

And the loss of communication cuts both ways. Some pretty savvy people I've known have feared that NASCAR drivers in their little villages cut themselves and their families off from any real understanding of the public.

9. Pretend its only purpose is as a humble servant of the competitors, trying to keep a level playing field for all?

If that's true, why doesn't NASCAR just declare itself, and make itself legally, a non-profit organization? I think we all know the chances of that.

So just posture yourself as what you are: a dictatorial money empire, a "sport that runs on money" in the title of one book. It's an enormous marketing forum at least as much as it is a sport.

That humble-servant stuff just grates on the public more.

10. Want all media coverage to be peachy-creamy cheerleading?

On the whole, NASCAR doesn't like to be criticized in the media.

Essentially, NASCAR would like for every reporter to say or write that just about everything is wonderful, correct and exciting about NASCAR, 100 percent of the time.

But how honest, and how much fun, would that be?

Yawn.

Who would care very much about NASCAR, or any sport, without lively discussion? Fair criticism helps legitimize any league, and the other major sports leagues seem to understand that.

All media outlets where I've ever worked have staunchly declined to let NASCAR sway fair commentary. But over the years I've seen other outlets kowtow and cheerlead and even heard reporters express fear of repercussions for speaking or writing candidly.

One of these days, maybe NASCAR will figure out that the best way to use the media to get more attention and interest than ever before is to announce in the media center at Daytona next February:

"Have at it, boys and girls."

Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at edward.t.hinton@espn.com.

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