News travels fast in Twitterville
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Want to know about Denny Hamlin's massage on Monday? Or how about the progress Juan Pablo Montoya is making on his Pitts Biplane? Maybe you'd like to know what DeLana Harvick says about her husband, Kevin, after he has a "10-taco spree?"
Or whether Danica Patrick is interested in NASCAR? Or for that matter, whether she pulled for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers or Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings on "Monday Night Football"?
You're a tweet away.
I fought this social networking for a long time, reluctantly joining Facebook and even more reluctantly joining Twitter. Earlier this year I sadly watched a colleague in the media center at Lowe's Motor Speedway with one computer set up to write stories and the other to network.
Many are so engrossed in it that they tweet from their phones during behind-the-hauler news conferences. If Jimmie Johnson says he has to go to the bathroom, everyone will know before he has a chance to go.
Heck, Kyle Petty tweeted to the world about interviewing for this column before I could hang up the phone.
"News travels fast on Twitterville," Petty quipped.
It seems that way. It seems many drivers spend as much time tweeting as they do turning, even those involved in the Chase. No Sprint Cup driver tweets more than Montoya, who is third in the point standings heading into Sunday's race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
Drivers will tell you this is the best way to communicate with their sponsors and fans, to give them an up-close look at what they're doing on the track and how they spend time off the track. It's a way to be personal without really being personal.
"People want to know more, see more, be involved more," Brian Vickers said. "They not only want to read about what you're doing, but see the photos, watch the video and get their own firsthand account."
Last week we got to see the feud between Hamlin and Brad Keselowski played out in, as Petty calls it, Twitterville. Hamlin criticized Keselowski after Friday's Sprint Cup practice at Kansas for the incident that took him out of the Nationwide Series race the week before at Dover.
"He needs to be worried whenever I'm around him," Hamlin said.
Soon afterward there was a one-word response -- "Quakin'!" -- on Keselowski's Twitter page. A member of his public relations staff attributed the tweet to the manager of the site and not the driver, which brings up concerns from many Twitter purists.
Petty and Michael Waltrip, who have more than 16,000 followers each, strongly oppose having somebody other than them use the 140-character limit per tweet to express thoughts on their page.
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"If Brad wants to say it then Brad can say it," Waltrip said. "MW55, that's me. You can count on the fact that if it's on there it's my thoughts. Mine is real."
Unfortunately you can't count on that. There's a Twitter site called dale_jr that suggests it's the official site of NASCAR's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The few tweets such as this -- "man I get up wayyy to(o) early what a crap run this week. 40th is not acceptable!! Something are gonna change fast!!!'' -- even sound like it could be him.
But according to his sister, Kelley Earnhardt, Dale doesn't tweet.
"Be careful what you read and be careful what you read into it, because a lot of times that's not Brad Keselowski talking, that's not Denny Hamlin talking, that's not Kyle Petty talking," Petty said. "That's the downside."
But Petty and Waltrip agree there's more upside than downside. They also can see the day when drivers settle on-the-track differences via networking.
"Maybe we've gone from Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison and Donnie Allison punching it out on the backstretch at Daytona to cyber fights," Petty said in reference to the 1979 brawl that put NASCAR on the map. "Maybe that's the new settlement." Let's hope not. Let's hope the sport doesn't come down to which driver can type the fastest instead of drive the fastest.
But Petty is right: There are risks in Twitterville. Elliott Sadler found that following the August race at Pocono when his tweet seemingly blamed his team for running out of tires.
"Yep, ran out of tires," he said. "That's hard to swallow!"
A few hours later, Sadler issued a tweet apology, saying, "I want to tweet everyone and tell them I really upset my team earlier. My tweet was confusing to read. We had gone thru all the tires we were allowed for the day. I didn't know that in the car or I would have used different strategy. 100 percent my fault. Nobody to blame but me."
It wasn't the first time an athlete tweeted something he wished he hadn't, and it won't be the last. At Texas Tech, football coach Mike Leach told reporters on the Big 12 coaches teleconference that "anyone who wants to play for us doesn't have a Twitter page."
His comments came after linebacker Marion Williams tweeted: "Wondering why I'm still in this meeting room when the head coach can't even be on time to his own meeting."
That came after offensive lineman Brandon Carter tweeted his indefinite suspension for violating team policy before the school announced it.
There's been no such controversy in NASCAR. Social networking has become so big that the governing body uses Twitter and Facebook to interact directly with fans and get out messages such as competition updates and penalties.
The weekly driver teleconferences are kicked off with a fan question from Twitter.
"There's a lot of discussion on whether social media is good or bad, which is like asking whether fire is good or bad," NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said. "On the one hand, fire is essential to survival. On the other hand, if not treated with care it can be harmful."
Most in NASCAR treat it with care. Kenny Wallace raised enough money through social media to sponsor his "Thank You Fan" car for the Montreal Nationwide race. Montoya, who has more than 26,000 followers, has given fans -- English- and Spanish-speaking -- a glimpse into his life from a love of fast food to what he does with his children.
Kevin Harvick's Twitter page nearly exploded when he started giving live updates on race performance and interactions with DeLana.
There are lots more. Here are a few examples of what you might see:
• Hamlin on the massage he got Monday: "OK, I thought getting a deep tissue massage from a girl would be just what I needed. NOT the case when she looks like she could play line."
• DeLana Harvick on Kevin: "Am married to a bottomless pit. I just heard 'I'm hungry ...' after a 10-taco spree earlier tonight."
• Waltrip on appearing on "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" with David Ragan on Tuesday night: "Might not be smarter than a 5th grader, but bet im smarter than David Ragan."
• Montoya on a recent sleepless night: "Had a terrible night of sleep cause sabastian was coughing like crazy so woke me up at 330Am ... not good."
• Kyle Petty on this story: "Just did interview with David Newton, ESPN, about TWITTER and NASCAR Drivers! Everyones in Twitterville!"
And, as promised, here's who Patrick cheered for on "MNF":
"Think I am cheering for the Packers(my dad will kill me) ... Aaron Ro[d]gers deserves to be cheered for," she tweeted before the game.
By the way, if you want to know why everybody in NASCAR wants Patrick to leave the IndyCar Series for stock cars, look at her number of followers. She has more than 51,000, more than double any Cup driver found.
But it's early and many drivers are just getting into this form of networking. Waltrip started in August to promote sponsor appearances and connect with fans. He's proud of his 16,000-plus fans.
"When I first heard of Twitter, someone said, 'You just write a couple of sentences about what you are doing,'" he said. "I said, 'Well, I don't want anybody to know what I'm doing. I don't really know if it's anyone's business what I'm doing.'
"Then it became more of a personal thing. ... It's just fans that want to see what I'm up to, what's going on. That's pretty neat."
Poston would like to see more drivers take advantage of this medium, noting "it allows them to show more personality and brings fans closer to the sport."
But it's not for everybody.
"Obviously, I don't get it," said points leader Mark Martin, who at 50 didn't grow up with computers. "I don't understand how somebody could be doing something and typing what they're doing at the same time. If I was going to tell somebody what I was doing all the time, I wouldn't do it.
"I'm texting and e-mailing. That's as far as I've gotten."
Apparently, Martin is in the minority when it comes to this cyber technology. If it weren't considered dangerous we'd probably see drivers tweeting at 200 mph. News travels fast in Twitterville, but not that fast. In case you're wondering what I'm doing right now: Tweet from DNewtonespn, "I'm done with this column."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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