What Bill Clinton said about Yasser Arafat -- "He never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity" -- also applies to NASCAR.
Whether it's the fact that the NASCAR Sprint Cup (and next year the Nationwide Series) is now nothing more than a spec series where cheating has become the secret to success; whether it's not choosing NASCAR's first successful African American racer, Wendell Scott, to be in their "first class" of legends at the new NASCAR Museum in Charlotte; or whether it's failing to provide a track surface which will not fall apart for the most important race of the year which kicked off the new decade for the sport, NASCAR has a definite penchant for too often being on the wrong side of any opportunity to make itself look good to a national audience.
Last Sunday's Daytona 500 took over six hours to complete, a race which normally runs three to four hours. Why? Because the track started coming apart and the race had to be stopped -- red-flagged -- for over two hours while track workers tried to make repairs.
Oh, sure, there was a great finish to the race with the universally-liked Jamie McMurray winning his first Daytona 500 (he has the pole for this Sunday's race at California Speedway) but how many people stuck around to watch Daytona's end?
While I enjoyed my extended nap at home, as I'm sure millions of other viewers did, there are sports car events which run six hours and are called "endurance races". That certainly describes this year's Daytona 500.
Drivers, including Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. have talked about the boredom of the middle part of any long race, so NASCAR should imagine what those laps are like to the home viewers. Pure tedium at 190mph, and whoever thought such a thing possible? During one red flag period, at least one driver, Kyle Busch, fell asleep in his parked race car waiting for the green flag to come out again.
When a red flag is thrown (which stops the race) the clocks stop running, so in fact NASCAR was able to claim the actual race ran just over three hours. Hooey.
Here's what really rankles me: In the month before the Daytona 500, there were thousands of laps run on the track, maybe tens of thousands.
The racing season opened with the 24 Hours at Daytona sports car race, much of it, not unusually, in the rain this year.
Then NASCAR took over the track for their couple of weeks of events.
There were two qualifying races by Sprint Cup cars for the 500. And the hundreds of laps of practice leading to those. There were thousands of laps of practice, qualifying and actual racing for the ARCA Series, the Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series.
There were countless practice laps for the Sprint Cup cars as well as qualifying.
And NASCAR wants me to believe that with all those laps, there was absolutely no problem with the track? No problem until NASCAR's Super Bowl? Ridiculous.
My guess? They knew there were potential problems, but NASCAR hoped they could skate by one more year on a track which was last repaved in 1978. NASCAR would rather ask viewers to watch an over six hour race than have it appear there might be something wrong with their legendary race track.
Well, they gambled ... and lost, big-time. And probably lost a lot of first-time viewers tuning into the race to see what NASCAR is all about.
Have to hand it to the FOX announcers -- they filled all that time as best they could, and with absolutely nothing negative said about NASCAR (you don't bite the hand ...).
The only driver who complained publicly was Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Demonstrating his family's virtual ownership of the track and the sport, he said, "If they'd a repaved it when I told 'em too, it'd be perfect by now."
Only Junior has the juice to make a comment like that with no one from NASCAR saying anything to him about it.
This Sunday, it's a 500-miler at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA, about 70 miles and several universes, cultures, languages and lifestyles east of downtown Los Angeles. It's a two-mile track built by Roger Penske, a twin of his track in Brooklyn, MI.
The weather report calls for rain Friday night (and it was raining as I wrote this late Friday in Los Angeles), and heavy rain Sunday. But maybe NASCAR (and especially we fans) are catching a break -- that rain is not supposed to start until late afternoon, but predictions for these Pacific winter storms are reliably unreliable.
NASCAR has been criticized for years for starting their season during the rainiest part of the year in many areas of the country, almost guaranteeing a few rained out events.
But they'll take their chances in California and across the country until the generally dry summer, because there is money to be made and NASCAR and its track owners haven't exactly been raking it in the past year or so.
Let's see how NASCAR handles this one. And the next.
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