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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Walking Away From Popularity

There has been a lot of talk about the popularity of NASCAR and possible reasons for its recent drop. During Saturday’s Nationwide race we got to see a prime example of what I believe is one contributing factor to the sport’s diminished popularity.

With two laps to go, Kyle Busch led the race with teammate Joey Logano running second. Kyle had led the most laps during the race with the two drivers dominating the day and the race coming down to this final restart. On the restart, Logano got into the rear end of his teammate and sent Kyle up the track, Logano was passed by Brad Keselowski who went on to victory. Replays following the race left question whether or not Logano hit Busch or Busch had a flat right front tire. Here’s where Kyle, NASCAR and it's coverage failed in their responsibility to tell the story for the viewer.

Joey Logano was interviewed after the race, nearly in tears (He is just a kid so I’m giving him a break, but there was no need for tears). Logano took responsibility for hitting Kyle Busch. He apologized and said he didn’t know what happened to Kyle, but Kyle didn’t get a good restart. Why didn’t Kyle get a good restart? That is now the key question. Every viewer, every old school fan, every new fan who was watching a race for the first time was wondering what Kyle Busch would have to say? This was the kind of moment that makes sport, racing in particular, exciting. We were all on the edge of our seats. Was it a flat tire or did Logano screw up and knock his teammate out of the way? Were Logano’s tears justified or was the young 19 year old crying over nothing? Was Kyle going to blast the kid or clear him of wrong doing, or neither? So many questions were about to be answered, thus completing a dramatic broadcast of NASCAR on ESPN. One person had the answers to all these questions, Kyle Busch. Here we go!

Here’s is where the wheels came off. Kyle Busch was not interested in talking and he walked away. This is an issue that has valid points to be made on each side of the argument. Sure, Kyle was disappointed, he just lost. But what Kyle has to realize is that racing is a show and at that moment he was the key to the biggest story in the show. He has to take the time to tell someone his side of the story. Just walking away might make him feel better at that moment, but what about every viewer who was watching? Kyle should know he has a responsibility to complete the story of the race. Someone has got to tell him that. Remember, millions of fans and potential new fans are watching on the edge of their seats. He is the exciting conclusion and he is walking away. There he goes and with him the biggest, best story of the race. As he walks away, the play by play team on ESPN has a discussion about Kyle. Former Cup Champion Dale Jarrett added that Kyle was doing the right thing by not talking because he might say something he might regret.

That is a prime example of why this sport is regressing right now. Dale Jarrett thinks its better for Kyle to leave an entire fan base hanging on the most important moment of the race, than Kyle risk possibly saying something he might regret. So, not only are we making these drivers, Dale Jarrett included, heros by watching them but now we cannot even expect to get their story after they race. I’m not buying that. Jarrett was taking the easy; protect the driver’s image approach. That approach is killing the sport. It is Kyle’s responsibility to be able to communicate his position without embarrassing himself. If he can’t, it becomes a great story for the sport and will end up on Sports Center, always a good thing. If he can, then we all get to know what happened in the race, either way, he can’t just walk away.

If NASCAR wants to turn their slide in popularity around they need to realize they, the drivers and their broadcast partners are in the entertainment business. In this case, they completely blew the end of the story. In what other sport can the key player just walk away without comment? OK, other than Basketball? It’s a problem that is directly connected to the sport’s popularity and should be addressed by the NASCAR officials, drivers, fans and media. If drivers and television partners are allowed to just blow off the story and with it, the fans, the sport will be doomed to slide off the radar. If you can’t expect to find out why things happened, why bother watching?