Glass Half Full

There’s been a lot of heat thrown NASCAR’s way so far this season. Tragedy, safety, new network television partnerships, an expanded schedule – with only eight races in the book, 2001 has already been one of the most memorable seasons in history.

Granted, much of the added pressure has been warranted. If the folks in Daytona Beach could find a way to actually address issues rather than avoiding them, things would be much easier. Good luck on getting a straight answer out of anyone on just about any topic, whether it’s safety or the distribution of television rights fees or interpretations of the rulebook. The NASCAR mantra sounds exactly like Sergeant Schultz from the old “Hogan’s Heroes” TV show….”I know nothing!”

Have you ever heard of holding a media teleconference that doesn’t allow questions? That’s what happened this week when NASCAR decided to “tell” us its side of the Dale Earnhardt accident investigation. How about changing a rulebook after the season has started? Spoiler heights and aerodynamic changes happen almost monthly on the Winston Cup trail.

Welcome to NASCAR-land. The sanctioning body believes it is made of Teflon and no matter what the controversy, it just won’t stick.

But I come to you today not to bury NASCAR, but to praise it. While I don’t want to sweep the important issues under the carpet, there have been many positives things this season as well. So optimists of the racing world unite and lets bask in the upbeat glow of these happenings:

· Fresh Faces – Michael Waltrip, Elliott Sadler and Kevin Harvick have all become first-time Winston Cup winners this season. Johnny Benson, Dave Blaney and Todd Bodine are just a few of the potential names that could join that list before the end of the year. Despite Dale Jarrett already racking up three victories, this could be one of the most wide-open Winston Cup seasons in a long time.

· Competition – The on-track racing has been outstanding most every week of the early season. Harvick’s photo finish victory over Jeff Gordon, Waltrip’s run in the tragic Daytona 500, Sadler’s thrilling victory in Bristol – this is the type of racing that put NASCAR on the map in the first place.

· Television – Fans thought the world was going to end the day ESPN/ABC and CBS/TNN stopped televising NASCAR races. While I certainly don’t agree with the way the former network partners are being treated and how reporters are being dictated on when and what they can cover, FOX has done an outstanding job on its telecasts. And the best news is that the country is watching. Unprecedented ratings have brought Winston Cup racing into the big time and millions of viewers are providing NFL-sized audiences every Sunday. The increased attention has, in turn, caused other media to take notice. More mainstream newspapers, magazines, sports radio and local television stations are covering NASCAR than ever before helping to grow the sport even further.

So while there are certainly a number of issues that must be resolved, there is much to be excited about on the NASCAR front and all is not dark. Hopefully the powers that be will see the light.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2001

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