Nervous Elders

In Richmond, it was bad enough that the race was postponed a day by rain. What made it worse was that so many of NASCAR’s familiar personalities were in a mood that would make Alan Greenspan seem jocular.

This hasn’t been much of a season for the old guard. It shows.

The Pontiac Excitement 400 was the season’s 11th. John Andretti, Jeff Burton, Bill Elliott, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Hamilton, Dale Jarrett, Terry Labonte, Mark Martin, Joe Nemechek, Kyle Petty, Ricky Rudd, Jimmy Spencer and Rusty Wallace have combined to win exactly – well, give me a minute, let me do the math, OK, I got it – NONE of them.

Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth have won five.

As they must be saying at places like Robert Yates’ and Richard Childress’s shops: THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

The world has turned upside down. Cops and robbers are getting along. Mice are ridding homes of cats. Baseball players are signing up for voluntary pay cuts.

If this were Wall Street and not NASCAR, Carrot Top would be president of the New York Stock Exchange, and Gallagher would be busting watermelons on the trading floor.

Only Sterling Marlin and Tony Stewart have performed as expected. Each has won two races. Marlin leads the points.

The revolutionary upheaval of 2002, which is to NASCAR what 1917 was to the tsar of Russia, has left a lot of normally happy people walking around garage areas in a fairly hot and bothered state.

Silly Season has already started. Jerry Nadeau is out of a ride after only 11 races. Eleven races! You’d think he managed the Brewers. You’d think he was Enron’s accountant. You’d think he had never won a race.

Walking into a team transporter last weekend was like walking into an Old West saloon where Wild Bill Hickok and Bat Masterson were playing poker, Judge Roy Bean was the bartender, Jesse James and Frank Younger were sitting at the bar, and Pat Garrett was the Sheriff. There was nothing but snarls and people snapping at each other. Public-relations reps rushing out of the lounge up front and blurting out, “No visitors! No press! That means you!”

What happens when you take a proud driver, a proud crew chief and a proud owner and deprive them of victory? Apparently, it makes them do things they aren’t proud of.

These are hard times for the veterans with the really cool motorcoaches. Stop winning races, and the next thing you know, you’re having to sit in the grandstands at Hornets games. Second row, even. Some of them are worried that their careers might not last much longer – about as long as the Hornets, as it turns out.

It’s hard for a middle-aged man with a high-school diploma to go hoofing it downtown trying to find an entry-level job that pays a base salary of $4 million plus 40 percent of sales.

As a result, owners are having their management styles questioned.

When in doubt, fire the driver.

Drivers are having their abilities questioned.

When in doubt, fire the crew chief.

Sponsors are starting to think 20th-place finishes won’t exactly spike sales.

When in doubt, fire the team.

You just can’t have it. NASCAR used to be a nice, organized, experienced way to make a living. Rookies used to have to pay their dues, sometimes in cash.

“Kid, you wanna race NASCAR? OK, so here’s whatcha do. First you buy my old equipment, then you go bankrupt. Then you go drive for somebody like Ed Negre or Bill Seifert, then, if that don’t run ya off, you go drive for Junie Donlavey, and if you pass that test, it’s on to Bud Moore. By that time, kid, you’ll be 41 years old, and then, you’ll be good and ready to be a gen-yoo-wine NASCAR star. Just listen to what I tell you, and keep ya butt out of my way when we’re out there racing. Got it? Good. Come see us when you need more advice, ya hear?”

Who died and made these kids boss?

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2002

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