Down The Drain

When NASCAR signed its new television deal with FOX and NBC three years ago, the goal was to bring the sport into the mainstream. Die hard race fans knew how exciting Winston Cup racing was, but the new TV deal would expose NASCAR to millions more.

NASCAR has always wanted to be considered one of the country's major sports and rightfully so given the television numbers and legions of fans it attracts. But the sanctioning body has proved time and again it's not ready to play with the big boys and Sunday's Daytona 500 debacle was another demonstration.

Remember all the finger pointing and double talk after Dale Earnhardt's death, which came in the first race televised by FOX? Suddenly NASCAR was thrust into the national media spotlight and not just followed by the usual racing press that has covered the sport for years. Hard questions were asked about safety, death and future implications of the fatal accident, which for the most part went unanswered until the NASCAR PR machine could be sprung into action.

Well no amount of PR is going to be able to fix Sunday's soggy decision to pull the plug on the Daytona 500. To call its biggest race of the year only nine laps past the halfway point is not just stupid it's criminal. Millions of dollars were flushed down the toilet with the call, including money spent by fans, television networks, sponsors and race teams, who planned for more than three months for the "Great American Farce."

I know all about NASCAR's "rule" about a race being official once it was past the halfway mark. But since when did NASCAR start playing by its rules? If ever a special consideration should have been made it was on Sunday. With only 10 laps to go, call it, pull the plug, send everyone home. But with 91 laps remaining in the Super Bowl of stock car racing, NASCAR owes it to everyone to run the entire 500 miles, even if it meant coming back on Monday morning.

This wasn't just a regular season race. Lets be honest, if the same conditions plagued a race at Rockingham, Darlington, Pocono or Michigan, the halfway "rule" makes some sense. But not in the race that generates as much exposure as the Daytona 500.

And to make matters worse, there is the race "winner" praying for rain so the event can't continue in front of millions. Kind of tells you something about the competitive spirit of Michael Waltrip, who now owns victories in two of the most controversial Daytona 500s in history. Waltrip and every other driver should have been chomping at the bit to get back out there and finish the race.

From what I've heard and read and seen in the media today, NASCAR's image is taking yet another beating. But don't feel too badly for the folks in Daytona Beach. After all, they asked for it in more ways than one.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2003

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