No News Is Good News

The caravan has stopped for another year and the more than 200 journalists who gathered in Charlotte for the annual Sprint NASCAR Media Tour hosted by Lowe's Motor Speedway made their way back home Thursday night.

There wasn't much news this week to be honest. The way the sport has grown, most of the big announcements for the new season come before the previous one ends.

There were a few tidbits, such as ABC/ESPN's decision to bounce Rusty Wallace from the lead analyst role in favor of the retiring Dale Jarrett. Despite a proclamation that "Rusty was their guy" less than three months ago, the network caved into what so many fans voiced - Rusty's just not that good up in the booth.

I have no doubt he adds to the broadcast and maybe his new spot in the studio setting will let his considerable insight into the sport shine.

The network also decided to let Brent Musburger, Suzy Kolber and Erik Kuselias go back to their stick and ball world, which also brought much relief to thousands of fans.

There was more television news with SPEED unveiling yet another reality show for the new season. "The Humpy Show" will feature the colorful and outspoken Lowe's Motor Speedway head speaking his mind along with other personalities in the sport.

But outside of going HD, SPEED has once again decided to be just like MTV - a music channel that doesn't show music videos any longer. In SPEED's case, it's a racing network with still far too much time devoted to ideas like Wheeler's new venture and "Pinks" and too little to racing. As one fan wrote me, "if the name of the network weren't SPEED, 90 percent of the time I wouldn't know it's a racing channel."

But probably the overwhelming storyline of this year's tour was NASCAR CEO Brian France's mandate that the sanctioning body would go "back to basics" this year. No changes of any magnitude were announced and without admitting it, France and company sent a message to fans that maybe some of the things they did the last few seasons may have turned off more than a few long-time followers of the sport.

I'm not sure I buy it.

Did NASCAR really chase away fans with things like the Chase, the COT and using Kelly Clarkson as a spokesperson rather than a country music star?

I don't think so.

The bottom line is the racing, the actual competition on the track. When that's boring, fans turn off the TV and away from the sport.

A single file parade at Talladega, droning races at Pocono, California and New Hampshire, robot drivers who aren't allowed to express their emotions - in a sport that was built of personality.

Wheeler summed it up best during Thursday's SMI press conference at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

"Ticket sales are flat, ratings are down, and it's not because we have 300 channels," Wheeler said. "It's because we need to get back to our roots. We need to make this car of today work. Whatever NASCAR's got to do to make it work to get us back to when we put black donuts on the side of the car and not making felony offenses out of it, we need to do.

"I'm going to stay on top of NASCAR until it's done. We're at a turning point in this sport. I'm glad that was admitted."

Three cheers Humpy, I agree 100 percent. Maybe I will watch "The Humpy Show" after all.

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