Published August 14, 2012
Following a NASCAR driver to try to get a post-race comment can make you feel pretty stupid, but it's a necessary part of being a reporter.
After contact with Brad Keselowski sent him spinning on the last lap of Sunday's race at Watkins Glen, Kyle Busch instantly became the most sought-after interview for reporters at the track.
Busch, as you've likely seen by now, ended up declining comment as the media followed him to a waiting golf cart, repeating "I have nothing good to say" several times.
I was one of the reporters who was chasing Busch for comment, so I thought I'd give some perspective on the experience of chasing after a driver and how it can feel pretty foolish at times.
As the race winds down, it's common for several reporters to head to the Sprint Cup Series garage to try and speak with drivers who finished sixth or worse. The race winner goes to Victory Lane and drivers who finished second through fifth are stopped on pit road by NASCAR (second and third then go on to the media center for required interviews).
None of the other drivers are required to talk, so it's a scramble in the garage to see which ones will stop and do an interview. About 90 percent of the time, a driver will accept an interview request.
At Watkins Glen, I figured the most intriguing stories from the garage were potentially: 1) Tony Stewart on his spin ruining a good day; 2) Kasey Kahne and Martin Truex Jr. talking about their incident; 3) Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s promising day going south with a late spin; 4) Boris Said and David Ragan discussing their incident. So I was going to start with Stewart and see how many others I could get before they left.
But when Busch and Keselowski got together, all of that went out the window. The priority became the reaction from Busch.
Was he mad at Keselowski? Did he think it was intentional? Was he expecting Keselowski to let him in? Was he upset at NASCAR for not throwing a caution with oil on the track? What did the result do to his outlook on the season and making the Chase?
With Busch, you never know whether he'll talk in a moment of adversity or not. He used to always bolt, but had done more interviews in recent years after cooling off.
Busch pulled up to his hauler with media all around and got out of the car as quickly as if it had been on fire. With his helmet and HANS device still on, he walked into the hauler.
As a reporter, you don't know what to expect at that point. There are a few things that could happen:
• The driver could come out of the hauler and talk to the assembled media;
• The driver could come out of the hauler and do a "walk-and-talk" where he gives comments on his way out of the garage;
• The driver could come out of the hauler and decline interviews by walking without answering the questions.
Standing there, no one really knows what's going to happen. It's a guessing game. At certain tracks, drivers will even sneak out the back door of the hauler so they can avoid reporters.
In Busch's case, he suddenly emerged from the hauler at full speed and made a beeline for the garage exit. That meant it was time to go after him and see if he'd answer any questions on the way out (sometimes they do, so you have to try).
ESPN's Marty Smith and his camera crew, a SPEED camera crew and SportingNews.com's Bob Pockrass had good position and quickly caught up to Busch. I had a slow start and fell behind a little, so I couldn't hear exactly what was being said (if anything).
The garage dash is always dangerous. Cameramen are walking backward in front of the driver while cars and crash carts and generators are being pushed through the garage; crewmen are rushing to pack up their haulers and get to the airport; and slow-moving fans with hot passes are everywhere, taking in the sights.
Everyone is going in a different direction, so trying to catch up with a driver can be like playing Frogger. You become a running back, looking for the holes to get through the crowd.
Up ahead, Smith put his arm on Busch's back to get his attention as Busch walked briskly, and he leaned in to ask for comment. I was so far behind, I could only stick my recorder ahead of me in an attempt to pick up some of Busch's words. As it turned out, he didn't say much.
Quite honestly, I didn't even realize he was headed for his golf cart. My first thought was, "He's going to go confront Keselowski." Obviously, that didn't happen.
Anyway, Busch got on the golf cart and it immediately pulled away. I later saw the video of him gesturing at the cameraman, but I didn't notice it at the time. I doubt anyone felt really threatened by that, but I could be wrong.
This is my ninth season covering NASCAR, and I've never gotten used to the feeling of running after a driver. Frankly, it's kind of embarrassing to be in that position. It makes you feel kind of foolish to chase after another human being, hoping he'll throw you a few crumbs in the form of a quote.
When I see a group of reporters following someone on TV – whether it's news media or sports media or entertainment media – it reminds me of a herd of cattle. I don't want to be a part of that, but there's no choice. What if the person does make a comment while walking? If I didn't try to get up there, then I missed the quote and one of my competitors got it instead.
Of course, it's much better when the drivers have the respect to stop and answer questions. Even if a driver came out of the hauler and said, "Hey guys, I just don't have any comment right now. I'm just going to keep my thoughts to myself on this one so I don't say something I regret," that would be better than chasing them through the garage.
But that takes a lot of poise, and sometimes drivers get so mad they just want to escape as quickly as possible. So as long as that happens, the media will have to chase them – like it or not.