Published August 20, 2012
Sunday's NASCAR race at Michigan was bound to be boring, a single-file parade with little passing, little action and little excitement.
At least that's what I thought as I plopped down on the couch for three hours of race viewing. I mean, it is Michigan after all – and a recently-paved Michigan with little grip outside the main groove, at that.
But the race turned out to be quite a pleasant surprise. There were teammates getting mad at each other, plenty of restarts to bunch up the field and the drama of a sure-fire winner blowing it (literally) with just a few laps to go.
It was one of the better races you'll ever see at Michigan, and that's a good thing. Even better is it was the third straight compelling race in what's been a season of duds.
Pocono, with its rain-shortened madness, had a surprising twist when Jimmie Johnson wrecked on a restart and Jeff Gordon won instead. And last week's Watkins Glen race had the best finish of the season – maybe several seasons.
Plus, with the wild Nationwide Series race at Montreal on Saturday, fans certainly can't complain about a lack of entertainment lately.
And now comes Bristol week, then the tension of two more races to set the Chase field.
The year had a slow start, but there's hope for a memorable season yet to come. After all, it's usually the finish we remember most.
Here are some other thoughts about the Michigan weekend:
• It was amazing to see Mark Martin tweet this morning that he was not sore from Sunday's crash, because had his car hit the wall one foot to the left, he might not be tweeting at all. The driver's compartment has more protection than the area where the pit road wall impaled Martin's car, but it still could have been very bad.
NASCAR tracks should look at either curving off the pit wall openings or putting up temporary gates during races that can be opened and closed when a car needs to get to the garage. Everyone is extremely lucky that incident occurred with no injuries to Martin, crew members or spectators, so let's hope this is a wake-up call.
• Jeff Gordon's engine trouble means he's now in the same situation as Carl Edwards: Win or miss the Chase. Gordon fell so far behind Ryan Newman for the second wild card spot that he has to win one of the next three races to give himself a shot at the playoffs.
The Chase is likely going to be without at least two of the three biggest names in NASCAR – Gordon, Edwards and Kyle Busch – and that's not a good thing. Each of those drivers have a big fan base, and NASCAR needs all its top guns to compete for the title.
• The whole deal between Gordon and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. was overblown. Gordon was pissed because he felt Earnhardt Jr. cut him off, but it's not going to damage their relationship. It's the equivalent of getting mad at your buddy for a hard foul in a pickup basketball game; you might call him a dumbass and shove him back, but he's still your buddy.
• Jimmie Johnson left the track on Sunday without speaking to reporters who wanted his reaction to the blown engine. Over the years, Johnson has been very generous with his time and is generally considered one of the most media-friendly drivers. However, since Kyle Busch was criticized just a week earlier for leaving without comment, Johnson opened himself up to the same thing.
Yes, Johnson has a better history with reporters, but all drivers must be treated the same. If you think drivers should be expected to talk after a race – or vice versa – then you must apply that rule to all drivers. Otherwise, it appears as though the media is being hypocritical and favors one over the other – and fans are very sensitive to any such signs of bias.
On a professional level, Johnson leaving without comment concerns me more than when Busch does it. Young drivers look up to Johnson and emulate him, so does this give them the green light to act the same way in a moment of frustration? If so, my job just got a lot harder.
• The NASCAR community on Twitter is getting nastier as it receives more exposure to the masses, and it's just a matter of time before a high-profile driver deletes his account or stops tweeting. From 2009-2011, those who were interested in talking about NASCAR on Twitter seemed to be able to debate civilly, understand humor/sarcasm and generally be respectful. But since the Daytona 500 red flag and Brad Keselowski's tweet drew tens of thousands more people to Twitter – coupled with the heavily promoted #NASCAR hashtag initiative – the community now has a higher percentage of trolls.
I used to believe 1 percent of NASCAR tweeters were the type of angry person whose sole purpose of being on Twitter was to try and bring others down to their level. This year, that seems to have increased to perhaps 5 percent. This isn't just a matter of people disagreeing; it's personal attacks to a greater degree than before, even wishes for death or severe injury. In short, the 5 percent bad apples have successfully taken the fun out of Twitter by shouting louder than the reasonable, respectful 95 percent.
So what's the solution? Recently, I decided blocking people was a bad idea because it seemed like a sign of weakness and an inability to accept criticism. But as of this weekend, I've changed my mind. Eliminating the ultra-negative tweets will help me better serve those who just want some NASCAR information, opinion and inside access, not a public debate with trolls.