“We are here today to celebrate a great American sport,” President Obama said. “I don’t think a single one of Brad’s fans has forgotten the post-race interview he gave on Sportscenter after winning the title last year at Homestead. ‘NASCAR is a team sport, and I have the best team. My family, my friends, my fans, my co-workers … without them, I am nothing.’ That’s what Brad said, and that’s really what life’s all about.”
"I think it's the right thing to do,” he said. “Not because it was me, obviously, being honored, but because of what it means to our country to continue to move on despite those acts and showcase that they won't rattle us.”
Keselowski was commended for his work with the Wounded Warrior project. “For Brad, our veterans are an important part of his team,” Obama said. “I’m going to quote him: ‘I couldn’t do what I do on the racetrack without these men and women making the sacrifices that they do for me.’
“So Brad, I want to thank you for visiting with some of our wounded warriors later this afternoon and I want to thank you, as well as NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France, for your long tradition of honoring our troops and our veterans.”
In the past, NASCAR’s day at the White House has struck a lighter chord, with the president even cracking a few jokes for the benefit of his appreciative audience. The tone on April 17 was more somber, appropriately, but the president lightened things up at the end, commenting that he was “getting tired of seeing Johnson all the time” and glumly telling the crowd that “Brad offered to let me drive his car around the South Lawn, but once again the Secret Service said no.”
March 19, 2013
It seems to be the nature of the beast that when fans learn you have some connection, however tenuous, with the racing community, they feel compelled to offer their opinions on the topic of "What's Wrong With NASCAR." NASCAR's ills, according to these usually well-meaning people, often include things like high ticket prices, drivers who are too politically correct, and not enough short-track races.
One observation I hear regularly during such conversations is, "There aren't enough feuds." Well, the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has addressed that -- sort of -- but perhaps not in the manner fans expected.
In the past, famous NASCAR feuds have rivaled the Washington Redskins/Dallas Cowboys relationship in their intensity. The image of the Allison brothers and Cale Yarborough flailing away at each other in the infield after the 1979 Daytona 500 is indelibly burned into our brains. In one of the very first Darlington races I attended, I sat next to a devoted Dale Earnhardt Sr. fan who saluted Rusty Wallace with a particular finger at each and every lap, for the entire 367-lap race.
In 2003, when Kurt Busch's car ran out of gas in front of Jimmy Spencer's hauler on its way to the garage, we were treated to the sight of Busch being rear-ended by Spencer's car, and then, as he leaned into Kurt's car and allegedly punched him in the face, to the sight of Spencer's literal rear end. That's a hard one to forget.
At the end of last season, Jeff Gordon decided he was fed up with what he perceived as multiple on-track slights by Clint Bowyer, and deliberately wrecked Bowyer in the next-to-last race, in Phoenix, at a time when Clint was still mathematically eligible to win the championship. The resulting melee involving both drivers and their pit crews was one for the record books.
This year, a couple of former teammates have been going at one another both on and off the track, as Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano have become the most high-profile feud du jour.
The disagreement between the two talented young drivers first got fired up at the Daytona 500. Apparently Hamlin -- Logano's former teammate -- was trying to get close enough to Brad Keselowski -- Logano's current teammate -- to give him some drafting help. After the race, Hamlin reached out to Keselowski via Twitter, saying, "Sorry I couldn't get close to you cuz your genius teammate was too busy messing up the inside line 1 move at a time."
Logano responded with, "I remember when you were MY genius teammate."
And just like that, the feud moved from the track to the information superhighway.
The tension between the two drivers reared its head again at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 17, when Hamlin spun Logano out with 150 laps remaining in the race. Joey confronted Denny after the race, and the by-now familiar team altercation ensued. It has become so ubiquitous at this point that it should really have its own dance name: the Pit Crew Scuffle. Logano, apparently dissatisfied with the outcome, tweeted, "Hey Denny Hamlin, great job protecting that genius brain of your by keeping your helmet on."
Twitter is funny sometimes. It kind of reminds me of the notes my friends and I passed as schoolgirls back in the day. The only line that seems to be missing from the witty repartee between these two passionate, genius racers is, "I know you are, but what am I?"
A friend of mine commented yesterday that when you add up all Hamlin's issues so far this season, he might be in danger of a Charlie Sheen-style meltdown. The problem with that is that although passion is great, when it is focused in the wrong direction it can distract us from the thing we want most, and in the case of NASCAR, even Charlie Sheen knows what that is.
Winning. Duh. It doesn't exactly take a genius to figure that one out.
NASCAR doing it Gag-nam Style
March 12, 2013
You gotta love Denny Hamlin … or Denny Hamlin’s mouth, to be more specific. Even with nothing particularly bad is coming out of it, it still finds a way to get him in trouble. This time, it may have gotten him and all his fellow competitors the NASCAR equivalent of a gag order.
From a fan perspective, Hamlin had a spectacularly successful day at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR). After an engine change forced him to sart from the back of the field, he gradually fought his way to the front, finishing third thanks to a daring late-race pass.
In the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, while the race winner heads to Victory Lane, the second- through fifth-place finishers are held on pit road for post-event interviews. When Hamlin was asked about the performance of his car -- the highly-touted new Gen 6 machine -- he gave an honest answer.
"I don't want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our Generation 5 cars," he said. "This is more like what the Generation 5 was the beginning."
Then Hamlin headed off to the track's media center for his post-race Q&A, and PIR was in the rearview mirror.
Or it should have been, because if you're like me, you didn't give Hamlin's remarks a second thought. Obviously the Gen 6 car isn't perfect yet and will no doubt undergo numerous tweaks over the course of its first season of competition. Like its mechanical predecessors, the car is a work in progress and we all realize that, right?
The Tuesday after the race, which is normally when NASCAR announces any fines and penalties from the previous weekend, passed without incident. It was quiet ... too quiet. Then on Thursday, the bombshell hit: NASCAR fined Denny Hamlin $25,000 for violation of the "actions detrimental to stock car racing" rule.
NASCAR issued the following statement regarding the penalty:
"Following the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event last Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, Denny Hamlin made some disparaging remarks about the on-track racing that had taken place that afternoon. While NASCAR gives its competitors ample leeway in voicing their opinions when it comes to a wide range of aspects about the sport, the sanctioning body will not tolerate publicly comments made by its drivers that denigrate the racing product."
Generally speaking, public reaction to this unexpected penalty was, "Huh? What did he say that was so bad?" And just like that, Denny Hamlin gained thousands of new fans.
NASCAR is understandably a little sensitive about the new Gen 6 car. It was developed in large part because of across-the-board criticisms leveled by fans at the old car: It was ugly. They all looked alike. The racing was terrible. So NASCAR responded and worked hard to give fans a product they could get excited about, and so far it has been mostly successful. The new cars are sharp-looking and, while they haven't exactly provided much in the way of riveting competition in 2013, it's still early going.
Hamlin's comments were basically a non-issue until NASCAR made the decision to penalize him for making them. Since then, the matter has become quite the hot topic, thanks in no small part to Hamlin's reaction: He has no intention of settling this bill.
"It's an opinion; it's not a bad one. I don't want to make things worse that they already are, and this is something that was absolutely nothing that got blown into something, and it's just going to be worse for them, so just let them deal with it," he said after the penalty was announced. "The truth is what the truth is, and I don't believe in this. I'm never going to believe in it. And so far as I'm concerned, I'm not going to pay the fine. If they suspend me, they suspend me at this point."
Of course it wouldn't go that far. NASCAR has a special way of dealing with slow payers -- they just withhold the amount of the fine from a future race purse.
In NASCAR's defense, drivers' words carry a lot of weight. Imagine what the reaction would be if Dale Earnhardt Jr. make even slightly negative comments about the new car on national television. Millions of fans would most likely turn against the car, because as Junior goes, so goes NASCAR Nation. Following that logic, when Hamlin said the new car doesn't measure up to the old one -- at least not yet -- people believed him.
In the end, what fans seems most concerned about is the principle of the thing. NASCAR regularly touts the accessibility of its athletes, and rightly so. Superstars and millionaires they may be, but they nevertheless seem relatable to us somehow. We are interested in their opinions, and we want to hear what they have to say ... but we also want them to say what they mean.
If drivers are put in a position where they have to weigh and measure each word before it comes out of their mouths, won't we then be listening with jaded and skeptical ears? It's great that Denny Hamlin felt he was in a situation where he could be honest. What isn't not so great is that didn't turn out to be the case.