Someone in the behemoth traveling television compound behind the Charlotte Motor Speedway's main grandstand messed up in a big way Saturday night. Some crazy NASCAR fans made it worse.
With four of the race's five segments wrapped, the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race headed toward its new format's pivotal point. NASCAR planned to set the order of the field before a final pit stop by a rank of each drivers' average finish in each of the previously completed 20-lap segments. The idea was to force drivers to race hard in every segment, unlike Jimmie Johnson's winning strategy in 2012.
And so, the checkered flag of Segment 4 waved and cars slowed to circle the track at pace car speed. NASCAR race director David Hoots soon began announcing the order to teams and officials on pit road. Meanwhile, the NASCAR on FOX broadcast displayed a screen graphic showing the average finish ranking.
It was completely wrong.
FOX showed Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards as the top-5. Instead, NASCAR - correctly - lined up the field for the pit stop with the top-5 looking like this: Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Kahne, Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano.
Johnson, the eventual winner, wasn't even in the top-10 of FOX's chart.
Somehow, everyone in the FOX booth either failed to realize the graphic was wrong or didn't know if NASCAR had its numbers wrong. The product was a tantalizing silence as the field dove to pit road clearly in a different order.
Fortunately for the good of the race, NASCAR indeed had the crucial order correct. Johnson did carry the fourth-best average, and would use a pit stop and a strong restart to wrestle the lead and the win.
But the combination of Johnson's win - he's pretty good at this NASCAR thing and happens to win more than some fans would like - and the inaccurate graphic pushed the proverbial Twitter volume knob of the tin foil hat types to eleven. Quickly they were launching accusations of a fix. NASCAR was letting Johnson cheat to win, they said.
Clarifications and corrections came from every corner - from NASCAR's Steve O'Donnell to FOX's Mike Joy, and from just about every on-site media member - and should have calmed the tempers.
But then Sunday morning rolled around, and a check of the NASCAR hash tag showed the controversy had yet to die. Suddenly, it was part of a larger conspiracy hell-bent on getting Johnson to victory lane.
Now I'm not one to take NASCAR at face value for just about anything they do. Hold 'em accountable, I say. But there's a large gulf between being confused about the way NASCAR lines up the field and assuming that Brian France is playing a game with a set of controllers to his fancy.
There's probably a larger point to this involving the openness of social media today and the easy accessibility to views that rational people don't hold. But the number of crazies seemed to overwhelm from the FOX mistake this time around even after ample attempts to clear it all up. It almost reaches the point where I wonder how substantial the segment of NASCAR's fan base really believes the sport is trying to pull wool over their eyes on a competition level.
Would it really have made sense to have Johnson win five straight championships? Would Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s winless streak really go that long? Would Danica Patrick run 29th every week?
There's a lot for which NASCAR deserves criticism. I get that. But NASCAR isn't stacking the deck. To truly believe otherwise isn't a good look.
HOT: Chad Knaus mentioned after the race that he'd like to see Goodyear make available two tire compounds for the All-Star race as a way to liven competition. It's a great idea for the whole series in my book. Brad Keselowski agrees.
NOT: I understand that NASCAR put big money into developing the Air Titan track drying system for this season. NASCAR, as a result, is hoping to recoup its investment by charging tracks to use it. But at what cost are they doing so?
Rain of course fell and delayed NASCAR's big event Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Air Titan wasn't in the house. Fortunately, the race started again about an hour later and finished. But what if the rain had pushed the race later or to Sunday, keeping fans at home and in the stands without seeing the show?
Sure, NASCAR could try to blame CMS for failing to prepare. But is that really the face where the egg would most show? Of course not. NASCAR would get the blame.
Sometimes, there are costs of business that you can't recoup directly or immediately. Instead, those costs can build a stronger infrastructure or product. NASCAR should think of the Air Titan in the latter.
HOT: Kurt Busch looked really, really stout Saturday night winning two of the race's four segments. That follows his pole at Darlington and a ninth four weeks ago at richmond. If he can keep it off the wall, keep it running and keep the pit crew from horrible stops, he might be a worthy competitor in Sunday's 600.
NEUTRAL: Let's keep this current format of the All-Star race, but make it a lot easier to keep track of average finish through the first four segments. It's shocking that FOX and NASCAR both failed to come up with any kind of system that showed in real-time where each driver would line up for the final pit stop. We live in an era where "points as they run" is as common as left turns in NASCAR. What gives?
HOT: Kyle Busch lost another one late after having probably the strongest car in the All-Star race. It wouldn't surprise me to see him go on another run like he had between Las Vegas and Texas earlier this year with five consecutive Top-5s.
NOT: Charlotte Motor Speedway was repaved in 2006. It feels like its been that long since we've had truly memorable racing at the venerable speedway. Slowing the cars down and giving them less front downforce could help things out. I'm not sure if the bumps that gave the track so much character will ever return.
The Stenica Showdown Cup!
We're keeping track each week of how NASCAR's most important (only?) competitive couple performs against one another. The highest-finishing Sprint Cup result between Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. each week earns a point. Each driver can earn a bonus for doing just about anything else, racing related or not. We should probably start thinking about an appropriate trophy.
1st - Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 11 points (16th at the All-Star race) 2nd - Danica Patrick., 7 points (20th at the All-Star race)
The people have spoken. They wanted the Danica Patrick. Hot/Not is for the people. Hot/Not listens to the people. Two points for the Danica!
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