Kevin, I Don't Believe I'da Told That
Well, I found a situation where Kyle Busch’s “I am not surprised by anything” just doesn’t work. Kevin Harvick’s comments that Dale Earnhardt Jr. “had a big part in stunting the growth of NASCAR” by not winning enough races surprised me. If you recall from the earlier posting entitled, “Kyle’s Mic Drop-Just One of Those Racing Deals” I contended that Kyle’s remarks after the Coca-Cola 600 were applicable in any racing situation. Kevin Harvick proved otherwise-on two fronts.
First, it wasn’t Harvick’s comment that Dale Earnhardt Jr. “had a big part in stunting the growth of NASCAR” by not winning enough. That doesn't surprise me. The fact that he even publicly uttered those words is what surprised me. I’m sure Kevin has his reasons for saying what he said, but even if he believes it, to quote a song title by the late Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist and author, Lewis Grizzard, “Brother I Don't Believe I'da Told That.”
Personally, I’m somewhat baffled by it all and still not sure why he said what he said, or why he said it when he did. When you think that Junior has over 2 million Twitter followers-about one-half to two-thirds of the total number of television viewers who will tune in to watch the broadcast on a weekend, I’d hate to think where the sport would be if he wasn't so popular… even without more wins.
Maybe this was Kevin’s way of NASCARizing the old adage “A rising tide lifts all boats” with “A winning Junior lifts an entire sport.” If that is what he meant, then that's a lot of pressure to put on a single individual, even if his name is Earnhardt. Still, if you’re not winning as much as Kevin thinks you should and you still manage to wrangle in a huge portion of the active fan base, maybe the sport’s problem of “stunted” growth lies elsewhere.
The fact that Kevin made the comment shows that he, like so many other race fans have for some time now, tried to determine the reasons for the decline of their beloved sport and to figure out just what went wrong. We all have our theories and reasons why we believe what we believe.
Back in October 20, 2016, Charlotte Observer Business writer Katherine Peralta wrote an article entitled “The economy isn’t all that’s hurting NASCAR attendance – but it’s a big part of it”, where she outlined several reasons for the decline. That article generated 221 comments from fans voicing what they believed caused the decline.
That hefty response spawned another article entitled “Judging from readers’ comments, discontent with NASCAR runs deep.” That article hit a lot of nerves as it netted a whopping 821 passionate comments from fans and former fans about their theories and reasons. In those over 800 comments, reasons ranged from the death of Dale Earnhardt, to FOX coverage in general and one particular announcer specifically, poor TV coverage overall, the COT, the economy, the exit of RJR, the Chase, the new leadership, the rising costs to attend races, the rising cost to field teams, poor racing, the “sanitation” or “vanillazation” of the sport, aero push, Jimmie Johnson’s domination, all the above, none of the above and as they say on those late night infomercials for the “Hits of the 60’s” “and many more” blamed for “stunted growth.” Kevin’s comments could have fit right in.
Bottom line though, it really doesn't matter if Junior won “enough” or not. To use another quote from my article, “it is what it is” and here we are. In eleven races, Junior won't be behind the wheel of a Cup car ever again. There will be no more victories. This will leave the “growth” of the sport, positive or negative in the hands of those who remain, including Kevin Harvick.
Kevin’s comments surprised me on another count. I am surprised that a top driver has come out and actually commented on the sports “growth.” Oh, in the day, Kyle Busch was openly critical of the Car of Tomorrow and Brad Keselowski recently criticized the “Car of Today”, but for a driver to come out and even hint there is a problem with the series, be it Junior’s “fault” (nothing personal according to Kevin) or something else, that mere mention is huge! Most everyone else, when asked about the state of the sport, gives glowing remarks about how racing is better than ever and how healthy the sport is today. To have someone of Kevin Harvick's status and stature imply that something is wrong with the sport is huge.
Apparently Kevin didn't get the memo.
I’ve heard it said you can't fix a problem until you admit there is a problem, and I see this as an admission of sorts. Of course it's not by the ones who are ultimately responsible for the care and well-being of the sport, but it has to start somewhere and maybe, just maybe this can be that start.
I think driver Clint Bowyer addressed all of this best in the August 11, 2017 Autoweek article by Mike Brudenell. Bowyer was quoted as saying “I think the legacy started long before him, and he carried the flag for that legacy for a long time -- kept the fan base alive. That’s not on his shoulders to be able to do that. I felt it’s always been a little bit unfair for him to have that workload on him, but he’s done a good job with that and it’s time for us to hold up our end of the deal and capitalize on that.”
Bowyer said it's the product -- on and off the racetrack -- that would drive NASCAR’s future success. (Emphasis added by author) There’s no one person.
“I believe in products”, said Bowyer, who drives the No. 14 Ford Fusion. “If you have a good product, they’ll come. If you put a good product on that racetrack, and not only the racetrack… a good product in the infield, a good environment in the grandstands, take care of the kids, the families and all the demographics -- take care of all of that and you’re always going to have fans flock to the track.”
Clint clearly outlines the formula to grow the sport; a good product will result in sport growth. But it’s what Clint didn't say that may be more telling. The inverse is also true; the sport will not grow with a poor product. Since it's not growing, it’s stunted and stifled, what's that say about the product?
The time to fix the product is long overdue. If the folks who draw great salaries for being responsible for the care and well-being of this sport truly want it to grow as they say they do, now is the time to make the necessary changes. Fix the product.
In closing, sometime some things are better left unsaid. Other times, it's the unsaid things that are said best.
Clint said… and didn't say it best.
I hope he’s right.