Sunday, July 08, 2018

NASCAR: Saunders Remark Controversy Oversold

Just before the Firecracker 400 weekend a controversy was stirred up by the Race-Stream Media over a remark by John Saunders, president of International Speedway Corporation, Daytona's parent company.   Saunders noted a mild regression in ISC track attendances the last six race weekends; the controversy stemmed from this -

"We still have an issue with star power.   Hopefully this stable of young drivers coming along will start to win and build their brands."

The controversy that ensued was summarized by Brendan Marks of The Charlotte Observer in a piece where he claimed that Saunders was laying all blame on NASCAR decline on lack of star power.   Marks was not the only writer to make a controversy out of Saunders' remark, but oversells it (as did other writers judging from remarks from such drivers as Ryan Blaney) and thus uses driver comments in response to attack Saunders by saying "NASCAR's attendance issues predate any of these young drivers' time (in Winston Cup)'s a faulty argument attributing all of NASCAR's decline to the departure of a few drivers."

The problem with Brendan Marks' analysis is the old cliché - hearing is a sense, listening is a skill.   Re-read what Saunders actually states.   The sport still has an issue with star power, and he expresses hope that the generation of young drivers coming into the sport will win and thus begin building star power.    Marks reaches enormously in trying to make Saunders' remark out to be just an excuse by ISC.

Marks notes the retirement of drivers Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. - both now TV analysts, widely praised as such, Junior in particular earning much attention for his "Slide job, slide job!" call on the Kyle Larson-Kyle Busch set-to at Chicagoland, a call humorously reminiscent of "BERGERON! BERGERON!", the call of a game-winning overtime goal by Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins in 2011 by the Bruins' then-play-by-play announcer Dave Goucher, now the TV play-by-play man for the Vegas Golden Knights.  

Other drivers who have retired in recent years are Tony Stewart - still an active car owner with Gene Haas and the owner of Eldora Speedway - Carl Edwards, and Brendan Marks also cites Danica Patrick.    This is where his argument gets weaker - NASCAR's attendance declines where happening during elements of their peak as drivers, and also Marks oversells their star power.   There has never been any evidence Danica Patrick brought anyone to racing that otherwise would have ignored the sport, while the unlikeability of Stewart and Edwards weakens their star power.   If anything the sport has gotten a certain freshness now that the abrasive and periodically dangerous Edwards is no longer participating.

Carl Edwards authored two of the most malicious melees in recent NASCAR memory - to imply his star power is something the sport misses is nonsensical.

In short, Marks exaggerates the star power of those drivers he lists who have retired.   He also is ignoring the obvious when it comes to the young guns.   He quotes Ryan Blaney's argument -

"We're trying. We're trying our hardest. It's not like I go out there and I'm happy for fifth every single week. Any other guys under the age of twenty-five I'll just say is the same way."

The issue is less whether the young guns are trying hard enough - it's always open to debate just how hard drivers are trying; one certainly wants to believe they truly are fighting as hard as possible, yet given how much importance is put into points as opposed to going for the lead, doubts become inevitable.    The issue is - is this class of young guns really that good?

Chase Elliott by default is the "leader" of the young guns and with his third Winston Cup season droning forward his inability to finish the mission is becoming more and more of an issue.   He's posted 26 top-five finishes in Cup so far, yet has shown no evidence of learning how to win.   Running up front has never been an issue; actually doing what it takes to win is the issue.  

Ryan Blaney, meanwhile, stunned the sport by winning at Pocono in the Wood Brothers #21, and thus were expectations raised with the switch to a third Penske Ford in 2018.  And running up front hasn't been a problem.   If anything it's surprising that Blaney hasn't won to date in Penske's Ford.  

Erik Jones' Firecracker win adds to the issue, as one now awaits how he follows up the win.   He's been the quiet member of the young guns with the win and just six other top-fives in his two seasons in Winston Cup.  

Overall, Brendan Marks gets it wrong - the young guns are not being given an undue burden because of Saunders' remark.    The sport instead is seeing a generation of young drivers who were promoted as something they really are not.   The old racing saw is a driver needs five years to see if he's truly that good, yet this has been forgotten given the immediate success of rookies like Davey Allison (1987), Jeff Gordon (1993), Tony Stewart (1999), Dale Junior and Matt Kenseth (2000), Kevin Harvick (2001), Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman (2002), and Kyle Busch (2005).   So rookies are supposed to win right out of the chute, that's no longer any kind of unfair expectation.

Now some of the young guns of this season may indeed blossom into legitimate powers and thus "build their brands" as Saunders put it.   But they have to actually do it first.   The young guns have to win, they have to prove they're not doing less with more.  

Winston Cup Enters 2018's Second Half

NASCAR's 2018 season blasts into its second half and the old cliché about the more things changing the more staying the same got some confirmation in a demolition derby of a Firecracker 400 weekend, and it also may have offered answers on where the season is going.     

NASCAR's ridiculous yellow-line rule cost Justin Haley the victory in the Firecracker 250 and led to an interesting question on social media by Brad Keselowski, whose question about having two or four tires below the yellow line illustrated the EIRI clause that has forever dominated the NASCAR rulebook and also illustrated that no matter how Steve O'Donnell calls it, he can't justify this rule.    This helps explain why so many question the sanctioning body's credibility, because the rules put in place too often are there only to justify more control, not to address actual problems.   The blunt reality remains there never should have been a yellow-line rule.

Why has Ricky Stenhouse only won twice in Winston Cup?   His Gurney Ernie Irvan antics in the Firecracker 400 showed why, right down to drivers openly calling him out a la calling out Ernie Irvan back in his day.    That the uncompetitive Roush Fords led as much as they did in the Firecracker was something of a surprise, and we doubt it will carry over to greater muscle down the road this season.

So what to make of this going forward?   Some takes -

---   It's now manifestly clear to everyone, including the Race Stream Media that treated Chevrolet as though it were on the brink of winning again, that Chevrolet's program is fundamentally flawed.   For all the hype about Hendrick Motorsports putting three cars in the top four in qualifying, the Chevrolet class was still clearly behind the Fords and Toyotas.    For Hendrick Motorsports in particular - especially Jimmie Johnson - the failure in the Firecracker, despite showing some legitimate power, indicates whatever progress is being made with this racecar is weak at best, and the Chevrolet program is simply screwed up.    We frankly doubt Chevrolet will win again in 2018; there simply is no reason right now to think Chevy can get this thing turned around.

Which begs the question - what exactly has gone wrong?   Part of it is this Chevrolet more and more looks like a terrible racecar.   The bigger part is the engineering effort clearly has no answers, and one should start questioning the competence of the engineering leadership in Chevrolet's racing program.   Tied into the engineering is inter-team cooperation - Chevy teams claim their is genuine cooperation between them, but MRN's Dave Moody has noted either information isn't being properly used by Chevy teams, or someone in the Chevy camp is not giving everyone everything needed to make these cars better.  I suspect the latter is the case; if it weren't the Chevy effort would be much farther along by now.

---  The young guns of NASCAR were hyped by the sanctioning body despite having little evidence of potential accomplishment, and even with Erik Jones' surprising Firecracker win the young guns overall have simply not shown much firepower.    Jones' effort the last three races has gotten notably better with top-tens at Sears Point and Chicagoland before the Firecracker win; the same cannot be said for Chase Elliott, with just six top-tens overall, just three in the last nine races, and only nineteen laps led overall (compared to 64 by Erik Jones just at Texas earlier this season).    It holds my view that Elliott is not a budding superstar but the next Mike Skinner - an overhyped hack with the greater issue that he's been shoved down the sport's throat.

There needs to be a lot more out of the young guns to justify the hype from the start of the season.

---  The Firecracker was one of those rare good paydays for the smaller teams with top-tens by Brad Daugherty's two cars, Archie St. Hilaire's Ford, and Ron Leavine's Chevrolet.   Jay Robinson, Mark Beard, and the Gaunt Brothers also had respectable days.   The funniest irony is the "independents" accounted for most of the nine Chevrolets that finished in the top-ten.

So it went with the Firecracker 400 weekend.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Intellectuals At Work

Blatant racial hatred is a hoax - and proven such over and over again.   The latest hoax is the claim that the US is among the ten worst nations for women, even though it is the US that fights hardest for actual rights for women. And Intellectual bigotry - the heart of Intellectualism is bigotry because Intellectuals are personal and social failures who lash out in denial - shows again in yet another NY Times piece, this one attacking admissions standards at specialized high schools in the city - all because Asians outperform others in such schools.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Seven Reality Checks On Social Security

There are seven myths about Social Security. Here are the reality checks.

Social Security is an Entitlement - that is a program the government is required to pay whether it finances it or not; those arguing it isn't an entitlement claim it can't be because beneficiaries contributed to it - except that money goes to someone else.

Social Security wasn't robbed by politicians, it went bankrupt precisely by being a money shuffle.

Social Security pays out benefits its beneficiaries did not contribute to - again, because it is nothing but a money shuffle where someone pays for someone else's benefits.

Social Security's insolvency is far earlier than the often-claimed date of 2034.

Social Security never was "self-funed" - government was paying for it from the beginning.

The "rich" can't finance it.

Privatization was never attempted, despite media mythologizing to that effect