Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.
That's the mantra, right? That's been the driving force behind the business of stock racing since the dawn of the business of stock car racing. To make sure that the race is so fantastic over the weekend that it moves people to react emotionally and economically that week. It wasn't so long ago that, as the Chase era began, NASCAR chairman Brian France talked about the desire to create "water-cooler moments" that sports fans would be buzzing about in the office on Monday mornings.
Yet there we were, on the Monday morning after the critical Richmond regular-season finale, talking about a rogue ambulance. There were ambulance memes and ambulance gifs and even an ambulance tweet from the one guy who was nearly jobbed out of a postseason berth by that ambulance.
- Matt Kenseth (@mattkenseth) September 10, 2017
Ambulancegate is not an anomaly. It's the norm.
On the Mondays before Richmond we were talking about: guys slamming on the brakes on pit road to alter their positions, choice cones, encumbered wins, crew chief suspensions, poor attendance, young guys being paid way less than veterans, and a feud with one guy calling out another guy because he hasn't won enough to deserve his superstar status. So, Brakegate, Conegate, Lugnutgate, Emptyseatgate, Salarygate, and Superstargate. This sport has more gates than a cattle ranch.
I almost forgot... a sandwich company also bailed on its driver because he handed out donuts during a prerace TV stunt and one backmarker driver took to social media to accuse another backmarker driver of marital infidelity ... and the new Monster Energy NASCAR Cup trophy is awesome, except they got one of the tiny outlines of one of the racetracks a little wrong. Oh, and the Monster Energy girls are too naked.
Am I missing anything? Actually, yes I am. Everyone is. No one is talking about the winners and how they won. And that's the issue here.
On Monday mornings following football weekends, you know what people are talking about? Football. Sure, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield had people howling about his flag-waving postgame celebration at Ohio State, but in the end the larger conversation was that Oklahoma won at Ohio State.
On Tuesday morning there was a lot of chatter about New Orleans Saints running back Adrian Peterson barking at his new head coach on the sidelines and a new ESPN Monday Night Football reporter who appeared to be a little nervous for his first big game.
But all of that still took a backseat to the headlines about Peterson's former team, the Minnesota Vikings, looking unstoppable on offense during their win and then, in the nightcap, a crazy field goal/no field goal finish between the Chargers and Denver Broncos.
Elsewhere in the sports world, ultimately the wins and losses still rule the day. The periphery remains just that. During the heat of the moment, sure, that other stuff might rule the social media timelines, but by the time the clock hits zero and the score becomes final, the side shows are relegated to mere side notes.
The game always rules.
Think about it. Remember all those offseason off-field headlines about teams moving and players being suspended and whatever else? It all vanished the moment the first ball was blasted off the tee.
But in NASCAR, somewhere along the line, the margins overran the redlines, hijacked the headlines and set up camp. The footnotes invaded from the south and infected the would-be central storylines.
On Tuesday, as the 16 postseason participants started their pre-playoff media tours, the questions that were tossed out to the racers didn't have a lot to do with racing. As I made my morning coffee, scrolling through stories about Smithfield Foods leaving Richard Petty Motorsports for Stewart-Haas Racing and looking at graphics about NASCAR playoff hashtag-triggered emojis, I received this text from a driver PR rep:
"We've been doing media all morning. We're a damn title contender & all the ?'s are about a sponsor that isn't ours & emojis!"
That sentence was followed by a string of emojis. All the angry ones.
The fear, shared by that PR rep and most others, is that stock car racing is driving into the same ditch that Formula One became stuck in long ago. F1 headlines read less like motorsports news and more like the back pages of a tabloid.
Not so long ago, NASCAR folks rolled their eyes at such chatter, saying that F1 needed that soap opera stuff because of a lack of drama on the racetrack. NASCAR has never lacked drama on the racetrack. But you wouldn't know from the lack of talk about it.
And spare me the "Hey media guy, the media is who writes this!" stuff. Sure we do. But I also listen to the radio call-in shows and read my #NASCAR mentions. Everyone involved -- fans, drivers, sponsors, owners, NASCAR itself -- we're all driving this racing conversation, and we're driving it away from racing.
Who knows why? Perhaps the sport has gotten so complicated (playoff points, prerace inspection procedures, choice cones, etc.) that we have to find other, simpler things to talk about. Things we can actually, sort of, understand, even if they are as dumb as a rogue ambulance.
Perhaps this is just how being a race fan is going to have to be in the age of smartphones and the 24-hour news cycle. It certainly doesn't help that NASCAR Race Control continues to unwittingly insert itself into the stories, via weird calls, or that teams push the rulebook so far it forces NASCAR to keep dropping hammers on race winners we should be buzzing about, not buzzing at.
But whatever the cause, somewhere along the road the sport lost its ability to generate that buzz for all the right reasons. Perhaps it's time to try a new mantra.
Sell on Sunday, win on Monday.