Note: This was originally posted May 31, 2007.
I have refrained from writing about Michael Waltrip lately, mostly because I feel bad for the guy, and I don't want to be just one more racing fan piling on. Michael's situation is still big news, though I'm sure he's glad that Dale Earnhardt Jr. stole the spotlight, for at least a while . Dale Jr.'s predicament is to find a new home, and hopefully find a good one, which will allow him to win races and championships. Michael's problem is just keeping his head above water, to qualify for a race, and try to get all 3 of his cars into a race, which hasn't happened since Daytona in February.
Michael's qualifying problems haven't stemmed entirely from having cars that were too slow, but from having cars that were slow compared to the other dozen or so drivers he competes with every week just to make the show. Michael has had cars fast enough to make it into the top 43, but with Nascar's qualifying rule, just being among the top 43 fastest cars is not good enough anymore. Nascar's rule is designed to allow the top drivers to have a bad qualifying run, but still make the race. Without the stars, you see, the circus which is a Nascar race would fail to be exciting to some fans. Losing fans, either at the track, or in the tv ratings is something that Nascar wishes greatly to avoid.
In a way, it's hard to blame Nascar. Nascar's job is to put on a good show, to make the fans happy. Some fans will never be satisfied, of course, but Nascar seems to be doing it's best to make each and every race an event that will be remembered. I have a problem with a few of Nascar's new rules over the last few years, most of which have come under the leadership of Nascar's 3rd Supreme Commander, Brian France. I think one of the things that we have to remember is that Brian France is relatively new at this job. He's come up with a lot of ideas that he's trying out, I suppose, just to see if they work. I assume that as he ages and learns, things in the Nascar world will begin to settle down a little. If nothing else, Brian France certainly has carried on the tradition of causing controversy. His grandfather, Big Bill France was really no different when he was getting the sport organized in the late 1940's and early 1950's. Longtime fans of Nascar know that only about 1/10 of the battles fought in Nascar take place on the track. Sometimes, there's just nothing new in the world anymore. A France is in charge of Nascar, and the fans all take turns loving and hating him and the organization he heads.
I can't really fault Michael Waltrip for all his woes either. Let's face it, the guy took on a huge undertaking starting up his own 3 car team with a brand new car manfacturer. Michael has done a great job attracting and keeping sponsorship thus far. How happy Napa, UPS, and other sponsors are with the disasters that have beset Michael is one thing that for now remains between the sponsors and Waltrip. I imagine that everyone; Michael, Toyota, and all the sponsors have to be looking at the 2007 season as a worst case scenario so far. How long will the sponsors stick it out, when they pay a lot of money to get their name on TV every week, and the car bearing their decals just isn't there on race day?
It's beginning to appear that either Nascar is going to have to change their qualifying rule, or Michael Waltrip Racing and Toyota are going to have to step up their program before this weekly drama comes to a merciful end.