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Inconsistency is hurting ratings, rulings

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Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip — winner of 84 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and a three-time champion — serves as lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX. He was selected for induction into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012. Want more from DW? Become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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In some of your e-mails, you've complained about the coverage of our sport on the networks, and you've referred to declining ratings. If you're in the business, that's a big concern. If you're a fan, you say, "Man, I watch the race every week so I don't know why the ratings keep going down." Well, one of things hurting our ratings is the inconsistency of when and where the races are on. Before the 2001 TV contract with FOX and NBC, you never knew what channel a race was going to be on, and you never knew who was going to be the announcer. You just turned on the TV, and hopefully, you got lucky, catching it on NBC, ABC, CBS, Turner, ESPN or The Nashville Network. You never knew for sure what network would call races from one week to the next. The beautiful thing about the 2001 TV package was consistency. During the first half of the year, DW, Larry Mac and Mike Joy would bring the race into your living room every Sunday on FOX. Most races had a consistent start time, Sundays at 1 p.m. ET. Most folks knew they could go to church or have lunch and get home in time to catch the start of the race. I really believe that consistency of channel, time and announcers drove up TV ratings. Granted, there were a lot of extenuating circumstances that probably helped grow ratings, too, but we were able to tell you how last week's events would affect what happened the following week. That continuing story made it compelling to watch every week.

Now, we're almost back to the same situation we were in prior to the 2001 TV contract. FOX gets 13 races and two special events. Most of our races are on FOX with the Nextel All-Star Challenge and the Gatorade Duel 150s on SPEED. You had pretty consistent analysts talking with you week in and week out. For the first few races of the year, you kind of knew where to watch, but we started monkeying with start times at 4 p.m. ET, 1 p.m. ET and some were on Saturday night. Those inconsistent start times started to have a big effect on people watching. This past year, we had three rainouts — almost in a row — and races were run the next day, with the Dover event on a Monday. It certainly hurt the ratings for the 13 points-paying races on FOX. Then, you switch over to TNT for six races. You lost the three amigos in the FOX booth, and now you've got three new guys — Bill Weber, Wally Dallenback and Kyle Petty — talking to you. All of the sudden, they're on TNT, and they've got a different format. While that's happening, ESPN — which is only supposed to be doing Busch races for the first half of the year — covers those race like they're "Cup lite." So you've got the conflict there of TNT, SPEED, FOX, ESPN, espn2, ABC and everybody else piling on with similar coverage. And you've got all of these different characters talking with you every week about what's going on in the sport. From experience, I can tell you that none of us sees it the same way. We all have our own opinions and way of looking at things so you get a different view almost every time you turn on the TV. So espn2 is doing Busch races. SPEED does Craftsman Truck races, and TNT is doing Cup races right now. Soon, those Cup races will switch to espn2 and eventually ABC. You have Dr. Punch, Andy Petree and Rusty Wallace. Then, you've had Marty Reid, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree. All of these changes with all of these different networks, starting times and people talking to you every week has hurt the ratings. That's what most of my buddies around here tell me. A lot of Sundays, they don't even know what time a race is going to start, and they don't know what channel to turn on so they don't even bother.

Oh, by the way...

Immediately after the Craftsman Truck race in Memphis, I didn't make any comments about it because I felt so sorry for Brad Keselowski. I was pulling for that young man to get an opportunity like filling in for Ted Musgrave. Keselowski sat on the pole and looked like he was going to win the race, but he had it taken away from him by Travis Kvapil. I'll be the first to admit that Kvapil isn't normally an aggressive kind of a guy so you feel like you can race with him and trust that he wouldn't do something like that. But that exception doesn't make it right. Whether it's a bump on the track or a slip of the tongue, it's like a lot of things in this country. We've got laws and rules, and you've got to abide by them. Kvapil felt bad about it, but it's hard to get a good feeling about kicking a guy out of a race because his car is too low or penalizing a guy because his fenders are too wide when you let one driver spin out another driver. NASCAR says it wants to keep everything fair, and they don't want anybody to have an advantage. That's all well and good in the garage area, but you've got to use the same common sense on the racetrack. It's just wrong, and it's always been wrong. I'll never agree with spinning out the leader to win a race. I don't care what kind of mistake or accident it was or whether the guy backed into you or not. You have to respect the leader. So I felt really bad for Brad, and I'm not blasting Travis. I'm just saying that a mistake was made. It cost a guy a win, and nothing was done about it. While NASCAR says it doesn't want to take away from racing on the track, you've got to police the track, too. About the only thing that could have been worse for Travis is if he had been driving a COT that was too low and the fenders were too wide and had illegal wing brackets on it. But if he had been driving that car, he probably would have been in a league of his own. I just hate what happened at Memphis, and I hate the cavalier attitude that so many people have when they say, "Well, that's just racin'." I don't call that racing.

Ask DW

Oh, by the way, too...

On a Friday afternoon 17 years ago, July 6, 1990, there was a huge wreck with a few minutes to go in the final practice. Cars spun everywhere, and I got T-boned in the driver's door by Dave Marcis. When I woke up, I was in the hospital with a broken arm, broken ribs and a concussion, and the Firecracker 400 was just about ready to roll off with somebody else in my car. I was pretty messed up. I was scheduled to make my 500th consecutive start. Winston made a big cake, and we had a big press conference before final practice, but I never got to make that 500th consecutive start. I did make starts later on, but not consecutive so this weekend is memorable. July 7 is Stevie's birthday, and we were going to run the Firecracker 400, get in the airplane and take off for our annual vacation in Nantucket. Instead, we were laying in the Halifax Hospital, watching the start of the race with Greg Sacks driving my car. I'm in Daytona this weekend, kicking off the celebration for the 50th anniversary of the Daytona 500, and all of the former champions were there. I've got to think that it's got to be a little bit lucky for Stephanie because this is 07/07/07 so it might be a good weekend for the Waltrip family. I'm going to be doing DirecTV's HotPass with Steve Byrnes as we cover Tony Stewart. I'm also going to be giving some rides around the racetrack on Saturday in a pace car, and I promise you, I'll be really careful.
Tagged: Kyle Petty, Dale Jarrett, Tony Stewart, Greg Sacks, Travis Kvapil, Ted Musgrave, Brad Keselowski

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