NASCAR & Auto Racing

Turn Lane: Drivers should be pros, win or lose

I didn't get to see Saturday's Nationwide Series race from Nashville because I was in Birmingham covering NCAA tournament basketball for my newspaper.

Based on what I've heard, though, some fans were a little put out by the way Kyle Busch reacted after the race in regard to a spin that took him out of the lead.

I did see Busch a week earlier at Bristol when he got wrecked in the rain-shortened Nationwide race. His car got damaged in an incident that wasn't his fault and Busch headed straight for the pedestrian tunnel taking him out of the track. An ESPN reporter -- who was doing his job -- followed Busch into the tunnel seeking a comment but got none, at least not that could be aired.

A driver who's upset after whatever happens in a NASCAR race is under no requirement to talk to the media, unless he finishes in the top three. The top three are, under NASCAR's postrace procedures, expected to go to the media center. Otherwise, a driver's participation in interviews after he's done racing is elective.

I found it illustrative to be at an NCAA basketball tournament venue over the weekend, though, because the NCAAA has pretty strict requirements for postgame interviews.

The winning team's coach and selected players come to an interview area after a 10-15 minute period in which the coach can speak to his team. Beginning when the coach and players leave to go the interview area, the team's locker room is also open. The coach and selected players from the losing team follow the winning team to the interview area, and the losing team's locker room is open, too.

Isn't it interesting that the NCAA expects its coaches and athletes, some of whom are less than a year out of high school, to be able to handle dealing with the evil media after an emotional loss in an NCAA game?

Most reporters aren't jackals, no matter what you may have seen in the movies. I don't have any idea how those people covering celebrities, chasing them up and down the roads screaming questions and snapping pictures, sleep at night, but most of us don't act that way.

When things go bad for a NASCAR driver, fans want to know what happened. When a driver suffers a heart-breaking loss, they want to see the driver talk about it on television and read about what he says the next day. That's why the media are there.

Several times already this year television reporters have been put in the uncomfortable position of talking to a driver who's led most of a race and not won, or who has let a chance to win get away from him late. No reporter wants to be in that position, certainly not on live television.

There's no way you can ask a question that sounds intelligent and compassionate at the same time. It's all pretty much some variation on "That's a tough break, how does it feel?" The driver knows what's coming, the reporter knows the driver knows what's coming and still it's an awkward moment. A driver can light the reporter up if he wants to, and in many ways the fans love that.

But in that situation, the reporter is simply doing the job he's there to do. Not every reporter handles every situation exactly right, but I will tell you right now the media's batting average in those situations is better than the drivers' typical performance.

There have been times when a driver has fallen into a pattern of acting like a 4-year-old toward the media. When that happens, someone will inevitably suggest that the next time that said driver enjoys success and WANTS to be interviewed, the media should turn its back and walk away.

But we don't. That's not our job. That's not being professional.

It would be nice if that were a two-way street, but I can only control the way I act, try to influence my colleagues to act in a respectful and professional manner and hope that as often as possible the drivers choose the same path.

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