Indy Impressions: Friday

My typical beat is NASCAR, but this week I’m at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to experience the Indy 500. I’ll be posting daily updates on some differences I see between NASCAR and IndyCar.

So for those of you who don’t know, there’s this thing called Carb Day. And in Indiana, it’s a really, really big deal.

It felt like half the state was at IMS on Friday to watch an hour of final Indy 500 practice, followed by the Indy Lights race, a pit crew competition and a pair of concerts (Barenaked Ladies and the Steve Miller Band).

There’s really nothing in NASCAR that’s equivalent to this. In NASCAR, every day of a race weekend is usually built around the on-track activity. There might be things to do, but the race cars are the focus.

But on Carb Day, the on-track stuff is a sideshow — it’s just an excuse to come out and party. And tens of thousands of people did, dragging their coolers around and wearing some outfits worthy of People of Walmart.

Here’s Carb Day summed up: As the Barenaked Ladies sang “One Week,” a group of bros climbed up on top of their coolers and started shotgunning some beers. A dude wearing an American flag tank top that read, “WE’RE NOT COCKY — JUST THE BEST” poured his beer down the hatch — and then took a huge tumble off the cooler.

The cooler spilled open, ice and beer everywhere. The bro, lying on the grass, looked briefly stunned, then jumped up and high-fived his buddies. Party on.

So yeah, this day wasn’t really about racing. But what a crowd. Tickets were $30 each, and that granted access to anywhere on the track property — the grandstands to watch practice and the pit stop competition, the Pagoda Plaza fan zone and the concert venue in Turn 4.

Last year, there were 100,000 people who attended Carb Day — but that was for the 100th running of the 500. For argument’s sake, let’s say 75,000 attended this year’s Carb Day — again, at $30 apiece. That would be $2.25 million in revenue, not including concessions and souvenir sales.

The point is, even with overhead costs and fees for the performers, etc., the track is easily going to clear $1 million — for a practice day.

Now, Indy didn’t just come up with this idea and it was suddenly a hit. I get that. It took decades of tradition to reach this point.

And, of course, this doesn’t happen at every IndyCar race. It’s unique to the 500 and part of the weekend.

But NASCAR could try and take a couple notes from what happens here by making one of the race weekend days into a party day. Scrap the Sunday pre-race concert, for example, and move it to a Friday. Chop down on practice sessions and add driver appearances or other fun diversions instead.

Let’s be honest: In this world, there are far more people who are fans of getting drunk than are fans of race cars. So appeal to them, gladly take their money and give them a place to go wild for a day.

Tracks like Michigan and Talladega have tried things along these lines, but more could follow suit. One of those is Indianapolis, which is going to try it for the Brickyard 400 this summer; a two-night concert festival featuring the likes of The Chainsmokers and Major Lazer is already on the calendar.

Monte Dutton column: In the end, it’s not the kids’ fault

Longtime NASCAR writer and author Monte Dutton is covering the Coca-Cola 600 for JeffGluck.com this weekend. Below is his first post.

By Monte Dutton

Passion. That’s what NASCAR has to regain.

It cannot restore its glory by appealing to people with but a passing knowledge of what is going on. It must instill passion, and with allowances for the crack work of TV producers, that kind of storm doesn’t crop up in a living room with a six-pack of beer and a pound of nachos.

Quite often, these days, it takes at least a 12.

Kevin Harvick won the pole for Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600. Whoop-de-doo. It’s not me talking, but, rather, the fans who weren’t here. At this point in the history of NASCAR, the prevailing view is that time trials aren’t worth watching anymore. Some cars don’t even make it through inspection. The format has been infused with tasty elements that TV reportedly enjoys.

On the way up Interstate highways 26 and 85, I thought about a similar drive back in 1986. I was about where I am now in the journalism racket, writing local sports for the Clinton Chronicle and doing morning sports at WPCC-AM 1410.

It was before both the rise and the fall of NASCAR and me. Like Lefty in the country song, now I’m growing old.

Charlotte Motor Speedway promoted back in those days. Even at the lowly Clinton Chronicle, a promotional packet arrived containing inexpensive novelty items and a fistful of tickets that weren’t going to sell anyway.

Lest you believe they were buying the media, the following year, after Dale Earnhardt and Bill Elliott tangled in The Winston, a box arrived containing one sliver of Wrangler denim and one empty, crushed can of Coors. At the time, crushed cans of Coors were not uncommon in my life.

The tickets were for Pole Day. I couldn’t go to the race, partly because of a full slate of local sports but also because I couldn’t afford to pay my way in. I called up a friend – I spent half the drive up today trying to remember who it was – and said, “Hey, I got some tickets to pole qualifying at Charlotte. Wanna go?”

“Hell, yes,” he said, because, back in those days, folks like me and him were willing to do things like drive over two hours to the other side of Charlotte, where we watched individual race cars drive extremely fast one at a time. A lot of young people said “hell, yes” about racing in those days.

There may have been beer involved, but best I know, beer is still involved today.

Thank God I went. If I hadn’t, I’d have never known the name of the only driver in NASCAR I’d pay to see qualify, even though I didn’t.

Tim By God Richmond.

He wrestled that red Chevrolet like he was running on Folger’s Coffee instead of sticking it over the fenders. In all those years, and all those long rides, and all those race-day notes packages, maybe there are 10 scenes etched so vividly in my mind’s eye that they appear sometimes as if by magic. Richmond’s qualifying run that day is one. His lap around CMS was similar to every lap during the final hour of qualifying at Indy.

My forgotten friend and I watched from the first turn. I’d say there were, oh, 30,000 people there. If the final performance of Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus had been conducted in the CMS tri-oval grass after qualifying on Thursday, I doubt the crowd would have been as high as it was for single-round, single-lap qualifying on an autumn afternoon more than 30 years ago. In the 1990s, 40,000 was about the average crowd for Coca-Cola 600 qualifying.

Now all the fans come out to CMS disguised as empty seats. Well behaved. Never buy hot dogs.

I’ve measured the decline of stock car racing a hundred ways. The ways are easy. Their relative importance is hard.

I keep hearing, the kids don’t care about cars. They don’t care about anything. They spend all their time listening to rap music, playing video games and posting to Instasnapbooker or something. They have short attention spans. Yet, oddly, they don’t like drag racing, either, and drag racing is short.

They have no passion. Thus must we squeeze every drop of it from NASCAR. Then they’ll love it.

In the upstate of South Carolina, you know what the kids still have passion for? The Clemson Tigers. They’re truer to their schools than the Beach Boys ever were. They’re scapegoats for every executive trying to pass the buck on his cockamamie marketing campaign.

“Those kids of today.” They’ve been the lame excuse for every adult dysfunction since Louisa May Alcott was a schoolmarm.

The pole winner, circa 2017, talked about how his career has jelled at Stewart-Haas, and his hopes for Sunday, and the benefits of family and the serenity that comes with middle age. He also talked about how money isn’t everything. Easy for him to say, of course. He’s got a lot.

Harvick said some things in the sport have to be “bottom up” instead of “top down.” Specifically, he was talking about the Camping World Truck Series schedule and how he’d like to see it go back to the short tracks, but he could have been talking about most everything that has gone wrong.

Now qualifying is three rounds. It’s less likely the pole winner really drives the fastest car because going through those three rounds without using undue rubber is really the key. Was there a need to jazz up qualifying? The excitement of qualifying would be limited if they set them all on fire as they pulled off pit road … and then ran the burned-out hulks through the Laser Inspection Station, where, oddly enough, they’d probably pass with charred colors.

Who cares? Well, I once did, back when Richmond was the Count of Monte Carlo.

Indy 500 Impressions: Thursday

My typical beat is NASCAR, but this week I’m at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to experience the Indy 500. I’ll be posting daily updates on some differences I see between NASCAR and IndyCar.

Today was Indianapolis 500 Media Day, and they have a very different format here than we get in NASCAR.

This isn’t to judge NASCAR or throw shade on NASCAR drivers — because let’s face it, NASCAR in general is bigger than IndyCar — but there was a lot to like about how Indy did things from a media perspective.

First, some background: NASCAR currently has four main “media days” per year — the preseason Media Tour, Daytona 500 Media Day, Playoff Media Day and Championship Media Day (for Homestead). What typically happens is NASCAR rotates the drivers through booths (two at a time, for example) and they’re available for 10 minutes — maybe 15 in some cases. The NASCAR media corps has occasionally gotten upset at the lack of time we get with drivers on these days.

But at Indy 500 media day, the entire field was available for ONE HOUR. The session was split into two groups, but every driver had to sit there and answer questions for a solid 60 minutes — even Fernando Alonso, who was surrounded by a huge group the whole time.

This sort of blew me away, because I don’t think NASCAR drivers would ever stand for that. They would raise hell if NASCAR tried to make them sit there for an hour. In general, NASCAR guys want to do their 10-15 minute obligation and are looking to bolt.

Honestly, the drivers council would probably get involved if NASCAR said, “You will do an hour of print/TV media today.” The IndyCar drivers didn’t seem too bothered by it, though — I assume because they’re used to it? Also, they realize this is the best time to promote themselves and their sport, so I suppose they just embrace it.

Another thing that caught my eye today was the hospitality tents. I’ve covered some IndyCar events before, so I remembered these hospitality tents existed, but I forgot the details of them. Team Penske had a media luncheon at its big hospitality tent, where all the drivers were present as well as Roger Penske. It had to be quite expensive, because the food was quite good (and the media loves food!).

I bring this up because that sort of event typically would not happen at a NASCAR race. For one thing, these mobile hospitality centers more of an open-wheel thing for whatever reason. And second, I’d argue the drivers’ extra time in NASCAR is typically spent fulfilling sponsor obligations, not hanging with the media at a luncheon.

Again, I’m not passing judgment (for anyone who wants to get defensive in NASCAR), I’m just making observations.

One last thought for today: Wow, who are all these media people? I feel like after covering NASCAR for more than a decade, I have a pretty good idea of who the American racing journalists are. But I didn’t recognize maybe 80% of the media today. Some of them are foreign (the guy sitting next to me is from France), but not everyone. It’s just kind of crazy how the media corps in the two major forms of motorsports in the United States could have so many different people without that much crossover.

Social Spotlight with Jon Wood of Wood Brothers Racing

Each week, I’m asking someone from the racing industry about their social media use in a feature called the Social Spotlight. Up next: Jon Wood, who is the man behind the @woodbrothers21 Twitter account.

Let’s first talk about how you first came to be the one who was in charge of the team account.

The way our race team works — it’s a family business. So we all kind of chip in, whether it’s my dad (Eddie) or me or my sister (Jordan), whoever. We aren’t specifically tasked with any individual responsibilities; we just all kind of do whatever needs to be done.

A couple of years ago, maybe five years ago now, my sister was doing the social media because she (is) the director of marketing, so to speak. She was handling the social media and she had to go to a wedding or something, I can’t remember what it was — it was some obligation. So she had me do the social media that weekend at Talladega. I had never done it; I didn’t even have a Twitter account at the time.

So I’m like, “You gotta show me what to do, give me all the passwords and all this stuff.” And it was just a really good fit because I have a racing background myself, so I understood without having to ask a crew chief or another crew member, “Hey, what does it mean ‘a round of wedge?'” I already knew that stuff. So the technical aspect of it, I could explain things easier than probably some other marketing person can.

But then I didn’t really have any experience in social media at all, and so that was kind of a learning curve. I just tried to be myself; I just tried to be natural. Nobody wants an information-only source — I’m mean, you’ve got plenty of (non-information-only sources), and you’re one of those, where if I need to know something, I click on Jeff Gluck’s account or Bob Pockrass. You want to have your own individual identity, and so that’s what I try to do.

What it kind of reminds me of is I see some of these pro sports teams now who know the people following are fans, so they want to show they’re invested in it just like the fans are. If it’s a bad day, they’re not gonna sugarcoat it, they’re gonna say, “This sucks.” That’s kind of what I get from your account in some ways, where if something went wrong, you’re like, “We’re screwed. This strategy just didn’t work.” Do you know what I mean?

It’s a delicate balance. My wife (Amanda) stays on me all the time, she says I’m too negative. Whenever the day is going bad, she accuses me of just giving up. Like, “I’m done. See ya.” I don’t literally leave the racetrack, but I mean, I have a vested interest equity in this team, so it’s not like your typical marketing person where when they get home at night, the last thing that’s on their mind is the race team or where they finished. They might not even know where the car finished.

And for us it’s a little different. For me, whenever we have a bad day, I’m literally upset and so she stays after me all the time to be more upbeat. I think people appreciate that (candor). It’s not the same old, “We’re gonna get going,” when we’re two laps down. That stuff gets old, and when you’re performing at the level that Ryan (Blaney) is now and our team, you’re gonna have good days. You’re gonna have bad days, too, but the bar’s been raised so whenever we are having a bad day, I can just say, “This is bad. Sorry. We’re done.”

Let’s say a PR person was just doing that for their team, they might get blowback from sponsors or the executives saying, “You can’t say that about our team!” So do you ever get any criticism from your family like, “Dude, back it down a little bit?”

My dad. For anybody who doesn’t know my family or know how my dad and his brother (Len) are, they’re very conservative people, and you don’t cuss in public, you don’t make a fool of yourself. And so if anything, I go too far for what their taste would be.

And early on, I think my dad was going behind and reading a lot of what I would post on social media. He’s kind of lessened or unleashed the reins. At first, he was very cautious, but it’s been a popular approach as what you’ve been saying. So I think as long as I don’t cuss or say something that’s completely controversial — “Vote Trump” or whatever — he’s not gonna care.

What kind of reaction have you gotten from fans of the team in regards to your approach of how you handle the account?

Ninety-nine out of 100 people like it. You’re always gonna get your trolls and the ones that just want to give you a hard time. If you go through their accounts and look, they’re that way with everybody; it’s not just one single thing that I’ve done.

I try to be honest about it, but it’s a different approach to where I want people to think that it’s funny, too. The fastest way to make someone like you is to either be the best, which we’re trying to do that, but there’s only one Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano. If you’re not that, the next best way is to be funny. That’s my belief, and that’s the fastest way that I’ll start following someone and have interest in them. It’s not necessarily just with social media, it’s everyday life. I mean, people like upbeat people.

But you can be upbeat and funny when you’re having a bad day as well. I don’t really know how to explain it, but it is what it is. I didn’t go to school to do any of this, it’s all trial and error, and I guess what I’ve probably done is I’ve sampled a little bit of every different style and I’ll just go back and look at the reaction, the metrics, the Twitter analytics — that’s a pretty neat tool — and see what people think. I mean, our following has exploded lately.

I think what makes it interesting is that it’s so authentic and genuine. You know that you’re not getting some BS; you know that this is real. And I think in NASCAR specifically, fans can see through BS pretty easily. So if you’re being real and authentic and being your real self, even if it’s you speaking on behalf of the team on that account, I think it sort of endears it to people in some ways.

We’re at a disadvantage in many ways. We’re a single-car team, and when I compare our account to the Roush Fenway account, we’ve got half the number of followers, give or take, and then I have to remind myself that would be the equivalent of looking at one of their cars, because we’re just one.

I think what we do is respectable, but again, I have no training in this. During the week I have no Photoshop skills. I look at some of these accounts and they’re able to whip up all these cool graphics. I can’t do any of that, so I’ve got to make it up somehow and make it interesting. During the week they’ve got dedicated people to do this stuff. I’m doing other things; I’m doing merchandising or whatever. I just try to make it real, that’s all.

What is your actual title and what does that entail? How do you typically spend your week?

Well, my business cards would say “Director of Business Development” and I’ve added an “… and Merchandising” to that because I have a hand in all the artwork for the shirts and hats, apparel — that’s another thing that a lot of people (have been) really drawn to like and buy lately. So I do a little bit of that.

Like I said, my dad and his brother run the team, and then beyond that we all kind of chip in. I go to the owner’s council meetings with them; it’s just a family effort. If there’s too much for one person, somebody else will come along and pick up the slack. It’s not compartmentalized; everybody has access to the same information. There’s no secrets. We all just try to make the team do as best as we can.

How do you draw the line on the difference between your personal account and the team account? Do you have a different tone on one than the other, or do you feel like you’re the same on both?

How do you do it with @jeff_gluck2? I don’t know. Again, it’s weird because all the information that I’ve gotten — and I don’t have a lot — but it seems like everything that NASCAR experts beat into the social media world is to be yourself and share aspects of your family life and this and that.

So I try to do that because we have a lot of people who are familiar with us beyond just the Ryan Blaney side and the race car side. There’s a lot of people who know our family history and where I fall into place in the family lineage and my kids (Riley and Bailey). So there are people who are familiar with that. I try to do a decent balance of the two, and sometimes I just get carried away and put too much attention into one or the other. It’s hard.

Do you think that if social media had been around during the prime of your career when you were racing, would that had made a difference in how long you lasted? You’re very witty, obviously, and maybe you could have developed more of a personality that the fans got to see. Would that have changed anything that went on in your career?

Maybe. It may have made it worse; I may have gotten kicked out quicker. (Laughs) I don’t know.

But it’s certainly a tool where if you use it and you use it well, it works. I mean, you look at Dale Jr. and then you look at Chase Elliott; you have two extremes there, one that uses social media to its full extent and one guy who doesn’t. And it’s not necessarily where one is right and wrong, but if you’re comfortable in that environment and you’re comfortable sharing every aspect of your life and showing yourself out mowing the lawn or at the dentist or whatever, then I think people appreciate that. And if you’re not, I think they respect that. But if it’s something that you’re comfortable doing, I feel like it’s a huge advantage.

What other forms of social media do you feel are important for the team side as a space you need to be involved in?

If I could grow one area — and again my sister does a lot of this too; she does most of the Facebook side and I handle the Twitter side — but I feel like we lack in Snapchat, Instagram. It depends on who you ask, but some people say Snapchat is equally or more important than Twitter.

But there’s two of us, and we can’t do everything; we can’t be parents and do the jobs that we do with the race team and be on all these different social media outlets 24 hours a day. That’s a lot. And then again, there’s only one car; we can only show so much. And when you’re Stewart-Haas or Penske Racing, you’ve got so many other things you can show and share. We don’t really have that. It’s just one team, you know?

I could be wrong, but are you anti-capital letters or something? You always tweet lowercase letters.

It’s whatever my phone does. And then I do have my laptop on during the race, so I’m not gonna take the time to worry about punctuation. I’m not one of those (people) who will respond to somebody and say “their” (versus there). I don’t care. If you get the point across, that’s all that really matters to me. I’m not like some who will do it in all caps. I just do what’s natural.

Is there anything else that you want people to know about what you do on social media or what the team does or your life or anything like that?

Again, we do the best we can, and there are some people who don’t really like that style, that sarcastic, witty (style). Some people might take offense to it if you’re one of the ones I respond to. It’s hard to understand somebody’s tone and their demeanor through looking at words on a screen — you don’t really know what they mean. But if it doesn’t follow up with a blocking or something like that, then I didn’t mean it in a bad way.

Fan Profile: Andrew Headley

These 12 Questions-style fan profiles are one of the rewards offered as a tier on my Patreon page. You can catch up on the other profiles so far this season here.

Name: Andrew Headley

Location: Fort Mill, S.C.

Twitter name: @nikonshots1

Age: 37.

1. How long have you been a NASCAR fan?

Since 1990.

2. How many races have you attended?

I’ve attended 12 races.

3. Who is your No. 1 favorite driver?

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

4. What made you a fan of his?

My dad.  We used to watch good ol’ No. 3 run laps on Sundays.

5. Who is your most disliked driver?

Kyle Busch.

6. Why don’t you like him?

Kyle’s domination in the Xfinity Series has carried over to drive my distaste of him in the Cup Series.

7. What is your favorite track?

Bristol Motor Speedway.

8. What is one thing you would change if you were in charge of NASCAR?

Make the racing more competitive.

9. What is one thing you would keep the same if you were in charge of NASCAR?

The infield experience.  Between camping, the “circus” and everything else that goes on during a race weekend, nothing in America tops it.

10. How often do you yell at the TV during a race?

Approximately every 30 minutes.

11. Do you have any advice for other fans?

Attend the Coke 600 over Memorial Day weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway to truly experience how to honor our veterans.  Follow @DaleJr and @Keselowski on Twitter to get a true depiction of how “normal” and down to earth the drivers are. Rent a bus from Star Coach and camp on the infield during a race weekend. 

12. What else do you want the NASCAR world to know about you?

I’m working daily to raise our three sons to be NASCAR fans! 

12 Questions with Jamie McMurray

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Jamie McMurray of Chip Ganassi Racing, who is currently fifth in the NASCAR Cup Series standings. I spoke with McMurray at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

I think everyone is a little bit different. I think I work at it more than most. … That microphone is really close, Jeff.

I don’t have very good mic technique. Do the other interviewers, like the professional ones, hold it farther from your mouth usually?

(Laughs) I think the angle is off, Jeff. The angle’s a big deal.

So I need to hold it more straight up and down. I was holding it horizontally, and you’re saying that I need to hold it vertically. OK, that makes sense.

Yeah, I think I like this angle better. I don’t feel like you’re feeding it to me at this point.

Seriously though, I feel like through my whole career that I’ve worked a little bit harder than most. That’s not to take anything away from some people, but we know there’s some drivers who we say are just very naturally talented, and if they cared more, what could they do? I don’t feel like I’m that guy. I feel like I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am and I still feel like I study harder and work harder than most.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

I don’t have a pitch. I don’t feel like you should try to sell somebody on becoming your fan. I think when you watch races on TV or you see interviews, if you like those people, if you like the way they race or if you like the way they live their life or if you just…you know, we all are turned on by different things. And I’m not a salesman.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

I think the hardest part in general is always trying to be turned on. The reality is that we’re all probably not in as good of a mood as we show we are. My wife (Christy) tells me a lot of times, “It’s crazy how you kind of turn that on when you’re supposed to.” I don’t do it on purpose. I don’t consciously think, “Oh, Jeff Gluck’s going to interview me, I need to be this way.”

But we do, because the truth is, there’s some days where you’re not in a good mood, and what you really want to say, you can’t. So to me, that’s the hardest part —  just trying to always be turned on and say the right thing.

4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Everybody is different about this. I am completely different when I’m with my family than when I’m alone. If it’s a team dinner or if I’m with a couple of guys, that’s totally different. I would say no all the time because you’re eating, but it’s totally different.

When I’m with my family, I get really defensive of people that come up, and I’m not as friendly or as outgoing. I chose to race cars and to be on TV, and I know what comes with it. My 4-year-old and 6-year-old did not (choose that), and they don’t really have a choice when they’re with me. So it’s completely different when I’m with my family.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

Well, I’m into fitness right now, so I think the story that should be out there, especially with what Matt (Kenseth) and Jimmie (Johnson) and I did, and a lot of the crew guys in the garage did last week (the Assault on Mt. Mitchell, a 102.7-mile bike ride with a climb of more than 10,000 feet). I think that covering the fitness level of a lot of people in the garage would be interesting.

There’s this huge debate of whether people are race car drivers or athletes or if they’re not, and I think people would be shocked by what some people are capable of doing outside of a car.

Do you think that since you’ve gotten more in shape, you can notice a difference in the car?

There’s maybe a small amount in the car. Honestly, what I have noticed, the biggest change is the attitude of everyone on my team. I think when those guys see you putting in the effort and the work — we have a super fitness-oriented team anyway. There’s a lot of guys who do marathons and a lot of training, so I have noticed the attitude of them.

This is the deal: If you’ve never driven a car and you work on a team and things don’t go well at the end of the race, in my mind I know that maybe the handling of the car went away. But I think there’s always a little skepticism in people, like, “Well, did they get tired?” You maybe hear the little rumblings, and I think the attitude on our team has been awesome with all that’s been going on this year.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

I’m gonna look at my phone because I don’t know. (Pulls out phone) Greg Biffle. I texted him 32 minutes ago. Before that it’s gonna be Jimmie or Matt because we did that race on Monday, so probably Jimmie and Matt.

Are you a frequent texter?

No. My wife is the person who you can text and she will read your text then respond whenever she feels that she should respond. If I read, I do respond immediately because I know that people know that I have read that, or at least I feel like they know because they see (text) bubbles, right? But I’m not as into my phone as a lot of people are.

Does your wife put the read receipts on so you know what time she read it?

My wife doesn’t really care about her phone. If my wife lost her phone today, it would not matter. She would be like, “Oh well, it’s not that big of a deal.” So I don’t even know if her read receipts are on because she doesn’t know either.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

I think some are more entertainers than others. Clint (Bowyer) would come to the top of my list as someone who’s an entertainer. He can turn it on, right? Although I will tell you that I have been around Clint a lot, and I don’t know if he turns it on. He’s basically that goofy the whole time. He’s always in a pretty good mood.

But yeah, I think that some people are certainly more entertainers than others. I don’t feel like I am that guy.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

I haven’t done that in a long time. That used to be fairly common. That was once a weekend it happened. I don’t even see that anymore. I don’t know when the last time was when I got a middle finger.

I get a kick out of — I think they call it “Radioactive” (on FS1’s Race Hub) — I don’t know what that show is and I’ve only heard it a couple of times, but I love how mad people get. I have listened to like two of those, and they’ve been like after I’ve been at the airport, and the guy that MF’s me on the radio is like my buddy an hour later, so then you hear that and you realize that he was mad at what happened. So I love that they play that because that’s real.

Do you give anybody crap afterward? Like, “Hey, I heard what you said. That didn’t come up on our plane ride home or anything.”

No, because I know that’s the way you feel right then, and I don’t care. They feel how they feel.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Yes. Look, we all race each other the way we are raced, and for the most part, you build relationships throughout the year or throughout your career with people who race you very well. What comes and goes, it goes both ways. So absolutely.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

I don’t even know of anyone famous that I’ve had dinner with. Let me think. 

I’m gonna say Matt Kenseth.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

I want to improve a lot of things about myself. But I think being kind to others. I feel like I try really hard at that, but I don’t go a good enough job, and I try really hard when I see someone to kind of know that they’re having a struggle and I feel like all of us should do a better job of being kind to others.

12. The last interview I did was with William Byron. He wanted to know: “What other sports do you watch outside of racing, and what things does NASCAR need to take and apply from other sports?”

That is a really deep question from Mr. Byron at (19) years old. I do watch some other sports, but mostly it’s racing: F1 or drag racing or IndyCars or sports cars or motorcycles.

My answer to that is what we’ve kind of done that this year with Monster being a part of it. When you watch Supercross or you go to a Supercross event, they do a really good job with the laser light show and those guys come out and ride wheelies and they do a little more interaction. I feel like we’ve had a little more of that this year, not because Monster is here, but because all the sports are trying to gear towards a younger audience and that’s kind of the way to get there.

I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with, but I’m trying for an IndyCar driver because I’m going to the Indy 500. So do you have a question to throw out there?

Are you excited that Fernando (Alonso) came to run the Indy 500 and got a crazy amount of attention, and at the same time how did you think that he did?

I just wanted to say thanks again, because I feel like you’ve changed my life now with holding this microphone. I feel like I’m doing it the right way now. So thank you for that help. It’s like having something in my teeth the whole year and nobody’s told me I had something in my teeth until you said I was holding the microphone wrong.

That’s funny, because I knew that was going to happen because we’ve been talking about it behind your back the whole time. They’re like, “Wait until Jeff Gluck interviews you, because the way he holds his microphone is really weird.”

I don’t believe that, but thanks for joining us.

This 12 Questions interview is sponsored by Dover International Speedway. If you’re planning to attend the Dover race next week, please consider using my ticket link. Thanks!

News Analysis: Breaking down 2018 NASCAR Cup schedule

NASCAR unveiled the 2018 schedule on Wednesday, and it comes with bigger changes than fans may be used to with such announcements.

Here are the highlights, a grade for each move and some analysis. (Note: I haven’t seen the “spin” or the explanation for any of these moves yet, so maybe I’m missing a key point or argument on some of them).

MOVE: Richmond will be second race of playoffs after serving as the regular season cutoff race for the entire Chase/Playoff Era.

GRADE: B.

COMMENT: This one is a mixed bag. Richmond is one of my favorite tracks, but I’m worried it won’t be the typical short track race because drivers will be in points-racing mode and will not want to risk anything by pushing too hard. However, I like that it’s a Saturday night race because it avoids a conflict with the NFL after the season has started.

MOVE: The Brickyard 400 moves to the last race before the playoffs instead of its traditional July date.

GRADE: C.

COMMENT: Even though the racing at Indianapolis stinks for the most part, there’s still enough prestige associated with the Brickyard 400 to have that race stand on its own. Now there will be a mix of storylines: Both the Brickyard champion and the playoff field getting finalized. The race winner will be kissing the bricks while the other 15 playoff drivers stand around waiting for their group photo. And really, who is going to care who wins the Brickyard when the moment is all about the last driver getting a spot in the field? However, the major upside to this move is September in Indianapolis shouldn’t be nearly as hot as July. The local fans are definitely going to benefit from that.

MOVE: Second Las Vegas race starts the playoffs.

GRADE: A-

COMMENT: If NASCAR was going to lose Chicago as a big-market opener for the playoffs, at least Las Vegas is a suitable replacement. That will be a great place for everyone to get pumped about the playoffs starting. The only downside is it’s still pretty hot in Vegas at that time of year. And it’s going to be a Sunday day race, so…yeah. Bring a seat cushion, because your butt (along with the rest of you) is going to be quite warm. But overall, that should make for a fun weekend.

MOVE(S): Charlotte playoff race switches to the roval; Charlotte becomes Round 1 elimination race.

GRADES: A / A-

COMMENT 1: There are two parts to this, so they have to be graded separately. First of all, everyone finally gets the road course in the playoffs they’ve been asking for! But is it the right one? I’m going with “beggars can’t be choosers” on this and giving it a thumbs up. I have no idea how Cup cars are going to look on a roval (a “roval” means it uses part of the infield road course and part of the oval like in the Rolex 24 at Daytona), but I imagine they’ll get strung out much more than at a true road course. That’s OK, though — progress! Plus, the roval is practically guaranteed to be more interesting than a 500-mile intermediate track race anyway.

COMMENT 2: As for the elimination race element of it…whoa. That’s kind of crazy! It’s going to be quite a big wild card (you know how road courses can be) — although with the new playoff points system in place, the heavy hitters should be able to survive one bad race if something fluky happens. Still, chaos on a late restart at this race might take someone out — not unlike how Talladega used to be at the end of Round 2.

MOVE: Chicagoland gets bumped out of playoffs, moved to July.

GRADE: D for Chicago fans, B for everyone else.

COMMENT: I hate this for Chicago-area race fans and for the nice people at the track, because they just went from a pleasant-weather fall playoff race to a hot July 1 Sunday day race that means nothing. It’s now just another intermediate track race in the middle of the season. I guess since it opens NBC’s portion of the schedule, there will still be some hype associated with it (and NBC can go for bigger ratings on a Sunday afternoon than opening their season on a Saturday night). And putting Chicago in this spot allowed NASCAR to take a swing at some other big moves. But overall, it seems like a blow to the track.

MOVE: Dover opens Round 2 of playoffs instead of being Round 1 elimination; Dover moves from June to May.

GRADE: A.

COMMENT: That’s fine. The Dover playoff race has typically been blah (remember last year?), so if this shakes up the racing a bit by changing what is on the line, I’m down. And the track has seemed to move from May to June whenever the calendar dictates an extra off week (there must be a certain number of races to fit with Memorial Day and Labor Day, etc.), so no problems here.

MOVE: Final six playoff races remain the same.

GRADE: A.

COMMENT: I’m glad Homestead is still the championship race, because that’s such a great track to end the season. And I’m glad Talladega still isn’t an elimination race (it was already moved from that spot starting this year), because that was too wacky. Overall, everyone seems pretty comfortable with the last six races at that time of year, because there’s only so much NASCAR can do with the weather. So no issues here, except Texas should shave off 100 miles (hi, Eddie!).

MOVE: June off-week returns, Easter and August off-weeks stay.

GRADE: A+.

COMMENT: Fans freaking HATE when people who work in NASCAR complain about how long the schedule is, and that’s fair. Drivers and crew members and media chose this profession and knew what to expect, right? But breaks are really nice when they are available — they keep people fresh — and I’m glad NASCAR kept them instead of trying to squeeze in a race on every weekend to somehow shorten the season.

——

OVERALL 2018 SCHEDULE GRADE: B.

COMMENT: I feel mostly positive about NASCAR’s schedule changes. Would it be better to have new venues, move the All-Star Race, add more short-track races and road courses? Yes, of course. But in terms of reasonable requests, working with the current lineup of tracks, there’s a lot to like here — particularly with the playoff changes (different tracks, road course, new races in first two rounds).