Media Focus on Tony Stewart Once Again Misguided

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by Ryan Isley

You can’t fix stupid. This could not be any truer than in the case of some people in the national media trying to cover and report on stories that happen in NASCAR.

Last Saturday night in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, there were plenty of stories to be reported – both on the track and off. As drivers were in jeopardy of falling in the standings and facing possible elimination from the Chase for the Sprint Cup, tempers flared and emotions boiled over.  There was drama during the race, during the cool down lap, on pit road and even more between the haulers after the race.

On the track, Denny Hamlin brake-checked Brad Keselowski during the cool down lap because he was unhappy with how Keselowski had raced in the final few laps. Keselowski became enraged and tried to spin Hamlin, but when he couldn’t do that, he went after Matt Kenseth as the cars entered pit road. Keselowski was upset with Kenseth because he felt like Kenseth had driven across the front of his car during a caution lap. Keselowski not only hit his intended target, but also ran into Tony Stewart.  Obviously not happy with being an innocent bystander to what was taking place, Stewart threw his No.14 Chevrolet into reverse and backed his car into Keselowski, crushing the front end of Keselowski’s No.2 Ford.

Oh, that wasn’t the end of it.

Hamlin had to be restrained from going after Keselowski once the drivers got out of their cars back near the haulers. This happened after Keselowski and Hamlin had driven through the garage area and Keselowski burned his tires in the garage stalls. The last part of the fun came when Kenseth jumped Keselowski from behind between the haulers. After Kenseth was pulled off Keselowski, the two teams had to be restrained before more fighting occurred.

In the aftermath of all the drama, the attention should have been focused on Keselowski, Kenseth and Hamlin – the three main participants in the post-race scuffles and brouhahas. After all, they were the three who were fighting for their Chase lives with just one more race before the next elimination takes place. They were also the three drivers who played larger roles than anyone else.

But of course, some of the ignoramuses in the national media have decided to take the easy way out and focus their attention on Stewart. Because of course they did.

In light of the incident that occurred August 9th at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in a sprint car race on a dirt track that resulted in the death of Kevin Ward Jr., the national media has decided that Stewart is a villain. Pay no attention to the fact that there were no charges brought against Stewart following the incident, even as the district attorney sent the case to the grand jury to see if an indictment would be handed down. In fact, Stewart not being charged in the incident has probably turned some even more against Stewart, as they let their personal opinions – no matter how off base and uneducated they may be – play into how they handle every story involving the 3-time NASCAR champion.

The problem here is that the incident in which Stewart was involved happened to be the most minor incident of the entire situation.  But because it was Tony Stewart, the national media decided to have a feasting frenzy over it. This included none other than Good Morning America, who spent most of their segment on the incident focusing on Stewart. The segment also included USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan, who called what Stewart did “unconscionable.” What is unconscionable is that anyone could see what happened Saturday night and pick out Stewart as the one who deserves to be talked about.

Just like with the incident involving Stewart and Ward Jr., one of the issues is that the people who watch Good Morning America or national shows that are not sports-specific may not know anything about NASCAR. That means that most of their NASCAR news and “knowledge” comes from talking heads like Brennan and Gio Benitez, who narrated the piece for Good Morning America. It’s a classic case of the blind leading the blind, or rather the ignorant teaching the ignorant.

NASCAR isn’t absolvent of blame here, either. When they handed down the penalties from the skirmishes, it was just Keselowski and Stewart who were punished. Keselowski took the bigger hit (and rightfully so) with a fine of $50,000 while Stewart was fined $25,000 for his role. The two drivers were also placed on probation for four races. Kenseth and Hamlin got off without any fines, suspensions or probation. All that did was feed into the hype that Stewart played a bigger role than he actually did and made those who were talking about Stewart instead of the other drivers feel as if they were justified. Part of me wonders if NASCAR fined Stewart not because of what took place Saturday night but because of the incident with Ward Jr., which was a story that brought unwanted attention to the sport.

By trying to hide behind “maintaining a safe environment” when fining Stewart and Keselowski, NASCAR ignored that what Hamlin and Kenseth did also put people in harm’s way. It sent a message that as long as you don’t go chasing down multiple cars (or you aren’t Tony Stewart), it is free game to attack other drivers. It is in direct contrast to how they handled the same sort of post-race situation between Casey Mears and Marcos Ambrose at Richmond earlier in the season. Both drivers in that case were fined and placed on probation.

While NASCAR is not in the right here either, it is the perception that is being created by the narrative of some of the national media that is the worst part of this entire story. Instead of taking time to find out what actually happened, they see that Stewart is involved and develop their story around him. After all, it’s about what sells and stories about Tony Stewart sell. Especially after the way he was painted as the bad guy and a murderer just two months ago. Until there is responsibility taken throughout the media, Stewart will always be the easy target.

But for the time being, stupid is as stupid does.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at ryan.isley@morethanafan.net. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.