Tuesday, August 24, 2010
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Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: NASCAR, give drivers the mic often

Maybe that was the solution all along: Give them microphones.

Let them talk. Let them feud. Let the crowd react.

Based on what happened at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday, every NASCAR track in America ought to be scheduling about 20 seconds for each driver to address the fans during pre-race introductions.

Maybe somebody uses a little salty language, like Brad Keselowski did when he ripped Kurt Busch.

Maybe somebody tells a joke, like Tony Stewart did when he said he was looking forward to seeing a wreck.

Or maybe somebody just says "Hi, Mom!"

Whatever. Let's see it. Because we might actually learn something about who these guys really are. How creative they are (or not), how interesting they are (or not), how awkward they are (or not) -- these are mostly mysteries outside of a few exceptions.

At the moment, the personality of most NASCAR drivers only shines through on their commercials. And those spots are written for them by comedians and regulated by the FCC.

In this era of walk-up batting music, LeBron James chalk-chucking and "Enter Sandman" tunnel entrances in other sports, auto racing needs to do a better job of hyping up the fans who do attend.

If the drivers have nothing to say or are reluctant to address the crowd, that's on them. And it would explain a lot about why NASCAR's struggling.

But the guess here is that if every track did it, pre-race festivities no longer would be just an invocation, national anthem and parade of droning sponsor representatives. The athletes would have a weekly outlet -- which could become more entertaining than the races themselves.

***

It's OK to worry a little about Virginia Tech's defense.

Not to make too much out of one scrimmage, but it's never a great sign when the second-team offense is scoring touchdowns against the first-team defense, as was the case Saturday. Praise David Wilson, Logan Thomas and the rest of their backup brethren for making plays, sure, but consider the flip side: somebody was supposed to be stopping those guys.

Will Tech's defense be fine in time? Sure. Probably much better than fine. Even if a lot of them haven't started many games, the players on that side are fast, athletic and semi-experienced. And a certain defensive coordinator named Bud Foster guides them, which never hurts.

Still, Foster doesn't have pixie dust he can sprinkle on these players and make them instantly stout. Foster's strengths are motivation and adjustments. There's no question the Hokies will be properly motivated against Boise State, but part of making adjustments is identifying the liabilities.

Can they do that before Sept. 6?

***

Had to chuckle Sunday evening when hearing an ESPN Radio host ask the following question: "Is Lou Piniella a Hall of Fame manager?"

Not that this is a bad question. I think the retired Cubs skipper deserves the honor, but you could make a case that a .517 career winning percentage and one World Series title isn't enough.

No, what was funny was the person he chose to pose this question to: reporter Tim Kurkjian.

I've never met Kurkjian, but he has to be the nicest guy in national sports media. Has anyone ever heard him make a case against somebody getting in the Hall?

Host: "Cecilio Guante -- in or out?"

Kurkjian: "Well, it's close, but I think he should be in, and here's why: ..."

So he made the case for Piniella, of course, backing it all up with solid statistical research. And that's what I like so much about Kurkjian: Even if you know what side he's going to take, he does his homework and educates you. He's humble, self-effacing and -- in trend-bucking fashion -- gives solid opinions on TV and radio while neither shouting nor trolling.

Plus, isn't it fun to see people truly love what they do? Hard not to like a guy who once wrote the following line: "I've always been fascinated by sacrifice flies."

***

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan simply will not back down in this tug-of-war with Albert Haynesworth, and that's awesome.

While the disgruntled defensive lineman appears less and less likely to help him win this season -- never good -- the fact is, Shanahan has accomplished three critical things:

1. He disciplined an individual player who was slacking,

2. He sent a message to the other players that slacking won't be tolerated; and, most importantly,

3. He delivered a clear signal to the Redskins front office: Don't sign malcontents while I'm your coach. You will be wasting your money.

That last one? That's an overdue edict for Dan Snyder and company to hear.

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