The Frontstretch: Happiness Is... Power, Trucks, F1, And The Chase by Huston Ladner -- Wednesday September 11, 2013

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Happiness Is... Power, Trucks, F1, And The Chase

Huston Ladner · Wednesday September 11, 2013


To get a better understanding of what is happening in NASCAR, it seemed important to look towards the deep past. Setting the gaze back into the lore and trappings of yesteryear is a way of gaining perspective. For this instance, there seems no better place to go the film Cobra, a veritable ode to the cinematic arts starring Sylvester Stallone. Playing a deeply nuanced tough-guy cop, Stallone delivers fashionable one-liners that are the trope of 1980s actions films. The line the comes to mind here is: You’re the disease, and I’m the cure.

Of course, in being the cure, Stallone kills most of the people he meets, blows up a bunch of stuff, and generally brings about havoc. And what does any of this have to do with NASCAR? Glad you asked. In making their ruling on Tuesday, NASCAR has become Stallone, the cure to what happened on Saturday night. The problem is, in doing so, their decision has become a cure that is worse than the disease.

The governing body had to react to the questions about its integrity, which is an issue on a number of levels. The problem is that in making their decision they opened themselves up to more questioning. Perhaps the best idea would have been this: add Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon to the already established Chase field, making it 14. The number of drivers in the Chase is an arbitrary number anyway, having started at 10 and now changed to 12. Would it have really mattered if there were 14 for this year?

NASCAR got its message across on one call this week…but shied away from another.

The move to drop one driver out to be supplanted with another is a troubling move as it was not Martin Truex, Jr., who caused the caution in question but is now denied his spot in the Chase. But what this mess really highlights is how the Chase can mar racing. Would Clint Bowyer have felt the need to make his intentional / unintentional spin if NASCAR’s playoffs didn’t exist? Would Brian Vickers have pitted 32 times under caution? And how will teams in the future look to corrupt the Chase by being more covert in their decisions / actions?

And the overall problem is how fans will perceive things. Maybe the fans will adopt another attitude from Stallone’s character: Go ahead, I don’t shop here. But for those fans that do stick around, here’s some happy thoughts.

Happiness Is…Power

Sure, their decision is fraught with all kinds of repercussions, but the governing body made a bold move. Those in the power structure in NASCAR have frequently been timid towards making big decisions. When there’s actual evidence, be it parts or video, they tend to feel confident in showing a position of strong leadership. Otherwise, when it comes to judgment calls, they’ve been rather happy to avoid doing anything that could bring about persecution.

Case in point: In both the Nationwide and the Cup races, it appeared that drivers jumped the final restart, Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards respectively, though NASCAR let both instances go. And at this point restarts have become a whole new world to be explored. NASCAR played it safe this week, which allowed both Keselowski and Edwards to win.

In kicking Truex, Jr. out of the Chase and moving Newman in, the sanctioning body showed a backbone that has often been lacking. Whether or not it was the right call, something that might shroud the first couple races of the Chase, it doesn’t matter. The organization may have opened themselves up to further criticism but anyone in the public sphere is open for criticism – just ask the NFL about concussions. The positive thing to take away is the hope that NASCAR may continue to make such intrepid decisions.

Happiness Is…Truck Racing

Well, happiness would be truck racing if the people who made up the schedule had decided to give the race a decent date and time. Not sure who in the NASCAR offices thought it would be a good idea to go against the NFL’s regular season kickoff. Though the decision may have been made to appease fans in Iowa who are loyal to high school and college football, the stands didn’t look to be at capacity – which is funny for a race that, paradoxically, was titled the Fan Appreciation 200.

Not everyone follows football and there’s likely a lot of racing fans who really don’t care about it. But there are fans who straddle both worlds and this race date just seems perplexing. At times it seems that NASCAR is trying to sabotage the Truck Series even though it consistently features excellent racing. It’s either that or they have no idea what to do with it. While the Cup schedule is for the most part inflexible, the one for trucks is not, and it’s time that someone put a little more focus on helping the series along.

Happiness Is…F1

Formula One racing may or may not be something that you pay attention to. But now you don’t have to for the rest of this season. Sebastian Vettel won his sixth race of the season in Italy and, well, the championship is pretty much decided. With no Chase to deal with, Vettel can practically cruise home to his fourth straight title. It may not be that bad, but it sure does feel that way, as Vettel is cleaning up and now holds a 53 point lead over second place. That’s more than two race wins ahead of Fernando Alonso. There may be six more races, but this season feels like it’s already done.

At least there’s some interesting news coming out of F1. Kimi Raikkonen will be joining Ferrari next year, taking Felipe Massa’s spot. Massa has been an excellent teammate but his results have been like a blindfolded dart thrower, all over the place. This move should help Ferrari be even better competition next year against Red Bull and Mercedes. With any luck McClaren will rebound as well.

Happiness Is…The Chase

Yay, the Race to the Chase is over.

And Jeff Gordon seethes.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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Kevin in SoCal
09/11/2013 01:41 PM

Apparently those that hate the chase think a 53 point lead and the title all-but-wrapped-up is a much better and more exciting championship.
I’m not one of those people, so I still look forward to the next 10 NASCAR races.

09/11/2013 02:39 PM

The Chase isn’t fair either, how is it o.k. for the leader to amass all those wins and points,then have it stripped away to pittance between you and the other 11? How is it fair that somebody goes on a super hot streak the last 10 races and not have it mean a lick and still be labeled as a “loser” because “he didn’t make The Chase”, how is it fair that drivers that did not make “The Chase” are out sponsorship $$$ as a direct result of zero air time? Etc…
There are great minds in the world I am sure without resorting to gimmicks somebody can cup up with a system that annoints a winner in Homestead at the end of 36 races, instead of 10. Let them all race till Homestead.

Kaadd Mike
09/11/2013 02:41 PM

The Chase is exciting. I don’t understand why people dislike it. Perhaps the people who don’t like it are ignorant of how playoffs work in other sports.

09/11/2013 02:51 PM

Thing about the irony of the Chase this year. With the resetting of the points, the guy with the most wins, who was way back in the points after 26 races, is now leading. He is the same guy who won the Championship back in 2003 with only one single win that year. Then, the fans screamed like blue blazes, particularly fans of a driver who had 8 wins, but what, also 8 DNF’s that same year. So, to appease the fans, the Braintrust of NASCAR came up with this idea for the Chase. If you want to blame anyone for this mess, blame Matt Kenseth and his 2003 Championship!

Kevin in SoCal
09/12/2013 02:34 PM

Ken, that is why I disagree with the seeding-by-wins point system, and prefer a system where the drivers are seeded by their finishing order somehow, and then given their bonus points per win. That way a guy with 5 wins but in 10th place for example, doesnt suddenly end up with the points lead.