The Frontstretch: From 207 Points Up To 74 Points Down; What's Wrong With This Picture? by Kurt Smith -- Friday September 19, 2008

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Twenty laps into the 27th race this season, an enigmatic driver, who had been wiping up the floor with most of the competition for 26 races, had his season more or less destroyed. Eight wins in 26 races meant only that he’s eligible for the title—one faulty sway bar bolt in one race has effectively negated even that. It would have been rough enough to take the slam of a 34th place finish because of a 50-cent part, but combined with the Big Points Giveaway, that part resulted in a shift of 281 points and seven positions in the standings in one week.

OK, I’ve read all about how Jimmie Johnson finished 39th in the first Chase race in 2006, and how 74 points can be made up in one race. Of course it’s not technically over for Kyle Busch. But even as great as he is and has been all season, would you bet on him now?

Jimmie Johnson overcame Loudon to win the 2006 Chase with an incredible run of five races where he finished first or second. Kyle’s best five race stretch this year was from Talladega to Dover, with three wins, a second and a third. But that was before Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and Greg Biffle all found speed. Kyle may be as capable as anyone of such a run, but the odds are strongly against it happening.

Johnson also benefited in 2006 from everyone else using up a “mulligan” (a word that the Chase introduced into the NASCAR lexicon, at the same time that the Talladega race was pronounced to be the “wild card”). Matt Kenseth, who finished second in 2006, didn’t DNF in the Chase, but he also only had two Top 5s. Denny Hamlin, finishing third, had three finishes of 18th or worse. Busch already has one.

Johnson had no such advantage against Jeff Gordon in 2007…and no one with a DNF in the Chase was close to competing with either of them. One wreck or blown engine and Johnson would have lost it to his almost as blistering teammate. Not only does Kyle need a phenomenal run from this point forward, but he needs everyone else—particularly Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards—to falter.

74 points can be made up in one race…but that’s just how far Kyle is behind Edwards and Johnson. Busch also has six other very good drivers and teams—a pack that includes Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, and a resurging Tony Stewart—that he now has to leap-frog to regain the points lead. One DNF in the last nine…and at Talladega and Martinsville everyone is vulnerable…and anyone who consistently puts up Top 10s without a hitch is likely to finish the season ahead of Busch. A perfect illustration of why the Big Points Giveaway extinguishes brilliance, as I so often rail in this forum.

Suppose Kyle has another DNF and is effectively taken out of the championship hunt. How exciting will it be then?

Consider the buzz surrounding Kyle Busch this season. In an age when NASCAR is addressing…or more correctly dismissing…steadily falling ratings, attendance that has dropped off a cliff, and a generally and persistently low opinion of the current car design from both insiders and outsiders, along comes a young, cocky driver who in his fourth season has suddenly caught fire and dusted the rest of the pack, all the while bowing, brazenly and boldly, without regard for fans’ opinion.

Boos came loudly at the beginning of the season, especially after he had an incident with the sport’s golden boy. And after a while came cheers too. And the racing press was suddenly filled with stories by writers fumbling to reach those who both loved or hated Kyle Busch. The reaction to Kyle is something NASCAR desperately needed: noise.

And now his season may be relegated to becoming that team that almost won it all. You know, the one everyone more or less forgets.

If Jimmie Johnson wins a third title under this format, no one here is going to take anything away from him, just remember what that did to the ratings. Some people dislike Jimmie Johnson, but he’ll never generate emotion like Kyle does. And when he wins, he doesn’t generate ratings either. Nothing wrong with that by the way, it works for them.

But imagine if Kyle had a full season to rev up some old-school fans of hard racin’. Or if he had a full season to aggravate fans of humble, clean racing drivers. Kyle Busch has been doing this year what the Big Points Giveaway and the Winged Snowplow have undoubtedly not been doing…generating interest in the sport.

A broken sway bar bolt at New Hampshire dropped Kyle Busch from the points lead to seventh in the standings.

Is NASCAR happy about the diminished title prospects of the driver who has become one of their most well-known figures, even if he isn’t the most popular? After race fans have been talking about him all year long, in just 20 laps a faulty part has extinguished all of that, save for comments about his bad day and how he handled it. And with his title hopes now severely deflated, the wind has gone out of the sails of the Kyle Busch juggernaut. Busch fans probably don’t like his chances now. Let’s see if the Colts have better luck. Busch haters can breathe a little easier, knowing that he is much less likely to win it now. Whew, that was close! Are the Red Sox on?

If Busch won this year’s championship, he would have plenty more new fans and NASCAR would have a new face that they need…a champion many fans love to hate. Jimmie Johnson, for all of his remarkable ability, just can’t make people despise him with that kind of passion. And Tony Stewart won’t be igniting the ire of fans as much when he is running 20th every week next year.

There are plenty of people out there rejoicing over Kyle having lost a sizable points lead just 20 laps into race 27. I’ve already heard several people calling it karma for the way he has been racing others all year. What a long way we’ve come indeed from our admiration of the Intimidator for the way he raced so hard to win. One wonders what the reaction would be if Dale Earnhardt lost eight wins to the Chase.

Others say this is what makes the Chase work…that now instead of being on cruise control the rest of the year (as if Matt Kenseth snored his way through all of those Top 10 finishes in 2003), Kyle and the 18 team will have to work for it. Excuse me, but I thought they had been doing that all year. Haven’t they at least worked hard enough not to have a sway bar bolt possibly end their season?

Besides that, without a Chase, Loudon would have put Carl and Jimmie back in the hunt. And no one would be questioning it. Nothing against Greg Biffle, but how did he suddenly become third in points? What the hell just happened?

Seriously, is this how fans want their own driver to win? My favorite driver is in the Top 12; I’m not even rooting for him to win the title this way. Truthfully, the Big Points Giveaway so distorts the standings that it’s hard to care who wins. Since 2004, a resetting of the points that doesn’t entertain anyone, that has nothing to do with events on the track, that we can’t even tangibly see, has played a bigger part in deciding who will be the champion than overall performance through 36 races.

Can it be said that fans don’t watch NASCAR because they admire the genius of Brian France?

This in the name of “growing” the sport, in the words of those who have run out of logical arguments defending the Big Points Giveaway (which often doesn’t take long). If you’re not a fan of the Chase, get over it you rigid old fart, and start changing with the times because the sport is “growing”. You need to move on. Duh, the 36-race points system is so 10 minutes ago.

How the sport has grown since the Chase. To find out what happened in the grand kickoff of NASCAR’s 2008 playoffs in the Philly area, you had to turn to page 11 of the sports section of the Philadelphia Inquirer for a 100-word blurb. Biffle wins, Busch falters, and now on to high school basketball. It’s always been that way and I’m not a fan of the Inquirer, but that’s the point…the outsiders were the people NASCAR was trying to reach.

Maybe having a polarizing driver who wins frequently and becomes a champion by kicking tail all season might bring some casual fans around and “grow” the sport. I’m pretty confident that’s what happened with Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon. Any of those three certainly brought in more new fans than the Big Points Giveaway has.

Kyle Busch has eight wins this season, and he is now just barely ahead of Clint Bowyer, who has half as many Top 5s. All because Nextel didn’t think the sport they were dropping $700 million into was exciting enough. Now that Kyle’s brilliant season has been reduced to his being part of the pack, does that help?

My gut says that Kyle Busch has lost the points lead for good in 2008. It’s not over, but they are in a hole now that they shouldn’t be in. Partly because of a sway bar bolt failing at the worst possible time, but mostly because of some good old-fashioned wealth redistribution.

I don’t care if you hate Kyle Busch. You can’t tell me that’s right.

Kurt’s Shorts at the Monster Mile

  • One bright spot in NASCAR these days is Dover Speedway. The racing there is almost always captivating, new car or not. Living in New Jersey doesn’t offer a lot of opportunities for NASCAR fans to see races, but we do have Dover and Pocono, so it’s worth the trade-off.
  • Tom Bowles pointed out that Greg Biffle has won almost as many Chase races as anybody, so maybe it was premature to call him a dark horse. Well, I’ll call him one now. He just hasn’t been very consistent this year, or any year except for 2005, for that matter. I will say this though…if he’s still in it at Miami, look out.
  • Speaking of Dover, why not put lights in this joint? Night racing would rock here.
  • You know, this column being titled “Happy Hour” wasn’t originally intended to be ironic…but I guess it is now. Oh well. How many things go right in this crazy world?

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Fred
09/19/2008 12:17 AM
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I think this is the perfect example of what is wrong with the Chase (besides the concept of the Chase itself). What it comes down to is the fact that Kyle Bush finished 11th out of the 12 Chase drivers, but was awarded 34th place points. So 23 non-Chase drivers interfered with him earning points. In all other sports, teams that don’t make the play-offs don’t have a chance to interfer with a play-off team’s chance of winning the title, but in NASCAR, they do.

I really don’t want to see only 12 guys race the final 10 races. But I do think that the point system should be changed so that if you finish 11th of the 12 drivers, the points reflect that, and not a 34th place earnings of points, and a 40th for Kenseth.

Adam
09/19/2008 04:17 AM
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I agree with Fred.

With 9 races to go, we have a guy with 8 wins behind other drivers with 0 wins in the point standings.

The championship really means nothing under this format.

marshall
09/19/2008 07:27 AM
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The championship means exactly what it has from the day NASCAR was conceived . A contrived arbitrary system to give meaning to a sport that most didn’t take very seriously . How did the old system really make much more semse than the new one does ? Only five points difference between positions . Lead flag to flag and only receive an additional five points over the second place driver .
While we’re at it , explain how the lucky dog rule makes any sense . An artificial way to put someone back in the lead lap by doing nothing more than waiting for a caution . If the caution comes out on a restart ,as is often the case , the lucky dog didn’t even have to get up to racing speed to get a free lap much less actually pass anyone .
The current chase idea continues to mystfy true fans , but NASCAR is sure they have a winner with this system , and you know how stubborn NASCAR is when they come up with an idea . So relax and just try to enjoy each lap of each race , ignore Jerry Punch (” if the race ended now “ ) , the championship will be given to whomever the blowing winds of NASCAR chase rules happens to favor .

marshall
09/19/2008 07:39 AM
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And besides , the “ debris “ and the “ wreck that really wasn’t “ cautions will be used by NASCAR to determine the outcome of the races and the championship anyway .

Douglas
09/19/2008 07:43 AM
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Quote: “ Truthfully, the Big Points Giveaway so distorts the standings that it’s hard to care who wins. “

How true!

How sad!

Kurt Smith - Frontstretch Staff
09/19/2008 07:54 AM
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Marshall – I won’t argue with you that the old points system wasn’t perfect. For my part I believe that DNFs are too severe. And perhaps there isn’t enough of a bonus for winning. But at least there was some measure of consistency with it. You had 35 races to make up for something that happened in one.

I understand that NASCAR is not run by Kurt Smith and that’s fine. If they think they have a winner with the Chase, so be it. But that doesn’t mean you or I or anyone else shouldn’t voice an opinion about it.

Regarding the Lucky Dog rule…well, you do have a point. I don’t consider the free pass a stain in the rulebook like I think the Chase is, but sometime down the road I’ll discuss it here.

P.S. One quick correction: I stated that Busch has six other drivers he has to pass besides Johnson and Edwards—the actual number is five. As they say in Manitoba, my bad.

RJ
09/19/2008 10:12 AM
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Seems you can point out all the wins but for all other sports when it comes to play-off time (what the Chase is supposed to be) all teams are basically in the same boat, New England was perfect for the season and the playoffs up to the SuperBowl and they got beat. It happens in all types of sports, from college level to pro level some team may just struggle to get into the play-offs system and beat the unbeaten team that kicked everyone’s booty. In the end that’s life, that sports, and a Kurt Smith needs to get a clue, if he can buy a heim joint that these teams are using for 50 cents then he had better buy a bunch of them. Again a heim joint breaking is no different than a tire getting cut and going flat, or a valve breaking and taking out the motor. Those are the breaks, Kurt sounds like Kyle, a little cheese with that whine!!!!

dawg
09/19/2008 10:30 AM
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Anyone winning a so-called championship since Matt. Should have an asterisk after their names. So as not to be confused with teams who were real season Champions.

Marilyn Courson
09/19/2008 10:43 AM
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Kurt, I didn’t think your remark Golden Boy was very appropriate! If the roles were reversed would you have called Kyle the same? I think not. Let’s face it the whole role of Nascar needs to be replaced and put back like it was…good hard racing and the first one wins. No giving lucky dog passes either. And if they want to continue this CHASE…then only the ones that qualify should be running. Just like any other sport..the losers go home. I hate seeing a driver that is not in the chase take someone out that has a future at stake. I sometimes wonder how much those drivers get paid to take out someone in the chase to help a buddy???? MR FRANCE had better get some good advice and get this changed before it’s toooooo late. I have so many friends that won’t even turn Nascar on anymore. They say it is a farce and the real racing is gone. I couldn’t agree more.

Kurt Smith - Frontstretch Staff
09/19/2008 11:37 AM
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Whatever RJ…I concede I don’t know how much a heim joint for a racecar costs. Nor will I explain how that is even relevant. The point is that any particular piece of bad luck, no matter how minor, is devastating in NASCAR’s playoff format. That is so in every other sport too, but at least New England didn’t lose a star player to injury because they had to play the Dolphins again.

Marilyn, the “golden boy” wasn’t meant to be derogatory. Just a euphemism for the sport’s most popular driver. Not meant to be insulting.

RJ
09/19/2008 11:53 AM
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I don’t like the “chase” simply because trying to have a play off with 43 total teams isn’t how playoffs work but I don’t own the Nascar “sandbox” the France family does. Jeff Gordon (not a Jeff fan) had an incredible season last year with a lead that was at least double what Kyle had over the 2nd place driver and it all evaporated when the chase began, and that was the 2nd time where the chase took a championship from him. Yes people have buddies, kinda like Denny H parking his car to draw the caution flag so Kyle to catch up with JR. The lucky dog has become a strategy by some crew chiefs (Chad K.) being one of them and some cautions seem to pop out when a driver gets too large a lead (instead of show us the money, just show us the debris, hold it up, let that debris be proud because it caused a caution). No matter what you think of the rules, they were in place at the beginning of the season, everyone knew what they would be, everyone is playing under the same rules, Tony dominate a race, 2 laps to go the tires goes down, Kyle starts the chase and a heim joint breaks, Denny dominates a race and a few laps to go and the cable for the fuel pump fails, Dale SR dominates how many Daytona races and either on the last lap a tire goes down or something else happened. Just plain bad luck, and just plain racing!!! Kurt just come to terms with it, Kyle is not Superman, bad luck happens to everyone!!!

Kevin in SoCal
09/19/2008 12:42 PM
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The lucky dog rule is there as a way for a racer to make up a lap. You all remember NASCAR stopped racing back to the caution flag because of Dale Jarret’s spin on the frontstretch of New Hampshire back in Sept 2003? It was no longer safe to continue at speed when a possibly injured driver is sitting in harms way on the track. So, now instead of lapped cars passing the leader to get their lap back, NASCAR gives them their lap back automatically. Why is that so difficult and why do you not like it? We’ll never go back to racing back to the caution, for safety issues. Same as we’ll never go back to driving as fast as you can on pit road, and we’ll never go back to hard concrete walls in the turns.

midasmicah
09/19/2008 12:48 PM
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The powers that be in NA$CAR has proven time and again that they could care less what we think. I’d say from what I’ve read from various sites on the net that about 80% of the people who watch NA$CAR vehemetly dislike the chase format. I’ve been watching NA$CAR for twenty-five plus years and the recing has steadily gone downhill, particularly in the last seven or eight years. Hmm, isn’t that around the time that Earnhardt died and Brian France took over. Change for the sake of change to appease mass media doesn’t cut it. Problem is I’m not going to hold my breath in thinking that they’re going to listen to me, a fan. It is what it is and it ain’t pretty. The only way things are going to change is if people quit watching and attending. That’s starting to happen in growing numbers. You’d think NA$CAR would get the message. I guess it will take something pretty drastic to make them change their mind. Like losing tv contracts when the numbers hit the bottom. Thanks for listening.

Señor Obvious
09/19/2008 01:14 PM
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80% hate the Chase? I’d like to see the data to back that up since my belief is that everywhere you saw that got it from the same place and they had to stand up, drop their pants, bend over and reach deep to get to it!

Maybe an internet poll? Yeah, those are reliable. Ask which team is the best in NASCAR and guarantee, the one that comes up will not even be close to the best. Not even the best in the HMS garage.

Show me valid figures and I’ll believe it, but until then, I believe that the majority of fans don’t care one way or the other and only a vocal few are the ones that are creating the appearance of a majority.

Douglas
09/19/2008 01:19 PM
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Quote from Kevin in SoCal:

“The lucky dog rule is there as a way for a racer to make up a lap. “

If this is the case, and NA$CAR says it is, then why do we have multiple races where they, NA$CAR, REFUSE to throw the yellow flag due to wrecks? And please notice I said MULTIPLE TIMES!

They allowed all cars on the track to continue “green flag racing”, even though at times the track was blocked and had cars strewn all over the racing surface!

Starting of course a year or so ago when NA$CAR “REFUSED” to throw the yellow that would have made Mark Martin the winner! And rightfully so, Daytona, correct?

And a few more time this year!

So what is it? We have the lucky dog so drivers “do not have to race under green back to the start/finish”, for “safety reasons”, per NA$CAR, But then NA$CAR refuses to throw the yellow when it is required and justified!

Another quote from Kevin in SoCal “We’ll never go back to racing back to the caution, for safety issues.”

HUH? We have been back baby, many times over!

The Old Guy
09/19/2008 01:38 PM
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What’s wrong with this picture is the same thing that’s been wrong with it since 2005.

Jeff Gordon should have 6 titles at this point in his career, Jimmy Johnson should have only one and Kurt Busch none.

What I wonder about is if all of the people who said Kurt Busch didn’t deserve his championship will say if Jr. wins the cup this year? My guess is that Jr. will have deserved it even though Busch didn’t. Of course, if Jr. walked off a cliff and plunged to his death, 40% of the NASCAR fans of today, mostly come-lately’s, would follow him right off of it.

RJ
09/19/2008 02:06 PM
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Doug you are absolutely correct. There were cars on fire and no caution was tossed when Havick won Daytona and Mark didn’t. Make the rules and follow them, don’t pick and choose when to enforce them and when not to, it makes the sport look like WWE, which some drivers have mentioned before. They throw enough red flags now, wonder if there is someone documenting and tracking that over the years, but let a wreck happen and make a bone headed decision to continue letting a race go is beyond belief and then try to rationalize it, geez.

midasmicah
09/19/2008 03:12 PM
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Percentage points are relative. The plain fact is most real fans have spoken and MOST have come to the conclusion that the chase is not real racing. It’s hard to call it real racing when most of the parties involved are racing not to lose as opposed to the opposite.

chris
09/19/2008 03:31 PM
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As long as the teams/drivers all knew what the points system rules were when the season started, then I don’t see the problem. It’s not like NASCAR said “Surprise! we’re changing the points system and Kyle gets the shaft.”

The teams all knew what they were in for, and the 18 had an issue at a darned inconvenient time. Sorta like the movie Airplane: “I guess I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.”

I don’t really know that I think the chase is good. I know that in the vast majority of championships under the old system, the last 10ish races of the season were usually garbage time. Until the chase, I didn’t even think about the championship as a goal. Each race was it’s own deal. Winner wins, 42 other cars don’t.

For better or for worse, the Chase made the season championship a goal.

Like anything, they need to reward the behavior they want. I don’t think the chase does that, but I don’t think the previous points system does that either.

I’ve even gone so far as to sit down with a spreadsheet to calculate a points system I think is more appropriate.

It does kind of bite that they picked this time to have an error, but I don’t really see how there’s anything wrong with it.

Kevin in SoCal
09/19/2008 03:56 PM
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Why are you still upset about the 2007 Daytona 500? It was the last turn of the last lap of the race. The cars were wrecking behind the two leaders, and as soon as they crossed the finish line, the yellow was thrown. I would like to see Mark Martin win a Daytona 500 too, but in this instance, NASCAR can be forgiven for letting them continue the race to the finish line.

Douglas
09/19/2008 04:24 PM
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Let see now, “The cars were wrecking behind the two leaders, and as soon as they crossed the finish line, the yellow was thrown.”

For complete drivers safety, ALL DRIVERS, does it matter that “the wrecks” were happening BEHIND the TWO leaders?

41 cars, full speed ahead, thru a complete melee?

Does NA$CAR then need to re-define the rule, that any drivers safety is at risk EXCEPT the two cars or so battling for the lead? And everyone else is fair game to be killed?

I mean, they make everyone drive the CoT! Again, “supposedly” for drivers safety, all drivers, not “selective” drivers!

Who cares it was a year or so ago, it happened this year also! NA$CAR makes rules, but only applies them at “their convenience”!

And just how many times have you heard NA$CAR state that “driver safety” is their number one goal?

It’s just one big funny joke! Up until even the CoT cannot save a driver maimed or killed because of the idiots running the NA$CAR races!

DAMN THE TORPEDOS, FULL SPEED AHEAD!

Douglas
09/19/2008 04:31 PM
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Quote: “One bright spot in NASCAR these days is Dover Speedway.”

Actually Dover should be banned from NA$CAR!

They don’t even have enough pit space for all the cars! Teams will be doubling up on Sunday in pit stalls!

Lets see now, “THE CHASE” is supposedly to emulate say the NFL!

I can see it now, at the next home to the SUPER BOWL (I mean the real one), an announcement is made: “due to lack of bench space, both teams will have to share the very same benches”!

How funny would that be?

Only in NA$CAR can that happen!

DOUBLE UP IN PIT STALLS???

LUDICROUS! At best!

Either this “Chase” track can handle 43 cars, or it cannot! And right now, it CANNOT!

midasmicah
09/19/2008 04:58 PM
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What’s next? The IROC car. Oh sorry! We already have it in the car of today.

chris
09/19/2008 05:06 PM
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It is a little goofy that they have less than 43 pit stalls.

Strangely enough, the Green Bay Packers used to play (in the 90’s) a couple home games a year in Milwaukee. At that stadium, there was only space on one side for player benches due to the configuration. So, both team’s benches were shared. I’m sure it was a “you stay on this side of the line” sort of thing, but there is sort of a precedent for it in the NFL. Not at the Super Bowl, of course.

D Jones
09/19/2008 06:53 PM
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I agree with Kevin in So Cal. But, it does sort of open the door for NASCAR to throw fake cautions for those certain drivers that need a lap back.

About KyB, too bad, too sad. However, NASCAR should make a separate point system for the Chasers. I made up my own last year, 10 for 1st, on down the line. There were only of couple of drivers that were different than the current points standings.

Kevin in SoCal
09/19/2008 07:31 PM
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If a car spins out by itself, ends up in the apron, doesnt hit anything, and the driver gets it going and continues, I see no reason why a yellow needs to be thrown. If he hits the wall, or another car, or the car stops on the track, then yes a yellow flag needs to come out.

Which incidents this year are you referring to, Douglas?

Douglas
09/19/2008 08:42 PM
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Hey Kevin in SoCal, this year in at least two more events, NA$CAR late in the race did not throw the caution and let cars race back to the finish, actually not long ago the track was littered with cars and the green was still their flag of choice. If I have time and the inclination I will do the research. But I really should not have to, it is a fact, and I am sure someone will remember when that was. Maybe 8/10 races ago or so!

It was ludicrous! And the comments that NA$CAR made after were along the lines: “gee, the wrecked cars were off the “racing line” so it should be ok to race under the green”!

The problem I saw, was that if 5 or so cars can crash, and be stopped on or near the track, what prevents other cars from reaching them?

NOTHING! They are still in dangers way!

Oh, yes, but NA$CAR held out the green!

Lets keep racin boys!

Driver safety be damned!

Help me out people, which recent race was this?

(and I am not refering to cars that spin, then get going again, I mean multiple cars crashed and stopped on or near the track with the drivers still strapped inside)

jim
09/20/2008 07:13 AM
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Nascar has a commerical rule number 1 be your self well they lost that years ago and have driven more fans away with this chase and the 35 point rule where the fastest don’t run. They started to gain some popularity and didn’t know how to handle it,

Contact Kurt Smith