The Frontstretch: Would The Chase Critics Just Shut Up And Go Away? No... We Won't by Kurt Smith -- Tuesday September 15, 2009

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Would The Chase Critics Just Shut Up And Go Away? No... We Won't

Happy Hour: The Official Journalist Of NASCAR · Kurt Smith · Tuesday September 15, 2009

 

When NASCAR finally took us at the Frontstretch in, recognizing us as part of their esteemed “Citizen Journalists Media Corps,” I finally felt as though I had achieved something that I had been striving for since high school: acceptance. I was finally part of the “in” crowd, no longer a misfit. I couldn’t remember what it was exactly that made me turn cool… but who cared?

However, it’s starting to look now like I am only here for comic relief, and I never will get that date with Shannon Spake after all.

Recently, Joe Menzer at NASCAR.com wrote a column letting us opponents of NASCAR’s playoff system know that we are just so uncool. Not since high school have I so fully felt the sting of rejection from the cool kids.

Menzer’s diatribe is a blend of weak defenses of NASCAR’s playoff brainchild along with some unflattering metaphors describing members of the press who stand on principle and still state (often very clearly) what is wrong with the system and why it’s a flawed method of determining a champion.

I’ll deal with his defenses of the Chase first.

Menzer states confidently that the Chase has “reinvented” Atlanta Motor Speedway as a legitimate Cup venue. I’m not sure how he arrived at this conclusion, nor was I aware that the old points system somehow de-legitimized Atlanta. Menzer’s big beef was that Tony Stewart came into the race with the points lead and left with it. As if a race needs to have the points lead change to be exciting… why would someone who thinks that cover this sport?

Atlanta Motor Speedway used to crown the Cup champion every year as the site of the season finale from 1987-2000. You have to wonder which Fall date they’d rather have … championship Sunday, or the one that should belong up in Darlington, SC?

Note that two of the most memorable races in Cup history took place at Atlanta long before the Chase existed — the infamous Alan Kulwicki-Bill Elliott duel for the title in 1992 and Kevin Harvick’s emotional victory over Jeff Gordon in 2001. Does anyone think that since 2004 there have been better races at AMS?

Menzer goes on to say that people would have long ago lost interest in the championship battle with Tony Stewart holding a 237-point lead, as if it were preferable to focus instead on who can be 12th after 26 races and thus become a serious long shot for a Cup title. Now, he says, because of the Chase, people are intrigued about the possibilities.

Such excitement is clearly evidenced by the soaring ratings and attendance, right? Turns out the Chase has made this season so breathtaking, NASCAR has been asking the drivers for ideas on how to make the racing better, along with implementing a new restart rule after 62 years in a move to jumpstart the competition.

By the way, since when did 237 points with 11 races to go become insurmountable? A DNF or even a bad race or two would pull Stewart right back within range of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, just like what would have transpired with Kyle Busch’s large points lead last season after Loudon and Dover. Last year, we would have had a three-driver race with two of the drivers that ended up battling for it anyway. It might have been more interesting with Kyle in the mix, too, had he not had a lead that was built up with eight wins wiped out in the name of more drama.

You know what I thought was the most exciting thing about NASCAR last year? It wasn’t the last ten races. It was watching the No. 18 car defy physics for the first 26.

But I digress. Continuing on with Menzer, he then points out that without the Chase, Mark Martin and Kyle Busch with four wins apiece would have no chance at the championship. (This article appeared before Busch missed the playoffs). He mentions this point was a reason to celebrate the Chase… not bash it. Conveniently, he ignores that Juan Pablo Montoya, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, and Greg Biffle all have an equal chance at winning a championship while scoring zero wins. That is not a knock on any of them; they followed the rules as written.

But it is a knock on the system.

The argument that the Chase makes it possible for a team that falters early on to still win the title is a two-way street. The other direction, of course, is that a team can dominate for most of a season and lose a championship simply because NASCAR took their points away. Had Mark Martin had stronger engines in a couple of races and not fallen victim to the jaws of restrictor plates, he could very well be that driver today. Imagine if Mark Martin had the season Jeff Gordon had in 2007, scoring 353 more points than his closest competitor did over the entire season and still finishing second. That would be every bit or more of an injustice than winning the title now would be justice for Martin and his fans.

To this end, even Menzer throws up his hands, saying that’s just sports, and sometimes the best teams don’t win. This, presumably, justifies a playoff system that greatly increases the odds of the best team not winning.

And so it goes, as Menzer tossed out the usual defenses of NASCAR’s playoff. I wouldn’t have bothered responding to his article (or even reading it if a reader didn’t pass it on to me), but it got personal.

I quote:

“[Chase critics] are starting to sound increasingly like the neighborhood dog who barks incessantly as bedtime approaches…[A]fter a while, they simply become annoying before fading away altogether into the night, eventually ignored by the masses who drift off into a peaceful sleep.”

And then wake up to find that their cars are gone. WOOF! WOOF! No one is fooled by an artificial resetting of the points! WOOF! Ratings and attendance are falling! WOOF! The NFL is no longer threatened by NASCAR! WOOF! WOOF!

(Sound of NASCAR snoring in a peaceful sleep)

“So-called racing purists always want to say the Chase is garbage, that it takes away from the season as it was meant to be. These are the same people who can’t stop talking about how great racing used to be, and how awful it is now.”

Well, I’ll read an article from a “so-called” racing purist over a “so-called” racing fan any day of the week. Just to clarify: the reason “purists” say the Chase takes away from the season as it was meant to be is because the Chase takes away from the season as it was meant to be. That sounds pure enough to me.

Actually, I’m not even one of those that yearn for the ’70s so much. The only time I think of the past is when I think about how Jeff Gordon could well be chasing championship number seven this season, placing him in the company of past greats like Earnhardt and Petty. But at least the championship battles under the Chase are more exciting. After all, it was truly exhilarating last year watching Jimmie Johnson fight for a 38th place finish at Homestead to clinch the Cup.

“Those who think the Chase was and remains a bad idea are being left behind like the drunks who sit at their barstools too long arguing about what’s wrong with the government — year after year, closing after closing, no matter who’s in charge. They need to get over it and go home. Or they can keep talking. But fewer and fewer folks are listening to them any longer.”

Wow. Words almost fail me.

The phrase “fewer and fewer folks” certainly describes the grandstands at races or how many are watching on television better than it does those clicking and commenting on articles critical of the points system. Unless our hit counter is fooling me, seems like the Frontstretch isn’t hemorrhaging fans like NASCAR is right now. If anything, maybe fewer folks are listening in NASCAR’s world because fewer folks are even around to hear.

So now, help me out here folks. At least he tried to argue for it a little bit, but do you see any logical or worthwhile justification of the Chase in Menzer’s statements denigrating writers that have what remains a perfectly legitimate beef with it? Does that not say it all about the current state of the sport?

The problem with the Chase and why we’re still barking about it is inarguably simple. The Chase artificially gives points to teams that did not earn them. There it is, in a proverbial nutshell. And this reality is still not disputed, by Joe Menzer or anyone else.

Not even by calling its critics incessantly annoying drunken so-called purists.

Editor’s Note: Kurt’s Happy Hour column will return to its regular day next Friday. And remember, race fans, as with all commentaries the opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

Kurt’s Shorts

  • Well there is a lot of go-kart racing in Wildwood, NJ, and of course my wife took me on in a race during our recent two-week vacation. I let her have the pole position, and sure enough, she blocked me all through the race, even shoving me into the wall a few times. I was driving the No. 5 car, so in the spirit of the current driver of the No. 5 I raced clean and didn’t move her out of the way. She then talked junk all week about beating the NASCAR columnist in a go-kart race. Then, in a rematch, I was put in the No. 24 car … and in the spirit of the ’90s version of that car, I smoked the field mercilessly, lapping my wife three times. I see now why these guys get such big smiles when they have a great car. That just rocked.
  • It’s interesting that everyone was so surprised at Kyle Busch’s first-class interview after missing the Chase by just eight points. The guy has been gracious plenty of times in his career; he just hates to lose, and sometimes it boils over. What’s wrong with that?
  • Much is made of Mark Martin being the points leader now, but his lead over Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson is just 10 points, and no one from 2nd to 12th in the standings now is more than 40 points behind Martin. I’d say that the points lead doesn’t mean much at this point.
  • Matt Kenseth missed his first Chase ever, leading one of the Carey and Coffey guys I talked to Sunday (I’m not sure which one) to say that the Chase is flawed now since he’s a Kenseth fan. I’d like to introduce him to a few Jeff Gordon fans who might have some words of support…

Contact Kurt Smith

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mkrcr
09/15/2009 01:03 AM
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Way to spit that Kool-Aid out, Kurt!
The one thing that supporters of the Chase always stand on is where the Championship would be with the current points.
But where would the current points be if the drivers were actually racing for a win every week? You know as well as I do that most teams in the top 10 are in CYA mode until the points are reset instead of trying to catch the leader. The best racing on the track are by those trying to make the Chase cutoff, but as soon as they don’t, they’ll be in that pool of 31 who routinely get ignored.
And while they’re being ignored, so are their sponsors. Not the greatest approach in these economic times.
I think if teams had to go for it every race we’d see a whole different complexion. Heck, we might even hear fewer complaints about the Crap of Today car. IROC made spec cars work, but then again, they were racing.
It’s going to be interesting to see how this Chase stacks up on TV. A lot of people have already turned off their sets because of the lack
of a quality broadcast and having the Chase crammed down their throats on every lap. Now that the NFL is starting, King Brian’s grand attempt to compete against stick and ball may fall flatter on its face. I can understand trying to elevate a sport but the Chase, just like the COT,
is a dog that just won’t hunt.
I’d rather be drunk on my stool arguing politics than drunk at my keyboard on King Brian’s Kool-Aid.
Menzer is a NA$CAR Putz.

Fred
09/15/2009 02:07 AM
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My thought as to why the Chase is just absurd is the fact that the 31 other drivers that didn’t make the Chase are still in the races and can effect the numbers of points the Chase drivers earn.

Either have only 12 drivers in the last 10 races. Or don’t have the 31 other cars effect the Chase points. For example, if 11 of the 12 Chase drivers finished 1st through 11th, and one wrecked on the first lap and finished 43rd. That one Chase Driver that finished 43rd should get 12 place points, if not, 31 non-playoff drivers just screwed him over.

Granted, that is the extreme example there, but usually a non-Chase driver will finish in between other Chase drivers. And I haven’t even brought up non-Chase drivers that may wreck a Chase driver.

Either get the 31 other guys off the track, or put in place a new points system just for the 12 Chase drivers that ignores the other 31 drivers. It would be really easy to do, just come up with a 12 driver points system, and award the points based on where they finished in relation to just those 12 drivers. Is that a hard concept to grasp?

No other sport has players/teams that failed to make the playoffs in their playoffs. Why NASCAR can’t see how absurd this concept is just blows me away.

SB
09/15/2009 06:45 AM
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Thank you! When I read the article by Menzer I got so angry….! I’m tired of media people like him telling fans we’re idiots for prefering a system that uses the entire season to determine a champion. Besides, each race used to be as (if not more) important than who ended up on top at the end of the season. While ESPN was bragging about their ratings Sat. night beating ‘Cops’, I did notice that, as the race went on, the numbers dropped, rather than increased. What does that say? Maybe that fans aren’t hanging on to the last lap to see who finishes in 12th spot. That doesn’t hit me as a ringing endorsement for the format. I guess he figures that insulting the very people racing counts on to support their ‘racertainment’ is the way to fill stands and keep viewers? I’ve always thought that when someone thinks out shouting you makes their point, they are aware on some level that they really don’t have a leg to stand on.

Bill B
09/15/2009 07:03 AM
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Good article Kurt. NASCAR’s official writers tend to take the same approach as NASCAR’s leadership – they piss on our head and tell us it’s raining.

Carl D.
09/15/2009 07:41 AM
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I’ll be watching Nascar.com for Menzer’s future columns “Shut Up and Learn to Love the COT”, “Cookie Cutter Tracks are Better Because We Say They Are”, and “Brian France: Born To Lead”.

FSBryan
09/15/2009 07:49 AM
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Damn Kurt, that was a tirade if I ever saw one. Awesome work.

M.B. Voelker
09/15/2009 08:06 AM
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The main problem with Nascar’s point system, Chase or non-Chase, is that it fails to sufficiently reward winning and over-penalizes a bad day.

dawg
09/15/2009 08:06 AM
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Wow talk about being out of touch with the fans.
The Chase seems to be most popular with the media.
I really think that’s because it gives them something to write about rather than having to come up with ideas on their own. The Chase is just like a late race debris caution. An artificial attempt to bunch things up.

Oldsmo-Bill
09/15/2009 08:19 AM
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Darn good article, Kurt! I can’t help but see a glaring similarity here: (My advance apologies for dragging politics into the mess) NASCAR.com’s lapdog columnists are racing’s clone of the Mainstream Media’s hacks. “We are here to tell you that everything our government (NASCAR) does is for your good, irregardless of whether you think so or not”. Case in point: the tax protesters that converged on our nation’s capital numbered in the hundreds of thousands, but the political hacks at ABC estimated “some 60,000 or so”. PAY NO ATTENTION TO THAT MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN! Listen to me! I’ll tell you the truth. Trust Me! (Question: how has NASCAR.com’s readership done over the past season? I know that when my wife and I became serious fans, that was the first website we read. But it wasn’t too long before we began smelling the BS that was pouring out). We love the sport, but can no longer stomach the “All is well” garbage. I hope you guys keep up the good work!

Douglas
09/15/2009 08:28 AM
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AWESOME!

SIMPLY ANDUDDERLYAWESOME!

(gee, now I have company on receiving hate mail) thanks for taking some of the pressure off!

And a guess on my part! BUT! If everyone was not “just gathering the points”, we would see better racing, such as cars actually going for the win!

Instead, they just lie back and collect whatever points happen to come their way!

Wonder where Joe W is this morning?

Brian France Sucks
09/15/2009 08:43 AM
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Joe Menzer is a tool.

Douglas
09/15/2009 09:06 AM
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Hey “Brian France Sucks”, that’s not what I would call Joe Menzer!

Gimmee a “W”

Gimmee an “H”

Gimees an “O”

Gimmee an “R”

Gimmee an “ (whoops, please fill in appropriate letter)”

(nuff said?)

Gina
09/15/2009 10:15 AM
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Good article — I have quit reading most of the articles by anyone who writes for NASCAR.com since they all follow the same deal – a bunch of zombies following the party line. I hate the chase, I have since it’s inception. It takes away from the racing that is on the track because all of the TV broadcast focuses on the chase crap and misses the actual racing action.

I’d like to have been able to see if Gordon could have gotten to 7, too, but I’ll never know now since we’re in the 10 race crapshoot, rather than an actual season championship deal. The sprint cup championship is just that, a sprint for 10 races. Who cares?

Ryan
09/15/2009 10:52 AM
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Anyone who would call themselves a journalist should be running away “ shootout style “ from being a Nascar insider .
The very idea of a points system is suspect . The only true way to crown a champion in any form of competition is winning . The one with the most wins is the champion . If its necessary , the one with the second most wins is second , and so on . Anything else is manipulation for legitimacy , or a blatant attempt to make an uninteresting competition into an interesting one .
Auto racing should be far more concerned with every individual race rather than 5 bonus points for this and 5 bonus points for that . And what fan really wants to pay for a wildly over priced ticket to watch drivers playing it safe , keeping out of trouble , concerned only with having a “ good points day “ and the “ big picture “ .

Mike In NH
09/15/2009 11:47 AM
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I agree NASCAR.com is a waste, that Menzer was a tool for writing that article. Saying “shut up” to whoever doesn’t agree with you is anti-American.

I also agree that every playoff system – team sport or “The Chase” – means that the person with the best regular season record doesn’t always win the championship. The difference is that in team sports, different teams play different opponents, with different schedules, so you can’t just compare them by record to decide who is the best, you need a playoff to match them against each other. Whereas in racing, all the racers face nearly the same opponents (especially with the Top 35 rule, a separate rant) on the same track each week. So you CAN compare racers based on overall points. So a playoff isn’t needed.

What’s needed is a system that doesn’t press the reset button with 10 races left, that doesn’t overpenalize for a bad outing and underreward victory.

I propose that they make the wins count for more points – say 20 bonus points, to just throw a number out there – and that every racer from, say, 30th on back gets the same number of points (you can tweak these numbers as you see fit). No bonus because you led a lap. No bonus because you led the most. And perhaps renovate how much each position is worth in the points while you’re at it because right now you need a math degree to figure out how much each racer has earned.

Okay, some of these ideas won’t work, but you get the point. You could tweak the old system and come up with a better system than the chase.

ginger
09/15/2009 01:56 PM
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Ha, go get ‘em Kurt. There are no more audacious writers than those at Nascar.com. I stopped reading their trash sometime ago. I don’t need their opinions or their telling me who to like and who not to. They are just an extension of the crud Nascar has become with it’s hare-brained leadership. I long for the days of Bill France, Jr. He may have been a dictator, but he at least kept some semblance of order in the sport.

HankZ
09/15/2009 02:14 PM
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Menzer looks like he doesn’t miss a meal, he’s well fed from Nascars payroll. His article is nothing more than shock writing to get more folks to talk about him and his chicken scratchings. He’s ignorant and a human remora. Bottom line is that Nascar.com’s articles are approved by Brian Farce, and what does that tell ya?

Your ‘short’ about go-kart racing was cool! Almost made me wanna be there.

Kevin
09/15/2009 02:42 PM
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I guess he forgot about the little fact that last year’s final point margin with the chase was 69 (Johnson over Edwards). Without the chase, hypothetically, the margin would have been a mere 16 points (Edwards over Johnson).

Joe W.
09/15/2009 02:49 PM
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I’m right here Douglas. Oh by the way I am not a fan of the chase. I think it is sort of contrived. So we are in agreement on it. I just disagree with you on thinking everyone should be a checkers or wreckers driver every race.( And I was a huge Ernie Irvan fan!) Sometimes you just have to take what you have and make the best of it. Top 5 and top 10 finishes. Consistancy was the rule for winning a championship long before the chase. However if we must have a chase I like some of Freds ideas for it.

Douglas
09/15/2009 03:15 PM
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Hey Joe W. YES! On the “swervin’ Irvan” support!

How much more exciting could it have been, “back-in-the-days”?

Ernie Irvan still has a soft spot in my heart, always will!

Joe W.
09/15/2009 03:41 PM
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See Douglas we can agree on something. I got to meet Ernie several times. He will always be my favorite. I loved the Black Texaco Thunderbird the best but I rooted for him in the Kodak Chevy and the M&Ms Pontiac too. I sure miss what he brought to the table. I just don’t see Kyle Busch as the new Ernie. Ernie was more fun and has a sense of humor about it all. I remember when he lost the 1st Brickyard because of a cut tire. He handled the dissapointment much better than I did. LOL Watching him and Jeff Gordon racing for that one is my fondest memory of Indy. I just wish that tire would not have gone down. It would have been awesome between those two on the last lap.

Mike In NH
09/15/2009 04:22 PM
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There is no way in the world that the sponsors will allow their cars to be parked for the last 10 races, and no way in the world the teams could attract sponsors if the sponsors didn’t know whether they were in the final 10 races or not. There’s no way the track owners/promoters would allow all but 12 racers to be sitting out either – imagine how ticket sales would take a hit for the last 10 races now that Junior isn’t in the Chase if he wasn’t even at the track! And fans of the non-Chase drivers would be pissed too (especially those of us who had to buy tickets to early Chase races not knowing who’d be racing). So that’s not going to happen. Better to dump the Chase and come up with a more coherent points system. Someone somewhere suggested the F1 system, which apparently does what a lot of us want the points to do, but I can’t remember who or where I saw that…

Douglas
09/15/2009 04:58 PM
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Hey Joe w., Ernie Irvan was himself a unique individual, and cannot be compared really to anyone!

I like what Kyle brings to the table, BUT Ernie was, is, special!

Richard in N.C.
09/15/2009 06:37 PM
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Members of the press who stand on principle – now that will sure crowd a phone booth.

Lee
09/15/2009 06:40 PM
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You make some great points, but from someone who has followed NASCAR for over 30 years, I think the Chase works fine. If you go back over the five year history of the Chase and apply the old points system, I don’t think you’ll find much that would have been different.

As for the fans that are vocal about hating the Chase, keep in mind that people with an axe to grind are more likely to speak up than those that are happy with the way things are.

Like many, I would like to see a tweak to the points to award wins. The biggest reason would be to remove the tendency to “points race” and encourage aggressive attempts to win race — like we saw with KyBusch in Daytona.

Having said all that, I’m still tickled Shrub didn’t make the Chase.

Douglas
09/15/2009 07:35 PM
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Hey Lee, your: “ keep in mind that people with an axe to grind are more likely to speak up than those that are happy with the way things are.”

So true, but also way too many people just blindly accept what is presented to them.

And some of us are more than just the “casual passive” observer!

We know what we want, what is right, and are not afraid to make better racing a passion!

A TRUE PASSION! Cause we know what REAL RACING is!

AND! You say “the chase works just fine”!

WHAT?

Now for the last ten “events” (as built for television), a driver with FOUR (4) BIG wins is now ineligible for the chumpionship?

SAY WHAT?

AND, did you see this past weekends TV ratings?

NFL games were in the 15+ rating range, NA$CRAP in all it’s glory was about a 3 rating, even an ESPN TALK SHOW (3.3 rating) outdrew NA$CRAP!

And the “quiet” ones really are being heard! They simply are not going to the races! By the tens of thousands!

The quiet have spoken!

“Happy with the way things are”? (your quote)

Me thinks not! Count the empty seats!

Overra88ted
09/15/2009 08:10 PM
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Whoa! TIMEOUT! It’s time to start the 10 race do-over, “Farce for the Chumpionship”! YAWN…. Tell it like it is Kurt.

Phyllis in Fort Worth
09/15/2009 09:18 PM
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I take comfort in knowing I am not alone in my disdain for the tragedy that has become NASCAR. I watch less and less and care little, if at all. How did things become so ruined?

It is as if our hearts have been run over by out of control vehicles in a “Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Race”, and the drivers are all part of a dream gone bad.

NASCAR…..We regret to inform you the patient is….terminal.”

mkrcr
09/16/2009 12:33 AM
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Joe W and Douglas, I have an Ernie Irvan #28 Diecast sitting on top of my TV.
Miss ole’ Davey and Ernie in that piece of history.

Joe W.
09/16/2009 10:53 AM
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Amen mkrcr

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