NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Voices from the Heartland: Time to Put the * In the NASCAR Record Books

One thing that really, really irks me – as well as many NASCAR fans – is the use of the term “Nextel Cup champion.” It is commonly said that Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt are each seven-time Nextel Cup champions. Jeff Gordon is also known to be a four-time Nextel Cup champion, singled out as the only man capable of tying, or possibly eclipsing, those two NASCAR icons.

Well, such statements are simply not true.

Right now, in the sports world outside of NASCAR, there are two major sports that are in the (possible) turmoil of adding an asterisk to the names of record breakers in their record books. Those sports are Major League Baseball and the National Football League, respectively.

For even if you are not a baseball fan, you surely know by now that Barry Bonds has broken the home run record held for 33 years by Hank Aaron, who eclipsed Babe Ruth’s record in 1974. You should also know that many, if not most, baseball fans also think that, when it comes to home run records, the record book should read “Barry B*nds.”

Of course, the asterisk is in reference to the fact that Bonds almost certainly used steroids throughout much of his career in his quest to obtain the home run record. Ruth and Aaron, on the other hand, used the tried and true method of pure skill, longevity and perhaps a well-prepared meal.

In the NFL, it has been suggested earlier this week that should the New England Patriots go undefeated throughout the ’07 season – accomplishing a feat that only achieved by the 1972 Miami Dolphins – there should be an asterisk by their name, as well. The reason their amazing feat (should they succeed) is even being called into question is because of a scandal that was revealed earlier this year, known as “Spygate.”

Basically, what the Patriots had been doing is stealing the opposing coach’s signals. While this sort of thing, to some degree, goes on all the time, officials within the NFL felt that whatever the Patriots were caught doing went way above and beyond the rules and accepted limits. So much so, in fact, that the NFL levied unprecedented fines against both their coach and the Patriots organization as a whole. Hopefully, someone like the Packers (Go Pack!) will come along and make it all a moot point… but I digress.

Of course, the record books of both professional baseball and football will not contain those aforementioned asterisks in those special cases; but they should, especially when it comes to B*nds.

And in the world of NASCAR, those asterisks should appear, as well; in particular, by any champion’s name after 2004. That is when Nextel stepped in and Brian France drastically changed the points system; in turn, affecting the way the champion was crowned.

So that means – if you want to get technical – Petty actually has five Winston Cup titles… to go along with two Grand National ones. Earnhardt has seven Winston Cup trophies, while Gordon has won himself four. But none of them has ever won a Nextel Cup title… and it just isn’t fair to compare the two types.

My point to all this is that unless the points system in NASCAR goes back to some resemblance of how it was in the past, a Winston Cup and a Nextel/Sprint (or whatever they will be calling it down the road) Cup are just not comparable.

And that means Gordon, as it stands now, will never have the opportunity to fairly have a shot at eclipsing those great icons. If things were similar, Gordon would statistically have more titles in hand; in fact, he’d have wrapped up his sixth one at Texas under the old Winston Cup points system. But where you used to win apples, now the prize is oranges; and as a result, Gordon’s number remains just four.

That’s fine; but should he add to that total down the road, the record books should note the difference if the true story is to be told.

Stay off the wall,

Jeff Meyer

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