Ladies and Gentlemen, I’d like to introduce your Chasers for 2009. That’s right, just take a look at the top 10 of the race running right now, and you’re sure to see such stars as: Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin, Juan Pablo Montoya, Brad Keselow…
Hey, wait a minute! Keselowski! What are you doing at the front of the race? That’s not part of the script. We can’t be having a rookie stealing the limelight… somebody tell him to get to the back of the pack.
“Mr. Keselowski, could you please not ride the bumper of the Chaser quite so hard? Mr. France would really appreciate you not screwing up his nice shiny playoff.”
OK, OK… I’m probably exaggerating the behind the scenes chit-chat during Sunday’s Price Chopper 400 Presented by Kraft Foods, but I really do wonder by how much.
At the beginning of the 2008 season, NASCAR stated it wanted to let the drivers show their emotions and allow a little more bumpin’ and bangin’ on the track. In other words, let us fans watch some unscripted, honest battles. Officials proceeded to turn blind eyes to on-track shenanigans, pit-road brawls, pushing, shoving, swearing… in fact, over the past two years, just about the only thing that garnered penalties citing the dreaded “actions detrimental to stock car racing” were malformed stock cars and tainted urine.
However, there must have been an unwritten caveat to this turnabout in NASCAR’s “let boys be boys” policy. I imagine it goes something like this: “I don’t care who you are, but if you’re not in the Chase, we don’t want to hear from you.”
What other explanation could there be for NASCAR’s warning to Keselowski to be careful while racing Montoya? What? Juan Pablo is a saint? No, but he is in the Chase. And we can’t be having some rookie ruin the cough, cough mesmerizing competition between 12 chosen stars.
Well, the last time I checked, 43 cars qualify to compete in the weekly premier NASCAR event – not 12. 43 cars have the opportunity to win, right? Well, there is nothing in the rule book that states a rookie driving a fast car has to give any room to a veteran driving a fast car. It does say you can’t intentionally put another driver in the wall… but there’s nothing against messing up his door.
If anybody had the right to warn Brad off the No. 42, it was Tony Eury Jr., his crew chief, hoping to bring the No. 25 home in one piece. Although when you’re running a limited schedule, the importance of making a good showing might outweigh the longevity of your car, right?
In this movie, the happy ending comes only for a driver with championship dreams. I know the suits in the office suite were just clapping their hands in glee when nine out of 10 of the top-10 were Chasers. This is their dream! The cream of the Cup drivers racing all out for the championship… cool. But hey! What about the other 31 cars?
Well, according to the NASCAR Chase Manual, they are not to be heard of. Please don’t put the camera on them (unless it’s Dale Jr.) and tell the booth not to talk about them. The regular season is over, so anything that happens in the lower echelons just isn’t important.
In closing, let’s revisit that 2008 PR release. Maybe it should’ve read something like this:
“We want to let the drivers race hard that we deem to be of interest to the viewing public, the sponsors, and those that compile ratings. Otherwise, we will continue to ensure that no other driver causes any kind of unexpected drama on the track… or off it.”
The bottom line is if NASCAR really wants to ensure a great Chase, with surprising finishes, unexpected twists and driver’s emotions coming through loud and clear, they need to KEEP QUIET and let those teams do what we want them to do….
Race their hearts out. All 43 of them.