Join me, if you will, in channeling Bill Murray for a moment. We’ll go back to 1979 to one of my favorite bad movies, Meatballs.
“It just doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter…” And repeat as needed.
For that’s what I’ve been telling myself for the majority of the 2010 season as my driver sat second in points while he managed not to add one more to his career victory column. Because as of right now, it just doesn’t matter.
Jeff Gordon is now firmly ensconced in eighth, 60 points behind Denny Hamlin and 50 behind Jimmie Johnson. It wouldn’t bother me quite as much if Hamlin hadn’t started the Air Guard 400 mired 438 points behind then first-place Kevin Harvick. But he did and now it’s all numbers Gone With the Wind, because there’s this asinine playoff system called the Chase.
I have spent 26 weekends watching teams win, lose, struggle, overcome and disappear as mediocrity seasoned their year. And now, pretty much none of it matters.
I know this sounds suspiciously like sour apples, but it really isn’t. For the entirety of my time as a fan in NASCAR, I have watched all the races in a given season. Prior to 2004, it didn’t matter to me what time of year a given race ran. I tuned in.
I watched Talladega in the spring and fall because plate racing always puts my stomach in my mouth. I looked forward to Charlotte, whether it be in the fine month of May or the chilly climes of October. Rockingham, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix, Sears Point, Watkins Glen, Daytona…
Maybe Jeff Gordon was winning all the time, or maybe it was Dale Earnhardt. Perhaps a sophomore named Tony Stewart was taking the class to school. Or maybe there were only a few races left in the year and this guy named Mark Martin looked like he just might win the whole thing this time. Whatever the story, I wanted to see it unfold.
Until they had to fix the existing points system, place a hyperactive emphasis on the final 10 races of the year, erase all the effort that the top-12 teams accomplished in the regular season and act like the rest of the field ceased to exist after September.
It has come to me this year that I just can’t bring myself to give two whatevers regarding the outcome of the Chase in 2010. When teams that spent seven and a half months either hoisting trophies or smacking the wall are the ones chosen to lead us into the penultimate parade of hype, something is wrong.
Granted, I’m not a stats girl. Points are all very nice and give structure to a year that is otherwise punctuated by weekly meetings on the asphalt, but they are not the reason I watch racing. Perhaps in this era of Fantasy Leagues run amok, tweaking the Chase yet again is a smart marketing move when trying to suck in the sports fan who crunches numbers rather than actually cheers for their driver. However, it ain’t bringing those of us back who remember when.
What would I prefer? Get rid of the Chase. It doesn’t materially affect the overall outcome of the season and only serves to keep the sports media busy. Who in the public actually talks about the Chase? The guy in my office who knows next to nothing about NASCAR and has never bought a ticket or a t-shirt.
But what about a champion? We’ve got to have a champion! Well, you see, we’ve always had one. The old points system wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t really broken. The lackluster 2003 season that ended with Matt Kenseth hoisting the Cup after a season with only one victory wasn’t a bad thing. It was different. We can’t always have a year with a media darling who stole the Cup hands down.
We take our lumps and learn from them, you would hope. If nobody wants to watch Johnson win his fifth Chase or see Hamlin hold onto his manufactured lead, then this system is broken. And it’s time to revisit what was functioning in days gone by.
Because despite Mr. Murray’s uplifting “It just doesn’t matter” chant, it does. At least to me.
Each week that we come to the track, the race results should impact the outcome of the season. If it doesn’t, the competitors and fans have been cheated out of a summer of racing. And as I said, that sucks.
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
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