Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito: Something Not Quite Right With NASCAR – But What?

There is something amiss with the most recent iteration of the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship, and the homestretch of the 2010 NASCAR season as a whole. Yeah, yeah, I know – feel free to lob your Chase grenades this way. Pull the pin and lazily lob them my way, like a Barry Bonds floater trying to nail Sid Bream as he rounds third base in the 1992 World Series. Since Atlanta we have heard how this will be the closest Chase field since it’s unholy inception in 2004, and that there is simply no clear-cut favorite for 2010. I railed against this notion in my Wednesday edition of Voice of Vito.

I believe it may be starting to take hold and am confident that it will be proven true about three weeks from now.

Should the unlikely and unthinkable happen – me being mistaken – I have another bone to pick with this year’s championship Chase; except I’m not quite sure what it is. Aside from the fact that that Chase is responsible for legitimizing the bizarre, with Kevin Harvick surrendering his series leader status and 228-point lead starting this week in Loudon, I cannot help but feel that something is wrong with this year’s Chase picture.

Maybe it’s because the winner of the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and runner-up in the Southern 500, Coca-Cola 600 and at Talladega is in contention to finish no higher than 13th in the final standings during the next 10 weeks. Could it be that last year’s No. 1 seed and qualifier for every Chase in seasons where he ran full-time hasn’t had a top five since May? Or is it because the sport’s most popular driver hasn’t won a race in over two years with nothing on the horizon to suggest that anything will change anytime soon?

Also, is Matt Kenseth really tied with Jeff Gordon in the points, after recording just two top fives since March? And NASCAR wonders why people question how people could reject the Chase en masse.

There are other things that have reared their heads in recent weeks that I can’t quite come to terms with either. Like why is Robby Gordon having to hire a driver with a tenth of his talent to drive his racecars while he foregoes the premier form of motorsports in North America to go off-road racing? Hearing him refer to his racing team as, “a marketing company that builds racecars” a few weeks ago was downright depressing, and certainly not deserving of Gordon, his talents and the effort he has made when he left RCR at the height of his career to start his own single-car operation.

How come certain drivers are given a pass for jackass-esque behavior, simply because they are good at turning left? Why are other drivers who do nothing wrong and show up to race every weekend and answer all of the questions derided as being boring, washed up, or ready for retirement? Apparently Brian France has gotten its wish, as NASCAR is beginning to degenerate a bit into the NFL in that regard. How long until half of the field gets a bunch of indiscriminate tribal tattoos all over themselves, to the point that it looks like they’re wearing an Affliction shirt?

Why do drivers who just seem to be getting their feet underneath them suddenly get the rug pulled out from below? It never seems to fail, either by injury or injustice. Brian Vickers has followed in the footsteps of Ernie Irvan and Steve Park, while it appears that Penske Racing is saying, “See-You-Later-Little-Gator” to Nationwide Series driver Justin Allgaier.

It was just a few months ago that Allgaier was helping to test the Penske Sprint Cup cars at Charlotte, and was talking about a future start in the Cup Series – possibly as late as 2010. Allgaier has reportedly been told he can seek a ride with other race teams, which is not exactly how you would expect things to go for the 2009 Nationwide Series Rookie of the year, winner of this year’s spring race at Bristol, and the highest-ranked true Nationwide Series driver in the standings.

Meanwhile, Sam Hornish Jr. continues to deploy the anchor in the team’s Sprint Cup Series machines, and the team is actively trying to find a way to keep him in the No. 77 car. In a year where Kurt Busch and the flagship No. 2 team are the only Dodge in the Chase – or the top 25 – it would help to have another team and driver to lean on for some assistance down the stretch.

Yeah, there are a lot of things in this sport that fail to register with me. We kickoff our playoff championship bracket round robin in New Hampshire of all places – and then decide it should instead be moved to a track that judging by fan attendance and past finishes, appears to be about as much fun as drowning. Two icons in the Nationwide Series heralded the return of the musclecar, yet the one car that is synonymous with burnouts, mullets and delinquent behavior is shelved in favor of a fleet rental car.

There’s something else too that’s been nagging at me… but I can’t quite seem to remember what it was. I’m pretty sure I’ll remember what it was for next Thursday.

Enjoy the Chase.

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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