I watched a race on Saturday. Mostly there was a white car with the No. 60 on its side in the camera shot. On occasion, I spied a No. 18 and No. 20, both appearing for very brief moments before vanishing. The checkered flag dropped and I watched with disinterest Carl Edwards execute a backflip, receive some back slaps in the grandstands and Kyle Busch did a bit of sulking on pit road. All very familiar. All very depressing. There were the usual smiles, predictable patter thanking the victorious sponsors and well, yeah… you know this story.
I was prepared to switch the channel, but ESPN returned from commercial and started talking about Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kenny Wallace, Justin Allgaier, Austin Dillon and a few other of the Nationwide regulars… as in the people who declared they’d be collecting points in this series for 2011. The post-race interviews lasted a good 20 minutes and I actually enjoyed myself. But it’s pretty clear the drivers who sit at the top of the points in this series were not all that happy. They haven’t won a race in their series this year.
Heck. The fans ain’t all that happy with this supposedly new and improved focus on the up and comers in our sport, either. Mostly because we haven’t seen any.
NASCAR missed a key ingredient to a successful series when they messed with the system this time. The winners. When it all shakes out the following morning, only one thing matters: who crossed the finish line first. Nobody else will have their name splashed in the national papers or see their name tick across the bottom of the sports channels. It’s an ancient saying in racing. “Coming in second is just being the first loser.” Runner-up means next to nothing in the grand scheme of sponsor dollars and media attention.
Remember the glory days in February when a certain nobody named Trevor Bayne snagged the checkers in Daytona? Now, quick. Don’t look. Who finished second? What driver collected the most points for the Sprint Cup championship that day?
NASCAR fans love to see an underdog win. We adore watching them rise above and beat the established champion. We don’t like to watch Superman steal the thunder over and over and over again, especially when it doesn’t signify toward the championship.
Why should we care that Allgaier tops the standings? Or that Stenhouse Jr. has shown the world he can keep his car pointed in the right direction for an entire race? They haven’t won and as long as the four horsemen of the apocalypse continue to lead the charge around the track, it’s doubtful we’ll see it happen anytime soon.
It’s a bit like the varsity team coming over and beating up on the JV squad… not very sporting. Those sitting in the stands groan with each tackle and offer their condolences at the end of the day. The only ones smiling after that game tend to be the seniors who whooped someone’s ass. It’s really only fun when the JV manages to pull a surprise out of the playbook and hand it all back to their schoolmates. That’s where the entertainment value lies. That is not happening in NASCAR.
Look, it’s been years since the term Buschwhacker was coined by NASCAR fans. Even then, when the interloper only stayed for a few races, we just wanted the Cup-sponsored team with all the bells and whistles to leave the smaller teams alone and give them a chance.
A chance to stand in victory lane and discover the wonder of winning, meet the mayor, eat some lunch with a new sponsor, buy a better engine and maybe, just maybe, earn the invitation to make it to the big leagues. It is that story that will bring me to my feet and bring me to the track.
NASCAR, your latest new and improved system sucks. Not until you banish the monster teams from the Nationwide and Truck garages will you have support series that are worth watching and worth investing in.
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