NASCAR Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Mailbox: Chase or No Chase, Using Car as a Weapon is Still Wrong

Drama. Brad Keselowski.

Those two seem to go hand-in-hand, don’t they?

In fact, the two were a perfect match last Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, as Keselowski managed to tick off no less than three drivers by the end of the night. He even lit the fuse of the generally mild-mannered Matt Kenseth, with a rare physical altercation taking place in the garage between the two.

I never have been a fan of drivers using their cars as weapons, so I have no complaints about Kenseth going after Keselowski, especially considering Keselowski intentionally rammed Kenseth on pit road when everyone was preparing to exit their cars.

Credit: CIA Editorial Photography
Was Keselowski’s behavior a result of heightened pressure from the Chase or is it business as usual for a driver previously involved in other controversies? (Credit: CIA Editorial Photography)

However, the stupid car wars between Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, and Tony Stewart on pit road after the race seemed a little much. Oh, sure, it was fun to watch at the time, but cooler heads prevail as time goes on, and it’s a little unnerving to see a 3300+ pound car used as a weapon. Of course, I would rather have that happen when the cars are slowed down than in green flag conditions on a wide and fast racetrack. However, even at slower speeds, it’s still dangerous. Crew members are usually walking out onto pit road post-race, drivers are usually unbuckling their seatbelts, and safety and clean-up crews are going out onto the track.

I’ll admit I get caught up in the drama just as much as anyone else, but as we’ve seen in recent headlines, even under caution, tempers flaring can cause safety hazards. Not that flying fists can’t cause injury, but at least then crew members can safely intervene.

Charlotte was fun to watch and added to the drama and intensity exactly the way NASCAR wanted it to, and that only makes Talladega that much more tense and exciting. I just hope that, on a gigantic, fast, and oftentimes dangerous racetrack like Talladega Superspeedway, cooler heads really do prevail under such conditions heading into the into the final race of the Contender Round.

Now onto the mailbox:

“So is Chad Knaus’ time as Johnson’s crew chief almost up? They haven’t been the team of the last decade this year and they apparently don’t do well under pressure if Charlotte was any indication. I guess all the talk about Johnson being “mild-mannered” and “calm under pressure” all wasn’t true, huh? He’d just never had to deal with that pressure. Hey, at least no one can call him “vanilla’ anymore..” Jessika

I don’t think it’s true that Johnson has never had to deal with pressure. They have been in plenty of pressure filled situations in their prior championship seasons. However, this new Chase format is a different kind of pressure and one that seems to be taking its toll on all the drivers, not just Johnson. See the previously mentioned post-race fracas if you want any evidence. Notice three of the four drivers involved in altercations were Chase drivers (Stewart is obviously the exception)?

Even Kevin Harvick, who won the dang race, was talking about how the pressure consumes him, his thoughts, and how he handles each situation on the track. When even the winner of the race is more relieved than excited, it’s no wonder, then, that a driver who is used to being at the forefront of the championship picture is slowly losing his nerve.

As far as Knaus being relieved of his duties atop the pit box, though, I highly, highly doubt that is going to happen. If Rick Hendrick has to sit them down for another milk and cookies talk, he will, but I don’t even think that’s needed. Hendrick has to know this isn’t a result of petty differences but rather frustrations mounting because of this Chase format.

Maybe the real question is whether NASCAR finally constructed a format to outsmart a race team that had previously mastered them all.

“I really like the new, sleeker design of the Toyota Camry….but Toyota saying that it resembles a street car is kind of ridiculous. Oh, so the grille and window are more closely aligned with the showroom cars? Oooh, they’ll definitely be flying out the door now!

Toyota can’t really think this sells cars, do they?”  Demarcus

I hate to answer a question with a question, but do you really think they would invest the time, money, and effort into the sport if they didn’t? Though Toyota is still newer to the Sprint Cup Series than Chevrolet or Ford, Toyota has been involved in the sport long enough to know whether or not it’s a valuable investment for the company.

Also, have you seen the side-by-side comparisons? The stock car does resemble the street car. Of course it has its differences (the “under the hood” part probably serving as the most compelling), but you can still see a distinctive resemblance.

The car doesn’t have to be the exact same as the street car for Toyota’s investment to be valuable. No one argues that these cars are “strictly stock” anymore. Those days are long gone. But if Toyota can get consumers to look at their car and think “fast”, “sporty”, or in the case of NASCAR fans, “Kyle Busch” or “Denny Hamlin,” that’s the real win for them. For a sport that is still known for fans exhibiting brand loyal behaviors and brand recognition, the unveiling of the new 2015 Toyota Camry—both on and off the track—means that Toyota still believes in win on Sunday, sell on Monday.

Now if Toyota can just work on getting their cars back to Victory Lane…

“Brian France must be shivering in his office right now. Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. might both miss the Chase! I wonder what shenanigans will go on this week to make sure at least one of them makes it…

Has anything come through the grapevine about potential changes next year to the Chase? You know it has to be coming. Who could forget the year that Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon both missed the Chase and, oh what a coincidence, they added two more cars…” Kirstie

Actually, I think NASCAR is getting exactly what they want. The drama on Saturday night was exactly the kind of thing being discussed in all of the “Chase Nation”

(Credit: CIA Editorial Photography)
Does Earnhardt’s potential absence from the next Chase round hurt or help NASCAR’s cause? (Credit: CIA Editorial Photography)

commercials that are inescapable right now, plus they have several big name drivers involved in the championship discussion long before the championship is even here. Heading into a racetrack known for being unpredictable, could this be shaping up any better for them?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that NASCAR wants Earnhardt, Johnson, or anyone, really, to miss or make the Chase. Obviously having Earnhardt serving as a potential championship winner this season was a huge draw for them. With that said, though, having Earnhardt (and Keselowski and Johnson) in a position where he basically has to win to still have a shot is an even bigger sell than “keep watching until Homestead.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if some sort of change was made next season, but if there were, it will be minor tweaks and not a full revamping of the Chase like there was this season. Even with many big name drivers most likely falling out of contention with several more races left, I think that only serves to further NASCAR’s main goal, not deter it.

No I haven’t heard or seen anything about potential changes, but I don’t think some of the sport’s biggest names falling out early is reason enough for NASCAR to change it. If anything, it’s a reason to keep pushing it.

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kb

Blah, Blah Blah…another bias article showing. Kenseth was a idiot on track and off. Hamlin was a idiot on track and off, Kes was a idiot on track and off, Stewart was a idiot off track. Both Kez and Stewart in their cars. To try and justify any one of these people with their actions is dumb. Nascar got it right in the fine department. Kenseth look like a idiot (yeah it takes one time or two, but he punched his ticket Saturday nite) and well Hamlin will be getting a fine in the near future..well because he is Hamlin. IMO of course..:)

JohnQ

The self answered made up question about Nascar’s effect on street vehicle sales is at least interesting. I doubt that the NASCAR machines share even a common bolt with the supposed street versions. I suspect that it has been decades since NASCAR has had ANY effect on new car sales. I find myself wondering why any manufacturer would pour so much money into an endeavor that has literally no return on the dollar. Since Toyotas have always been marketed more like useful appliances (Camary, Prius) than fun toys (Mustangs etc.) I would suggest that NASCAR has never helped sell a Toyota to anyone. As a fan I hope Ford and Chevrolet never figure out that NASCAR is simply a waste of resources.

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