NASCAR executives probably spent Monday morning reveling in the media attention sparked by Sunday’s post-race fight.
Then they spent Monday afternoon analyzing the video to dish out penalties for it.
After all, that type of behavior can’t be tolerated – even if it’s exactly what NASCAR wanted, creating one hell of a strange disciplinary policy. It’s kind of like telling two children that there is a delicious piece of candy between them and they should use any means necessary to get it, cheering when one pushes the other one to get it and then disciplining the child for the push. No candy for a month, self-induced drama for… what?
NASCAR executives are the candy placers in that scenario. They manufactured the desperation Sunday and they’ll dole out the consequences of desperate decisions this week. Brad Keselowski’s move, calculated as it may have been was all desperation. After a mechanical failure caused one bad finish, Keselowski’s six wins and consistency this season counted for nothing. With that one bad finish in the new Chase format, Keselowski knew he wasn’t going to make up the points to advance. He had to win at Texas or Phoenix, otherwise what appeared to be a championship-caliber season was going to be cut short before Homestead-Miami Speedway. So Keselowski saw a small gap between two cars he knew were faster than him on the restart, then took the only chance he thought he had to win the race.
Be mad at Keselowski if you wish, but he’s a product of his environment – as is Jeff Gordon. After a second-place finish last week, Gordon was sitting pretty on points regardless of a first or third-place finish Sunday. Then, in a split second a desperate driver cut down his tire and he ended up 29th, turning Gordon equally as desperate. That’s what triggered a side of this 43-year-old we’re rarely seen before.
Welcome to the new NASCAR, where one flared fender into a left-rear tire can take the championship leader nearly out of the championship altogether in an instant. One bit of contact can derail 33 weeks worth of perfection. Who can blame Gordon for losing his mind? If you worked tirelessly at something for a year and had it stripped from you, almost instantly you might lose it too.
Now Gordon’s coming after Keselowski, Denny Hamlin is coming after Keselowski, Matt Kenseth is coming after Keselowski, Kevin Harvick is coming after Keselowski and Kenseth, while Kasey Kahne’s pit crew just wants to hit someone.
Phoenix might end up resembling Wrestlemania; NASCAR should set up some tables, ladders and chairs on pit road next to the cars after the race. Of course, NASCAR would also tell everyone to stay away from the stuff beforehand.
That’s all the Chase is at this point: stupid entertainment. The majority of sports fans who didn’t tune in Sunday — an audience NASCAR is targeting — only saw a bar room brawl Monday morning when they turned on SportsCenter. It didn’t matter that Jimmie Johnson won. I’m not sure if that was even mentioned.
The top stock car drivers in the world were shown as crazed animals for the second time in three weeks, and the people cracking were two of the sport’s most respected: Kenseth and Gordon. If they can lose it, can’t anyone? Keselowski’s been the main target, but it easily could’ve been someone else. Harvick looks like he is ready to hit somebody. Maybe it’ll be his turn at Phoenix.
The hostility and violence isn’t going to stop, that’s for sure. There is a championship on the line and there is no room for making up for other drivers’ mistakes like there was in the past. Everybody is desperate for the trophy, and the rules do nothing to calm someone’s nerves.
How can you find relief? Drivers are told not to use their cars as weapons, to spread messages during these stressful times so they resort to fists on pit road or in the garage. But oh, wait, that’s not allowed, either.
“You shouldn’t punch somebody,” Robin Pemberton, NASCAR senior vice president of competition and racing development, said in a release afterward.
But isn’t that what NASCAR wanted in the first place? Why else would they implement this absurd format that has Ryan Newman in position to become champion? I doubt Newman is the ratings booster the sanctioning body was in search of – the tension it’s manufactured between drivers is.
So, it only makes sense that NASCAR officials penalize everyone involved, while dancing to the SportsCenter clips on the TV behind them.
I don’t know about you, but I’d sure like to punch someone.