Ah, NASCAR. All professional sports that receive any modicum of attention get to enjoy their tales being played out in the media. That’s part of the reason that we all pay attention. This idea isn’t new. One of the reasons that baseball fascinated people was the offseason, which is how the phrase ‘hot stove’ came to relate to it as fans huddled by the stove and discussed the game in the winter. It’s one of the reasons that the NFL’s free agency period draws so much interest and why people are wondering if the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Chip Kelly, has any freakin’ clue what he’s doing.
The questions that surround NASCAR at the moment would make Kelly’s decisions look somewhat sane. (Somewhat – seriously, what’s he doing at the QB position?!) The announcement that Kurt Busch will be returning to racing is the one that is garnering the most attention, and deservedly so.
From one perspective, the organization looks like it is attempting to correct a bit of an error with regards that it may have acted too hastily in pulling Busch from the track. The truth is, NASCAR never had to wait for a decision from any commissioner (not judge) or district attorney to pull him. They didn’t need any burden or proof, what they needed was to mitigate a PR fiasco that followed Ray Rice’s altercation that blew up in the NFL’s face. Whether or not NASCAR handled the situation well is certainly something that’s up for debate.
With Busch’s reinstatement, however, the organization still looks like it doesn’t have things figured out. According to its statement, Busch has completed what he needed to do to get back in the car – though that seems quite conveniently timed with the announcement that no criminal charges will be filed. That NASCAR followed by stating the Busch will be Chase eligible should he win made for an even more bizarre circumstance.
It’s not as though Busch was injured. No, he was suspended for actions detrimental to blah, blah, blah. So if he did something against the spirit of the organization he should not have the potential to be rewarded with the potential of a playoff berth, or even more confusingly should it come to pass, a championship.
Overall, it seems like NASCAR still has some learning to do when dealing with matters off the track. Domestic violence is not something that should be taken lightly and any cases associated with the sport should be handled with prudence. How NASCAR handled Travil Kvapil’s incident should have been part of the learning process. But it’s not quite there yet. May this be another chance to evolve.
On to some of that happy stuff.
Happiness Is… competition cautions. The past two races have both been struck with competition cautions. The first, at Atlanta Motor Speedway, was because rain had washed the track prior to the race. The second, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, was because apparently someone in NASCAR likes the concept of competition cautions, or was afraid that the race would be boring and wanted to make sure that bunching the field up early might cause some drama, or because the track wanted a pause period so people would go buy more hot dogs, nachos and beer. Regardless, has anyone ever asked what the hell a competition caution actually is? It seems incorrectly worded.
Happiness Is railed against these cautions last year and will do so again. Until there are changes made, they are one of the most idiotic aspects of the sport. If there’s going to be one then it must be governed, like there’s no choice between two or four tires, or that the cars will line up for the restart in the same way they came to pit road. It seems rather weird that it’s the powers that be that are making a judgment call that then shuffles the racing. Unless, of course, it was all a quixotic attempt to get Jeff Gordon from the back to the front quicker. Notice how well that turned out.
Happiness Is… confusion. Last week this column mentioned that Formula 1 would be taking to the streets of Melbourne, Australia to get its season going. Oops, off by a week. Instead the circuit will be taking to the track this weekend. The big news is that Geido van der Garde successfully sued the Sauber racing operation to race for the team. Apparently van der Garde had a deal in place where he had paid for the seat for this season only to be cast aside when Sauber signed Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson.
While the courts made the decision, one in Switzerland and one in Australia, the ramification is an interesting one, namely in the case of safety. If van der Garde hasn’t been turning laps for Sauber, how ready is he? Simulators can do only so much. A second concern, should Sauber go along with the ruling would be the question of, which driver does the team kick out for this race? Interesting stuff indeed.
Happiness Is… consistency. Over the offseason, NASCAR finally came to its senses and mandated that teams could not fool with the side skirts. Then it said that teams found messing with the side skirts would be penalized harshly, with the full wrath of NASCAR coming down upon them like an angry thunderbolt. OK, that last part may not have been the case, but there were overtures that this part of the car would be heavily scrutinized and that the ramifications would be costly.
So how’d that work out for Brad Keselowski? His team flared the skirts after the car went through inspection and prior to qualifying. Even though an eagle-eyed NASCAR official spotted the infraction and made the team fix them before allowing the car on track, it seems that the penalties were, hm, what exactly? No points deducted. No fine. All that Keselowski and company received was for Paul Wolfe to be put on probation. What is this, Animal House? Well, at least the probation isn’t secret.
About the author
As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.