Last week, this column assailed one of the many strange consequences of the Chase. More specifically, the topic addressed was how a driver can earn a playoff berth while having played so very little of a season. The rules surrounding what makes a driver eligible are certainly one of the things that need to be re-examined at some point because there’s something unsettling toward the notion of competition if some drivers have no fear. That is to say, imagine if your favorite football team would make the playoffs because they started 2-0. They’re in, that’s that. A scenario like the one we just described seems to be a little mystifying.
There is a consequence to such safety that has yet to really be analyzed. Let’s look at things from a corporate standpoint (groan). Say you’re Shell, plastering Joey Logano’s car in yellow with the big emblem on the front. As a company, you’re pretty thrilled that you won the Daytona 500 and that you’ll be in the Chase. Everything is gravy.
But let’s say the company had a rough first quarter, or that you may be thinking of reducing your investment in the sport or leaving altogether. Once again, you’re thrilled you’ve got a win and that your driver is in the Chase, but maybe how you view things changes. Maybe you start selling off races here and there, recouping some of the company investment, while still holding on to the important Chase races because your driver is likely to be featured prominently (with security for at least three events).
The repercussions are that regular season races get devalued. For a change, it could be the big money teams that are taking a hit, though admittedly it wouldn’t be as problematic to them as the lesser-funded ones enduring their issues. Such a shift in thinking could once again alter the sport. While the initial school of thought wondered whether or not sponsors might sell off if their driver didn’t make the Chase, there is a chance that the same thing could happen if they do make the Chase.
Oh, what has NASCAR wrought? The opposite of happy, it appears…
Happiness Is… Meh. That dude in the No. 48 car did one of those winning things again. That makes it, hmm, hold on, carry the two, oh, right: 74 wins. It’s an amazing number. Consider that Tony Stewart is stuck on 48, or that the closest active driver to Stewart is Matt Kenseth and he has only 32 wins. Or think about the fact that the driver sitting behind Jimmie Johnson on the all-time win list is Rusty Wallace; his total stopped at 55.
The thing with Johnson is that it doesn’t seem like he’s slowing down. He drives for a storied organization with a stellar crew chief and though the cries of cheater surround him at times, NASCAR hasn’t taken anything away – he’s still got the wins and championships. The startling truth is that this season, he could knock of two milestones: matching Dale Earnhardt in wins at 76 as well as joining Earnhardt in the club of seven-time champion.
While Johnson keeps clicking off the wins, the realization that he had gotten so close to hitting those marks so quickly is just kind of astounding. Sure, his crew chief has figured out the Chase better than everyone else, but everyone else had the opportunity to figure it out too and didn’t quite get it done. Yet for all of his excellence, there’s still a “whatever” element to everything he does. Earning a 10th Dover victory seemed to elicit a collective yawn considering the circumstances. Funny how that is.
Happiness Is… Fines. Fines in NASCAR are some of the most comical and confusing things that happen. If you’re Denny Hamlin and you cut down the sport with some ill thought out Twitter comment – BAM, $1 million. OK, his fine wasn’t that bad. But if you futz around with a part, the fines seem to range between 49 cents and $250k. It’s a wonder that NASCAR hasn’t just switched to super secret double probation like in Animal House.
This week again brought more senselessness to the equation. Trevor Bayne, after wrecking (which seems to be a common occurrence for him anymore. Seriously, how does he still have a job? Maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he’s like the guy in Office Space who keeps coming to work to look after his stapler. Bayne’s continued career is worthy of further exploration.) Anyway, after wrecking, Bayne got out of his car before he should. Drivers have been told to stay put until the safety crew arrives. On a hot day, sitting in a hot car that’s been totaled, it’s likely that Bayne wasn’t considering the pre-race direction by NASCAR. Jennifer Jo Cobb did the same thing two days before during the Camping World Truck Series race.
They’re both guilty of the same offense. In fact, Cobb wandered around the track and looked to be giving one of her fellow competitors hell. So, then someone please explain why Cobb is fined $5,000 while Bayne gets to sign over $20,000. Sexism – Bayne had to pay more! Kidding. It’s just strange that the fines wouldn’t be unilateral through all of the series. Then again, it’s NASCAR, and drivers do not even get fined for intentional wrecks.
Happiness is… The Weekend. It’s a rather full weekend of racing coming up. The Cup Series will hope to continue its recent trend of actually having good races at Pocono. Both the Camping World Truck Series and IndyCar will be down in Texas. The trucks put on excellent shows at the oval but the open wheelers have been hit or miss. The hope will be that whatever worked at the Indy 500 may again work in the Lone Star State. The most frustrating race of the weekend, by comparison may be the Canadian Grand Prix. For such a good track, it’s disappointing that the American racing series haven’t been able to work out deals to race there. The F1 race seems to act as a reminder of what could be while also acknowledging what is.
Enjoy the weekend and the races.