NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Beside the Rising Tide: Insanity Rains

For whatever reason, the annals of great rock and roll songs involving rain are too numerous to choose from so I won’t even try. Yeah, rain makes for some great songs, but in real life it’s often an annoying, if occasionally necessary, climatic condition that can throw the best laid plans of mice and men all asunder. As a classic car and Harley guy at my advanced age I no longer keep score of how many car shows or long rides I’ve looked forward to for weeks that were suddenly canceled by a rainy Saturday afternoon, unexpected summertime toad-floaters and the occasional hurricane. If rain sucks out here in Lancaster County it’s even more of a problem at race tracks and the worst scenario of all is rain at a race track that has lights. No, NASCAR can’t control the weather (if they did, they’d doubtless screw it up too.  I’m thinking it would be hailing in Hawaii on Hanukkah) but in the infamous words of Bob Dylan; “You don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

Some folks found it the height of hilarity that it would rain “in the desert,” Having family members who live in nearby Scottsdale, Ariz., I wasn’t shocked it rained. There’s actually what the locals call “monsoon season” out that way and it takes place in late fall to early winter. Phoenix may have less rainy days than Seattle or Philadelphia but it does in fact rain there, often quite hard.

It is odd that as of Saturday evening the chance of precipitation in the area was still listed at 25%. That’s only a one in four shot, and optimists can be forgiven for thinking weather wouldn’t be an issue given how many races this year (and over the years) have been run full distance despite far more threatening weather forecasts. But Sunday morning dawned and it quickly became apparent that rain was in fact going to be an issue. It’s not often that NASCAR forces fans to endure a six hour rain delay without a single lap having been run. Given the forecast for the rest of the evening a valid argument could have been made that NASCAR should have thrown in the towel and given that there was little chance the race would run its full distance rescheduled the show for Monday.

I am painfully aware on a personal level what a massive inconvenience and financial drain a postponed race can be for fans who bought tickets. Yeah, I’ve sat there miserably wet and shivering in an impromptu garbage bag poncho trying to ration out beers to last the duration, too. As such I used to always make plans so I’d be able to attend the race the next day if need be, clearing the extra time off with bosses and arranging for lodging for the evening. When it came down to it, I’d miss qualifying on Friday just to be sure I’d be able to attend a Monday race. But I think NASCAR made the call to try to stick it out not on behalf of ticketholders but the presenting network. Yeah, it’s irritating to sit through rain delay coverage at home too but there’s at least some hope you’ll eventually see the race (for those of you fortunate enough to have access to the third tier cable ghetto of NBCSN). I did find it odd that for all the righteous outrage spewed by NBC sport’s commentators over Matt Kenseth’s stuffing Joey Logano into the wall at Martinsville they surely weren’t shy about using footage of the event to fill dead-air time during the rain delay. At least it beat re-airing the Texas race (which they also did), a lousy race with frequent tire failures that wasn’t worth enduring once.

In making the call about postponing the race, NASCAR needed to take into account what was on the line for some drivers and teams (and their multi-million dollar sponsors.) Fans were practically beaten over the head all week with the enormity of what was at stake. Only four drivers would leave Phoenix with a chance to compete for the title at the Homestead season finale. 35 races deep into the season it was NASCAR’s ultimate game of “what have you done for me lately?” Cynics can be forgiven for noting the same four drivers who arrived at Phoenix in the top four transfer spots left Phoenix still in those spots.

Would running the race to its scheduled distance have mattered? Maybe not. But then you never can tell in stock car racing. At Texas it didn’t appear anyone had anything for Brad Keselowski either until the final run. Jeff Gordon was locked in. Kevin Harvick was all but a lock. Kyle Busch just needed a solid run. The tightest battle was for the fourth transfer spot, and yet another wreck caused by the back-markers sent Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr. to the rear of the field. Truex didn’t have to beat Edwards. He just needed to stay within five or six positions of him. Of course with both of them running back in the pack with the Least Common Denominators, either or both could have been involved in a wreck not of their own making. If there was one driver who potentially could have benefited from the race being run to its conclusion it was Logano. Logano was set to restart the race in third place within sight of the leaders in a fast Ford that had shown marked improvement throughout the race and in fact all weekend after a substandard qualifying effort. But we’ll never know, despite having invested 10 hours of free-time to catch the clambake the media and NASCAR assured us was going to be a barnburner.

If we are stuck with the current Chase format (and I remain unswayed. I’d rather see the whole mess beamed to a Klingon ship like a load of troublesome tribbles), it would seem that the rules for the final four races ought to include that they must be run to their advertised distance even if that turns them into Monday races or multi-day affairs. One is left to ponder what would happen if it began raining at Homestead this Sunday shortly after the race passed the halfway point of its scheduled distance. (And for the record the current forecast from the Weather Channel calls for a 30% chance of rain… five points higher than Sunday morning’s forecast from Phoenix.) Obviously if NBC gets to choose, the race will conclude by 5:45, giving them 15 minutes to celebrate the champion and what a gosh-darn great event we just witnessed before throwing it to the local news on the East Coast and the setup for an NFL game. Keep your fingers crossed. Can you imagine the uproar if the race was called even 20 laps early due to weather with one driver having been setting up the eventual champion for a pass when the rain started? Yes, the weather is the same for all drivers and teams and they all have access to the radars. But practical concerns and the ebb and flow of races sometimes mean 20 laps can produce a totally different outcome to the benefit of some and the detriment of others. This is after all our “World Series,” right? I am no baseball fan much less historian but I’d wager that no final game of the World Series has ever been called for rain with the tying run on third and the winning run at the plate. I probably wouldn’t have been watching the game but I think I’d have heard all the resultant hullaballoo. Races are supposed to be an entertaining diversion. I can only speak for myself but I found myself infuriated by a 23-lap caution period to clean up a simple two-car wreck with radar indicating rain was rapidly approaching the track. If I want to be annoyed and irritated, I’ll just watch the presidential debates, none of which have featured rain delays to date.

For the record, under the old points system, we’d be down to a two-man battle for the championship. Harvick would arrive at Homestead with a 20-point lead over Logano. And I’d be good with that. Both drivers have had phenomenal seasons particularly Harvick. His 22 top-five finishes in 35 races is stellar and a career-best by a wide margin. Logano’s six wins are league-leading. And isn’t the hype about the Chase that it’s all about winning races? Oddly enough, the three drivers with the most wins this year; Logano with six and Jimmie Johnson and Kenseth with five apiece, are all out of championship contention. Those three drivers have combined to win 16 of 35 races, almost half, yet they are excluded. In fact under the old points system, only Harvick would be in the top four, joined by Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Keselowski.

So again, if we accept the Chase as legitimate (and I feel vomit at the back of my throat even suggesting such a thing) it’s time for a major overhaul. If winning is supposed to be the most important thing, then let every driver who wins a points paying race head to Homestead with a chance to win the Big Enchilada. Obviously Johnson, Kenseth and Logano would be in, as would the current top four; Harvick, Gordon, Truex and Busch. Perpetual fan favorite Earnhardt Jr. would be gunning for a first title with three wins. So would Edwards. He’s only won two races but they were big ones; The World 600 and the Southern 500. In days of yore those two wins would have earned him a $100,000 bonus from Winston. (Presumably Sprint waived his roaming fees or something.) Denny Hamlin would also be eligible with his spring win at Martinsville. If I’m doing the math correctly (doubtful) that’s 10 drivers with a shot at the title, a manageable enough number.

To continue my dark fantasy, there’d be a 200-mile “Last Chance” race at Homestead. If there was a new winner in the 200-miler, he’d become Chase eligible. Drivers who had already won a race that season would have the option of whether they wanted to run the 200-miler or not. Winning the race would prevent another driver from entering the championship-deciding event, a 50-lap “winners only” sprint race run a half hour after the conclusion of the 200-miler. Drivers would be lined up for the final 50-mile race based on how many victories they’d scored that season, with ties broken by the most second place finishes etc. Drivers who chose to compete in the 200-miler and wrecked or blew up their cars would have to start shotgun on the field. After that drop the green flag, toss the rulebook out the window and have at it for 50 laps (laps run under caution don’t count) just like at the local bullrings where so many of us nurtured our love for racing.

Yep, in the end I’d rather see the traditional season long run for a championship. Sometimes that leads to blowouts with the title decided before the last race is even run. Funny thing is that usually after that happened fans were treated to some of the best racing of the season because nobody was points racing anymore. They had one more score to settle, just one small point of pride.

They tell me that the record books don’t have asterisks. Earnhardt Jr. won at Phoenix and so it will be recorded without any footnotes the race was ended 93 laps prior to its scheduled distance and second place Harvick dominated the event. But fans aren’t rulebooks. Sunday’s untidy proceedings at Phoenix have left a bad taste in a lot of fan’s mouths and it will be their choice whether they decide to watch the race at Homestead this weekend or continue to follow the sport next year. Given this year’s TV ratings and race attendance NASCAR ought to be very, very concerned, cause it’s a hard rain that’s going to fall.

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31 Comments
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kb

93 laps to go is a lot of racing, anything could and would have happened. What they did again was race manipulation. I just don’t understand by their rules this race was extremely important and not like the other races that end because of rain. Every effort should have been made to rectify a fair and undisputable outcome. It is interesting the 4 going to Homestead it was noted somewhere that have 2 wins between the 4 of them since August…and one was a gift. Interesting, but not surprising. The stats and absurdity were there last year too, people chose to ignore it. Too much has been turning me off since this format was instituted last year, and well since “The Chase” started. It does not legitimize what true fan would call a “season long champ”. I picked up on the highlight reels last night. Everything is a little too tidy, yesterday and the past couple of weeks, things are playing out rather nicely and seemingly according to plan. To end a race like that was…well wow, just wow given what was at stake.

rg72

And like last year, we’ll have drivers standings that you couldn’t explain to someone 15 or 20 years from now. The uninitiated would think Newman and Hamlin were on it last year. This year, Logano, Johnson, Earnhardt, Kes and so on will sit well behind the likes of Gordon, Truex, and a guy that missed 11 races because he got injured in a JV event.

GinaV24

Yes, I don’t even try and explain the chase system to people. Unfortunately my answer to anyone who asks is to shrug.

Crapshoot, roulette, any one of those things describes it well.

Carl D.

Under the old system, only Logano would be within striking distance of Harvick. Even if Matt Kenseth had run and won the two races he was suspended for, he’d still be over two races behind Harvick. Had Logano not been wrecked at Martinsville, he and Harvick would be neck-and-neck headed into the finale. That would have been much more captivating to watch than what we have this Sunday.

I know many things would likely have played out differently than they did if this stupid chase format wasn’t in use, but I still believe there is a very good chance we’d see Harvick and Logano racing for the championship at Homestead. Instead, we get the roulette wheel Nascar will be spinning Sunday (if it doesn’t rain).

rg72

It reminds me of the time that they squeezed a Saturday night race in (ending after last call in most jurisdictions), because a NASCAR exec had an early Sunday morning flight to attend a wedding.

Bill B

Matt, please delete the paragraph that begins with, “So again, if we accept the Chase as legitimate”. It is even more stupid than the current system and dumbass France might just use it. Why not just get rid of 35 races, have everyone show up that wants to, and whoever wins the 1 race season is declared the champion. It would save everyone a lot of trouble.

Glad I won’t care about who wins the championship after this year.

Carl D.

“So again, if we accept the Chase as legitimate”….

“If we accept Hillary Clinton as honest”…
“If we accept Miley Cyrus as an artist”…
“If we accept Brian France as competent”…

…. then we’re somewhere between farce and delusion.

Bill B

LOL… that “if we accept” list could get very long.

GinaV24

oh yes, way long, but I like the “acceptions”.

DoninAjax

Brian France may be competent, but at what? The list begins with…

GinaV24

let’s see, he’s competent at parting tv entities from their $ – even with a flawed product

Carl D.

Yep… and if bad publicity is better than no publicity, he’s got that covered.

DoninAjax

I was thinking finding toadies. He obviously can’t handle the truth.

J. Smith

We consistently forget what we know and try to apply logical thought to NASCAR. I think Homestead will be anticlimactic with little on track drama and I don’t give a flip who wins the chumpionship. I will probably watch though, no other racing on this weekend and the last show of the year. BZF should listen to Matt and make this race more entertaining with some quintessential magic.

janice

j. smith – that’s rich….bzf listen to matt!

Carl D.

I’ll watch just to see Gordon run his last race and possibly win trophy #5. If Harvick wins, and he probably will, that will be four hours of wasted time that I will never get back, but if I drink enough beer it really won’t matter.

DoninAjax

Rain drops kept falling on their heads…

Some of the drops that have hit Brian have caused irreparable damage. He should have melted away.

GinaV24

we should only get so lucky and Brian will melt away. I’ve hoped that for years, but even acid rain won’t help that situation.

Old_Timer

… and only as Brian “Hollywood” France could have designed it … … … look who the Final Four drivers are:

1 … Kevin Harvick — defending Champion
2 … Jeff Gordon — driving in his final race
3 … Kyle Busch — whom NASCAR re-wrote the “rules” just so he could (possibly) be here
4 … Martin Truex, Jr. — perhaps the closest we have to a possible “Alan Kulwicki-ish” champion

Could they not have planned it better? So … Jeff Gordon’s first race was Richard Petty’s last race — and the race the last time a “true” … or, as “true” could be, even in the early ’90s … independent won the championship … … so … perhaps NASCAR plans to have Gordon be the “champion” in his final go-around … … but, just in case something happens (Alex Bowman deciding “bad publicity is better than no publicity) and takes him out … NASCAR still has Truex and the one-car team from Denver See Oh to win the championship and show us all “the little guys can still win it all … … … oh boy.

Then, there is Kyle Busch … … NASCAR gets to show everyone what “big hearts” they have by allowing HIM to win the championship … … … … …

… … and last, but not least, they have Kevin “I don’t even LOOK like Dale Earnhardt” Harvick who NASCAR could _________________ oh, what the hell … NASCAR gets a “feel good story,” no matter who they let win it.

Yep … NASCAR-wood couldn’t have planned it better … … … … as did they really want the championship decided by whomever tore their car up the least on the last lap between Logano and Kenseth?!? NASCAR loves that stuff during the season … … but … not on “Championship Sunday.” They didn’t even let St. Dale Earnhardt do “Earnhardt stuff” during the final race of his seasons.

I’ll get down off my toolbox now … … …

— Old Timer

GinaV24

OldTimer — really good!

MPM – I was thinking your article should have been titled “insanity reigns”. Pretty much describes NASCAR as we know it.

J. Smith

I understand the easy comparisons of Truex to Kulwicki but it doesn’t sit well with me.

GinaV24

J. Smith, I agree, I don’t think that the Kulwicki/Truex comparison is valid at all – Just because Furniture Row is a single car team

brokenarrow

I tell anyone who asks that the Chase is sort of a playoff system designed to create false excitement at the end of the season. BUT, then I add that the NASCAR championship system has always been a gimmick to draw out fan attention long after the NASCAR season has been supplanted by interest in the World Series, the NFL, and the start of the NBA and NHL seasons.

Season championships in individual sports like golf and tennis have never caught on with any but the most avid fans. People remember who won the majors or maybe who won the most events, but does anybody know who won the FedEx Cup this year without looking it up? NASCAR gets props for at least creating controversy and headlines even after the casual fans have checked out.

Points are artificial. Wins are real. Any system (like the “beloved” Latford) that puts value on points gained by leading a lap during pit stops, but puts no premium on winning, is inherently flawed. The Chase is just the latest iteration of NASCAR’s effort at creating fan interest in something other than the races themselves.

There are no purists here. Only fans of the type of sales job they first bought into. Kind of like “My car is a lemon, but when it runs it really runs good!” OR “The championship system sucks except when my driver wins it 4 times.”

Carl D.

That’s an interesting perspective. There have always been those who think the championship should be determined solely on who wins the most races. However, if a driver wins eight races but has poor finishes at ten races, should he be crowned champion over a guy who won only three races but rarely faltered at any track on the schedule? The Latford system was a way to give value to both wins and consistency, and while we can argue about what the relative weight of both should be, usually the “best” driver over the season was crowned champion. One bad race might cost a driver a championship, but the benefactor was a guy with a legitimate claim to being the best driver over the season. What Nascar has now factors in luck more than ever should. I like Jeff Gordon, but is he really one of the top two or three drivers this season based on his performance? No. He’s the benefactor of several drivers being eliminated because of one race who had much better seasons than he’s had. That’s my perspective anyway.

brokenarrow

Ah, but “faltering” is due to mechanical failure or the mistake of another competitor far more often in auto racing than any other sport. I know I am beating my own dead horse here, but I would have been happy with keeping the old season-long points system with the simple addition of a significant bonus for winning. And perhaps giving all drivers finishing 30th or worse the same number of points. After Kenseth-2003, NASCAR threw the baby out with the bathwater. What we have now is more exciting than 2003 but arguably much less fair. The Chase has been “tweaked” more times than I have counted, but NASCAR refused to tweak the Latford system, so now both wins and consistency have been replaced with luck.

Chris

I agree. I always felt that the old Latford system only needed a slight tweak to increase the points for winning. That’s all NASCAR had to do and it potentially could’ve reduced the issue of points racing. Instead NASCAR ditched the whole system and replaced it with the train wreck we see now and honestly I could totally ignore the entire Chase aspect (or #TheChase if your name is “Jerry”) if the racing at each track was better. Granted I would have to mute the sound on my TV as the broadcasters only talk about the Chase (or #TheChase if your name is “Jerry”) but if the racing was back in the drivers hands instead of the slot cars they drive now it would be worth it.

GinaV24

Agree, rather than throw the whole Latford system out, it could easily have been modified to reflect some changes that could have made it better. Instead, NASCAR threw the whole thing out to get “more excitement”. They’ve been trumpeting that hogwash for years but chaos and stress are not the same things as excitement.

kb

Harvick 3 wins, 22 top 5’s, 27 top 10’s. 1 Pole…IN
Logano 6 wins 21 top 5’s, 27 top 10’s 6 Poles..OUT

..and then other 3 with way less impressive stats are IN
..and others with way better stats and are OUT.

I am hard pressed, like last year to understand the faux hype that the other
3 drivers are getting, as f they “earned” it via a season long effort and superior
stats. Everybody plays along like this is totally normal and as it should be. Lol.

Bill B

So what do you want media types to say when they need to keep their NASCAR credentials and therefore toe the company line?

What do you expect drivers, crew chiefs and owners who are even more dependent on NASCAR to say?

I think most fans see the BS chase for what it is and have voiced it at one time or another, but they aren’t listening to us and don’t care what we think… apparently.

So everyone knows it’s a load of crap but anyone eating from NASCAR’s trough really can’t come out and tell it like it is.

So why does any of this surprise you, or are you just stating the obvious for the 3 fans left in the world that don’t already realize it?

Carl D.

Update: Two of those three fans have seen the light and left the building. The last fan, some guy named Jerry, was spotted wearing a Brian France T-shirt and Nascar-approved blinders.

GinaV24

Don, yes, he obviously has a whole cadre of toadies and yes men in tow. Probably they are there to protect him so that he can plausibly deny that he’s ever heard anyone say a bad word about the racing or the chase.

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