What are the odds that Jeff Gordon, in a spectacularly mediocre year, has the chance to win his fifth Sprint Cup? Apparently they are one in four.
When NASCAR decided to declare a victory for the Air Titans at about 11:30pm Sunday night, and I was staring at the Final Four of Gordon, Harvick, Kyle Busch and Truex Jr., a sensation of ennui washed over me. Somewhere deep down, I understood that the bookies in Vegas were having an absolute field day. The offices of FanDuel and DraftKings had to be buzzing. The 2015 Chase had set up a finale that had no true reflection on the entire season, but was a random collection of fan favorites and unusual stories. It was like…
I don’t recall when it happened. How many years ago was it? But when baseball stopped being about baseball and had turned into some maniacal version of a statistician’s wet dream. No longer were the stands filled with fans who loved Dewey because nobody else could play second like him. Or that only Jim Rice could read the ball bouncing off the Green Monster like he did. Who cared that it took a special bat and timing with a gust of wind behind home plate to send a ball flying out of the park? We all did. Fenway was inhabited with players that the fans owned. If a pair of Red Sox were not stitched onto your uniform, we didn’t know or care how many times you spit before delivering a pitch. There was only the home team.
Then fantasy leagues invaded. Became its own economy and water cooler gossip. It wasn’t about your home team winning a game anymore, but how much cash you had lost when your imaginary team didn’t generate enough points to do whatever it is the gaming gurus demanded to change rankings on personal computers.
The Patriots were about to kick-off yesterday. My neighbor wasn’t looking forward to watching a battle between titans, but rather counting beans on if he could beat the spread.
Where did our sports go?
And now NASCAR has the Chase. It doesn’t matter if your driver won this year or not. If he sat out half the regular season. If he had the best year of any other driver out there or if he sucked eggs. The only thing that matters is that there is a manufactured competition at the end of the year engineered for the casinos to take bets on. There is no representation of the sport in this exchange of money, but only random results.
Thus is America’s love affair with the lottery. Why live in the here and now, fighting to create a worthwhile livelihood out of the things you have, when you could live in the lap of luxury for doing nothing more than buying a ticket at the grocery store and hinging your future on the fate of a few ping pong balls.
If we want to know why NASCAR created this joke of a playoff system, it is only because those watching the television have grown up in a world where we are only invested in the possibility of monetary gain for no effort. It is a direct reflection of the values we trade with our neighbors and friends when we fill out the squares for March Madness.
There will be a lottery played next Sunday in Homestead. The results will not reflect a year of struggle and turmoil, but only a moment in time when a car with the number 4, 78, 18, or 24 will pop to the top at just the right moment. Can’t you hear the celebration in the streets now? Unfortunately, I think I can.
1992 Hooters 500
If you want a fairytale year in racing, just go back to 1992. The nicest kid in the garage won the Cup that year. And he earned it.
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