Could NASCAR teams refuse to race this week?
Over the past two days, all four major American professional sport organizations have been effected by largely player-led boycotts.
The strikes come off the heels of a Black man, Jacob Blake, being shot seven times in the back by police officers on Monday in Wisconsin. A combination of factors, including non-acknowledgement of the event by politicians and another shooting during protests that led to 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse being charged with murder, led to the Milwaukee Bucks refusing to play their scheduled NBA playoff game on Wednesday. That strike led to what will end up being a league-wide stoppage that will end in the coming days. MLB teams have followed suit, NFL teams have postponed practice, and the NHL has postponed playoff games.
While NASCAR could follow these other leagues’ lead, there are a few factors that lead me not to believe there will be a work stoppage.
- NASCAR is enough underground as far as mainstream sports go that there won’t be that much push back if it continues on as normal. Fans were present at multiple events last month during a global pandemic and there really wasn’t a lot of national media coverage on it.
- NASCAR is much more conservative than these other sports.
- There are 40 teams entered for this week’s Cup race. If, say, Hendrick Motorsports were to pull out, that would be 36 teams. You’d need probably at least 10 race teams to strike before NASCAR would consider cancellation. It’s not like the other sports, where a game can’t be played if just one team sits out.
- NASCAR supports Black Lives Matter and stands up to racism when it’s convenient. See how quiet it’s been throughout this week on the issue, along with it being quiet (save for a boilerplate press release hours later) when the President of the United States attacked a driver it claims to #standwith.
Any other reasons?
Ultimately, however, the key reason for why a NASCAR strike doesn’t work is that motorsports are much more motor than they are sport. NASCAR is a business, part of an industry that has seen massive losses already as a result of the coronavirus. And unlike those other organizations, NASCAR is a private company, leading to teams taking the brunt of the costs to be competitive with a comparatively ridiculously small amount of the income the industry generates.
Even if a miracle cure were discovered for COVID-19 tomorrow and fans could come swarming back to the track ASAP, teams are still going to be in for a hard winter. With a recession, sponsorship is going to be hard to come by for teams next season. It wouldn’t be surprising if there are even more noncompetitive cars in Cup next season, with it being even worse in the smaller Xfinity Series.
Missing an event of any kind to protest racial injustice is a very brave action of any professional athlete, as they risk everything around which they have built their entire life. But at the same time, the Bucks didn’t also have to worry about going bankrupt as a business or an organization because of it. That’s not to demean what the Bucks did, it’s just the difference between NASCAR’s capitalist business model and the others’ at-heart socialistic business model.
Now, to be clear, if teams or even just drivers decide to sit out this weekend, it’s important that they be supported and actually listened to instead of being branded as lazy. What they would be doing would be incredibly brave, especially considering their entire sport may be at risk of folding in on itself.
Who’s in and who’s out of the NASCAR Cup playoffs?
The final race of the NASCAR Cup Series regular season will be held this weekend, with an interesting race within the race.
The playoff field is relatively simple. 2020 race winners Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon and Cole Custer are all locked in thanks to their wins. Aric Almirola, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch are all locked in on regular season points.
That leaves three positions left in the playoffs. Clint Bowyer needs just three points to clinch one of those three on points, or would clinch if there is an ineligible or repeat winner. He could also clinch if William Byron finishes lower than fourth in the first stage of the race. Matt DiBenedetto is in the playoffs by just nine points, with that number shrinking to five points if there is a new playoff eligible race winner.
Byron currently holds a four-point advantage over Jimmie Johnson. The battle between the two Hendrick teammates represents a battle between the 21st century’s most successful driver (Johnson) and its most successful crew chief (Chad Knaus).
Daytona is always a bit of a crapshoot. The defending race winner of this event is Justin Haley, if that isn’t apparent enough. As far as the battle to get into the playoffs, Johnson’s experience of racing under pressure will do him well against the younger Byron and DiBenedetto. But the No. 48 team really lost a lot of momentum being disqualified at Charlotte Motor Speedway back in May, and it has been a summer of bad luck ever since that event.
Could there be a surprise?
Outside of DiBenedetto, Byron and Johnson, Erik Jones is 50 points back of Byron and has a very outside chance of making it into the playoffs without winning, but would require both Byron and Johnson to fall out with a very strong finish by Jones to get in.
The 12 drivers that may only get into the playoffs with a win are Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Michael McDowell, Ryan Newman, John Hunter Nemechek, Ty DIllon, Matt Kenseth, Corey LaJoie and Ryan Preece. Daniel Suarez may also get into the playoffs with a win but would need to pass either LaJoie (up 45) or Preece (up 28) in points in order to get into the top 30 in points on top of the win.
Quin Houff, Josh Bilicki, Brennan Poole, James Davison, Joey Gase, Brandan Gaughan, Timmy Hill, JJ Yeley and Ross Chastain are all ineligible for the playoffs, either via a part-time schedule or due to being too far outside the top 30, and would not be in if they were to win.
About the author
Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.