This columnist is going to take Robin Pemberton at his word. The apology is accepted from this end, but The Official Columnist is not going to speak for those who trucked to Indianapolis Motor Speedway and paid for last Sunday’s disaster. NASCAR will have to talk to them.
If you are a devoted sports fan, if you think the best man or woman should win, if you believe that the integrity of the outcome in any sport should be respected and preserved, if you think Bart Giamatti was right to expel Pete Rose from baseball, if at the very least you recognize that professional wrestling really isn’t a sport, then you cannot reasonably defend the Chase for the Sprint Cup on competition grounds. Your sports fan’s conscience shouldn’t allow it. Because when you get right down to it, the Chase does one thing and one thing only: it takes points away from drivers that were earned the only way points should ever be earned in motorsports: on the racetrack.
It’s fair to suggest that Ryan Newman and the Penske No. 12 Alltel Dodge aren’t where they could or should be. After narrowly defeating Jimmie Johnson for the Rookie of the Year in 2002 and an amazing eight wins in 2003, the No. 12 team has been unable to sustain that level of performance. After 11 wins in 2002-04, Newman has visited victory lane just four times in 2005-2008. Newman had 42 top fives in his first three seasons; he has had only 19 in the three and a half years since.
It all seems like it just flew by at this point, but 10 years is a long time. More specifically, 338 races—356 by season’s end—is a lot of races. We’ve gotten used to seeing the orange No. 20 car slicing its way through the field, its fiery and extraordinarily skilled pilot guiding it rapidly to the front, going three-wide, occasionally pushing someone out of the way if need be. Now people who both love or despise but sorta respect Tony Stewart suddenly have half a season to get used to a great NASCAR era being over.
Here is part of Spencer’s harangue: “The sport has really grown, these young kids come along, and there are some really good young kids. There are some punk young kids. I just wish they would realize and respect what others did. I think it’s just a total attitude problem that they have. Their dad needs to take them behind the fence and smack them around a little bit. Our world’s lacking respect, and I hope these kids learn that.” My opinion on the drivers’ importance to the sport relative to its management notwithstanding, I can confidently say that NASCAR could have grown itself just fine without Spencer.
Up until 2003, before the sport’s “Drive for Diversity” began, NASCAR had been contributing to Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH coalition, supposedly to help increase the number of minorities in auto racing. So far, no one can cite any specific achievements of that partnership, which reportedly cost NASCAR $250,000. The late NFL star and minister Reggie White, someone who was not often accused of insensitivity to the plight of blacks in his life, said out loud that Jackson’s association with NASCAR was a fraud: “It’s really disappointing to me that Jesse and his organization would take a quarter of a million dollars from NASCAR and not do anything with it to try to get black drivers into the sport.”
When NASCAR holds a special closed-door drivers’ meeting, you can bet it’s because they are not happy about one or more participants being critical, and it usually entails Mike Helton reminding the drivers that they should consider themselves lucky to be there. The irony of NASCAR’s sanctioning body not considering their own monumental luck in possessing considerable riches for doing virtually nothing—in the rare moments when they are smart enough to do nothing—is of course lost on them.
As NASCAR faces a dilemma with Bruton Smith’s purchase of Kentucky Speedway, it’s the perfect time to fix a Cup schedule badly in need of repair. While they’ve handled the concept of compromise poorly, there are some difficult decisions that the sanctioning body has to make at times, and you have to at least respect them for that. But with the current conflict, I’ve thought of a change in the schedule that could solve a few of NASCAR’s current problems. It’s radical, but maybe it would work…
In the world of motorsports commentary, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of affection for Pocono Raceway. The complaints are numerous. Boring, single file racing and not enough passing. No gear shifting. Too big of a track. 500 miles is too long. Can’t see what’s going on near the tunnel turn from the seats. Too long to get out of the parking lot. Waaah, waaah, waaah. Even the Wikipedia entry on the track bitches about it, citing “several drivers” (while naming only Denny Hamlin) and their antipathy for the place.
Haas CNC Racing is the latest student to be schooled in NASCAR Rule Enforcement. They committed the cardinal sin of tinkering with the CoT and have received a good old-fashioned whoopin’ for it. This article isn’t excusing Haas, but, in the end, it may be NASCAR that violates the best interests of the sport with their blind heavy-handedness. As everyone knows by now, NASCAR has been enforcing a zero tolerance policy regarding the new car that is about equivalent to six months in jail for a traffic violation. Any attempt to step outside the strict boundaries has resulted in a loss of 100 points, $100,000, and six weeks’ work for the crew chief. This had been the broad brush standard from day one of the winged snowplow. That is until now–the ante has been upped: mess with the car and you’re looking at 150 big ones now.
The very enigma that is Kyle Busch stirs conflict in the minds and hearts of motorsports journalists. Frankly, it seems almost a requirement to add a conjunctive qualifier when describing his persona in any way. He’s a great driver, BUT he has an immature attitude. He has his arrogant ways, BUT he can wheel a racecar. More often than not, any observation of Kyle Busch includes both the positive and the negative from the author’s standpoint. It’s like a battery.
Dear Dale Earnhardt Jr. I’m writing to congratulate you on your terrific season so far. Smile, dude… Jeff Gordon would love to be in your position right now. Still, I’m sure you grow weary of the press harping on that zero in the win column. Just this week alone, Pete Pistone of Racing One wrote a piece entitled “Still in Search of Victory Lane.” Buddy Shacklette’s column “Jr. Nation Appears Alive And Well” mentions the streak is now 72 races. Even our own Tom Bowles pointed out the Richmond incident that’s kept you winless in 2008. If you listen to much of the racing press, your season so far has been a failure.