Remember last year when the commercial for the "Official Race Fuel" for NASCAR would run that commercial with all the drivers lamenting "If I had a nickel for every time…….(fill in the blank)"? Just as with all the commercials NASCAR chooses to punish us with repeatedly during a telecast of any race, this one began to wear on the nerves after the third time and by the end of the season, I was about to switch brands of fuel I used in my car. Well, after this weekend and watching the Nationwide and the Cup race, if I had a nickel for every time I heard the word "Chase" or "Chase grid" on "Bracket", I would be so rich I wouldn’t need to slave over this weekly endeavor for the meager pay from RacersReunion! I could sit back and write the Great American Novel. Seriously, NASCAR is trying so hard to sell this ill-conceived Chase idea that it must be beginning to believe its own advertising gimmicks. Of course the entire broadcast crew buys into the mantra, which doesn’t surprise me with Rusty, Brad and Andy, but I always thought Dale Jarrett had inherited a little of the class his Daddy has, but apparently not.
As I watched the Cup race Sunday, I tried to block out the constant reference to the brackets, chase, etc, but it was difficult to do being reminded every 10 seconds or so. I guess because of the constant inundation with the trivial, my mind began to wander on to the remaining races after Chicagoland. Oh, did I mention that I see no logical reason for racing in such a God-forsaken place as Jolliet, Illinois, in which the only claim to fame is one of America’s most notoriously bad prisons. Be that as it may, the race was there and it turned out to be a good race, not only because my driver of preference won, but because it was a good race, all in all. That pass Brad made for the final taking of the lead is the kind of excitement NASCAR could only have dreamed about before it happened. It had to be good for the sport for any casual fan who happened to tune in the last 20 laps or so. Oh, and mentioning those last laps, Danica and her boyfriend tangled and Danica was heard to say "he ran into me". After a conference with her spotter, his spotter, and watching a replay, which, by the way the network failed to show us, it was determined that Danica actually moved up on Ricky Stenhouse! Imagine that. Still, she finished in the top 20 (19th) on the lead lap with a damaged car.
The Sunday race produced some very awesome competition. Jamie McMurray ran really well and he is the often overlooked contender that never seems the catch the right breaks. Jamie has my full respect and support all the time. He is a good driver and first class gentleman. He is one driver who thinks of others more than he thinks of himself which, in the competitive world of racing is unique. He didn’t make the Chase this year, and may never be a season champion, but it takes more than accumulated points to make someone a true champion and Jamie has that quality.
How about that race between Kyle Larson and Jeff Gordon for second place? That is some of the best racing I’ve seen for position in a long, long time on a mile and a half track. Oh there have been two or three lap races like that on some of the tracks, but these two raced clean and changed positions 3 or 4 times a lap for like the last 9 laps. After the race, Gordon was seen talking with Larson, and when asked what the conversation was about Larson said Gordon was giving him pointers for any such future races. The mood of the conversation appeared very cordial so I have no doubt it was a friendly discussion, although I would not think Jeff was giving away any secrets he may need to fend off the youngster in future races. I would not at all be surprised to see Larson win one of the remaining races this season. After Danica’s lackluster rookie year performance, this Larson kid is a refreshing breeze into the world of Cup racing. Just imagine what it is going to be like when Chase Elliott joins him in Cup in another year. The two of them alone may bring the new life to NASCAR that Danica and all the other efforts have failed to do. I know that Larson is exciting to watch and now that he has learned to race clean, it should be a pleasure to watch him mature, something Kyle Busch has not managed yet.
I continue to imagine many different scenarios for the conclusion of this "Chase" debacle NASCAR has established this year. As I hinted last week, I see this "Final Four" coming down to an event in which manipulation for the championship can be easily accomplished. Whether it is NASCAR or a race team doing the manipulation, it is possible and if there is even the slightest "smack" of an impropriety, whatever it may be, NASCAR will suffer even more humiliation of being compared to professional "wrassling". But, Brian, you have done this. From what we understand, this format was your brilliant idea (brilliant is used sarcastically here). I am hoping there will be no question of a legitimate champion but you have done everything in your power to make the outcome of this infernal Chase subject to question no matter how it comes out. Heaven forbid that someone with a great shot to win is found to have something illegal discovered after the race, as your famous post race inspections are known to do, and a team is docked some points. More manipulation? Man, I’m not even going there! But every one of you listening knows that is a very real possibility. As the very stupid commercial for the cell phone company and the pompous boss offering the employees some paintball action goes, quoting the young lady now, "I don’t see this ending well".
Let me give you one of my analogies here . I left Augusta, GA, Saturday afternoon after an absolutely wonderful weekend of inducting some new members in the AIRPS Hall of Fame and then spending the day with a large group of drivers meeting fans, absolutely wonderful fans by the way. I pulled out of Diamond Lakes Park in bright sunshine and started heading east down I-20 towards Columbia. If any of you have ever driven that route, you know that there are plenty of open spaces where you can see the skyline far in the distance. Looking ahead from my spot in the bright sunshine, I could see some very thick, very dark boiling clouds ahead of me. Soon I could see the bright flashes of very sharp lightning as my Mother would often say. A little later I was in rain so heavy that proceeding at even 25 mph was a hazard. Within a distance of 10 miles I saw four vehicles off the road with others stopped to assist so I kept going. After a slow trip, I safely arrived at home, parked the car under the carport, and scurried into a nice home safe and sound.
The analogy here is this: NASCAR started its season in the bright sun at Daytona when Junior won the 500 and inspired Junior Nation with hopes of a great season. This is, in fact, one of Junior’s best with three wins, but that is not the issue here. NASCAR continued to enjoy the sunshine throughout most of the season with a little penalty here and a little suspension there, but all in all, just a muggy pace through the season, always heading for that Chase, which can only be described as the dark cloud on the horizon. We are now entering the beginning of the storm as we go through these next nine races. We have yet to see how much thunder, lightening and rain is ahead although things look threatening from my point of view. I do hope things work out for NASCAR where there is going to be no question after Homestead of whether the Champion crowned is the proper and just Champion. No manipulation by a team or NASCAR? That is what I hope for but even with that hope, I see many opportunities for the detractors of the sport to question the outcome. I still believe a Champion should be determined by an entire season’s performance and NOT the final ten races, regardless of the method used to qualify for those final ten races to compete for the title. I’ve already heard more than I want to hear from the stick and ball folks about NASCAR having brackets like the NCAA Basketball March Madness. For the record, I absolutely detest March Madness, brackets, basketball and the NCAA. So there!