By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. In last week's column, "Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place" I said this: "Let's not forget that NASCAR is a racing organization that continues to equate its 'Chase' with traditional 'stick and ball' sports, insisting that its ten-race championship 'playoff' has all of the gravitas of a seven-game championship series in baseball, basketball or hockey. Only it doesn't. Not even close, in fact. Why? Because the brain trust governing NASCAR has never understood the fundamental difference between the value of competitive integrity and perpetuating 'the show.' For the powers that be in Daytona Beach the latter is paramount, the former is a matter of convenience - but only when it suits them."
The gimmickry associated with NASCAR's "Chase" is undeniable. Plagued by the annual death march masquerading as their regular season schedule, NASCAR suffered through years when the championship standings - except on the rare occasion - didn't change from March on. It was tedious and dull and it went on forever. Noticing what professional golf had done to jazz-up their end of season competition, the NASCAR brain trust decided a ten-race championship "playoff" would be just the ticket to add renewed interest to the flagging fortunes of NASCAR's top series. Thus the "Chase" for the Sprint Cup championship was born.
Now, it might have been better had the powers that be in Daytona Beach taken a real hard and long look at drastically reducing the length of their schedule (next to the NBA and the NHL the most ludicrous schedule in all of professional sports), stopping the repeat visits to the same tracks during the season, while confining eligibility for its championship to race winners only, but instead NASCAR - the masters of hype - decided that the "Chase" would be just the ticket to the prominence and respectability that they so desperately coveted from the stick-and-ball mainstream media, because those media types could equate what was going on in NASCAR with something they're all familiar with. Only it didn't work out that way. Not even close, in fact.
Was I surprised at the the complete idiocy on display at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, when Matt Kenseth, who was gurgling around in a trashed car many laps down, took Joey Logano - the leader - out of the race? How could I be? How could anyone be? Forget about the fact that Kenseth considered it justifiable retribution for the incident at Kansas Speedway three weeks ago when Logano touched Kenseth's car when they were both fighting for the lead, taking Kenseth out of contention for the "Chase." And forget about the fact that Kenseth considered it meting out "garage justice" and a message that needed to be sent so that this "stuff" wouldn't go on next year. This was Bush League Bullshit and as I said last week, it reenforced the perpetual jack-ass image that haunts NASCAR, one that the powers that be in Daytona Beach are so desperate to get out from under.
Eerily similar to what went on at Talladega, the Kenseth incident was simply beyond embarrassing, yet another display of hubris, shortsightedness and stupidity that knows no bounds. Even Kyle Petty went off (kudos to him, by the way) on the NBC Sports Network broadcast after the race, insisting that this "crap" had to stop and that it was a complete embarrassment to NASCAR, even though NASCAR has already gone on record insisting that its "Chase" format doesn't encourage this kind of behavior. (Talk about a state of delusion and denial that is simply shocking. Wow.)
As I said last week, the NASCAR team owners and drivers have to band together and demand substantive changes in the way that NASCAR goes about its business. This goes well beyond the ongoing "franchise" discussions, because this gets to the heart of the matter of the relevance of NASCAR going forward. If the players involved want to see the sport survive let alone thrive, they're going to have to force the issue right here and right now. They can't just fume through the rest of the Chase and forget about it over the six-week break and come back to Daytona testing rested and ready to repeat the same sorry scenario all over again.
Matt Kenseth will get fined and probably sit out a race (if it was up to me he'd be parked for the rest of the season), but will NASCAR change anything about the way it goes about its business?
And that's the High-Octane Truth for this week.
Editor-in-Chief's Note: NASCAR announced late Tuesday that Matt Kenseth has been suspended for two Sprint Cup races as a result of the incident with Joey Logano at Martinsville Speedway. Joe Gibbs Racing is requesting an expedited appeal of the penalty, which NASCAR is allowing. -PMD
Editor's Note: For more racing news and photos, check out "The Line." -WG
Check out The Autoextremist on AutoextremistTV below...we're already on Episode 4! -WG
Editor's Note: Many of you have seen Peter's references over the years to the Hydrogen Electric Racing Federation (HERF), which he launched in 2007. For those of you who weren't following AE at the time, you can read two of HERF's press releases here and here. And for even more details (including a link to Peter's announcement speech), check out the HERF entry on Wikipedia here. -WG
Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD
(Courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Riverside, California, 1967. Bud Moore hard at work before the 1967 Motor Trend 500.
Publisher's Note: Like these Ford racing photos? Check out www.fordimages.com. Be forewarned, however, because you won't be able to go there and not order something. - PMD