A Contrarian Opinion and Other Notes
Maybe it’s because most people seem to have been agreeing with me lately, or maybe it’s just the changing weather, but this article apparently reflects an effort by its writer to p**s people off. Oh well, we can’t all be happy all the time.
Here goes… I like the NASCAR playoffs. I still don’t like the current too-high-tech cars; I still strongly dislike the driver development programs that unleash fan-less youngsters on fans who desperately need proven heroes to cheer; I have no use whatsoever for stage racing, and I HATE the charter system. But I like the playoffs.
This chart still calls it the “Chase” instead of the “Playoffs,” but the rest of it seems reasonably accurate.
(My guess is that my one-for-five batting average above won’t be enough to get me invited to the next France family picnic.)
The playoffs. I think they’re flawed, but no more so than most ball-sport versions that let everybody but the team that stopped playing two-thirds of the way through the season participate. Yes, they let non-playoff cars/teams continue to race, but that’s racing – four cars racing each other for 400 miles at the end of the year probably wouldn’t set any ratings records.
Yes, they let teams that haven’t had awesome years get a shot at the big trophy, but how many NASCAR critics on this point love the NFL, where an at-large team can go all the way?
Six NFL wild-card teams have won the Super Bowl, starting with the 1980 Raiders, decades before NASCAR was even thinking about playoffs
We fans may have our weak points, but when it comes to quibbling, we have no peers.
Here’s my position: There’s a lot of competition for the sports/entertainment dollar, especially in the fall from the 800-pound gorilla (NFL) and its 400-pound baby sibling (college football, which might be 800 pounds or heavier in some parts of the Southeast), so you’ve got to pull out every stop to compete, and the playoffs are one more stop NASCAR can pull out. The gradual elimination process keeps things from being over before they’re over, which might keep a few more butts in seats and eyes on screens. That’s worth the effort.
I know. I’m supposed to be one of those it-was-better-back-in-the-day guys, and in some areas, I am, but not here. Let’s take a look.
Want to start a major debate? Ask a group of older race fans whether Richard Petty would have won more or fewer championships in a playoff system.
NASCAR’s Cup Series has gone pretty unchanged for the past quarter of a century, and really for most of the last 50 years, the only changes of note have been the departures of Rockingham, North Wilkesboro, College Station and Ontario, as well as the schedule shuffling of tracks like Atlanta and Darlington. Forty years ago, Las Vegas, Kansas, Ft. Worth and Homestead didn’t exist, but you can just look at them as replacements for North Wilkesboro, Rockingham and Ontario (College Station was trying to avoid college football conflicts and had moved to a summer slot by then).
All that was fine when you had a close race for the points championship, but much of the time you didn’t. Maybe that was OK when NASCAR was adding fans every year, but now that it’s trying to hang onto those it has, maybe bring back a few who’ve bailed, and pick up the odd newbie her and there, “same-old, same-old” just doesn’t cut it.
(As an aside, look back before the “modern era” (1972), and it’s no wonder the national audience wasn’t growing by leaps and bounds. In 1969, the post-Labor Day season – 13 races! – included Richmond, Martinsville, Talladega and Charlotte, but also 100-milers at Hickory, Columbia (one of dirt’s last hurrahs), plus Savannah, Augusta and Jefferson in Georgia. Given that champion-to-be David Pearson went into those end-of-year smaller races with a sizeable point lead over Richard Petty, it probably took some creative writing to create an air of suspense over the eventual outcome.)
(*Editor’s Note* Columbia Speedway was paved in 1971 and ran its final two races under NASCAR sanction on pavement before closing its doors. Timing indicates this was another small track tossed away with the advent of the R.J. Reynolds era.)
This isn’t from 1969, but I still love “the next big race after Darlington” as Hickory’s distinction
Personally, I think the elimination factor in the playoffs gives the overall points championship some relevance at the end of the year. I may be a stick-in-the-mud for a lot of other changes, but this one I like.
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
There’s a well-known quote that goes: “It’s not how we make mistakes, but how we correct them that defines us.” Keep that in mind as you read this story.
On Sunday, August 25, I was at BAPS Motor Speedway in York County, Pa., with the PA Sprint Series, which was the supporting division for an All-Star Circuit of Champions sprint car race. The All-Stars are below the World of Outlaws but otherwise one of the nation’s premier traveling sprint car circuits. They are owned by Tony Stewart, who also was competing on Sunday.
After the controversial disqualifications, local driver-turned-All-Star Gerard McIntyre (07) came home victorious after a torrid duel with Dale Blaney (11).
A serious accident on the first lap brought out a lengthy red flag, during which time team members for six cars were determined to have left their assigned “work area,” and those cars were disqualified. Five of the cars were local standouts, and all hell broke loose as a result of the disqualifications.
Danny Dietrich, one of the local drivers with the best chance to beat the All-Stars, was livid, and he carried his protest into the infield and then across the track to the starter’s stand, inciting an already angry crowd. Later, police were called to the pit area of two other local teams. Literally hundreds of fans, after paying $22 admission, walked out before the feature re-started. Social media exploded.
The whole thing created concern that it could affect attendance at several upcoming big races in the area that are All-Star sanctioned.
Then, on Thursday, August 29, Stewart released a statement that was – to me – an inspired job of defusing the situation and calming the waters. While insisting that the rule interpretation was correct and the officials making it were fully competent in their jobs, he accepted the blame for the situation.
“With that said, I acknowledge that the punishment of disqualification does not fit the wrongdoing by the teams,” Stewart wrote.
“I assure each and every track owner, promoter, team owner, driver, crew member and most importantly the loyal fans that support their drivers and tracks, that this will never happen again,” he added.
Stewart then went on to praise the level of competition in Pennsylvania – some had accused the All-Stars of disqualifying the locals to improve their regular drivers’ changes – while avoiding saying things that would offend his officials, and he made it clear that BAPS Motor Speedway was innocent of any involvement. Finally, he said he had communicated with every team disqualified and had received commitments that all would compete in the upcoming All-Star shows in the area.
Only time will tell for sure, but that sure looked and sounded to me like a grand slam homerun.
Although NASCAR was quick to reinstate racer Tyler Dippel after suspending him for what turned out to be groundless drug-related charges, the sanctioning body has not always mended fences well. Maybe it should consider hiring “Smoke” as a damage-control consultant.
Tony Stewart – sprint car driver, All-Star Circuit of Champions owner, and diplomat