Before we go any further here, I want to congratulate Kevin Harvick and all the rest of Richard Childress racing for a well earned 2010 Sprint Cup Championship. As we all know, Harvick beat Jimmy Johnson by 285 points, talking the title from Jimmy Johnson, who won his second championship last year……..oh wait, none of it happened that way, did it?? That’s right, thanks to Nascar’s obsessive tinkering, JJ has won his 5th in a row. And for all of the sanctioning body’s gyrations and the breathless hype from their talking head syncopates they still could not match what would have happened using the old point system in 2006, when Jimmy Johnson would have beaten Matt Kenseth by a whopping 4, that’s right, 4 points. In 2008, again with the old system, Carl Edwards would have beaten the intrepid JJ by a mere 16 points. The point is that there would have been some very compelling and memorable point battles (albeit all of them including the currently unbeatable #48) without attempting to force the sport to mimic stick and ball sports with some form of ‘post season’.
In Nascar’s defense, they are in a bit of a predicament , some of it is their own doing, some of it is the world they live in. In becoming the dominant racing sanctioning body in the country and one of the most important in the world, Nascar has also become a huge monster that requires tens of millions of dollars a year to feed itself. The revenue the tracks generate through traditional ticket sales, concession stands, etc, can’t even begin to pay today’s purses, after the track overheads are taken out. The sport would wither and die without the millions generated from television, plain and simple. And, what is also plain and simple is ….that torrent of revenue is directly related to how many people, especially in that holy grail of the 18-35 demographics , are watching.
Many of those folks are not the so called ‘traditional’ race fan, as quite a few of the rest of us might fancy ourselves as being. They do not personally go to many races at all and don’t have a clue as to where their local short track might be…or even what it is, for that matter. As far as they are concerned, a driver’s career begins when he or she enters one of Nascar’s three ‘television divisions’. They are quite likely to be very internet savvy, and might well spend a fair amount of time posting in chat rooms and on forums their opinions about a sport that they know virtually nothing about. At least one a week I go to the sports illustrated site and look at what their writers are saying on the auto racing pages. It’s a window into how ‘everyone else’ sees our sport and if Nascar is not paying attention there they ought to be. While you and I might accept what the sanctioning body has pounded into our heads, that essentially being; “now don’t you go and get yourself all worked up about what we do, you just sit back and accept it and be happy”, outside the bubble, folks do not see it that way. What THEY see, is a paranoid, secretive organization that might well be tinkering with the outcome of its races . And guess what, they would be right, and that does not help matters either. See, we all know about “magic pixie dust yellow flags. Or lack thereof. There is this unreal disconnect between the first 50 laps of a race, and the last 10. Ever noticed how easy it is to bring out the yellow between, say, laps 30-50? Right where the so called “competition yellows” are when Goodyear has failed yet again in tire construction. Even if the tires are performing as designed, the slightest hint of any sort of in track issue, the slightest brush against the wall, maybe a half spin, a plastic cup on the track for God’s sake…… and poof, out comes the yellow. We see this all the time. However…..with 5 laps to go, with drivers fighting for the lead, the very same event that would trigger a yellow anytime during the previous whatever number of laps there were now, with just a few laps to go brings…..nothing. In fact, we routinely see cars pounding the wall, crap flying everywhere, and then hear…..”we stay green.” Nascar either thinks we are all, A-blind, B- idiots, Or C- it does not matter, we will all still keep watching (and spending money with Nascar) anyway. I’ll give you a hint which one Nascar believes. Now while you and I know all of this, we simply bitch about it and accept it, we put the sport we love ahead of the arrogance of Nascar and to make the classic quote of my heritage, we “fuggettaboutit”. But to the stick and ball contingent, and a large portion of the gold plated 18-35 demographic, it seems as if Nascar is manipulating the outcome of its races, a la professional wrestling.
And heaven forbid if one of its drivers calls Nascar out on this weekly magic pixie dust yellow dog and pony show. The aforementioned 18-35 demographic is where most of Nascar’s stars happen to be, and they are also very savvy with modern social media . Nascar’s reflexive iron fist smashing of Denny Hamlin’s pointing out the obvious in a tweet earlier this year, that being “everyone knows Nascar bunches the field up with fake yellows all the time”, completely shut off one of the very few ways the stars can and were connecting on a personal basis with the very group Nascar so desperately is courting with their chase antics. Thanks to Nascar, it’s one that its stick and ball competitors now have completely to themselves.
Another example of the disconnect Nascar has with the couch potato’s it craves was Juan Pablo Montoya’s alleged ‘speeding penalty’ at this year’s Brickyard 400. Not to mention the one Harvick was assessed with at Homestead that directly affected the outcome of the chase itself. The stick and ball scribes pointed out the obvious, that this call comes down out of the ivory tower of the booth..i.e. Nascar, as a decree. No-one has ever actually “seen” what a pit road speeding penalty looks like, as it happens have you? I haven’t. I’ll bet Richard Childress hasn’t either. There are no cameras in the booth and Nascar does not choose to share the telemetry. Again, this is completely unlike its stick and ball competition, where everything is open and transparent. These two pit road speeding events have something for everybody. Let’s take the seasoned race fan. See, there are some folks who know that Nascar really does not care for Indy car racing one bit, and is very much aware that USAC attempted to strangle Nascar back in its earlier days. Not to mention its stars dropping in and winning its biggest races seemingly at will. Throw in that Chip Ganassi is not the most likable person in the garage area, then season with Montoya being one of those, well, you know, “not from here”. Looking at it all through those eyes, an Indy star, a foreign born one at that, with an Indy car owner, winning the sports second largest race deep in the heartland was something that just would not do, now would it? Some folks might further think that, with Montoya being one of the world’s greatest drivers, with the race in the bag, his radio screaming, “watch your speed, watch your speed”, would not behave like a 16 year old street stock driver at a local bullring and blow the last pit stop…and Nascar’s last chance to rob him of the win should not be factored in at all. Then flash forward to Homestead, and you then have a different set of circumstances working on yet another game changing speeding penalty.
This particular conspiracy theory says that Nascar wanted Jimmy Johnson to win a fifth championship for some unknown reason(s), and, since everyone “knows” that it’s impossible for one team to win 5 straight championships in the age old way, by being better than everyone else, and understanding the current system and how to play it better than everyone else, Nascar must be secretly aiding and abetting the evil Hendrick empire. So, carrying this out means cutting Kevin Harvick’s chances out from under him. The minor detail that Harvick took over the ride of Nascar’s most beloved personality, and the hype of Richard Childress racing returning to championship form would be off the Richter scale, is lost in the shouting of “rigged, fixed, Nascar sucks, Johnson sucks, Chad cheats…whaaa, whaaa, natter, natter”, emanating from couches, computer screens, bar stools, etc across the land. And the thing is, looking at the two above examples and taking the entire season and sport as a package, who can blame them? Like the Shoguns and Samurai’s of Feudal Japan when Commodore Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay in 1853, Nascar can no longer pretend and act as if they are alone in the world, omnipotent, all knowing…..and oh so trustworthy. Not if they want that money river to keep flowing. There are real issues that Nascar had better address, and soon. The next column will provide some solutions, stay tuned.