NASCAR – Next to scripted

Posted: November 18, 2011 in Racing

I was watching SportsCenter earlier this week and they aired a segment on the upcoming NASCAR Cup Series season finale.  I don’t remember the exact quote that came from the anchor when talking about the one race to determine the title between two drivers, but I certainly remember her sentence’s conclusion: “NASCAR couldn’t have scripted anything better.”  No, that’s the problem.  It was heavily influenced by NASCAR.

I’m not stupid enough to go as far as to say the outcome is scripted because it most certainly is not.  This isn’t professional wrestling or the early days of monster truck competition.  But the one thing NASCAR has gone out of its way to do is ruin decades and generations worth of racing tradition to manufacture drama.  This “playoffs” junk has never had a place in racing because it is totally unnecessary and really isn’t doing exactly what Brian France had hoped for.  Which in my opinion is quite funny.

I use to watch the series hardcore.  Having grown up around auto racing I could fully appreciate sitting in front of the TV for an entire 500-mile race.  That all changed once the third generation of the France family to be at the helm took over.  He almost immediately began running the organization into the ground.  I say that because he ran all of the traditional fans right out of the sport.  Yes, media ratings skyrocketed.  Yes, sponsorship money bulged incredibly.  Yes, famous faces with no racing connection were popping up everywhere on the NASCAR scene.  Yes, the life long fans began tuning out as rules and philosophy changes took the sport further and further away from its roots and more so into the mainstream spotlight.  Wait.  Isn’t that the definition of selling out?

Talk to anyone who was a big NASCAR fan prior to Brian France taking over.  You’ll be hard-pressed to find one who has anywhere near the same enthusiasm for it.  Or if they’re like me, none at all.  I couldn’t care less if the organization fell off the face of the earth tomorrow.  Why?  Because it’s no longer racing in its truest form.  It’s a joke of a production being controlled by the people who pull the strings.

I’ll focus back in on this whole playoff system b.s. because that’s the current focal point on the sport.  Though there are many other controversies for many more hours of discussion (trying to blame Bill Simpson for Dale Earnhardt’s death, technical changes to the cars, no driving below painted lines on the track and much more).  Anyway, how is having this “Chase for the Cup” not an attempt at trying to control the outcome of the season?  All because they want to keep the competition close?

If a team is so much better than everyone else that they win by 400-points then good for them.  That’s what this sport is about: winning and doing better than all of the other race teams.  So if a team absolutely destroys the competition then that just means they did their job.  They accomplished the main objective.  It’s up to the other teams to get better in order to start winning themselves.

So, NASCAR set out to punish the team(s) doing well by putting twelve teams within reaching distance for the final ten races of the season and making only those teams eligible for the championship.  But the organization’s control doesn’t end there.  They then have a say over how well each team does in the Chase.

One of NASCAR’s favorite things to do is penalize teams for the most ridiculously minute infractions during pre and/or post-race inspections.  Their goto punishment?  Taking away points.  Now let me say this: that is the perfect punishment in pro racing.  Points are what matter the most to teams – forget taking away inconsequential monetary figures.  But again, they penalize over absurd discrepancies that in all actuality have absolutely no influence on the car’s on track performance.  That means the series can take points away from playoff teams for a “problem” with the car that in full reality the team knew absolutely nothing about.  Thus ruining their chances at the title.  Thus giving NASCAR more control in the season’s outcome.

Question: in what other sport can the governing body take away a team’s chances in the midst of the league’s playoffs?  Imagine the Yankees and Red Sox playing for the ALCS and Bud Selig takes three runs off the board for the Yanks in the top of the eighth of game seven because AJ Burnett balked.  That wouldn’t cause any scrutiny toward Major League Baseball, would it?

One other aspect of the playoffs is that it actually took away some interest from NASCAR.  Now no one really follows the Cup series until the Chase, where as before, every race from February through November was equally relevant.  Why does anyone care to watch in mid-June when no one really needs to win?  You just have to be top-ten in points by early September.  Way to make your series more boring through the heart of its season, NASCAR.

So, you can gush and applaud Brian France all you want for the Cup Series heading into a Championship weekend that couldn’t have been scripted.  In actuality, that’s close to what it is.  What makes the playoffs in NASCAR really sad is that no one truly cares until the part of the season that has the least legitimacy to it.  Well, except for this racing lifer.

Thanks to Brian France, I haven’t cared for the last decade.

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