The view from my couch
A Preview of Things to Come?
by Vivian Simons
June 16, 2004
Little did most of us know last year as we watched the last truck race of the 2003 season that we were seeing a preview of things to come in Cup racing. We watched and cheered as Brendan Gaughan, a driver who had his team based in Las Vegas, raced to what we thought was going to be a championship in the truck series of Nascar racing. However, there was another contender for the championship and his owner, Jim Smith, had put another driver into the race and this driver did not have enough experience of racing in that series and due to his mistake, a championship contender was taken out of the race. The race continued without Brendan and the championship had come down to two other drivers. Because of a mistake on a restart after a caution, Mr. Smith's driver lost the championship. I thought that was okay as Mr. Smith had tried to get the edge by running another driver to tilt the odds in his favor. I was happy someone else had won the championship. I didn't know then that we might see a repeat of that strategy.
Enter Cup season 2004 and the new points system. We have seen 14 races so far and will see the final race prior to The Chase For The Championship on September 11, 2004. I feel the date of 9/11 will once more put some things in motion that will not end in happiness for a lot of people. History will once again raise its ugly head on that date.
In these last ten races of the season we will see all the field of 43 drivers, but only 10 of them will be competing for the actual championship due to the new points system. All points accumulated by being consistent in the first part of the year will be taken away and the drivers will have only 5 point increments between each position. I am already dreading these last ten races as I feel there will be so much pressure put on these drivers by owners and sponsors that all courtesy and level heads will be thrown out the window. I think that owners will be trying new things in order to get an edge, and that they will also be trying to put other cars into the field that might help their driver(s) who is in the top ten have a better chance at winning the championship. Therefore I think that penalties and other drivers, along with races ending under caution will determine who wins the championship. There will be much blocking, intentional hits and team orders.
Ending races under caution makes it so easy to manipulate the finishing order of each race. When NASCAR feels they have made a mistake and a favorite driver was maybe given an unfair disadvantage, then they can make it right just by throwing a caution due to debris on the track or because they may not be sure where the smoke is coming from. Then they can take too long to sort the field and just declare the winner while under caution. Think back to the race Rusty Wallace lost due to a finish under caution. We know Rusty is not one of NASCAR's favorite drivers and I am not a Rusty fan.
With only 5 points between each driver initially, each driver's points position can be and will be at risk each week if a driver makes NASCAR mad. Then all they need do is look at how someone was driving and maybe penalize that person points because they made a judgement call in which they determined that maybe he hit another driver intentionally rather than accidentally when the two of them got together. Did they or did they not warn Terry Labonte? Has anyone EVER seen Terry deliberately run into someone? I don't think so. This is what NASCAR refers to as a judgement call.
The past two weekends in particular have already set things in motion. The confusion that NASCAR has created has almost put the writing on the wall. Not only have they been confused, they have actually confused the competitors with their calls and rulings. This in turn has made the competitors kind of at odds with the sanctioning body. Their tempers have flared and they have begun to wonder if anyone understands what is going on. Did you take note of what Jeff Gordon said in an interview after the Pocono race? He said that it was confusing and embarrassing for the sport and he apologized to the fans. Then there are other competitors who continue to remain politically correct and try to convey to the media that NASCAR is doing the right thing, and that NASCAR will sort things out correctly and we will all live happily ever after in NASCARLand. But all is not well in NASCARLand.
Does there seem to be a theme to what I have been saying? Absolutely! No matter who has the points lead at the beginning of the last ten races, that driver may not win the championship unless NASCAR feels that driver should. And the person who was tenth at the beginning of those races and was over 500 points behind the leader may now be our new Champion because NASCAR desires it. It would be so very easy to script. After all, didn't Darrell Waltrip already tell us while broadcasting the Pocono race that when it is your year to be champion, then things will fall your way? He was actually referring to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. And consider the way they constantly talked about Jimmy Johnson at Pocono and how great he was. That assured us that Jimmy would win the race that day. Scripted? Conspiracy? Maybe, maybe not. You decide.
I have been a NASCAR fan for over 45 years and have never felt like NASCAR was unfair or planned who would win races or even the championship until this year. Now I am beginning to have concerns, as it appears that all the signs are pointing in that direction. I truly feel that NASCAR is no longer about competition. It is about the money and entertainment. We veteran fans just happen to be a by product of racing days which are now gone and have been replaced by something that is not recognizable compared to it's roots and humble beginnings. Some of us can accept the changes and look at NASCAR as an entertainment and some of us can't. Therefore some are returning to our local Saturday night races and to other series as we feel NASCAR has abandoned not only its roots, but has abandoned the true race fan that also happens to be a veteran fan.
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