NASCAR has apparently never heard the phrase, you can't have your cake and eat it too.
Can NASCAR still promote 'Have At It Boys' while at the same time taking umbrage and expressing corporate outrage when drivers do exactly what NASCAR seems to want? Not really, but they're still trying to.
A direct result of this new Chase format
Make no mistake, what happened Saturday night in Charlotte with Brad Keselowski losing his mind, and Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart all trying to adjust his attitude is a direct result and combination of the pressure from the new elimination format in the Chase for the Championship and the 'Have At It Boys' mantra. The fans loved it, TV loved it, and most of the drivers seem to agree that only one of those four drivers we just mentioned were out of line. Yet, there is still pressure on NASCAR to issue penalties. The question becomes why? If this is what they created and this is what they want, how can NASCAR Officials get upset when this happens?
Pleasing corporate America
Of course, most of the reaction from NASCAR stems from desire to shed a rough and tumble past that some of corporate America seems afraid to embrace with sponsorship dollars both on TV and on the cars. NASCAR sends mixed messages all the time, at once embracing fights and wrecks from the past while telling drivers of today they can’t react that way.
As for what happened Saturday night, I wouldn’t even call it a fight. In case I missed it, no real punches were thrown or landed. Heck, I saw better fights when I was ten. Man, she was tough...
As Nick DeGroot stated here yesterday, fists are fine. Using cars to wreck and pay-back drivers on the track has to be dealt with though. You can’t do that. Cars are expensive and drivers break easily. They’re kind of expensive too! In all seriousness, somehow could have potentially gotten injured in that mess, which would have been catastrophic for the sport's image.
The new video is a bit concerning
After seeing additional video of what Keselowski did, driving like a crazed donkey through the garage, he should be parked for Talladega. He won’t get parked because we are in the play-offs and NASCAR has too much riding on it. That’s sad. If he did this in week four of the season, he wouldn’t see week five. You can't put folks lives in jeopardy in the garage area after the race. The cool-down lap stunt was bad enough. Doing stupid stuff on pit road is worse. Doing what he did in the garage is beyond the pale.
Let them fight
Which gets us back to how these drivers need to react after a race like that...
That’s right. NASCAR needs to let them have it. Take a page from hockey and let them go at it. No third-man in. No officials holding you back. No teammates protecting you. If you want to go at it, go. The deal is, you’ve really got to fight now. You’ve got to man-up and take what you dish-out. No posturing. I am so sick of that in sports. The 'Hold Me Back' mentality. No. You want it, you be big enough to fight. Otherwise, I’ve got no time for that stupidity.
Elimination format has star drivers on the chopping block
All of this of course is against the backdrop of the elimination format that may or may not be blowing up in NASCAR’s face this weekend at Talladega as some of the brightest starts and best performers for the year may be shuffled off the TV landscape for the last month plus of the season. Consistency is the hallmark of NASCAR. Or it was. It should be again. These three-race segments are too short. NASCAR is not like other sports and should quit trying to be with these attempts to create artificial “Game 7 Moments”. It doesn’t work for this sport.
If NASCAR is intent on having an elimination format, I get it and that’s great. Let’s at least go to three four-race segments though. It would get your play-offs started before the NFL takes over. It would actually add drama to three tracks late in the year. It allows for a team to have a little bad luck and not have an entire season ruined. It at least pretends to reward consistency the way NASCAR should.
The struggle for NASCAR's soul
As NASCAR grapples again with how to discipline drivers while trying to please fans, TV execs, sponsors, owners, small household appliances and perhaps even World Leaders, we again see the struggle for NASCAR’s soul. Personally I think NASCAR has tried to hard to mimic the NFL and MLB and other sports by chasing forfeiting the rewarding of a season of greatness in favor of a single-day of luck and performance. That’s happened as NASCAR has grown beyond its base. By growing beyond its base though, NASCAR has, for over a decade now, moved away from the exact things that actually grew the sport and made it unique.
What kind of sport do you want to be?
NASCAR officials can look at the events of the past week, the reactions of drivers, the resulting scrutiny by non-motorsport media and corporate America as to how these drivers will be penalized and see a great microcosm of all the big and little issues surrounding the sport.
So what kind of sport do you want to be?
Stay tuned, Talladega will be everything you love and everything you hate about NASCAR, all in a tidy TV window.
It’s the world we live in now.