Can NASCAR have it both ways?

NASCAR has apparently never heard the phrase, you can't have your cake and eat it too.

Can NASCAR have it both ways?
Brad Keselowski damage
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Matt Kenseth, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Matt Kenseth, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
A fight involving the crews of Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon breaks out in the garage area
Cale Yarborough holds his helmet in his right hand while fighting off Bobby Allison with his left leg and Bobby's brother Donnie
Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway Racing Ford, exits his car
Joey Logano, Penske Racing Ford is held back after an altercation with Tony Stewart
Brad Keselowski spins
Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford
Start: Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet leads
Restart
Wrecked car of Kyle Busch
Kevin Harvick celebrates

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...

Let them fight. 

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.

 

shares
comments
Some of NASCAR's best make up the bottom four heading into Talladega

Previous article

Some of NASCAR's best make up the bottom four heading into Talladega

Next article

Behaving 'Bradley' proves costly for Keselowski

Behaving 'Bradley' proves costly for Keselowski
Load comments
From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview Prime

From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview

The death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500 shocked NASCAR to the core. At the Daytona 24 Hours, two weeks before his fatal accident, ‘The Intimidator’ shared his expectations of challenging for an eighth Cup title with JONATHAN INGRAM, in an article first published in the 15 February 2001 issue of Autosport magazine. Little did we know then what tragedy would unfold…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death Prime

The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death

On February 18, 2001, seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Dale Earnhardt – the fearless ‘Intimidator’ – was in his element at Daytona International Speedway. While his own DEI team’s cars ran 1-2 towards the finish line, his famed #3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo was playing rear gunner to block any late runs from the chasing pack. As the cars tore through Turns 3 and 4 on that fateful final lap, Earnhardt maintained the strongarm tactics that encapsulated his persona… but his actions in those moments sadly proved to be his last.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR Prime

Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR

The NASCAR Cup Series is changing. Whether it be the gradual morphing out the seasoned drivers of yesterday as the next generation step up, a radical calendar shake-up featuring more road courses than ever before and the prospect of an all-new car on the horizon, stock car racing’s highest level is nearing the end of a huge facelift.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 16, 2021
The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021 Prime

The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021

This weekend's Daytona 500 kickstarts a NASCAR Cup season that promises plenty of intrigue courtesy of new owners and a refreshed calendar. Here's what you need to know ahead of the new season…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 13, 2021
Why Kyle Larson can't blow his big shot at redemption Prime

Why Kyle Larson can't blow his big shot at redemption

From a disgraced NASCAR exile, Kyle Larson has been given a chance of redemption by the powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports squad. Effectively replacing seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is no easy billing, but Larson has every intention of repaying the team's faith...

NASCAR Cup
Feb 11, 2021
Why Roger Penske is an American motorsport icon Prime

Why Roger Penske is an American motorsport icon

In this exclusive one-on-one interview, Roger Penske reveals the inner drive that has made him not only a hugely successful team owner and businessman but also the owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar. He spoke to David Malsher-Lopez.

IndyCar
Dec 28, 2020
Why NASCAR's latest second-generation champion is just getting started Prime

Why NASCAR's latest second-generation champion is just getting started

Chase Elliott's late charge to the 2020 NASCAR Cup title defied predictions that it would be a Kevin Harvick versus Denny Hamlin showdown. While the two veterans are showing no signs of slowing down, Elliott's triumph was a window into NASCAR's future…

NASCAR Cup
Nov 18, 2020
Why Kyle Larson deserves his second chance in a cancel culture Prime

Why Kyle Larson deserves his second chance in a cancel culture

“You can’t hear me? Hey n*****” Those fateful words uttered by Kyle Larson, spoken into his esports headset on April 12, were directed at his sim racing spotter – but instead they quickly became amplified around the world via social media, including his own Twitch stream.

NASCAR Cup
Oct 29, 2020