Shakeup In Chicagoland – NASCAR Chase Starts

The turmoil caused by the shakeup of the NASCAR Chase field due to alleged manipulation of the results at Richmond has taken away much of the sparkle with which NASCAR hoped to start their tenth playoff season. New rules were announced at press conferences rather than new news.

“Expectations are that a driver and a team give 100% effort to complete a race and race as hard as they possibly can.”

The need to make a rule regarding expectations to give 100% is a somewhat sad commentary on the state of the business of NASCAR. With the riches offered to Chase competitors, teams and sponsors, there are inherent pressures that caused MWR and any other drivers/teams to spin, pit, slow down, fake injuries or stop for a lunch break as the final race to the Chase wore down.

“Any competitor who takes action with the intent to artificially alter the finishing position of the event or encourages, persuades or induces others to artificially alter the finishing positions of the event shall be subject to a penalty from NASCAR .”

Having taught elementary school for 42 years, the NASCAR rules adjustment tends to sound like day one of school when classroom rules were laid down and the fear of a higher power was invoked. Those school rules were quite black and white (very few gray areas except the teacher’s hair). The new track policies seem to some observers quite subjective. How can 100% be measured? Do they have a machine? How can you spot intent vs. accidental contact? Does it depend on who you hit-and when in the race?

“Obviously there’s some subjectivity that’s involved in that (judgement), and we know that. And so we’ll make our best determination with the circumstances that may surround something that may look suspicious, and we’ll take all of it into consideration.”

Many examples of this unacceptable behavior that affects race outcomes have likely been going on in the sport since that first NASCAR race in Charlotte back in the 1940’s. But the sport has changed; some will say for the better, some not so much. Sponsors, rich owners, TV networks, car manufacturers and stadiums full of fans have altered the sport that was once a southeastern regional diversion into a national and international financial powerhouse. Legislating driver and team effort shouldn’t need to be a requisite in that type of program. But being forced to do it by passing legislation on to competitors regarding on- track behavior is a slippery slope that many would rather not, and should not, have to travel down. One issue however, that of team orders, to my knowledge, has yet to be fully addressed. So, let’s say Jeff Gordon needs an extra point by leading a lap. Dale Jr., his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, is up front and slows just enough during one lap, to allow Jeff to go by and lead. Gordon then falls back, Junior resumes the point, and all is well; or is it?

“Examples of ‘unacceptable’ (actions): Directing a driver to give up a position to the benefit of another driver-causing a caution for the benefit of or detriment of another driver.”

So, are team orders now gone, or just more difficult to detect? And, if Clint Boyer was told to spin out intentionally, as it seemed he was, to perhaps help a teammate last week; is that now frowned upon? Should it have been penalized according to the new rules? Many think that it should be, but he started 24th at Chicago and is one of twelve drivers, now thirteen with Gordon added, still in the Chase.

Not enough evidence to convict they said.

• Popular opinion in the garage area is that Juan Pablo Montoya will wind up in the Furniture Row seat that will be vacant after Kurt Busch moves to Stewart-Haas for 2014. Editor Note: Announced Monday 9/16/13 – Montoya will join Team Penske’s IZOD IndyCar Series lineup beginning in 2014.

• While the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup began its 10-race run here in Chicago on Sunday, other events were vying for the attention of regional sports fans. The Bears were home at Soldier Field. The PGA BMW golf tournament was north of the city in Lake Forest. Illinois played Washington at Soldier Field on Saturday and the White Sox were home at U.S. Cellular Field. On top of that it rained most of race morning and early afternoon. Grandstands filled as tardy fans filtered in after the green flag. There were, however, empty seats to be had.

• Jimmie Johnson is the only driver to have appeared in all 10 years of the Chase competition. The playoff was originally called “The Chase for the Championship” when it was announced in 2004, but has been sponsored first by Nextel and now by Sprint.

• Rumors also continue to circulate that the Sprint Cup events in Chicago and Indianapolis will switch dates someday soon so that the Brickyard 400 would become the first race in the Chase. Others will tell you that, even if they switch dates, Chicago will remain part of the Chase. Time will tell.

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