Thursday, January 21, 2016

A gimmick too far

So now we're just about a month away from the Blob's preferred first sign of spring -- the Daytona 500 -- and you know what that means.

Time for NASCAR to start jacking around with its product again.

Brian France 'n' them seem to labor under the delusion that because its one-time 800-pound gorilla is down to 400 or so pounds, there must be something wrong with the product that needs fixing.  Truth is, there isn't. This is just NASCAR forgetting that the gorilla was never supposed to weigh 800 pounds to begin with; it was wildly successful before Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon 'n' them took it corporate, and it still is. The problem is, Dale and Jeff and the boys turned it into an entity so out of all relation to reality -- at one point, NASCAR legitimately believed it could be the nation's fourth major professional sport -- that it distorted the perception of what wild success looked like for a niche sport like stock car racing.

That it's now slowly come back to reality does not mean the sport is in crisis. It's simply, to use the Wall Street term, the market readjusting itself.

But NASCAR perseveres, the Chase, and all the endless tweaking thereof, being the most obvious one example. I personally like what it's evolved into; if the goal was the create a real playoff system, a real playoff system is what we've got now. And for those who somehow found it sacrilege that Kyle Busch won even though he missed 11 races because of an injury that occurred before the season even started ... well, explain how it makes the sport better for one of its stars to have simply driven around out there for 2/3 of the season to no purpose. Dumb.

Besides, it's not like they rigged the deal so he could win. Busch won five races, more than any other driver except three. No one pulled over and let him pass so he could win those races. He did it fair and square, advanced through the playoffs fair and square, did what he had to do to win. NASCAR did not slip him a set of brass knuckles to hide in his trunks or sneak up behind Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon and clock them with a folding chair, ala the WWE.

(Although, it must be said, some of those driver "fights" carry the definite whiff of a Vince McMahon production).

That said ... this new wrinkle to add a "caution clock" to the Camping World truck series is completely a WWE bit of Kabuki theater.

It's one thing to set up a playoff system, because the racing to win it is still on the level. It's entirely another to manipulate the racing itself, which is what throwing an arbitrary caution flag every 20 minutes to bunch up the field clearly does. NASCAR has always been accused of faking cautions, but now it's making it official: There will be officially designated fake cautions in the Camping World truck series. Yes, they will theoretically make the racing close. But they will also turn a legitimate competition into something as phony and scripted as that aforementioned folding chair across the back. NASCAR might as well replace the phrase "Next race" with "Next episode."

Shame on 'em. Shame on all of 'em.

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