CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Blog by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America photo —
No, really — I’d like nothing more than to have all the people out there yelling and screaming and complaining that NASCAR is fixed because Jeff Gordon has won two out of the three Coors Light Pole Awards to start his farewell season just sit down and shut up.
If you’re one of them? I’m looking at you.
All these conspiracy theorists are the same ones who yelled when Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 pole in the return of the No. 3 car to NASCAR’s highest level, or yelled when Danica Patrick won the same pole a year earlier.
Where were those conspiracy theorists when Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the first race at Daytona following his father’s death in 2001? When Jimmie Johnson won the first race following the Hendrick plane tragedy in 2004? When Kevin Harvick won the 2007 Daytona 500, six years to the day of the death of his mentor Dale Earnhardt (whose car he took over)? When Michael Waltrip won the Truck race at Daytona ten years to the day of Earnhardt’s death, after driving a DEI car to the win in the ’01 500? Or even when Tony Stewart won the Cup title at Homestead in 2011 over Carl Edwards (who finished second to Stewart in the race, by the way) on a tiebreaker?
My point is this: every single one of those moments was a “Hollywood Ending” type of a story. But the fact of the matter is, only select ones in this day and age are complained about — because up until a couple of years ago, everyone actually accepted the fact that moments could happen in professional sports that were (gasp!) appropriate.
So what? Why should the last two years be any different? Oh wait, I’m sure I know part of the reason — it’s because people don’t think that drivers like Austin Dillon and Danica Patrick are worthy of being at NASCAR’s top level — and therefore anytime something good happens to them in the sport, people want to pull out their tin hats and act like the aliens are coming. Is that about right?
If people want to use that argument, that’s just absurd — this isn’t about driver talent; Austin Dillon and Danica Patrick have just as much right to be in the Sprint Cup Series and having success as Jeff Gordon — it’s just that their stat-lines and trophy cases aren’t nearly as filled from a numbers standpoint.
So we see that argument doesn’t apply to Gordon — he’s a four-time champion with 92 wins and now, 79 poles — which means the conspiracy theorists have to find something else to blame it on. The fact that this is his retirement tour? Sure, that sounds great; the grizzled veteran going out and showing he’s got something one more time.
When did we suddenly turn the corner from coincidentally appropriate events happening to “NASCAR’s fixing everything just the way they want it and it’s just as real as WWE wrestling now”? If there’s a specific moment in time that happened, please, by all means: someone point it out to me.
Is the fact that Jeff Gordon is having a lot of success in his final full-time season in the sport going to pique some people’s interest and get a few more eyeballs on the television screens? Probably. But it doesn’t mean NASCAR is fixing every little thing in his favor, or in anyone’s favor, for that matter.
If they were, wouldn’t he have won the Daytona 500, too? Oh wait, Joey Logano did that — and Gordon got crashed out on the last lap. Wouldn’t he have won last week at Atlanta? No, hang on, Jimmie Johnson did that — while Gordon was left yelling at NASCAR because he hit an unprotected concrete wall and junked his race car again.
Here’s the bottom line: NASCAR isn’t doing Jeff Gordon, or anyone else on the race track, any special favors at any time. I’m sure that Jeff hasn’t forgotten the fact that he wasn’t even allowed to qualify last week because NASCAR deemed his car was illegal multiple times in pre-qualifying inspection!
I sure wouldn’t let that happen to my “Golden Boy” if I were in NASCAR and trying to fix it up so he could go out and taste a bunch of success this year. But hey, let’s stop and remember, he won at Dover last September and grabbed the pole at Homestead in November too, so his success hasn’t just been since he announced he was retiring at the end of the year. He’s been on a roll for the last six months.
Gordon is inspired going through this final full-time run at a championship — because of the fans pumping him up, because of his family finally being able to appreciate what he’s doing, and because he wants to go out on top of his game. In my opinion, that’s making him drive that much harder to try and grab that success, and you know what? That’s why it’s paying off too.
Besides, if NASCAR really wanted to fix the racing over the last 15 years in a way that would bring more fan interest back to the table, don’t you think they would have found a way to get Mr. 11-Time NMPA Most Popular Driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., on the pole and into victory lane every week? Yeah, we see how well that worked — Junior went winless from 2008 all the way to 2012 and everyone got up from their chairs and started to wander away.
People need to stop and reconsider that “Hollywood moments” can still happen in professional sports, and in NASCAR as well. They happen every year in the NFL, the NBA, the NHL and the MLB — people just don’t seem to give them any negative press.
You know why? Because they’re not planned!! They just happen!!
Why can’t people believe that can still happen in NASCAR too?
So please, put your tin hats away and ground your creepy black helicopters. And if Jeff Gordon goes out and waxes the field in Sunday’s KOBALT 400? Give the man a hand. That’s what I’m going to do.
He’s driving his tail off to prove a point to the field. And there’s no one that should be surprised at that, because that’s the way it’s been for 23 years.
Why make a big fuss about it now?
The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, Speed77 Radio, the Performance Motorsports Network, their sponsors or other contributors.