MOORESVILLE, N.C. — I’ve been a race fan for over 40 years now and have worked in the sport for nearly 30 of those years, and while I may write the occasional commentary from the perspective of a promoter or other role within the sport, I always make sure my commentary agrees with my perspective as a fan.
That said, I believe that Joe Gibbs Racing owes their fans an apology after their shameless decision to allow three of their four drivers to drive around Talladega all afternoon on Sunday with the cruise control on instead of actually attempting to “race” at the race.
I must exempt Denny Hamlin right at the outset here, because he had to race hard. He was too close to the bubble not to.
If he were safe, I’m pretty sure he’d have joined his other three teammates tip-toeing around in “Roll Tide” country like frightened field mice to avoid being caught up in a crash that could eliminate them from championship contention.
NASCAR says they don’t see anything wrong with it because it was a strategy.
I’m sure glad I grew up in the 70s, when mighty men like Richard and Cale and David and Buddy and Bobby and Donnie would race you tooth and nail for a win without worrying about next week or next month. I refuse to believe A.J. Foyt would ever have shamed himself to this level.
I’m pretty doggone sure Dale wouldn’t have. Shoot, I’ve heard stories about Dale being asked to go run a late model somewhere in the middle of a week at one of America’s short tracks and sweating underneath that car making adjustments trying to find winning speed.
Those drivers were racers to the core, all about winning. Nothing else mattered. Winning was everything, maybe because it was the way you put food on your table for your family.
If you won enough races and finished up front in all the ones you lost, then you could pay your bills, feed your family and have a good shot at winning the championship.
But they all also recognized that the fans came to say them walk the razor’s edge every Sunday.
I don’t care if this was an elimination race. It’s still a race.
Maybe you don’t make the three-wide move up the middle from seventh spot in traffic with five laps to go in the final race of the year if you know that your championship is secured, but you sure as heck don’t tool around in the back of the pack not even trying to race hard.
Kyle Busch said on Twitter, “Don’t hate the player. Hate the game.”
Whether or not you like the “game” as it currently exists is a different matter. I don’t think any of the drivers I named above would have settled for a finish in the 20’s just so they could get to the next round of a championship playoff, but maybe I’m wrong.
Or maybe the problem with the “game” is that the drivers’ guaranteed salaries have become so large now that they no longer have to depend on a percentage of their winnings in order to make a living anymore.
Whoever invented the term “good points day” wasn’t a real racer in my opinion. To a real racer, the only time it’s really a “good points day” is when you’re the one who scored the most points and got your picture taken in victory lane.
I have the utmost respect for Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth and for all they’ve accomplished in their careers. I understand the backwards mentality that led to throwing the race away.
But if I were Brian France, after that exhibition on Sunday, I would have taken 20 points from each of them for purposefully stinking up my show and for forgetting that it’s the fans and sponsors who keep their millionaire status intact.
This sort of thing could be stopped by inserting passing points into the equation, like series directors have in other forms of racing, so that every driver would have to race hard every lap.
I’m not the only one I know who believes that should have happened from the time racing began a century ago, because that’s what fans pay to see … passing.
I don’t think either the fans or the sponsors pay to see their heroes drive the speed limit on a superspeedway with their four-way flashers on to avoid an accident, do you?
All three of these drivers may have cruised into the next round of the Chase, and one of them may even end up winning the championship.
The question is: did the three of them sacrifice a little bit of dignity in the process?
The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, the Performance Motorsports Network, Scorpion Radio Group, their sponsors or other contributors.
About the Writer
Tom Baker is the Owner and Senior Editor of Race Chaser Online, as well as creator of the Stock Car Steel/SRI Motorsports Show — airing Thursdays at 7 p.m. Eastern on the Performance Motorsports Network.
With 27 years of motorsports media, marketing and managerial experience, Baker serves as coach and mentor for several next generation racers as well as Race Chaser’s passionate lineup of rising motorsports journalists.
Email Tom at: [email protected]
Follow Tom on Twitter: @RaceChaserTom
Follow Tom on Instagram: @CoachTomNC
Email Race Chaser Online: [email protected]
Follow RCO on Twitter: @RaceChaserNews