Dear NASCAR: You Are Bound And Determined To Drag Me Back Into Blogging About You, Aren’t You

I mean, really now.

Here I am, enjoying the world’s longest blogging sabbatical and my confirmed membership in the “whatever happened to” league, when you put out races like today’s Texas Sprint Cup imbroglio. You couldn’t leave well enough alone, nor let a sleeping dog lie. You just had to – HAD to – put on a theater of the absurd screaming for commentary.

I do give you props (do people still give props? I am very much out of touch when it comes to pop culture slang) for giving us something that was so over the top it prevented me from so much as contemplating assembling one of my post-race recaps set in some oddball universe. No amount of creativity or parody could possibly match the actual events. Well done, everyone.

The race in its entirety was the Jimmie Johnson show, this placing him alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the “oh, so now you win” division of the ludicrous POS otherwise known as the Chase. It was a stupid idea from the beginning, and this year’s knockout/points reset format is stupid on steroids. Auto racing cannot be adapted to a playoff format, unless you want to emulate the end of Cars, in which case my money is firmly on Lightning McQueen. Ka-chow. But I digress. Certainly Johnson and Earnhardt figure to be title contenders next year; no surprise there. It can be argued that Goodyear did more than the other Chase drivers to knock Johnson and Earnhardt out of the running this year, but that is a rant for another post. Back to the Lone Star State stinkfest.

Examining the “yeah, that went well” attempt at a green-white-I’d like to thank my sponsors moment that led to assorted people learning when in a fistfight it’s best to not lead with your face, Brad Keselowski made a mistake by going for a hole that by the time he was there was no longer there (but Jeff Gordon was). It’s way too easy to armchair drive, so I’ll leave it at that. It was an error of overaggressive enthusiasm. If it happens in any other race, assorted snarky comments are made afterwards that will enthrall the NASCAR Nation faithful and that is the end of it. Period.

However, in yet another miserably failing attempt to gin up interest by means other than, say, more competitive races, NASCAR set the stage for exactly what happened after the race. In racing, there are a multitude of variables in every contest, many of which are well outside the driver and team’s control: a parts failure, being at the wrong place at the wrong time, etc. This further highlights the inane insanity of this year’s Chase format. Reference the earlier note about how tire failure derailed Johnson and Earnhardt’s title drives. There are far too many potential events for artificial down-to-one-race scenarios. If such happens as a product of the season’s events, fine. That is legitimate drama. The Chase is as legitimate as Milli Vanilli.

NASCAR is exacerbating the situation by at once fostering an environment where people going over the edge is a given and tsk-tsking actual punches being thrown, this as compared to the apparently A-OK practice of driving like a maniac through the garage area post-race. It is also hypocritical in the extreme. NASCAR apparently believes its highwater mark was the 1979 Daytona 500. It wasn’t. Its highwater mark was the 1992 Hooters 500, a race in which all the drama and emotion was real. What we had today was the end result when sets of parents urge their kids to go fight each other, then express horror and say the kids are entirely at fault when it actually happens. NASCAR has no one to blame but itself for drivers behaving badly today, and it richly deserves the rapidly dwindling interest in its own product.

Everybody Shut Up, Please

I can think of far better circumstances under which to resume NASCAR blogging. In fact, I cannot think of many worse circumstances. However, things need to be said about last night’s incident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in which sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. died after being struck by Stewart’s car.

The first, and perhaps most important, thing needing to be said is that far, far too much has already been said by those who either do not know better or should know better but are incapable of shutting up. No one needs another uninformed opinion. No one needs another mawkish piece of tripe trolling for attention under the guise of expressing sympathy for Ward. What is needed is informed observation, preferably with a minimum of opinion.

There are exactly two people who know the full details of what happened at Canandaigua, and one of them is unavailable for comment. Therefore, there is an overriding element in all this: We. Don’t. Know. All any of us can do is surmise.

The most probable explanation is you had a perfect storm. Ward was acting like an idiot walking out onto the track. Stewart gassed the car in order to kick out the rear end, thereby kicking dirt on Ward. Hardly the first driver to do this. Problem was, Ward was too close. Or the car kicked out too far. Or both. You know the end result.

Bear in mind that more than a bit of the “mad monk” mindset permeates the NASCAR driver community; the belief that no one – as in no one – understands their life or what they do. It is a closed society following its own rules and making no apologies for doing so. The drivers, both past and present, will express knowing sympathy for Ward’s family – once. They will close ranks around Stewart. And not give a rip how it plays in the public opinion court.

Stewart himself will in all likelihood resume racing, at least at the Sprint Cup level and almost certainly will be back in the car come Michigan next Sunday. Whether he gets back into a sprint car remains to be seen. The incident will forever be part of his legacy. Will it affect him on the track? Doubtful. Race car drivers are a breed apart; their ability to compartmentalize their life and block all possible distractions is unparalleled. It may sound heartless, but without it no driver on any level could ever get behind the wheel. Off the track remains to be seen.

There will most likely be no criminal charges filed against Stewart. Possibly reckless endangerment; at the worst involuntary manslaughter. Civil charges are another matter, and it is doubtless not a matter of if but when the Ward family will file a lawsuit against Stewart and probably the track.

The media, both traditional and new, has been abominable throughout this matter. There are exceptions, but regrettably they are the exceptions. The worst offender is ESPN. There was no justification whatsoever to show the accident as part of its pre-race coverage, and the dumbfounded “gee, how come none of the drivers want to talk about this” reporting added stupidity to stupidity. Inexcusable.

That is all I have to say. Would that others would take the same tack and shut up. Please.

And After A Few (Okay, More Than A Few) Short Weeks Later, We’re Back

I hadn’t planned on such a lengthy break, nor had I planned on all my earlier scribbles disappearing. However, my beloved Internet host decided to discontinue the blogging platform I had been using; that plus working mega-hours (which I wish I still was) at the new job made for an awkward transition to this WordPress site. I have zero affection for WP, but not a whole lot of choices in the matter.

Anyway, this weekend the powers that be in NASCAR gather at Daytona, where anything can happen and usually does. More on this (hopefully) tomorrow.