Tuesday, February 23, 2016

True NASCAR fan

Image result for daytona 500 2016 closest finish

I'm thrilled that NASCAR has started again though it begins with my least favorite kind of racing. I've never cared much for team sports. I like mano a mano competitions. Athletes as individual competitors.

It was almost a foregone conclusion that one of the Team Gibbs cars would win the 500, barring a catastrophe that took some of them out. I'm not putting them down. They did what they had to do to bring the trophy home. More power to them. I just don't think watching two lines of cars go around the track is particularly exciting, especially when one of those lines is never able to reach the other one. So all the Gibbs cars got to the front and stayed on the bottom, round and round and round, while everyone else followed, stuck in the pack without much opportunity to go anywhere.

"Nobody move," Denny told his spotter to tell the rest of them...and nobody did. At the end, Martin Truex Jr, tried to out-race Denny Hamlin to the checkered flag and almost made it. The closest finish ever for a Daytona 500. That was exciting but it was only for a couple of minutes. Congratulations to Denny although I was rooting for Martin.

Now it is onward and upward to Atlanta where the team concept doesn't come into play as much and its every driver for him/herself.

We have a batch of new rules for 2016 in all three series. I mostly just go with the flow. Whatever NASCAR does is pretty much okay with me. I'm just a fan without access to the internal discussions of the honchos about potential long-term consequences. Just put cars on the track and I'll watch. Chase or no Chase - qualifying in whatever form it takes - restart regulations - spoilers of whatever size. I do have to say though that I think the new conduct rules are a bridge too far.

I don't like having a template that all the little good boys and girls have to fit themselves into. Do drivers - passionate, adrenalin-addicted, hotheads that they can be, sometimes go too far? Yep, we know they do but, having said that, each incident should be judged on an individual basis, as it has been in the past, not based on Page 97, Paragraph E  of the Manual of Proper Behavior. I don't even want my drivers to be straight-arrow conformists. Part of their appeal is that they're not.

Only a week ago, I was jumping up and down, so happy for the return of NASCAR. Now, a week later, it seems like I'm mostly bitching. Oh, well, it is the way of true NASCAR fans!

Monday, February 15, 2016

NASCAR versus Politics

Image result for jimmie johnson car  Image result for 2016 presidential campaign cartoons

Thank God, the NASCAR season has started! Racing and politics are my twin passions. During NASCAR's off-season, I've watched so many debates and rallies and town halls and caucuses and primaries that my brain feels totally muddled by politics. We started out with the candidates shown above but over time, we've narrowed it down to Hillary and Bernie on the Democratic side and six (Trump, Cruz, Bush, Rubio, Carson and Kasich) still in the Republican race. Although...Jim Webb says he might jump in as an Independent and Mike Bloomberg says he might jump in as an Independent. Oh, God, please, no. This campaign has been complicated enough already!

This week race cars were back on the track with the Sprint Unlimited and that made me so happy! NASCAR seems clean and straightforward compared to politics. NASCAR drivers are judged on performance. They don't have to pander to the fans. They don't have to kowtow to please their "base". They don't have to tally votes to see who won. Get to the checkered flag first and that's the end of the story.

That's not to say money doesn't play a big part in NASCAR, just as it does in politics. It takes millions of dollars to field a winning race team but wooing those sponsors is the job of team owners. Beyond that, the drivers make some commercials, mention their sponsor's name every chance they get and talk to sponsor representatives but their main job is to burnish the brand by their on-track results.

There are haters in NASCAR like there are haters in politics but they don't have much affect one way or the other. Some misogynists hate Hillary and some hate Danica. The haters can make a difference to Hillary but Danica can blow them off. As long as her team owner and sponsor are satisfied, she doesn't have to be concerned.

Of course, NASCAR and politics have many things in common. Families, for instance. This year's presidential campaign features two political dynasties - the Bushes and the Clinton's. NASCAR is positively rife with racing royalty and for the most part we love our Earnhardts and Jarretts, our Elliotts and Burtons and Blaneys.....

In fact, Chase Elliott just won the pole for the Daytona 500, the youngest driver ever to do so in the 24 car vacated by Jeff Gordon. I expect he had lots of fans rooting for him, including me. But that wasn't important in the scheme of things. His popularity wasn't important; his age wasn't important; his inexperience wasn't important. The only thing that was important was making the fastest lap around the 2 1/2 mile Daytona Speedway.

Conspiracy theories are always rampant in politics. Ditto, NASCAR. Super delegates and debris cautions - favoritism in vote counts and favoritism in restarts. We always want to explain away why our driver/candidate didn't win.

The political campaign will end with a new president. The NASCAR season will end with a new champion.

Love and hate and partisanship have everything to do with choosing our next president. They have virtually nothing to do with the next NASCAR championship. NASCAR is based on points, not votes. It doesn't matter if boos fill the grandstand when the champion is introduced if the statistics prove he won.

After all these months of politics, I appreciate the performance-based simplicity of NASCAR.