Minter: Contrariness In The Air
Daytona Beach, Fla. – I’m not sure why I arrived at the track in a contrary mood this morning. I woke up on the right side of the fold-away bed in the Homewood Suites. I had a nice breakfast and a pleasant drive into the track.
But as the teams are outside the media center preparing cars for this afternoon’s Gatorade Duels, I’m sitting here finding myself on the “anti” side of the some of NASCAR’s top storylines.
For one, I’m not too sold on the “Dale Jr. Must Win This Year” mentality that seems to be one of the prevailing themes of Speedweeks.
I tend to think that Junior’s enduring popularity is due in large part to the fact that he comes across as one of us everyday people. Yes, he’s had his moments of glory, but he’s shown that, like the rest of us, he’s human. He’s made mistakes. He’s failed while others who work for the same employer have enjoyed success. He’s tried to be something other than his famous father’s son. He seems to love life even when his day job isn’t going all that good.
He’s one of the last sons of the South in a Southern-based sport that now has more drivers from California than any other state and runs far more races elsewhere than it does on the old home turf.
And he hasn’t strayed too far from his roots. It wasn’t that long ago that he had a job changing oil in a car dealership, even if it did belong to his dad, and lived in a house trailer, even if he has moved on to much finer digs.
And fans can relate to the fact that Dale Jr. is an unabashed fan of the history and heritage of the sport. Interestingly, after several years of heading down a different, modernization of tradition path, even the movers and shakers in the NASCAR hierarchy have decided that there is still plenty of interest in days gone by.
Sure it would be good for the sport, and for his fans, if Junior started winning again, and he mostly likely will. But there’s a lot more to his popularity, and it needs to be studied, understood and appreciated.
It’s apparent that another rule is about to be adopted as part of NASCAR’s new “Have At It Boys” approach to governing conduct on the race track. Going to multiple attempts at green-white-checkered restarts is a recipe for more wrecking.
It’s part of the continuing fallout from one bad race last year at one track, Talladega Superspeedway, where NASCAR officials created a bad race by basically telling drivers how to race, or not to race. In defense of the officials, they really had no choice, given the safety concerns after practice.
But all the rules changes, supposedly in response to what fans say they want, are just attempts to fix racing that’s not broken. It’s the track at Talladega that needs fixing, but it’ll take some heavy handling by bulldozers to do it. But that’s not likely to happen any time soon.
The running of today’s Gatorade Duels is a good time to rethink the Top 35 rule, the one that guarantees starting spots to car owners in the top 35 in car owner points and to those owners who have purchased that right from another team.
An emailer yesterday asked for an explanation of the rules for setting the line-up for the Daytona 500. A helpful NASCAR official offered a page-and-a-half printed explanation along with about five minutes of further enlightenment, but I’m still not sure exactly how that line-up will look later today.
Here’s an idea. Trash the top 35 provision. Put the top two qualifiers on the front row, then fill the next 15 rows with the top 15 finishers in each Duel. Then allot the remaining spots based on qualifying speeds from last Saturday. No provisionals, no top-35 crutches.
Those races this afternoon would mean a lot more if some big-name drivers and teams faced the possibility of missing the sport’s biggest race. And if there was some beating and banging at the end, it wouldn’t be because of any restart rules.
That’s racing the way it ought to be.
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments