Flat Spot On: What Would Earnhardt Do?
By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer
Tweet me if I’m wrong, but aren’t we living in the age of the Celebrity Industrial Complex?
So it makes me wonder why sports stars such as Clint Bowyer would be so dull as to think any move they make isn’t watched and recorded carefully, if not obsessively? (This is particularly true with an on-board camera and a car’s radio linked to live TV coverage.)
But what really gets me is the imagined insulation that comes with star status in the CIC. As if anything can be explained away. In this light, it’s possible to draw a direct line from Bowyer to Lance Armstrong on to Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Manziel, the latter being a junior partner in the enterprise of ignoring not only the rules but the integrity of the game.
All of these highly touted sports stars got caught in wrong circumstances that deeply violated the soul of their competitive arenas. And, in retrospect, it was predictable that they could get caught – by fans, by the media, by fellow competitors and eventually by the rule makers charged with keeping the playing field, well, recognizable. So are these guys just dull – or do they think they’re above the contests they compete in?
OK, right. I vote for both.
These guys are all also quite shrewd. It goes with the territory that one has to know how to handle the celebrity terrain as well as perform under pressure in competition. And their shrewdness tells them that even if they get caught, the consequences will simply be blended into the vast vortex of the CIC like some kind of grand scale group therapy. Tweet Step meets 12 Step. Just find a way to sustain plausible denial and stick with it. (“Let’s not dig too deep into that,” said Bowyer when asked on the talk show circuit about deliberately spinning.)
Another thing that gets me about the sad state of affairs at Richmond was the ruination of so much redemption – the kind that results from character development under pressure on the field of combat. Kurt Busch, the tempestuous bad boy who never could live up to his status as the first winner of the Chase in 2004, really looked like a champion headed into this year’s version. He’s earned some long missing respect for doing the heavy lifting necessary to get the very deserving single car Furniture Row team into this year’s Chase.
Give a call to Ryan Newman, who surely resurrected his career by putting himself into the late race lead after a splendid drive – only to be spun out of a victory and, temporarily, the Chase by Bowyer’s intentional spin.
Then there was the aging four-time champion Jeff Gordon scrapping his way back into contention for the Chase, if not championship, before getting jobbed by Bowyer and the monkeyshines of Penske Racing. With Gordon re-instated as the Chase’s first 13th entrant, the Penske team has discovered it can’t push NASCAR around quite like the officials of IndyCar, which have twice missed calls on Penske team transgressions crucial to the that title chase. Alas Joey Logano of Penske still made it into NASCAR’s playoffs on gerrymandered scoring.
Due to so much close competition this year, the Chase itself finally achieved redemption as a legitimate playoff format that separates the bona fides from the also rans – until the you-know-what hit the fan in the final laps at Richmond.
At times like this, I always ask myself one question. “What would Earnhardt have done?”
Had he been told by his team to spin on purpose, Dale likely would have ignored the order and challenged anybody on his team to tell him otherwise after the race.
The thing to remember about the Earnhardt creed: if he did anything on the track to another driver, that driver was welcome to give it right back – if he dared. That’s one reason why Dale so liked Gordon, because Jeff gave it right back. A deliberate spin late in the race in order to screw the scoring leaves no comeback option for the offended driver before the checkered flag falls. That’s chicken you-know-what.
So here was Bowyer on the talk show circuit feeling sorry for Newman’s fate at Richmond – but with no means to really allow Newman justice for having lost the victory and a clean entrance into the championship with some real momentum. (And wasn’t Bowyer really trying to salvage his own chances of winning a championship by being apologetic without admitting guilt?)
Longtime NASCAR competition director Dick Beaty used to always say, “Save your paybacks for the short tracks.” But I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bowyer and the Chicago pole sitter Logano roughed up by aerodynamic means, slide jobs or door poppings when track positions are at stake long before the Chase gets to the race on Martinsville’s bullring.
– Jonathan Ingram can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org Comments