You have to hand it to NASCAR.
Right in the middle of the biggest public relations disaster in the history of the sport of major league stock car racing – the fixing of race results by at least three teams last weekend during the final race of the regular Sprint Cup season at Richmond, Va. – it pulls off a sleight-of-hand that gets everybody talking about something other than what they should be talking about.
Instead of grilling everybody in senior NASCAR management about the decisions to add two drivers to the field for the Chase for the Championship – one last Monday night and a second one almost as an afterthought on Friday – just about all anybody was talking about on Sunday afternoon was the "new starting procedure" that would take effect at Chicagoland Speedway.
It was a classic shell game. Get the sucker (or, in this case, suckers) to take their eye off what’s really important in order to discuss, analyze and debate to death something that doesn’t matter and, voila, mission accomplished.
NASCAR’s PR people must be congratulated for this little coup. Starting with the Camping World Series truck race on Friday night (which doesn’t attract a particularly large audience) and continuing through the Nationwide Series race on Saturday (ditto; both were won by Kyle Busch, by the way), NASCAR said an awful lot about the details of its announcements, and what’s acceptable during races and what’s not acceptable, and that drivers and teams must perform at 100 per cent at all times (what ever happened to 110 per cent?) and yada, yada, yada and at the end of the day didn't really say a whole lot about anything.
And nobody (that I heard) asked the question that is the nub of this whole business: if they threw Martin Truex Jr. out of the Chase on Monday because of what it considered manipulation of the results, why did they not throw out Joey Logano after it became clear that Penske Racing made a deal to get him in?
In any event, Sunday afternoon rolled around and the first race of the Chase was scheduled for Chicago and this is where the sleight-of-hand came in: knowing there would be a big TV audience (certainly bigger than the two previous races), and that somebody sooner of later was going to ask a tough question that perhaps Brian France or Mike Helton might not be able to answer, NASCAR pulled off the master stroke: it announced it had introduced a new procedure for restarts.
And guess what? That’s just about all that any of the people on the various TV panels talked about from that moment on.
And in the end, the starting procedure is as confusing as it was previously, which is something I’ve never been able to figure out: why do you need a "procedure" when you have a starter with a green flag in his hand. You would think that when the starter waved the flag that the race would be on but that’s not necessarily how it works in NASCAR-land, apparently.
At the end of the day, however, and to quote most of the racers: it is what it is. Maybe NASCAR will learn from this. Maybe the drivers and teams will all play nice in future. And fair.
But don’t bet on it. In a sport where it’s generally accepted that if you’re not cheating you’re not trying, straightening up and flying right is an ideal that will take a long time to entrench.
You also have to wonder if NASCAR has the time. Its credibility has been seriously strained and whether corporate America will want to stick around after all this is another question that has to be asked but probably won’t be.
Meantime, the Chase started at Chicagoland (the speedway grandstands were half empty when the race started, by the way, and what does that say?) but as of about 6:30 p.m. eastern, the red flag was waved and tarpaulins were put over the cars because of persistent rain.
They finally got going again just before 10 p.m. eastern and Matt Kenseth, who was leading when the race was put on hold, eventually won over Kyle Busch with Kevin Harvick third.
Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson. Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman were the rest of the top ten.WEEKEND RACING: Two-time NASCAR Canadian Tire Series champion Andrew Ranger of Roxton Pond, Que., won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. Qualifying was rained out so, Ranger had to start at the back of the pack. . . .Robert Wickens of Guelph and Toronto, winner of the previous race at the Nurburgring, was rear-ended and knocked out of the German Touring Car Championship (DTM) race Sunday in Oschersleben. Mike Rockenfeller of Audi leads the standings, with Wickens holding down fourth place. The next found of the DTM will be held at the legendary Zandvoort circuit in the Netherlands in two weeks. . . . Shane Stewart of Bixby, Okla., became a three-time winner of the Canadian Sprint Car Nationals Saturday night at Ohsweken Speedway on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford. This race, year in and year out, is a must-see for me (see photograph). The best of the independent U.S. racers show up to take on the regulars from four or five regional sanctioning organizations, including the Ohsweken Series sprints and the Southern Ontario Sprints. It really is great stuff. One blemish on the whole business. I went out for dinner last Wednesday night with Wayne Johnson, a sprint car driver from Knoxville, Iowa, who won the Nationals a few years ago. Friday night, the rear end in his sprinter let go and he was out for the night. Saturday night, he collided with another car early in the feature (he was heading for the front – started eighth and was up to fifth) and his car did an endo and then flipped a couple of times before coming to rest. Wayne was okay but the car was pretty banged up. I suggest that when he returns for another crack at the Nationals in 2014, it’s highly unlikely he’ll want to break bread with me. Afterward, maybe. But not before. . . .IndyCar won’t be returning to Baltimore on Labour Day weekend in 2014 after attracting a record crowd for this year’s race. Mark Miles, who’s now running the series, says Baltimore and Labour Day don’t fit into the series’ schedule in 2014. Whatever does that mean? Enquiring minds want to know.