Thursday, January 27, 2011

Drivers Need Not Be Bribed To Win

Not everyone is happy with NASCAR Chairman Brian France’s Wednesday announcement of a new championship point system for NASCAR’s three national series. Truthfully, no system could ever pacify all of NASCAR’s competitors, media members and fans. It’s too diverse a group to ever think – or react – with one mind.

Some have embraced France’s new system, feeling that it honors consistency while still paying a premium for race wins. Others are more critical, complaining that a maximum six-point differential between first and second place is not nearly enough. It’s an honorable debate, and as is usually the case in matters of pure opinion, there are no right or wrong answers.

However, the notion being put forth by some observers that NASCAR should somehow bribe drivers into “trying harder” by heaping huge mountains of points and cash upon race winners is ludicrous. Worse, it is insulting to the drivers. It assumes that Johnson, Harvick, Hamlin and company aren’t giving their all in the pursuit of victory every single week; a premise that holds not a single drop of water.

Some would have you believe that with five laps to go, drivers engage in an internal dialogue along the lines of, “Gee, I really should try to pass the car in front of me and win this race. But it’s risky, and I’m afraid something bad might happen. Maybe I’ll just ride back here and be happy with second place.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Drivers don’t advance to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series by settling for second place, or satisfying themselves with “a good points day.” From their earliest starts in go-karts and quarter midgets, drivers like Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne have been driven to finish first. They’ve spent decades striving for nothing less than complete and total domination, with a “damn the torpedoes” attitude that now leaves them little time for tallying up the potential points at 195 mph.

“It’s crazy,” said former Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip today. “Never in my life did I think about finishing behind a guy I thought I could pass. I’m a racer. I want to win, and I don’t care how many points – or how much money – it pays. Winning is the only thing that matters. It’s the only thing that has ever mattered.” Four-time Series champion Jeff Gordon concurred, saying, “No matter what the points, we're gonna race the same. We're gonna race to win."

Don’t believe them? Walk up to Tony Stewart or Kyle Busch after their next runner-up finish and ask if they would have tried harder with more money on the line. Then be prepared to duck and cover.

Since the days when stock car racing was confined to the sands of Daytona Beach and red clay ovals from coast to coast, winning has been the lynch pin of the sport. Winning pays the most money. Winners get to kiss the Trophy Queen and receive the glowing headlines in Monday morning’s newspaper. Winning regularly is also the shortest, most efficient route to the championship under virtually any sane system..

Winning is its own reward, no matter what the naysayers might have you believe.

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