Instead of rooting for their favorite driver, debating the merits of the new Gen-6 race car or pondering the ability of Carl Edwards or Jeff Gordon to return to title contention, we have been led down the primrose path; told that the most important teams in the sport are the ones that finish in the back of the pack after utilizing the bedeviled strategy known as “Start and Park.”
"Start and Park should not be a part of what we do,” said Speedway Motorsports, Inc. Chairman Bruton Smith recently, for the 5,000th time. “I think this is derogatory for our sport."
Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage Smith lent his voice to the choir, saying, "People are stealing in broad daylight in front of 150,000 fans in the grandstands and millions of people watching at home."
And somehow, inexplicably, we allowed ourselves to care.
There are serious issues in need of attention right now. In-person attendance and television viewership are down. Dodge withdrew from competition at the end of last season, joining Oldsmobile, Buick and Pontiac on the list of automakers to leave the sport in recent years. The economy is in shambles and sponsorship is more difficult than ever to come by. The sport’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., has no backing for 11 of this year’s 36 point-counting races.
And yet, somehow, our panties are in a collective knot over who finished last in the most recent race.
We ignore our champion, Brad Keselowski, in favor of a driver who ran 16 laps en route to 43rd place in the season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway; a driver whose name we cannot seem to remember.
Instead of praising the most improved team of 2012, Michael Waltrip Racing, we focus instead on a couple of teams who were either unable to improve, or had no desire to do so.
Only in NASCAR are fans so willing to be led astray, and only in NASCAR are we so obsessed with the have-nots.
The Jacksonville Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs were the worst teams in the National Football League this season; winning just two of their 16 games, respectively. ESPN SportsCenter didn’t talk about them, and fans focused their time and energy on better, more relevant clubs. Judging from the attendance figures, even fans in Jacksonville and Kansas City considered the Jags and Chiefs to be unworthy of their attention.
The Chicago Cubs continued to toil in baseball obscurity last season, posting a lowly 61-101 record. Only the Houston Astros were worse, at 55-107. Fans of the Cubbies have grown accustomed to futility. The hometown team hasn’t won a World Series since 1908, so once July rolls around, sports fans in the Windy City automatically begin looking forward to football season.
The Washington Capitals and Calgary Flames are off to abysmal starts in this lockout-shortened National Hockey League season, winning just two of their games to date. Nobody’s saying much about them because, well… they suck.
The Charlotte Bobcats are once again the weak sisters of the NBA, after losing 37 of their first 48 games. I live in the Charlotte area, and I couldn’t give away a Bobcats ticket if it was wrapped in a $50 bill. People just don’t care.
Only in NASCAR do we spend so much of our time talking about teams that achieve so little.
Only in NASCAR does losing 100% of your games make you worthy of attention, discussion and debate.
It’s time for a change in focus. It’s time to get back to what matters.