It took me awhile to collect my thoughts after the 2013 NASCAR season. What did I think of the racing? I didn’t think much of it and it has nothing to do with who did or did not win the championship. I couldn’t care less about that. Once upon a time, winning races mattered, but today it’s the Chase from February until November.
The problem of the Chase takes away some of the appreciation of other drivers who had good seasons, but realistically those who had no chance at a championship. For example, let’s look at the season turned in by guys like Joey Logano, Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, 2012 Champ Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray, and Martin Truex, Jr. They all won this year, and yet who paid any attention to them?
Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards won twice this year, but did it mean anything? Apparently not, because there wasn’t much coverage of them on television. The whole season revolved around six time champ Jimmie Johnson (6 wins), Matt Kenseth (7 wins), Kyle Busch (4 wins), Jeff Gordon (1 win), and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (0 wins). Even Kevin Harvick, despite his four wins was under the radar most of the season. Once upon a time a win, even a lone win by someone like Ricky Rudd or James Hylton was special. Today, you don’t even have to win to get national coverage. That is, unless you happen to be Austin Dillon, but that’s another story. Try to find a diecast in your local Wal-Mart for anyone but Johnson, Earnhardt, Gordon, Edwards, McMurray, or Stewart, good luck!
I was in the press box at North Carolina Speedway when Matt Kenseth clinched the 2003 championship. The No. 17 crew celebrated, but not many people noticed. All the attention was on Bill Elliott who won the race. Elliott was escorted to the press box for media interviews, but nowhere was Kenseth to be found. It was the win that mattered. Yes, Kenseth celebrated at a race later on, but he was forever to be chastised as the champion who only won one race. He was the father of the Chase, something that I imagine he’s not too proud of, if truth be told. It all changed in 2004. After Kurt Busch won in 2004 and Tony Stewart’s win in 2005, seven of the last eight championships have been won by Hendrick Motorsports or satellite teams. Six of those championships were won by Jimmie Johnson and the other by Tony Stewart, whose team had a technical alliance with Hendrick.
Prior to the Chase, 25 of 55 champions were from different drivers. From 1980 until 2003, we had 14 different champions. What does it tell me? Lots of people dominated, but not everyone ran all the races. It just wasn’t that important. David Pearson and Fred Lorenzen had tremendous winning percentages. They didn’t run all the races (I can remember a time when there were over 50 races each year), and didn’t care. The win was more important. Today, we start counting points and calling people out at Daytona. The most exciting races I saw this season included Brad Keselowski’s tremendous moves at Charlotte at the fall race and Carl Edwards’ dramatic win at Richmond. Neither win had anything to do with the Chase. Neither mattered because it was all about the points.
Railing on about NASCAR’s playoff system falls on deaf ears. Someone somewhere is convinced the system is the way to go. Never mind tacks eliminating seats or somewhat lower television ratings, baseball, football, and basketball have playoffs, so it has to be the way to go, right? Here’s a hint. I travel to races about 10 times a year. I camp like so many do. Most of them are flying Dale Earnhardt flags. Why? It’s because although he won seven championships, he was exciting to watch. I’ll always remember Benny Parsons as he yelled, “here comes Earnhardt.” I remember the late 60’s and 70’s when King Richard Petty was going through the field in the late laps.
Today, it’s all technology and money. That’s what is turning off fans. It’s hard to express the thrill of a Trevor Bayne win at Daytona or a David Ragan win at Talladega, not to mention a McMurray win anywhere. Only problem is, when you count up the points afterward, it’s still the championship that matters. We’ve created a monster and there is no turning back.