On Sunday afternoon I probably watched my last NASCAR Sprint Cup race. If there is nothing else on TV on a Sunday afternoon, I may tune in to have something to watch but it won’t be with anywhere near the interest I used to have. Why? The Sprint Cup race from Sonoma was a sorry excuse for a race and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back in regards to my dissatisfaction with the series. NASCAR’s poor officiating allowed Sonoma to turn in to something that more resembled a professional wrestling match than a race.
In stock car racing I understand and appreciate “trading paint,” rubbing fenders, and even using the bumper to push someone out of their line. In the case of NASCAR Sprint Cup, however, the officials have let things go too far with their “boys have it at” routine. In the past (consider Dale Earnhardt/Geoff Bodine) NASCAR put an end to the antics when it got too bad, now they seem to value entertainment over sport. Apparently torn up bodywork and spinning cars sell more tickets and bring more TV viewership than good racing so NASCAR has decided to play to the least common denominator. Safer cars, safer tracks, and better safety equipment has led to reduced respect amongst the competitors. What is it going to take for NASCAR to realize they are letting things go a bit too far? A driver getting a serious injury or even killed? A car going into the stands or into a group of corner workers? Do you think it can’t happen? It almost did at Le Mans this year in a crash caused by driver error.
Sunday’s race at Sonoma is the perfect example. Juan Pablo Montoya hit everything but the pace car and received not the first penalty for rough driving or unavoidable contact. Tony Stewart saw fit to take the law into his own hands when he perceived that he was being blocked by Brian Vickers and punted Vickers around. No penalty was issued so Vickers later paid Stewart back by spinning him onto the top of a tire barrier. There was a similar story with Robby Gordon and Joey Logano. If NASCAR would have administered penalties when it was obvious they were deserved, maybe the race wouldn’t have degenerated into a heavy metal version of a wrestling match.
The shame of it all is that the foolishness I described above took attention away from what was a sterling performance by Kurt Busch and the 22 Penske team as well as a most impressive turnaround of what was turning into a terrible weekend by Carl Edwards and the 99 Roush team. NASCAR didn’t have to play to the least common denominator, it was a good race without the “boys have at it” havoc.