Friday, October 18, 2013

Messing with the order of things: Five Questions for Talladega

Talladega Superspeedway. Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Karma. A tiny word with worlds of implications to follow. Those who believe in it don’t play, and those who don’t toss it around like a hot potato.

That’s how karma is being treated this week in the NASCAR universe.

Michael Waltrip Racing announced they would downsize into a two-car team, using the No. 56 as an R&D machine. This comes after the incident at Richmond International Raceway and its fallout, which included losing NAPA Auto Parts as a sponsor, making 5-Hour ENERGY raise their eyebrows, and forcing Martin Truex Jr. out of a job. To add onto this stress, Brian Vickers, who has been driving the No. 55, was diagnosed with a blood clot in his right calf. That will make him miss the rest of the season in the ride he’s contracted to race next year.

It’s safe to say much of this wouldn’t have happened if the team hadn’t attempted to influence the results of the Richmond race. But, because they messed with “the order” of things, does that mean karma is beating on them with a hammer?

I discuss that and more this Friday in Five Questions. As we head to Talladega Superspeedway, I’m wondering if the track should be on the Chase lineup, what’s every driver’s main goal this weekend, and how we can help various people who work within the sport with personal struggles.

What’s the goal of this weekend, winning or surviving? With Talladega’s wily nature, it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen. One thing is nearly certain: drivers will attempt to drop to the back and ride out the carnage until the very end. That’s not giving 100 percent, now is it? Restrictor-plate tracks are an enigma; many drivers want to win on the unique layout, yet they don’t want to be in the middle of the madness. The Chase’s delicate state puts an emphasis on getting out alive, and sometimes, that’s more important than a trophy.

Should Talladega be in the Chase? As I said above, Talladega is a wildcard track. Throw that into the middle of a tight Chase battle, and you have a high-stakes poker game. Because it’s such an obstacle, every year at this time, the question of “Should Talladega be in the Chase?” arises. The answer is, simply, yes. I am a firm believer that a champion must be diverse, which means they must excel at different types of tracks. That includes restrictor-plate races. It’s a chance for a driver to flex their defensive skills. I see it as a jewel on the Chase’s necklace.

Did NASCAR miss opportunities to make a statement? Unfortunately, that necklace is missing a few key gems. The 2014 Sprint Cup Series schedule came out this week, and no tracks have been added or removed from the lineup. Though they hinted at more changes with the 2015, I don’t see why the changes have to wait. The fans have been urging for the Chase venues to be reworked, and I’d be crazy not to agree. Five mile-and-a-half tracks? That’s about two, three too many. A road course needs to be added, and another short track would be nice. This was a great opportunity for NASCAR to say, “We’re evolving!” Apparently, that will come at another time, another meeting.

Why are so many crew members violating NASCAR’s substance abuse policy? News broke Thursday afternoon that Todd Parrot, the crew chief of the No. 43 and its driver Aric Almirola, has been indefinitely suspended due to the reason given above. That makes two people within the sport’s inner fold who have been suspended this week for drugs. Overall, it seems like more suspensions have been handed out for this reason than previous seasons. What gives? Well, two reasons are possible in my mind; either the drugs detected are common and causing positive tests (think along the lines of AJ Allmendinger’s debacle), or these people are turning to the wrong things to cope with problems. If the first theory is true, then those who analyze the samples need to take a closer look. However, if the second idea is the kicker, then NASCAR needs to hire sports therapists who offer their assistance to members of teams - including drivers and crew chiefs.

Has karma caught Michael Waltrip Racing? The past eight weeks have been hellacious for this team, and it’s sad to see their pain, whether you’re bitter toward them or not. Yet, the question still begs: did they bring this on themselves? Truthfully, yes. They cheated, they were caught, and they have to suffer the consequences. Now, what about the entire team taking a hit? All the people being laid off at the shop? The entire No. 56 team dissipating? This was a ripple effect that nobody expected, including those who made the controversial call. Does that make this karma? You tell me.

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