|(Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)|
It’s always sunny in NASCAR country – unless you’ve been following the latest news, then it’s cloudy at the moment.
I’ll cut right to the chase: it’s been a weird week for the sport. Not in that “OMG, everyone’s getting penalties and changing crew chiefs!” way, either. The storylines coming out right now feel somewhat wrong, and I can’t tell if I’m peeved or concerned with the fan reaction. As I observed this chaos, worry crept in and occupied my thoughts for a while. Once that melded into defensiveness and sass, I started this column.
Let’s limit the rambling and get right to the questions, which tackle hearing protection, schedule switch-ups and a whole lot more.
Turn down for what? Monday morning brought the report that NASCAR wants to make engines quieter to facilitate talking between fans. Yeah, try reading that without laughing. As expected, fans were divided; some called this a crock, while others weren’t as bothered. The latter justified the volume adjustment by pointing out the hearing benefits. OK, that makes sense to me, although NASCAR didn’t sell the concept as that. I wasn’t pleased with this idea at first, but now I’m OK with it. What I’m not pleased with is the sport ignoring pressing issues. I’ll continue with this thought later on in the column, but I’ll let NASCAR quiet the engines if it saves ears. "Not terrible hearing" for the win.
Can Vegas prove it deserves another race? Yeah, that’s the other thing that happened this week. NASCAR announced this will be the last season with two races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Starting in 2018, the sport will head to Las Vegas in September instead of New England. The Xfinity Series will also abandon their standalone event at Kentucky Speedway to join Cup and Trucks out west. The focus will be on MENCS and NXS this weekend to prove this is the right move – and it’s questionable if they’ll deliver. If Atlanta Motor Speedway is any indication, this weekend will fall flat. We’ve had a few memorable moments at LVMS (very, very few), but we most likely won’t add to the list, unless the stages magically tighten things up, which is doubtful.
Should they erase Busch’s Xfinity victory from the history books? Remember when NASCAR introduced the “encumbered finish” in September? It was used for the first time, er, three times this week. Kyle Busch’s Xfinity win, as well as AJ Allmendinger’s Cup and Chase Elliott’s NXS results, were deemed encumbered after their cars failed their respective post-race inspections. Allmendinger’s lack of lugnuts is a pretty big deal, but the focus shifted to Busch. Many believe that, if a driver’s encumbered finish comes when he finishes first, he should be stripped of a win. Since his win was in one of the lower series, I think this is a fabulous idea. Make an encumbered finish mean something; it only took car owner points away from Busch due to him being a full-time Cup driver. Remove the win from his record and take away the trophy.
Are the Fords back in town? One win can be luck, but another win on an entirely different track? Hmm. Ford horsepower dominated Atlanta, with Kevin Harvick crushing it until a late speeding penalty dismantled his progress. That’s when Brad Keselowski swept in and wheeled his Team Penske machine to victory lane. This follows Kurt Busch’s Daytona International Speedway win. It seems like the Ford camps are off to a strong start in 2017. Stewart-Haas Racing wasted no time adjusting to the new manufacturer, that’s for sure. Is this a sign that Ford is back to its winning ways? It seems like it, but I’m hesitant to give a firm answer. It’s early in the season, after all. However, I do see this as a healthy sign. They hit the ground running and already have two drivers locked into the playoffs. Let’s see if they can ride that momentum throughout the regular season.
Hello? Can you hear me (and all the other NASCAR fans)? Alright, NASCAR, here’s the deal. The fact that it’s 2.5 weeks into the season – and the hot topics are questionable schedule changes and hearing protection – is not a good sign. What are you all even doing? Pardon the pun, but these are the most tone deaf changes NASCAR has made or suggested in years. The sanctioning body let money dictate adding the second Vegas race, ignoring fans’ pleas for more track diversity. On the same note, adjusting the noise level at races is not the pressing issue here; lack of on-track action is, and it should be addressed while the season is still in its first month. There’s nothing alluring about the sport when those in charge fail to solve obvious problems. Many fans are underwhelmed with the stages – do something about it. Nobody cares about encumbered finishes if the rule-breaker still keeps his win – do something about it. The sport –and those running it – are reactive, and that’s OK if you don’t have the reflexes of a sloth. Let’s be proactive for once and try to prevent a downward spiral for the sport I love.