Kyle Busch: ‘Don’t hate the player; hate the game’
The effort, or lack thereof, from three of the four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers in Sunday’s Hellmann’s 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, the elimination race of the second round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, left a lot to be desired. Denny Hamlin raced hard and, at the very least, tried to finish near the front, because he had to for Chase survival, and he was successful. His teammates — Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth — meanwhile, weren’t in such dire straights. With a relatively comfortable points cushion, they dropped to the back and seemed content to not only run at least most of the race back there, but to run the entire race and finish back there between the 28th and 30th positions.
Dropping to the back at the start of restrictor-plate racing is a trend that, fortunately, seems to be dying a somewhat slow death, but at least most of those drivers who have fallen to the back in restrictor-plate races over the years in attempts to stay out of trouble did try to charge to the front in the closing laps. The aforementioned JGR trio didn’t on Sunday, though, and to be honest, I can’t really blame them.
While I don’t enjoy watching the strategy, I do think this is all being blown out of proportion. Why? Because no matter how much you hate it, I really don’t think there’s jack-squat that can be done about it.
Some of the fans with their panties in wads point to a perceived violation of NASCAR’s “100 percent” rule enacted in 2013 after that big Michael Waltrip Racing controversy at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway that I won’t go into detail about, here.
Before going back and looking at a quote from NASCAR President from back in 2013, I thought that argument had legs. After all, here’s a PORTION of what Helton said:
“NASCAR requires its competitors to race at 100 percent of their ability with the goal of achieving their best possible finishing position in an event.”
Were Edwards, Kenseth, and Hamlin racing “at 100 percent of their ability with the goal of achieving their best possible finishing position?” Of course not. I don’t think anybody who saw Sunday’s race would dispute that. Heck, I really don’t think Busch, Kenseth or Edwards, themselves, would dispute it. Their goal was pretty obvious.
But when you consider the rest of Helton’s quote from back in the day, while they weren’t racing at 100 percent, they also weren’t in violation, because that 100 percent rule actually pertains to drivers/teams attempting to manipulate race results.
Here’s the rest of Helton’s quote from 2013:
“Any competitor who takes action with the intent to artificially alter the finishing positions of the event or encourages, persuades or induces others to artificially alter the finishing position of the event shall be subject to a penalty from NASCAR. Artificially altered shall be defined as actions by any competitor that show or suggest that the competitor did not race at 100 percent of their ability for the purpose of changing finishing positions in the event at NASCAR’s sole discretion.”
After reading that, I don’t think the JGR trio of Busch, Edwards and Kenseth are guilty. Their actions in the back on Sunday didn’t help get teammate, Hamlin, his Chase advancement. Some of the fans still disgruntled after Sunday’s race seem to think otherwise, judging from social media posts and comments, as I’ve seen claims that these three drivers rode in the back, because if they were in front of Hamlin, those would be points Hamlin would lose, resulting in Chase elimination.
Really?!? Stop and think for a minute. Hamlin and Austin Dillon finished the race tied in points and Hamlin advanced by tie breaker. For Hamlin’s three teammates to have made a difference in Hamlin’s Chase efforts, wouldn’t they have needed to run behind Hamlin but in front of the drivers he was racing for the final Chase spot — in this case, Dillon? Running behind Hamlin AND the drivers he was racing for a Chase spot wouldn’t have affected Hamlin’s efforts, whatsoever. For that matter, running in front of Hamlin AND the drivers he was battling wouldn’t have mattered either. The strategy employed by Edwards, Busch and Kenseth was all about preserving their points for safe Chase advancement, no more, no less.
Again, I don’t like watching the strategy, but at the same time, I don’t blame them for it. In the same position, I’m sure I probably would’ve done the same thing. Busch was spot on with this response to his and his teammates’ critics:
“Don’t hate the player… Hate the game. (via Twitter — @KyleBusch
Speaking of the game, I don’t think there’s a change that could be made to said game to prevent something like this strategy from happening again. That is, unless you want to do away with points completely, and I definitely don’t think that’s a good idea. Sure, winning is important, but points from consistency should account for something.
I’ve read comments and posts from fans blaming the Chase format. Even with any other Chase format, or heck, for that matter, even without the Chase, as long as there are points awarded, there are possibilities for what we saw on Sunday.
I’ve also read not only fan social media rants but also opinion pieces for other motorsports writers applauding the move of the Talladega race away from being an elimination race next year as a way to prevent this strategy from being used there again. I don’t see a change of date as preventing it, either, even if Talladega was moved to the first race of a round. With Talladega as a hypothetical first race of a round, what’s to say that some small group of Chasers wouldn’t decide to avoid “the big one,” thus avoiding the biggest-possible points deficit to have to climb out of over the next two weeks and then focus on accumulating the most points possible the other two weeks, if a win isn’t in the cards?
What if there wasn’t even a Chase, at all? I could easily imagine a points leader running in the back to protect his points cushion. I could also see someone in a close second position not wanting his/her deficit to grow at Talladega as a result of getting caught up in the “big one” and then focusing on subtracting from the deficit over the course of the remaining races.
I don’t hate the player, but I do hate this part of the game. That being said, though, I think this is a possible play that’s a bitter pill we just have to swallow. I’m not sure there is a solution. And as long as it’s an option, I can’t really blame those who would benefit from it from utilizing it.
Admit it; had you been in the same position, you probably would’ve done the same thing.