In case you’re a NASCAR fan living under some kind of rock somewhere, Tony Stewart is back on the NASCAR scene and is set to compete in Sunday night’s Oral-B USA 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Stewart spoke to the media on Friday, making a statement but answering no questions (view video of statement here). That statement was followed by a Q&A with Stewart-Haas Racing Executive Vice President Brett Frood (see transcript here), which was followed by a Q&A with NASCAR President Mike Helton (see transcript here). During his presser, Helton announced that Stewart would receive and exemption, a waiver of sorts, to remain Chase for the Sprint Cup eligible.
Of course, this doesn’t guarantee Stewart a spot in the Chase, far, far from it. Still, to get into the Chase, Stewart would have to win at Atlanta on Sunday night and/or at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway next Saturday. That’s a big hill to climb, considering Stewart’s been out for three weeks, two of those during which he didn’t even practice or qualify his car, or even make an appearance at a race track for that matter. On top of that, his season before the time off wasn’t exactly Chase-bound material.
Of course Stewart did produce un-Chase-men-like results in 2011 before hitting a hot streak and winning half the Chase races en route to his 2011 title. But the rules were different in 2011. This time aroun, he’s going to have to win in the next two weeks to even get into the Chase. He enters Atlanta 26th in points after missing three races. As a result, he’s nowhere near getting one of the final points entries into the post-season.
Of course, I’m sure that’s probably still not the number one thing on Stewart’s mind right now. If you didn’t his public statement on Friday, let me tell you, it was rather heartwrenching.
Anyway, back to the original point I had planned to make, here. NASCAR gave Stewart and exemption, so to speak. The rules state that to remain Chase-eligible, drivers must attempt to qualify for every race, unless NASCAR decides to make an exception because of a rare circumstance. Stewart didn’t attempt to qualify at Michigan International Speedway or Bristol (Ten.) Motor Speedway (He did qualify at Watkins Glen prior to the life-altering incident in New York).
I’ve read social media posts, etc., from a few folks here and there that complain that Stewart’s receiving special treatment by getting this waiver. I’m pretty sure I even remember reading one that said that nobody had even heard of the whole “exception under special or rare circumstance” clause.
I can’t speak for everyone else, but I was certainly aware of it, and I’m no genius by any means. Maybe I was just paying more attention to detail when NASCAR rolled out its new Chase program. I don’t know. Besides, if the clause didn’t exist, why would there have been speculation the past couple of weeks as to whether or not Stewart could still get into the Chase. Without such a clause, wouldn’t the answer have been more cut and dry?
But should NASCAR have given Stewart said exemption/waiver? My vote is, most certainly, “Yes.” I don’t think anyone can dispute that Stewart’s situation is, fortunately, rare. That aside, give the guy a break for crying out loud!
Yes, NASCAR has been subjected to criticism in recent years over being at least somewhat wishy-washy and inconsistent when it comes to penalties and such. And, I have to say, some of that criticism has been deserved. The move to a laid-out penalty structure to start the current season went a long way to quieting that criticism. But is this who Chase waiver situation opening another can of inconsistent, wishy-washy worms? Yes, it probably is. Down the road, will there be controversy over what’s considered a rare or special circumstance and what’s not? It’s possible. But, at least for now, I’m okay with that.
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