I’m guessing winning the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup just won’t carry the prestige of recent years, given all the controversy that has surrounded this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup that has pretty much turned NASCAR’s 10-race postseason to determine its champion into somewhat of a circus. And that’s before the thing even gets underway, as the first race of the Chase isn’t until Sunday afternoon at Chicagoland Speedway.
Are the right drivers even competing? Are there too many drivers in it? Is there one out who should be in? Are there drivers in who should be out? NASCAR has sure found itself in a quandry that its been trying to dig itself out of all week.
After last weekend’s race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway — the final race for drivers to qualify for a Chase spot — Martin Truex Jr. was in, while Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon found themselves on the outside looking in.
After NASCAR review of video and in-race radio communications of a perceived intentional spin by Clint Bowyer to bring out a caution, an unnecessary pit stop by Brian Vickers and David Gilliland letting Joey Logano pass him for a position, Truex found himself outside of the Chase field on Monday, replaced by Newman. Then on Friday, Gordon was added to the mix to create a 13-man Chase field.
Now that I think about it, it sure seemed like everyone not named Gordon or associated, somehow, with Gordon wanted to make sure Logano finished in the top-10 in points. Logano and the Ford camp wanted him there to collect bonus points, and Michael Waltrip Racing wanted him in the top-10 so he wouldn’t take a wild card spot from Truex.
In the aftermath, Truex didn’t think it was fair that he was kicked out. After all, he may have been the driver his teammates (Bowyer and Vickers) were trying to help, but he wasn’t taking part in the shady monkey business. Meanwhile, Bowyer gave what seemed like a half-hearted apology while not admitting guilt, Vickers insisted that he was just helping a teammate and Newman and Gordon rejoiced that they’re in the Chase they thought they were out of last Saturday. As for the Logano pass on Gilliland, not much more than a peep has been heard from their teams since they received no more than slaps on the wrist in the form of probation.
Now, see why I’m calling this whole mess a circus? I think the only hope for the championship crowning to be taken seriously this year is if it’s won by one of the drivers who clinched Chase berths fairly early — drivers who would have been part of the Chase no matter what happened at Richmond. But then again, who’s to say that one of the drivers who was kept out or kicked out because of the Richmond mess wouldn’t have given the next champion more of a run for his money?
What if Truex is the best performer, overall, over the course of the next 10 races? Will we be left wondering what would have been? What if Gordon claims a fifth Cup or Newman his first? Will either be viewed as a driver who was undeservedly handed a Chase spot?
In the end, a champion will be crowned, and I’m sure there won’t be an asterick by his name in the history book. But fans of the day will remember the Chase for the Sprint Cup Circus of 2013. While NASCAR seems to be doing its best to remount the wheels that fell off this wagon last weekend at Richmond, it’s still kind of hard not to view this year’s Chase as at least somewhat of a comedic farce.
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