NASCAR's Chase enters Talladega weekend and the prospect of better racing than what we've seen is a very good one. There is also however the issue of what went down in the garage area after the National 500 between the Keselowski-Hamlin crash and subsequent brouhaha in the garage area. There has already been quite the reaction to these incidents and Darrell Waltrip for one has expressed the hope that NASCAR doesn't fine any of the participants involved because it ostensibly brings some positive attention to the sport; Kevin Harvick said afterward that NASCAR "loves it."
I don't. And I'm not sure that many others do.
Keselowski has become a loose cannon this season, and the Winston 500 incident - downright Ernie Irvan-esque - merely hangs over his head entering the Diehard 500. The others involved hardly qualify as professionals either, especially Denny Hamlin, a longstanding punk both on and off the track.
It was just continuation of a long-standing and underappreciated problem in NASCAR - the fact so many of its stars are unprofessional. Some weeks back the NY Times did a piece attacking NASCAR with one of the writers calling Tony Stewart "the sport's resident hothead." More recently Good Morning America did a derisive and pathetically misleading account of the postrace brouhaha. That the piece made the incident out to be worse than it actually was is typical of Good Morning America and of ex-SportsCenter washout Robin Roberts, among the dumbest broadcasters the networks have seen in years. Attacking Keselowski and company for acting in completely unprofessional manner is nonetheless legitimate.
Unprofessionalism isn't exactly new in NASCAR - one need recall 1991 and the plethora of idiocy for much of that season between Ernie Irvan, Ricky Rudd, and others, notably at the Southeastern 500 at Bristol, the First Union 400 at North Wilkesboro, the Winston 500 at Talladega, and the Summer 500 at Pocono. The shame of it is that season saw two outstanding races - the Michigan 400 won by Davey Allison and the Diehard 500 won by Earnhardt - that were for the most part cleanly contested.
The best result for NASCAR from the Diehard 500 - apart from an enormous number of lead changes, an expectation despite the sanctioning body's long-standing over-officiating of restrictor plate races - is a darkhorse stealing the win, especially if it's a driver who was in the Chase but already knocked out.
A stunning graphic says it all about what the Chase format has done -
Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, and Denny Hamlin only have to finish between 15th and 24th to advance to NASCAR's next Chase round.
Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano are unlikely to do much because they already advanced to the next elimination round, and it shows that NASCAR has merely created a new form of points racing instead of leaving drivers no alternative but to go for the win. For all the hype that the Chase format's pressure is somehow reflected in the Charlotte mess, the reality is the opposite, and it shows anew the unworkability of a playoff format for racing.
The Truck Series returns as well and the over-officiating by NASCAR hurt the racing at Daytona, though it turned out exciting in any event; chances are it will lead to a lot of frustration at Talladega as well, as 2013's running was a truly amazing battle with nonstop push-drafting, something sorely missed in all the series right now.
The Curb Motorsports and Thorson Toyotas appear to be the hot shoes for the Talladega 250, though Kyle Busch's machines are certainly proven products. One does wonder why Milka "Milk Dud" Duno is entered, though.