The King: NASCAR’s biggest challenge is getting new fans
Nobody likes a cheater, right?
But, what if we actually do?
Now, the idea of that just sounds wrong. Understandably so, since most of us are taught from a young age that cheating is unethical. It’s a form of lying, stealing, or whatever other “bad” thing you want to call it. From grade school to graduation, we’re taught not to cheat — in school, sports, relationships and just about everything else in life.
That’s all true. Our parents were right (savor that, Mom!) — by no means am I endorsing cheating, not on your work and not on other people.
What if there’s an exception to the rule?
Maybe exception isn’t the right word — “bending the rules” is probably a more tactful way to put it — but in NASCAR’s case, a loose interpretation of the rule book might actually be the best course of action.
Take Monday’s weather-delayed finish at Michigan, for example. Joey Logano dominated for much of the race, using the 2019 rules package to his advantage like so many other drivers have this season. His car was exceptional, and even late, Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch struggled to catch him. Then came a caution with fewer than five laps to go, sending the race into a two-lap overtime.
What transpired next was strange, to put it mildly. Under the current aerodynamic package, which intentionally slows cars in an attempt to create closer racing, restarts have regularly been some of the best pure racing. At Charlotte in May, we even saw cars go four-wide in an attempt to capitalize on restarts. Basically, they’re your best shot at actually passing someone, since it becomes so hard to do so once a leader gets clean air out front.
But instead of a similar struggle at Michigan, there was nothing. No tight battle, no bumping. Logano just sailed back out to the front — again, his car was the best all day — with Kurt Busch, his younger brother Kyle, and Truex left in the dust.
After the race, that trio of non-winners told reporters they thought Logano had jumped the restart, meaning he went full-out before reaching the designated restart zone. Think of it this way: It’s like a high school track race, except one runner starts on “get set” instead of “go.” Heck, second-place finisher Kurt Busch even said he’d have done the same thing in Logano’s position.
NASCAR reviewed the restart, as is normal procedure, and found nothing wrong. Logano is the official winner, but the controversy at least bears mentioning — both in the short-term context and long-term standard.
In the short-term, Logano’s move isn’t really worth blowing up into anything bigger than it is. It was a savvy veteran driver pushing the envelope as he knew he could, and then reaping the rewards of that decision.
But long-term, whether you call Logano’s move cheating or not, it’s hard to say that bending the rules doesn’t fit with NASCAR’s image and reputation. The sport was founded on engineering ingenuity, mechanics tinkering and tweaking their vehicles to squeeze out every last drop of speed. Sometimes, does that mean touching something you’re not supposed to? Perhaps.
In the spirit of NASCAR, though, it was tolerated. NASCAR’s roots aren’t nearly as polished or structured as other major American sports. The rules constantly change, ebbing and flowing as technology does. When someone creates something unfairly superior, someone else pushes the envelope a liiiittle bit further. That’s the nature of innovation — if you’re not willing to think outside the box, you likely won’t see much progress.
Again, this isn’t to say that NASCAR should suddenly let drivers and crew chiefs blatantly cut corners. As Kevin Harvick found out last season, more blatant violations will be found and dealt with accordingly.
But emphasizing and exploiting the gray area of NASCAR’s rule books? Have at it. If there are dividends to be paid, why not?
What: Toyota / Save Mart 350
Distance: 85 laps.
Where: Sonoma Raceway, a 2.52-mile, road course in Sonoma, Calif.
When: 3 p.m. ET, June 23
TV: Fox Sports 1. Radio: PRN.