The more things change, the more they change
I jumped into the 2013 season excited about the new car, the Gen6 car, and optimistic that with the announced "differences" between brands, the teams would have more opportunities to adjust the cars. I had hopes that it wouldn't be another example of IROC.
Well, it seems any originality was short-lived. Now drivers are being penalized for pitting when they don't need to, talking about giving up spots, and generally doing what has been done during the entire history of NASCAR. The Chase, a contrived play off, initiated by NASCAR, has again been adjusted to allow one of their favorites, Jeff Gordon, into the Chase.
Last night I found myself so disappointed in what NASCAR has become that I sat down and watched "3", the Dale Earnhardt Sr. story. Right now I'm watching it again.
All through watching this movie, I have found myself asking if NASCAR would be the way it is today if we hadn't lost Dale Sr. in 2001.
The short answer? No.
Ralph Earnhardt pushed his son, Dale Sr., to a money finish in one of the first races they ran together. Were either of them punished? No, and yet everyone knew it had happened. Was that wrong?
Ralph Earnhardt found an advantage when Dale Sr was only a teenager, by using a certain screw driver instead of a "key" in the wheel of his cars. He bought up all the screwdrivers he could find in town so the rest of the teams couldn't use that same advantage. He didn't win every race using that screwdriver, but he didn't have part failures either. Could that happen today? Absolutely not. But was it really wrong?
After the death of Neil Bonnett, the movie depicts Dale Sr. returning to his daddy's shop. He picks up that famous screwdriver and cries. But he builds Kelley and Dale Jr a car so they can race, and tells Dale exactly what his daddy told him:
"The winner ain't the one with the fastest car, he's the one who refuses to lose."
I look at the current crop of drivers and I see a few who really, really want to win. They are the drivers, I believe, who are in this year's Chase. Matt Kenseth, who has won more races than anyone, won the race at Chicagoland. Kevin Harvick has announced his departure from Richard Childress Racing and intent to join Stewart Haas Racing in 2014, but still wants to put his own signature on RCR and give Richard his first Championship since the Intimidator. Ryan Newman was fired from Stewart Haas, and will move over to RCR, but he, like Harvick, wants desperately to win that Championship. Kurt Busch will also jump into a Stewart Haas car in 2014, but he just wants to win, constantly. His younger brother, Kyle, is the same way. Tony Stewart would be in the Chase, I have no doubt, were he not injured in a Sprint Car accident. Brad Keselowski missed the Chase only by the points deducted from his team early on in the season by NASCAR for unapproved parts.
I see a litle bit of Dale Sr in each of those drivers. No one will ever be the Intimidator. No one will ever accomplish what he did, in that way, but if NASCAR would only let them, I believe we could give the fans the NASCAR they love.
I asked above if NASCAR would be the same now, if Dale Sr. hadn't died at the 2001 Daytona 500. I think a lot of what we see now is unavoidable, because of the technology. The in-car cameras, radios, GPS, and other technology have made the changes inevitible. Microphones are in the faces of the drivers and crews constantly. Cameras are everywhere. Safety features have also been implemented and those are definitely for the better. But I don't believe every change made has been for the better, and unfortunately, I don't think NASCAR has that leader in a driver that they can count on to tell them what needed to be said, not the say Dale Sr. did. I think that Tony Stewart stepped up and has spoken out when he felt it was necessary, but I also don't think anyone could ever fill those shoes.
NASCAR changed forever in February 2001. No, we can't bring Dale Sr. back, and he wouldn't be racing now regardless, but can you just imagine Dale Sr. as President of NASCAR instead of Mike Helton?
Forgive my ramblings today. I just needed to get some thoughts written down. Please share your reminiscences, your ideas, your criticisms. After all, I am not NASCAR and I do not know everything. I just like to voice my opinion.