Opinion: For NASCAR and its fans the damage is done
I love this sport. In my darkest moments I found this sport. I have latched onto this sport to get me thru some tough times the last few years. It was an escape away for just a few hours on the weekend. It was the thrill of victory and often the pain of defeat that has kept me coming back for more.
What has happened in the last week has left this long time fan not only a little embarrassed for my sport but a little bruised as well. I know that manipulation and some form of working the system goes on every week. If you don’t know this you have frankly chosen to ignore it.
Has or does every team given up a position or allowed a teammate to lead a lap? Of course but that doesn’t mean it is justified.
That doesn’t make manipulating the finish so blatantly and with no apologies or any sense of respect for your competitors, sponsors and fans okay.
I have always prided myself that my sport often avoided scandals like the MLB, NFL and NBA have faced. Our athletes don’t get arrested every off season, nor is their rampant illegal substance use.
We came into the sports spotlight as rough and tumble athletes that the idea of finishing second was so infuriating our drivers were willing to duke it out in the Daytona infield. The national audience loved it and so NASCAR became mainstream.
The need to be considered a mainstream sport saw corporate America step in and young, good looking drivers step up. Some will say that corporate America was the downfall of this sports old school image. Still NASCAR has found a way to avoid scandals that make us conversation of mainstream media.
Scandals for us seemed small and never made a blip on the national radar. The integrity of our sport was never questioned nor debated. Fans didn’t feel cheated or robbed-that is until now.
The timely spin, the extended stop on pit road, the unscheduled pit stop and now more evidence of backroom deals have NASCAR in a full song soap opera. The stakes are far higher both on the track and away from it.
They are battling unhappy fans that stand on both sides of the issue. Owners and drivers who feel in some form they were wronged or did not nothing wrong.
This is like a messy courtroom battle that has every side wanting a voice, wanting to have an opinion. In the end we all are losing.
In what should be a week celebrating the 12 drivers whose 26 weeks paid off with a chance for the big prize has turned into a circus. NASCAR forced to deal with the public persona of this sport and the long term health of this sport.
If they did nothing then the signal would be sent that what occurred on Saturday was “okay”. But by penalizing a driver or an organization the message has been sent don’t mess with the integrity of this playoff system or this sport.
It is a PR nightmare for everyone involved. Someone will lose in all of this and it will end up being the fans.
NASCAR has to calm down its fan base but also keep the owners happy. Along with mainstream media discussing and questioning the sport; NASCAR is at a crossroad once again.
What they do here will define this sport for years to come. NASCAR has always been inconsistent with its penalties. In this case they can’t afford to. There is a lot of money on the line. Not only making the Chase but for the sponsors.
Being connected to a “cheating” scandal is not good business and the negative attention this week toward a brand does have an impact on the bottom line.
Come Sunday the green flag will wave and RIR will be a distant memory for some or a motivator for others.
For some fans Saturday night was the last straw. Fed up with status quo, fed up with inconsistencies, fed up with a sport who as one fan said “the drivers seem to disrespect the fans and the hard earned money we have invested into this sport.”
They have walked away.
For others they will tune in, still attend races but with a little less faith in the system and the drivers they root for.
In the end it wasn’t just points or chance at the Chase that was lost but the trust of one of the most loyal fan bases in sports.