Race Weekend Central

Call it What it is

And so it begins….

Already NASCAR Nation is dealing with fallout from Race Number One of the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Denny Hamlin’s come-from-behind, old-tires-are-good-enough strategy turned savvy decisions on pit road into a one-way trip to Victory Lane.

Nothing better about winning at Chicagoland in September than a free pass into the Contender Round of the postseason.

So what were people talking about on Monday? It was the Logano/Johnson/Harvick kerfuffle.

The on-track contact during a restart on lap 135 led to three conclusions: 1) Joey Logano finished sixth, 2) Jimmie Johnson finished eleventh, and 3) Kevin Harvick finished 42nd.

Oh, yeah; and the drivers’ motorcoach lot resembled an episode of “Cops”….

There was Harvick in a tee-shirt and sunglasses stepping from his motor home and shoving Johnson in the chest. Moving in to break up the scuffle was DeLana Harvick and Josh Jones (Harvick’s business manager). Johnson was apparently told to back off (or drop dead, or go to Hell; NBC’s camera position was not optimal), and the post-race confrontation quickly wound down.

The motorcycle cop who wandered toward the fray could clock out early and get a jump on traffic, especially since there was no one getting a jump on anyone in the coach lot.

No shirts were removed; no tears were shed.

Unless you count the tears of joy streaming down Brian France’s cheeks. Here, again, was proof positive that NASCAR’s recently-revised Chase format made for dramatic racing and heated post-race discussion.

And I’m not referring to fans here.

The fireworks shooting from events during the Chase are credited to many factors, including the pressure of surviving elimination every three weeks, the strain of racing for positions head-to-head against non-Chasers with nothing to lose, and the weekly recalibrating of point totals.

But what if the drama was of a more simple origin? What if there was less to the story than what NASCAR hoped or intended?

What if the drama was simply one of them racin’ deals?

You can spin it, define it, or interpret it anyway you want; the fact is that what went down in Joliet on Sunday was something you can witness at any local short track in America.

Racers race, and it’s as simple as that.

Logano bumped Johnson, which forced Johnson low and out of line. In order for the No. 48 to regain the line, Johnson needed to move up the track. Harvick’s Chevrolet was already there, and there was little competitive reason for the No. 4 to clear out and make room for Johnson. All three cars were running for position, and all three cars were in the Chase.

You do not make it to this level of stock car racing (or any form of racing) by giving away track position and helping your peers. It does not matter if you came up through the ranks together or race for teams that maintain a close relationship. Stewart-Haas Racing might share information with Hendrick Motorsports, but that does not mean Harvick and Johnson have to alter their competitive natures.

Our nature is what defines us, and that is especially true when you race door-to-door at speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour.

The sad aftermath of Chicagoland is that NASCAR, once again, captured national media attention for what was (once again) a non-event. If the sport was going for mainstream recognition, more emphasis should have been placed on Hamlin’s win in the face of adversity. For that matter, more noise should have been made about John Hunter Nemechek’s first career NCWTS victory – in an unsponsored truck, no less.

But it’s time for the Chase, so none of that seems to count. As the strain of making it to Homestead increases, expect to see more angry drivers confronting each other in a blend of frustration and desperation.

Or, as what us racing folks call it: just another weekend at the track.

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