So, as John Oliver usually begins his HBO show, let’s begin with a quick recap of the week. Or weeks. Because there has been a lot going on in the sport that has little to do with the actual on-track racing. That does not mean that the racing has been disappointing but rather that there has been so much going on surrounding the sport that the racing is somewhat of an afterthought.
Before going further, it is important to acknowledge that the racing this season has been buoyed by the new car and how it races on many different circuits. The big letdown to this point has been how lackluster the race at Martinsville unfolded, devoid of drama and featuring the rare occurrence when the leader could drive away on a short-track.
That being noted, the news surrounding the sport for the past couple of weeks has been a fascinating hodge-podge of desires, outcomes, and challenges. For starters, NASCAR announced that in its desire to explore new opportunities the sport would hold a Cup race on the streets of Chicago in 2023. This move is stunning for a number of reasons. That the series held decent races on the oval track in Joliet, Illinois prior to the pandemic scrambling the schedule seems to be of little concern as the track is now mothballed and certainly awaiting re-development to become some kind of nightmare strip-mall-housing-complex-office-laden ode to the overdevelopment gods of neoliberal capitalism.
Somehow Chicago is pulling off what NASCAR had wanted to do in New York for the past two decades. The sport had long focused on attempting to put on a race in the metro NY area yet never found a way to pull the right strings to make it happen. But, perhaps encouraged by the foray into the Los Angeles market by running a race at the Los Angeles Coliseum, NASCAR management recognized an alternate way to be splashy and race in an unexpected arena. The Chicago street course is nothing but if not that.
Yet in conjunction with the yearning to explore new racing opportunities, the sport is also flexing on its sense of power. For years, NASCAR has looked ineffectual in how it has policed the sport––a governing body that appears more whimsical than it does logical; one bent on arbitrary decisions rather than one upholding the rules and sending a consistent message. If anything, the recent week has illustrated a change in this mentality.
What had once been a shrugging of the shoulders has become a more stringent policing effort. The NASCAR rulebook frequently had, and laughably, been considered one written in pencil but the recent events point to an organization intent on policing itself more seriously. Or seemingly so.
Consider how the past week has played out regarding technical infractions. Petty-GMS found itself without both its crew chiefs after they were ejected from Pocono prior to the Cup race. The rocker box assemblies were found to be out of line with whatever rocker box assemblies are supposed to be and touches upon how the sport can be amazingly technical and yet does a pathetic job in discussing engineering and technical aspects.
But in one of the most staggering displays of NASCAR adjudication of the sport, the governing body decided to lob a hand grenade into the usually expected processes and instead chose to strip Denny Hamlin of a win and also tell Kyle Busch that his race efforts did not amount to anything.
Was Joe Gibbs Racing cheating? Did Hamlin and Busch know? Do chickens dance on one leg in the pale moonlight of a full moon?
Who cares about answering that question? The big reason is that there is some reason to believe that the world may have been torn asunder, that there is reason to feel that there are better ways of looking forward.
And if to see a better way forward seems like a cliche, one meant to keep you from being a more actualized individual then it is disappointing but also the greatest aspect for not being tracked. On the flipside, however, we find a peculiar response to driver safety and how to move forward. Give kudos to NASCAR for how Kurt Busch is being used as a way to see safety in the sport in a modernized fashion.
Busch sat out last week after not being cleared following a crash in qualifying. Apparently, the injury, presumably concussion-related, will now keep Busch out of the car for the upscoming race at the Indianapolis road course.
The sum total of all these measures, decisions, and rulings is that NASCAR is governing itself in a way that seems more progressive than it ever has been. Some fans have had an issue with the overall amount of change in the sport over the past two decades. Yet, some fans, even stalwarts, have recognized how the sport has failed to move forward, unable to embrace measures that would keep the sport fresh and invigorated. The past couple weeks, however, indicate a sport more willing to move forward with decisions meant to keep the sport alive. But for those of you longing for the day when the Playoffs will become a dustbin relic of a failed experiment, sorry, it does not look like that change is coming.
About the author
As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.