There’s no cheering allowed in the press box, but I sure hope laughing is permitted.
That’s because I spent a decent part of Friday’s qualifying session at Las Vegas — the first with the new aero rules package — cracking up. Watching the bizarre, wacky game of chicken was honestly hilarious, and I enjoyed the spectacle of the strange scene.
Now, was that the fairest way to determine the polesitter for a major league, professional race? LORD no! Does it reward the fastest car or the best driver? C’mon. Of course not. This was more of a circus than a competition.
But damn if it wasn’t entertaining in its uniquely weird way. And really, isn’t that going to be the theme of 2019 NASCAR? “Entertaining in a uniquely weird way?”
Think about it: We’re two days away from seeing a bunch of restricted-power cars with the equivalent of aerodynamic parachutes run around a track that was originally built for high-speed, balls-to-the-walls racing. Everything is different now, and this is just another sign.
I’m sure the drivers absolutely hated what happened on Friday, and I don’t blame them. If you grew up as the most elite driver in your region and ascended to the ranks of America’s top racing series, you’d probably want your talent and team’s hard work to shine through. You’d probably be disgusted at being treated like a trained monkey who gets in the car and holds it wide open while getting beat by a driver who wasn’t better than you but just got great timing with a draft.
But the world they live in — the NASCAR universe we all share as people who follow the sport — has changed in 2019. Those in charge have opted for entertainment and show business over the purity of racing, a huge gamble to try and stop the sport’s decline.
At the same time, I’m finding myself caring less about the holiness of some aspects of the weekend. That includes qualifying, because…does it really even matter?
Last year, some cars would fail to make a qualifying attempt due to inspection issues — and then drive up to the front before the end of Stage 1 like it was nothing. So why is qualifying even necessary? Who cares where drivers start?They could just do a random draw (like before the Clash) and start that way.
Yes, this qualifying session was fairly stupid, but it was also entertaining. Will I still feel that way a month or five months from now, after this has happened multiple times? Eh, maybe not. But NASCAR will probably have revamped the format by then anyway.
Maybe I’m just resigned to constant change at this point, but qualifying didn’t make me outraged or mad. I’m not jumping up and down screaming out principle and credibility. They qualified, got a starting lineup out of it and it was funny at the same time.
What’s so bad about that?
“I’ll leave that up to you guys on how to wrap your arms around it,” Kevin Harvick said after winning the pole.
Personally, I’m OK with embracing it. But I certainly understand if others don’t.