Some thoughts about manufactured drama, Jeff Belskus and Steve Kinser… The kind of thoughts that occur while wondering why they ruined the dogleg at Phoenix International Raceway.
LOSE EVERY BATTLE, YET WIN THE WAR?
It’s all set up for another NASCAR fairytale ending. Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin are running 1-2-3 in this Sunday’s finale at Homestead, Fla. with 10 laps to go when they take each other out. Ryan Newman, two laps behind the leaders at the time of their crash, picks his way through the debris and charges to a 19th-place finish to capture the Sprint Cup.
“We didn’t have much for the fast guys today. Hell, we didn’t have much for anyone on the lead lap. But we had a top-20 car and that was good enough,” is what we envision Newman saying during the euphoria in victory lane as he’s presented a check for $8 million.
Comical? It should make you smile but that scenario could become a reality with NASCAR’s new playoff system. As it stands this morning, a guy with no wins this season (Newman) who has led just 53 laps in the 35 races this year has a 25 percent chance to be NASCAR champion. Meanwhile a guy with six victories (Brad Keselowski) who’s led 1,540 laps and another guy with four wins (Jeff Gordon) wins has zero chance to be No. 1.
So much for NASCAR’s renewed emphasis on winning.
Newman qualified for the title by taking 11th on a last-lap banzai move while Gordon finished second yet lost out of the Eliminator Round by one point.
And there’s no doubt that this contrived “battle” combined with last week’s post-race melee between Gordon and Kez were good for ratings and, obviously, that was the impetus for changing – again – the way a champ is crowned. But it can’t sit well with real racers because this system is an even bigger joke than the original Chase concept.
Let’s put it this way: The champion isn’t always the guy with the most wins but more often than not, it’s the driver whose year is spiced with wins, podiums, pole positions and performance.
Will Power led the most laps, led the most races, and tied for the most wins to take his initial Verizon IndyCar title this year. Either Lewis Hamilton (10 wins) or Nico Rosberg (five) will wear the crown in Formula 1. Donny Schatz captured 26 A mains on his way to his sixth World of Outlaws championship. Champ Kody Swanson was victorious in five of the 10 USAC Silver Crown while Rico Abreu wrapped up the USAC midget crown with four wins and a flock of podiums.
The USAC sprint title will likely be decided by the two winningest drivers – Brady Bacon and Bryan Clauson. Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa added four runner-up finishes to their three wins to take IMSA’s TUDOR Championship. They, like all the aforementioned, were always in there fighting for the win, always the guys you looked to as contenders.
In an ideal situation, the title is always decided in the season finale and, thanks to a double-points gimmick, IndyCar had that scenario and so does F1. Logano (five wins), Harvick (four Ws and over 2,000 laps led) and Hamlin (with a first, second and third in 2014) have all been more competitive than Newman. But if, by some very possible circumstances, Newman somehow manages to beat those other three guys at Homestead and still go winless in 36 starts he could be THE MAN.
Ryan can’t be faulted; he’s only playing by the latest rules and doing his best but you’ve got to think he’d feel a little guilty at the NASCAR banquet. Lucky and a lot richer but still a little guilty, because he’s a racer.
And NASCAR? It should be embarrassed.
(TOP) Hamlin, Harvick and Logano go into this weekend’s NASCAR finale knowing they could be beaten to the Sprint Cup by a guy with no wins this year. (ABOVE) Newman – playing the game. (BELOW) Keselowski  has scored six wins this season, Newman  has scored none. Guess which one of them has a chance of winning the title…
YA REALLY THINK HE QUIT?
Press releases can be like NASCAR yellows – great comic relief. Take last week’s announcement that Jeff Belskus was “retiring” in 2015. I’ve taken the liberty of adding my own “what they really meant” quotes under the originals:
‘Hulman & Company President and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Belskus will retire from the company effective early in 2015. Belskus began his 27-year career with Hulman’s affiliate, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in 1987.
‘”We’re so very grateful for all Jeff has done over these many years, and we wish him all the best in the future. He’s always been willing to step into any role to help us be successful and has made countless, lasting contributions,” said Mari Hulman George, chairman of the board of Hulman & Company.’
What Mari surely meant was: “I know he went to college with Tony and that’s why we hired him. I hope he saved his money.”
‘“Belskus has served in many roles with Hulman, IMS and other affiliates during his long career. He is best known for his four years as president and chief executive officer of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In addition, he served as CEO of Hulman & Company, CEO of the Verizon IndyCar Series and, previously, more than 20 years as the company’s executive vice president and chief financial officer.
‘“With Jeff’s leadership we have achieved the growth phase we are in now. I particularly have enjoyed and benefited from the opportunity to work closely with Jeff over the last couple of years, and I’m very thankful for Jeff’s thoughtfulness in planning this transition. We will miss his daily presence, but look forward to seeing him at the track in the future,” said Mark Miles, Hulman & Company CEO.’
The Miles translation. “I’m cutting the final umbilical cord with the Tony George regime and bringing in another one of my people. Besides, the only smart thing Jeff ever did was hire the Boston Consulting Group…”
‘”I’m extremely appreciative to the Hulman-George family and the entire Hulman Board for all of the opportunities they have provided me over these many years. I’m proud of our multiple accomplishments over my 27 years with IMS and Hulman & Company,” said Belskus. “I’m looking forward to the next chapter in my life and career.”‘
What Belskus meant to say: “I led the witch hunt to get rid of Randy Bernard and this is the thanks I get? I wondered why [IMS president] Doug Boles quit bringing me Starbucks, that should have been a red flag. Geez, I hope I can still get a parking pass and suite tickets next May.”
First off, no 55-year-old man or woman in their right mind would quit one of the best six-figure jobs in all of motorsports. Belskus retired like I did at The Indianapolis Star.
SALUTING THE KING
There’s a little video tribute to Steve Kinser’s amazing career below, and the guy who made the World of Outlaws relevant (along with Sammy Swindell and Doug Wolfgang) was honored Sunday night in Charlotte.
After 577 wins and 20 WoO championships, the 60-year-old Hoosier legend will no longer compete full-time in the sprint car series that flourished because of his skills and fantastic duels with Swindell.
The coolest thing to happen all weekend? Sammy showed up and posed for a photo with his old rival.
“There’s not many of those floating around,” said Kinser with a laugh. “But it was kinda neat that Sammy showed up.”