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Other Sports - 23. February 2009.

NASCAR adds to decay of sport


Nash Armstrong - Assistant Sports Editor

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the absence of competition in sports today. In that column, I revisited the story of a girl’s prep basketball team.

This time, however, the loss of competition has reached further up the sporting ladder to the professional ranks.

In Sunday’s running of the 51st Daytona 500, former NASCAR champion Matt Kenseth claimed the victory after the race was stopped after 152 laps because of rain. The race is scheduled to run for 200 laps.

So let’s recap, shall we? A competition, between 43 drivers, was not finished, and because it was not finished, the leader was given the trophy for what is known in the NASCAR community as The Great American Race, a race in which drivers strive all of their career to win.

This is reminiscent of the Major League Baseball All-Star game of 2002 when the competition was ended because neither team had any more pitchers to spare.

How can this be? First, people are firing coaches for doing their jobs, and now sporting competition is not finishing?

What has happened to the sacred rules of the game?

Apparently this has been a NASCAR policy for some time. Kenseth was the fourth driver to win Daytona after the race was stopped due to rain. Michael Waltrip won the race by default in 2003, as did “The King” Richard Petty in 1966 and Fred Lorenzen in 1965.

While this may have been a policy for some time, whose to say it is right? There were numerous drivers in the race that still had a chance. As any casual NASCAR fan knows, many times a driver’s car reaches its pinnacle late into the race. This can be the difference between victory or defeat.

Take for instance how Kenseth took the lead. On lap 146, Kenseth received a push from teammate Kurt Busch to pass Elliot Sadler. An upset Sadler admitted his mistake after the race was called.

“If I would have made a better and smarter move, I’d be in Victory Lane,” he said. “Very hard to swallow. Very emotional.”

To me, this proves that Sadler, along with any other driver in the field, could have had a shot at hoisting the coveted Daytona 500 trophy.

Not only does a rule such as this go against one of the essences of sport, it also causes danger for the drivers on the track. With knowledge of this rule and rain looming on the radar, drivers were trading paint in hopes of beating the rain and finish in the best possible position, which caused a wreck and a subsequent caution on lap 146 between Aric Almirola and Kasey Kahne.

So because of this rule, the competition between drivers is eliminated, and it’s a race against Mother Nature. I’m sure that is exactly what NASCAR has in mind.

Please do not misunderstand the purpose of this column. From a driver’s standpoint, Kenseth won the race fair and square. He was upfront when the yellow and red flags waved, and because of that he won the race.

Kenseth also came from the worst starting position in Daytona 500 history to grab the victory, staring 36th. He had also never even been in contention to win a 500 in his career. Congratulations Matt, you deserve it.

The issue I have a problem with, however, is with the administrative fat cats in, not only NASCAR, but in all professional sports who are ruining competition for the sake of their own reputation and their own pockets.

Don’t believe it’s about the money? There is no reason that they could not have suspended the race until today, except for the fact that they would have to pay for the track and all its employs to come back for another day. NASCAR president Mike Helton was even quoted as saying the fan’s got their money’s worth.

How asinine is this statement? No, they didn’t; they missed out on 48 laps and a possibly exciting finish! There was no problem with the weather for Monday afternoon, either. As of 3:30 p.m. Monday, Daytona Beach, Fla., was partly cloudy with a temperature of 62.

Please, professional sport administrators, quit trying to fill your pockets and give the avid competitors along with sports fans their competition back. We are going down the road of mediocrity, and I’m afraid at the end of this road lies no scoreboard and a sense that everybody wins. It makes me sick.

And finally, to put this in a local perspective, here is a message for UT athletic coaches, whether it’s Division I, club sports, or intramurals:

Watch out. This disgrace has reached the professional ranks. Take a stand, and do not ever let administrative decisions lead to the loss of competition. It’s a glorious part of life.

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