By admin | May 21, 2012
By Richard Allen
On Monday morning I read a headline in a newspaper that declared, ‘Sandbagging in All Star Race irritates fans’. The headline almost caused me to openly laugh in the middle of a crowded teachers lounge.
During Saturday’s Sprint All Star Race, driver Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus employed a strategy in which, after winning the first of four 20 lap segments, the #48 car rode at the back of the pack until the final dash for the finish. The rules of that race allowed each segment winner to move to the front of the pack prior to the final mandatory pit stop of the night.
Second and third segment winners Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski also used the same strategy after their wins.
“Everybody knew if you could win that first segment, you could control the night,” Johnson explained after the race. “When the rules came down, every crew chief in the garage realized the importance of that first segment.”
Apparently, it has just come to light for some that so called ‘sandbagging’ is an issue in NASCAR. Funny, but it seems to me this has been going on since 2004, or for that matter, much further back. But in more recent times, the system currently in place in this sport encourages such behavior.
This one race served as a microcosm of what has been going on ever since the inception of the Chase for the Championship in 2004. That system of taking twelve drivers for a ten race dash for the Sprint Cup title encourages teams to run just hard enough early on to get locked into the playoff then take care of equipment and test until those final ten events.
That’s what NASCAR seems to want, folks. Or at least they seem to believe it is what’s best for the sport. Johnson and his crew took advantage of the system by playing smarter than everybody else. That is what they did for five consecutive seasons between 2006 and 2010.
NASCAR’s leadership goes from one gimmicky system to another that, as they declare, “will encourage hard racing”. Instead, their schemes seem to always prove otherwise. What typically happens is a short burst of intensity followed by a long period of ‘sandbagging’ with another short burst of intensity at the end. Again, one race served as a microcosm of a much bigger picture.
When asked about the criticisms of the All Star Race format after collecting $1 million on Saturday night, Johnson offered honest commentary. “That’s going to be tough for me to knock the system after how our night went because it just worked out exactly how we’d hoped,” he said.
Johnson could use that one statement to summarize all five of his championships. Why would the driver and team who have proven their ability to outsmart everyone, including and especially NASCAR, feel otherwise?
Anyone who has spent much time reading this blog will probably know I have been critical of these fly-by-night television ratings driven schemes for a while now. Hopefully there will be a growing feeling of discontent toward the Chase and other types of quick hitters and change will come about.
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