Akouris: Joliet race an apropos end to a weird week in NASCAR
By Tina Akouris firstname.lastname@example.org September 16, 2013 8:38PM
Matt Kenseth celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Updated: September 16, 2013 9:40PM
It seemed fitting the GEICO 400 was red-flagged for a 5-hour, 10-minute rain delay Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet.
The first race of 10 in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship didn’t end until almost midnight, and no one seemed to be around to watch Matt Kenseth get his sixth victory of the season and increase his points lead in the standings.
Considering the week NASCAR had — dealing with penalties, infractions and do-overs that were announced during Chase week — fans and even drivers had a hard time paying attention to what was going on in the garage area and in their cars.
Leave it to Kenseth, the most unassuming of the elite Sprint Cup drivers, to kick off the 2013 Chase with a solid win that only a few die-hards got to see either in person or if they stayed up late to watch on television.
Even though the Speedway’s camping areas were full for most of the tripleheader weekend, rainy weather surely kept a lot of fans away from Sunday’s race. NASCAR doesn’t announce attendance figures anymore, so it was difficult to determine just how many fans waited around for the race to finally restart.
Kenseth, with his usual deadpan humor and quiet dominating driving style, tried to brush off the week’s events.
“I wasn’t involved in any of it so I kind of enjoyed that,” he said. “It seemed like we came in as the first seed, which was really great, but we were in the shadows all week with everything going on. I was all right with that. We had a lot of space to work on our cars and talk about things.”
NASCAR honchos Brian France and Mike Helton stressed a week ago — when they fined Michael Waltrip Racing a record $300,000 and docked 50 points from Martin Truex Jr., thereby inserting Ryan Newman in the Chase — the sport’s integrity needs to be preserved.
It was like taking some sugar with your antibiotic when you were a kid, the sweetness helping the bitterness go down the gullet a little easier.
But there was more medicine to come once the NASCAR show got down to business in Joliet, haulers and all. In a hastily called news conference late Friday afternoon, France and Helton announced that Jeff Gordon was being added to the Chase as an unprecedented 13th driver and Penske Racing and Front Row Motorsports were being put on probation until Dec. 31.
This news brought more drama, and you almost forgot there was a Camping World Truck Series race that night.
Another major announcement came Saturday. Helton and France explained a rule was added to the NASCAR guidelines that said drivers are to give 100 percent and that they not alter the outcome of a race.
But what is the definition of 100 percent? Helton said the start-and-park drivers — those who don’t have enough sponsorship money to finish a race and just go a few laps — are giving 100 percent. Those who don’t are the ones who intentionally cause wrecks and cautions.
These rules and penalties and probationary moves are meant to renew the fans’ hope in a sport that was based on getting every advantage you can, so that your car is faster than the guy’s next to you.
“I think everybody is pretty clear on what everybody expects, the things that we should do and not do,” Kenseth said, “although a lot of it is pretty obvious anyway.”