In the movie ‘Gladiator’, the lead character Maximus Decimus Meridius played by Russell Crowe asks a rather subdued crowd following a gladitorial battle scene the question, “Are you not entertained?” The cheers that followed indicated that they were indeed entertained.
In today’s era of short attention spans and various entertainment options available to potential attendees and viewers, all sports find themselves balancing the purity of their particular sport with the entertainment value they can offer fans. Every sport does it.
The NFL, MLB and NBA have all structured their rules to encourage offense and games that come down to the final play. NASCAR is no different. As a matter of fact, the top form of racing in America is dramatically different from the sport first devised in the 1940’s.
Sunday’s ‘Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart’ at the Atlanta Motor Speedway clearly demonstrated that point as the NASCAR Cup Series contest played out on the 1.5-mile track that was radically reconfigured during the most recent off-season to make it race more like the restrictor plate(now tapered spacer) tracks at Talladega and Daytona. And everything appeared to go exactly as planned.
There was close-quarters pack racing throughout virtually the entire 400-mile distance. There were crashes, which no matter what “true fans” may say, they create excitement as long as no one gets hurt. There was controversy, especially related to Denny Hamlin vs. Ross Chastain vs. Austin Dillon. An underdog in the person of Corey LaJoie was in contention to win right down to the last lap. The final outcome was always in doubt. And the race was ultimately won by the sport’s most popular driver.
What more could anyone want out of a racing event?
Yes, the competition was manufactured with the Super Speedway rules package, the steeper banking, and the tighten racing groove. But was that not better than seeing a driver get out in front by three or four seconds while leading three-fourths of the laps. Most viewers would probably say yes.
Big sports leagues have come to realize that they are now as much in the entertainment business as they are in the “sport” business. The NFL would rather see their games end 38-35 on a last second 50 yard field goal or Hail Mary pass than to have a 13-10 defensive struggle. There’s a reason why most NBA games have one or both teams scoring triple-digit numbers of points and why Major League Baseball players stroll to the plate with a “swing for the fences” mentality.
NASCAR is no different.
The Next Gen car was meant to be an equalizer, not a separator. Races are not meant to simply be races, but rather, entertainment events. Sunday’s Atlanta race gave the television partners what they wanted. Commentator Dale Earnhardt Jr. even declared “shame” on those who didn’t like the changes made to Atlanta Motor Speedway.
What happened in Georgia is what was meant to happen whether it met the standards of those who watch for the purity of the sport or not.
Hey, I am an old timer(54) and I enjoyed what I saw. So again, “Are you not entertained?”
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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