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In the Rearview: Fontana

March 24th, 2014 2:01 pm by Dave Ongie

In the Rearview: Fontana

Kurt Busch (41), Tony Stewart (14) and Kyle Busch (18) race down the frontstretch on the next-to-last lap of Sunday's Sprint Cup race in Fontana, Calif. (AP Photo)

There is no question that when it comes to sports entertainment, NASCAR is at the top of the heap.

Don't get me wrong — I'm not insinuating that NASCAR races are fixed like pro wrestling matches. No, I'm simply saying that no professional sports league can compete with NASCAR when it comes to an open willingness to shuffle the deck and rewrite the rulebook at the drop of a hat for the sake of adding entertainment value to their sporting events.

Too bad the only thing chiseled into stone tablets is the schedule, but that's a dead horse I beat up plenty last week.

In the old days, drivers used to win stock car races by several laps, so NASCAR took to calling its races "shows." It was made clear to racers that they would not be permitted to stink up the shows, and to drive the point home, Lucky Dogs, wave-arounds and aerodynamically identical cars were introduced to keep the competition tight from the drop of the green flag to the waving of the checkers.

And if all that fails, a dangerous shard of hot dog wrapper or a rogue water bottle can always be counted on to rear its ugly head and bring out a perfectly timed caution.

If you need evidence of NASCAR's need to control every aspect of its weekly Sprint Cup Series extravaganza, here's a telling quote from CEO Brian France regarding the changes that were made to the points system prior to this season: "Sometimes you have to evolve things," France told reporter Bob Pockrass.

Now, evolution is defined as the gradual development of something, a process that usually occurs organically. But NASCAR's got no time for that — there's another show next Sunday and the show must go on.

Generally, I can understand why NASCAR does what it does trying to create more compelling television. In much the same way as "Duck Dynasty" is heavily scripted to make the lives of its bearded duck hunters more entertaining, stock car racing's weekly reality show requires the occasional plot twists. I get it.

And you can't argue with the results. Despite the fact that both TV ratings and attendance have fallen over the past decade and a chorus of disgruntled critics have railed against an on-track product that has produced less passing, NASCAR just inked a new television deal worth 46 percent more than the last one, boosting NASCAR's annual take from $560 million a year to $820 million.

But sometimes when you decide to evolve things, there are unintended consequences. France has control over a lot, but the laws of physics are still, as of press time, beyond his grasp. And on Sunday, that fact became apparent as the tires started blowing out at Auto Club Speedway.

Since we're talking sports entertainment here, I guess it's OK to quote one of the most quotable sports entertainers of all time: Rowdy Roddy Piper. The former pro wrestling great was fond of saying "Just when you think you have all the answers, I change the questions."

It's still not clear whether it was Goodyear or the race teams who got snookered on Sunday. Maybe both of them were. But NASCAR's constant meddling with the race cars led to some serious tire problems that could jeopardize the quality of racing we see in the weeks and months to come.

Goodyear came back to the track with the same tire that produced good racing at the venue last year, but NASCAR's offseason changes to the rules package left everyone scratching their heads over the new set of questions Sunday's race presented.

It didn't take long for the finger pointing to start. NASCAR and Goodyear blamed the teams for getting too aggressive with their setups, which they claim put too much stress on the tires and caused blow outs. As you might imagine, many of the drivers and teams blamed Goodyear for bringing tires to the track that couldn't handle the extra stress caused by NASCAR's offseason change to the rules package that added 500-600 pounds of downforce to the cars.

The truth is that both the teams and Goodyear appear to have some work to do after France's latest round of evolution. Teams will have to run higher air pressures and adjust their camber and Goodyear will have to assess the durability of the tires it brings to the track, especially at bumpy mile-and-a-half configurations.

In the past, harder tires have meant less exciting racing, so hopefully the solution won't involve Goodyear benching the racy tire compounds that have produced some great on-track action this year.

That would certainly require some hefty overtime hours for NASCAR's script doctors and spin doctors alike.

Dave Ongie covers motorsports for the Times-News. On Twitter, he is @KTNSportsOngie. Reach him via email at dongie@timesnews.net. You can hear him Monday mornings at 9:10 on "Good Morning Tri-Cities" with Tom Taylor on 870 AM and 100.7 FM.

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