Regardless of what some think NASCAR is indeed considered a jewel in America. Starting back in the late 1940's, NASCAR has remained the most popular racing series in the U.S. Though critics will claim that all NASCAR is, is 43 cars driving around in a circle (which is technically true), NASCAR is a sport. With a high level of competition, desired skill set, and a playoff system, NASCAR is right up there in terms of what makes something a sport. NASCAR has worked hard to keep the sport in tune with it's competitors including the NFL, NBA, and MLB, but today I want to highlight a few things that separate NASCAR from it's counterparts. Here I want to hit on 5-things that make NASCAR unique, when comparing it to other sports. Well, let's get the ball rolling!
1) Most popular, not always the most successful.
Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., have both earned their stripes, one more than the other. Though neither have ever won a championship, and one hasn't won a race (Danica), fans still rejoyce in their presence. Dale Jr., has won most popular driver for the last decade, and Danica has had one of the strongest fan bases ever since she arrived. See, what makes this different is in most sports the most popular athletes have been the ones that have risen above the others, someone who is the best at what they do. In the NBA it's LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, the NFL has names such as Peyton Manning and J.J. Watt, all who are arguable the best at what they do. Though NASCAR has a strong supporting cast of drivers who make up much of the fanship of the sport, two of the most popular stars do not always have the strongest performance on track. Now, Dale Earnhardt Jr., is a front runner in the series now, but looking at career wins and championships he lacks compared to others in the sport. If NASCAR fans were like fans from other sports the most popular would be Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Tony Stewart. Though these three names are very VERY popular in the sport they are not the most popular, in fact neither have ever won the Most Popular Driver award. Danica has yet to win a race, and the thought of a championship is far far away, but she still manages to bring one of the biggest fan bases. Overall, this is one major things that separates racing from other sports, you don't have to be the best for the fans to love you the most.
2) Everyone still race even if not in the playoffs.
In every other major sports (with the exception to golf), when playoff season finally comes all who didn't make it go home. NASCAR only allows 16 teams to make the post-season Chase, leaving nearly 30 teams on the outside looking in. In other sports these teams would just go home and hope for next season, but not in NASCAR. One thing that adds a twist into the Chase is that other drivers who aren't in the playoffs can have an affect on the outcome. Drivers not competing for the championship can still win races, money, and steal the spotlight. Though most Chase races are won by Chasers these days, there is still the chance for the underdogs to take a checkard flag, especially at a place like Talladega. This feature is a great thing for fans considering you can still cheer for your driver if they don't make it, and who would really want to watch a race with only 16 cars?? Exactly, NOBODY.
3) Playoffs don't mean good season.
With the evolution of NASCAR and the Chase over the years, drivers are caught between celebrating and mourning the loss of a championship birth. After 26 races, 16 drivers earn their way into the post-season for some this is a huge accomplishment, for others this is expected. With the new Chase format drivers who make the post season can experience the joy of winning a championship, or can wind up sitting outside the top-10 in points. This leads me to the third point, that just because you make the NASCAR playoffs does not mean you had a good season. In baseball, football, and basketball the whole regular season is geared to making a run to the playoffs. In other sports securing a spot in the playoffs is enough to call a season successful, but that is not always the case for race teams. For instance, Jimmie Johnson has been knocked out of the Chase, and is currently sitting outside the top-12 in points. For Johnson this could be considered his worst season yet. A finish outside the top-10 in the standing for Johnson would signify a season of struggles and bad luck. For drivers like Johnson, Harvick, and Keselowski, a season outside the top-10 in the standings is looked at as a down year, since these guys are expected to run for a championship.
4) Running mid-pack is good for some.
Name me a sport where performing 'okay' is acceptable? There are none. Though every team comes to the track each week with the goal of running up front and competing for a win, some teams just know there capabilities. For instance, the #46 team of Michael Annett knows they are not going to compete for a win on most weekends, but a run in the top-25 is considered a very solid finish. These teams who normally ride near the back of the pack are scrambling for points all season, and finishing mid-pack which is anywhere from 20th to 30th, is actually very solid. Lower funded teams may not be running in the top-10, but finding a way to finish 20th could be a win in terms of earning money, gaining points, and be recognized by sponsors. These mid-field runs can make the season for small race teams and allow them to keep racing throughout the year.
5) You win once and can become a legend.
The final item on this list, is something that is good and bad for the sport. Winning one major race can make you legend. Now, don't get me wrong it takes more than one career win to be considered a legitimate NASCAR legend by most, but there have been instances where winning once made a mans career. For instance, Wendell Scott, who still to this day is the only African-American driver to ever win a Cup race. Wendell is known as a legend now, and he only visited victory lane once. Race barriers made the event what it is today, Scott was rightfully inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, and he only has one career win. I am a full advocate of Scott being in the Hall of Fame so don't take my words for something else, just stating facts of the situation. The same would be true for Danica Patrick. If Patrick were to find victory lane someday, she will be a future Hall of Famer, being known as the first female driver to win a race. Not to say that she doesn't deserve it, but NASCAR and racing in general provide the only outlet were you could only win once and put your name down in history forever. Just think, if a team win's 1 game in any other sport, they are considered mediocre. In NASCAR winning one race can be an accomplishment that last's a lifetime.
Well thanks for reading!!! Just know that these are only a handful of things that make NASCAR different!! No matter what anyone says our sport is one of a kind, and don't let anybody tell you otherwise! Remember to find me on Facebook at Nascar Opinion, Twitter @nascar_opinion, and Instagram at NASCAR OPINION. Thanks for reading, have a great rest of your day!!