Should we be expecting penalties for Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Tuesday? After all, it looks like he violated NASCAR's '100 percent' rule pretty blatantly at Talladega.
If you want the serious answer to the stupid question, it's clearly a strong "no." But Junior's pragmatism regarding Sunday's race is refreshing, and also reinforces just how absurd the notion of any mandate for drivers to do their best is.
Junior finished 26th at Talladega on Sunday. He wanted to finish higher, sure, but he saw that the risk outweighed the reward. In this case, it wasn't a fear of the unknown, but a fear of what Junior has known.
"You know they're going to crash and I can't afford to wreck anymore here," said Earnhardt, who sustained a concussion in a multi-car crash at Talladega in October 2012. "You've just got to pick your battles, and I felt like we were better off not getting in a wreck and trying to stay back there."
Yes, fans want to see drivers try their hardest to win every single race. And for the most part, that happens with regularity amongst contending NASCAR teams. However, it's completely subjective. What 100 percent is for one may not be 100 percent for someone else. There are way too many variables at play and it simply can't be measured.
Anyway, Junior did what he did because of NASCAR's new Chase system.
"We already got a win, and I've been in too many late-race wrecks," he said. "I didn't want to be no part of it."
The impact of the new Chase system on the fuel strategy employed by Junior and team at Las Vegas was severely overstated, simply because teams have done it before. And it's not like Junior didn't try to go to the front at all, either. He made a late run and got boxed in, subsequently deciding that discretion was the better part of valor.
Therefore, it's possible to severely overstate anger and fury towards him for the strategy. He was doing what any smart person in his field would do. He took account of his current situation within an analyzation of the context of the race at Talladega and saw little potential gain. Consider it akin to walking away with the $100,000 prize on Who Wants to be a Millionaire when you don't know the answer to the next question.
It's not the change that NASCAR wants you to think about when discussing the ways teams would change their strategies and tactics within the parameters of the redesigned Chase format. But it's a real one. Could we see it again from a team with a win or a good points position at Daytona or later in the season? Absolutely. Isn't the title more important than 1/36th of a season?
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