Chances are you found out last night or this morning that 2000 Cup champion Bobby Labonte is out of a gig for seven races. Chances are you know Erik Darnell has a ride for seven races. While most would think this is some random move by a race team with no impact on the Chase, this is a microcosm of modern day NASCAR, good, bad and unintentionally funny.
The good: A new driver is getting a shot. In previous years, this would be no big deal. But there have been a whopping two drivers who could classify as true rookies this season. Joey Logano is a savant. Scott Speed is Scott Speed. So if this rookie, who has a decent record in minors, can do something, good for a sport in need of some new blood.
The bad: I’m not a lawyer like Star Jones, Reece Witherspoon in "Legally Blonde," or people who go to law school, but allow me to cross examine this decision. Name me a sport where a champion gets dumped for a rookie, even though the champ performed close to standard? Name me a driver who can compete with the technology of Robert Yates Racing? Seriously, how would Jeff Gordon do in that gear? Name me a second-tier driver not named Brad Keselowski who has done anything with second-tier gear? When NASCAR works like European soccer leagues with constant contenders and frequent fodder, there are issues.
Since I like this whole Star Jones concept, how many times has Labonte turned away Silly Season talk because he had the gall to honor his contract and not seek other rides? How will working American fans react when someone does and says the right things and gets rewarded with a trip on the Poop Can Express? When Paul Menard gets full rides and the right to finish 35th every week because he has good blood lines and people like Labonte and Travis Kvapil compete, then get tossed aside because of sponsorship concerns, there are issues.
The Unintentionally Funny: A rookie driver on a track for the first time during the Chase. Get the voodoo dolls out now because it’s not a matter of if he causes a wreck, but when. Doubters should ask Kyle Busch how the Nationwide race at Bristol went.
Fans want exciting racing. It’s the one thing on which we all agree. Let’s hope this new kid excites fans for the right reasons, not the wrong ones. Let’s also hope the sport can find a way for the 43 best drivers to line up every week.
Labonte replaced by rookie (AP)