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Random Lugnuts: The Intersection of NASCAR and Hockey

Stock Car Racing Topics:  NASCAR What is Random Lugnuts?  It's random bits of stock car racing commentary written on an irregular basis by an irregular racing fan.  The name is a reference to the lugnuts that go flying off a car during a pit stop:  you never know where they are going to go, what they're going to do when they get there, they can be annoying, they're often useless after a race, and every once in a while someone gets hit and they don't know exactly where it came from.  Read more at http://randomlugnuts.blogspot.com/
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Random Lugnuts: The Intersection of NASCAR and Hockey

Bill Crittenden
Septmeber 10, 2010

Rookie camps start today in the NHL, while NASCAR is in Richmond preparing to finalize the Chase for the Sprint Cup field tomorrow.  It's gotten me thinking about a topic where NASCAR could learn from the NHL.

In NASCAR, there are awards other than the Sprint Cup Champion.  There are the individual race winners, as well as a Rookie of the Year contest and a Most Popular Driver.  In the NHL, there is of course the Stanley Cup, but there is also a whole series of trophies and awards for individual efforts, often named for figures in hockey history.  They are, of course, not as desireable as the Stanley Cup, but they are prestigious awards and an honored tradition in the sport that ties past with present while recognizing the play of individuals who make the sport what it is, even if they're not on the championship team.

The one that springs to my mind, as NASCAR approaches the end of the "regular season" is the President's Trophy.  Awarded to the team that finishes the regular NHL season with the most points, a similar presigious trophy could be very beneficial to NASCAR.  Kevin Harvick has this year's regular season wrapped up, 219 points ahead with one race to go, but in future seasons it could be incentive to keep teams focused on the races they're in and not testing for the Chase.  It would also be nice this season to give some attention to Kevin Harvick's and Richard Childress Racing's turnaround instead of focusing on what happens when Jimmie Johnson resumes the points lead after tomorrow night's race (unless Denny Hamlin wins it, of course).

Having more sponsored trophies would make NASCAR more money, but it could also get confusing.  NASCAR could be charitable here and simply name them after figures in NASCAR history, adding little "presented by" sponsorships that wouldn't have any bearing on the trophy design or the common name that fans would refer to them by.  If NASCAR were to create a trophy for the regular season points winner, it would be fitting to name it the Winston Trophy in honor of the points system that had been the hallmark of the Winston Cup for so many years.  But with the government prohibiting tobacco marketing, regardless of who pays for the trophy itself, perhaps 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame Nominee T. Wayne Robertson's name would be a suitable substitute.  Or Dale Earnhardt, who won the most Winston Cups in NASCAR history (remember, a couple of Richard Petty's championships were Grand Nationals, under a different points system).

What trophy, then, could bear The King's name?  To whom else do you give an annual award named for the driver who won the most races in NASCAR's top series history and the most wins in a season?  The winner of the most races, of course!  NASCAR added more points for winning and bonus Chase points for races won in the regular season to make winning more important.  However, a driver who won 8 races in a season could have the championship wrapped up over a driver with 5 wins with two weeks before the end of the season, and that's the exact opposite of what NASCAR has been trying to accomplish with the Chase.  So how about making winning and consistency two separate awards?  Sure, some years the Sprint Cup and a winner's award would be won by the same driver (2009, Jimmie Johnson), but some years the winner's award would be taken home by different drivers (2008, Carl Edwards; 2007, Jeff Gordon...).

It would also be nice to keep Richard Petty's name in front of the fans as his team struggles and we contemplate a NASCAR Cup field rolling out on the track someday somewhere without the familiar 43 in it.  Someday there will be a NASCAR Cup race without a Petty involved in it, just as Cup races are run without Junior Johnson today.  Which is a big reason such awards should bear the names of NASCAR's past stars and not be sold to motor oil manufacturers - to keep the names and accomplishments of the people who made NASCAR what it is in the weekly NASCAR broadcasts, and not just something for a museum in Charlotte.

Hockey also has the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, awarded for "sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct" along with a "high standard of playing ability" so it goes to a recognized star player and not a third-line filler.  While Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski grab headlines and occasionally race wins from knocking each other around the track, and that's certainly good entertainment (or NASCAR wouldn't have said "have at it" at the beginning of the season), it would be good to recognize drivers like Mark Martin and Jeff Burton, guys who can win races in a clean and fair way.  Who knows the drivers better than themselves?  Have all the drivers who competed over the full season vote on the most gentlemanly driver among those who won a race that season (fulfilling the high standard part), and award them the trophy at the banquet after the season ends.  It even adds a little suspense to the banquet, if the voting is kept secret nobody will know who among that season's winners will get the award until it is announced at the banquet.  After all, the NASCAR banquet isn't exactly the Oscars, people know who won the Sprint Cup long before it's announced in Las Vegas.

In the driver-centric world of motorsports, I'm always interested in seeing a series recognize the contributions of other members of the team.  Trophies could be created for most valuable crew chiefs, car chiefs, over-the-wall crew and engine builders.  Dale Inman would be a good candidate for a the naming of a crew chief's award.  However, in my opinion the best way to recognize the total team effort that is required to win a Sprint Cup would be to put the names of everybody on the team on the trophy itself.  The Sprint Cup trophy is both a permanent trophy residing in Daytona inscribed with the names of all the winners as well as a driver's trophy given away each year to the driver.  I think NASCAR should make the permanent Sprint Cup even bigger, as it should be inscribed with the names of the winning teams, drivers, owners, and their crews.  That way, those who made valuable contributions to championships by changing tires or carrying gas cans or building engines would have a tangible presence in NASCAR history, and fans could read their names and see just how much a NASCAR championship is a team effort, despite usually only seeing the driver hold the trophy after the final race of the season.

I generally don't switch over to watching hockey until after the last checkered flag is waved in Homestead, picking NASCAR back up in February and watching both until the Stanley Cup is hoisted sometime in early summer (unless the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks are both knocked out of the playoffs).  Every year, when the NHL awards are handed out, I always wonder, "why doesn't NASCAR do something like that?"  It would be beneficial to NASCAR's goal of promoting the history of the sport, it would tie the present day drivers with the legends of the past, giving different awards for different accomplishments would solve the problem of trying to make the Sprint Cup trophy mean all things to all fans, it would give more interesting attractions to the Hall of Fame, it would give fans a better reason to watch the postseason banquet, and (in hopefully a limited way) it would give NASCAR more sponsorships to sell.  Not bad for the cost of a half dozen nice trophies, which would be paid for (and then some) by those sponsorships...

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