The Is NASCAR A Sport Debate… Caution Against Sports Label

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

So the editor of this here blog decided that I needed to explain to you why NASCAR is not a sport. That seemed like an easy task, especially since it is often the default reaction of non-racing fans when the topic of NASCAR comes up. While I easily could have argued that NASCAR is definitely not “a person who lives a jolly, extravagant life,” I figured this was probably not the definition of sport that I was supposed to use. When I saw that another one of its definitions is “an active diversion requiring physical exertion and competition,” it occurred to me that the topic to which I was assigned may not have been as simple as I had imagined. It’s certainly an activity requiring physical exertion and competition, but it’s not pure sport. It’s not “sports entertainment,” the euphemism that professional wrestling organizations use to describe their soap opera for men. While the outcomes in NASCAR are not pre-determined, there is no doubt in my mind that the races are manipulated, in a way, to send the fans home happy. I believe NASCAR exists in that gray area between pure sport and pure entertainment. So, by that token, it is truly not a sport.

It’s possible that to argue that NASCAR is a pure sport and that it’s only uninformed fans pushing the whole narrative of “the races may or may not be fixed, but they sure find a magic caution at the end if the margin gets out of hand.” That might be a decent argument if it was true, but it’s not. In fact, earlier this season Denny Hamlin reportedly received a $50,000 fine from NASCAR for comments he made during a Twitter debate with blogger Jeff Gluck. The comments in question began with Hamlin asking his Twitter followers whether or not they would like to see a caution if the leader appears to be cruising to a win with ten laps to go. After Hamlin decided that his non-scientific tweet poll had yielded an 80 percent for a caution and a 20 percent against a caution result, his closing tweets implied that NASCAR had thrown a “debris caution” that tightened up the field.

For those of you not familiar with the concept of a debris caution, it is what it sounds like – a caution thrown because NASCAR officials saw a piece of debris on-track that they thought was dangerous. They throw a caution so the debris can be removed. Seems reasonable, right? It is, if you can see the debris. Fans have often questioned whether or not there was actual debris bringing about these cautions or if the leader’s gap to second place had more to do with throwing the yellow flag. The questioning grew to such a level in recent years that the TV broadcast would go out of its way to locate the debris and display it on screen to tamp down the conspiracy theories in the dark corners of the Internets.

While most observers used to accuse the conspiracy-minded fans of donning their tinfoil hats, when a driver mentioned this in a public forum like Twitter, doesn’t it seem to you that NASCAR might have a problem in this area? If the fans and some of the drivers question the purity of the competition in the waning stages of the race, is it really a pure sporting exercise or is it just a good show with loud, colorful cars?

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3 Responses to The Is NASCAR A Sport Debate… Caution Against Sports Label

  1. Loyal Homer says:

    So…just because conspiracy theorists fuss about phantom “debris cautions”, that makes NASCAR automatically rigged or fixed to provide entertainment and therefore not a sport?

    Every driver who has had a big lead has been a victim of debris cautions at some point.

  2. racefan says:

    Is it just coincidence that every time NASCAR throws a caution for debris Dale Jr. is about to loose a lap?

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