Commentary

Make up your mind, NASCAR Nation

Updated: October 2, 2010, 5:50 PM ET
By Ed Hinton | ESPN.com

Just about the only thing you can't say about this Chase so far is that it's been boring.

Only if Wednesday's Richard Childress Racing appeal had been covered live on television could the Chase have been more interesting and entertaining.

Frankly, I'd rather the matter have been heard by Judge Judy, but then her decisions always make waaaaaay too much common sense for an outfit like NASCAR.

As usual, a lot has been made lately of whether the NASCAR appeals process is fair. I'm not here to say one way or the other, just that the proceedings would be highly entertaining -- the less fair, in fact, the more entertaining.

I mean, what if they were in there throwing paper airplanes, texting or playing smart phone games while Childress' expert witness testified that Clint Bowyer's car was bent out of legal shape by the wrecker that pushed it?

We don't think they were, but the expert, Dr. Charles Manning, told reporters after the RCR appeal was denied that the panel had "paid no attention" to what he presented, "which says something about what's going on in there."

[+] EnlargeClint Bowyer
Elsa/Getty ImagesClint Bowyer's Chase-opening victory at New Hampshire went up in smoke after NASCAR penalized the 33 team for a car that didn't meet specifications.

The National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel must have been paying at least some attention, for its statement maintained that "claims that the wrecker caused the infraction were negated by the telemetry from the car which did not show a sharp impact spike …"

And was there some thrilling "gotcha" prosecution? The panel noted that Manning argued the wrecker could have raised the left rear part of the car, but "that the corresponding right rear measurements should not be affected, in his view …"

But gotcha! The panel said "some additional facts came to light during the hearing. Particularly of note were the facts that both rear hard points [areas where NASCAR has no tolerance for variation], left and right, were high, and that the rear of the body was offset on the frame."

What a show we must have missed.

Even the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed some of its major hearings to be broadcast audio only. So it's hard to see how this panel is a body of such solemn deliberation that it remains closed to the media.

Generally the panel -- formed for and by NASCAR -- has been viewed by the public as a kangaroo court, a rubber stamp to NASCAR. That didn't change much with the upholding of the 150-point penalty that knocked Bowyer from charging dark horse to dead last in the Chase standings.

Considering the stature of Childress himself with NASCAR, and his sheer determination when he believes he's been wronged, you had to figure he had a chance, and that the suspense would come down to the very end of the appeal and even beyond -- sort of like one of those "48 Hours Mystery" shows that make you wait past the last commercial for the verdict.

And indeed it will go on, as Childress takes his final appeal before chief appellate officer John Middlebrook. Meanwhile, crew chief Shane Wilson -- suspended for six weeks by the original NASCAR decision -- gets to continue working at races.

So there is a chance -- although it may be about the same as for winning the Power Ball lottery -- that Bowyer will get his points back and win the Chase after all.

And it wasn't as if we had to sit around idly waiting for Wednesday's verdict. There was plenty else to talk about, thanks largely to the points leader.

Denny Hamlin has been barbecued roundly -- everywhere from ESPN Conversation to his own crew chief, Mike Ford, to the "NASCAR Now" Monday Roundtable -- for speaking his mind, calling the very idea that the sixty-thousandths of an inch variance on Bowyer's car was insignificant "a crock."

"Shut up, Denny!" began one comment on the Conversation, typical of the backlash against Hamlin's candor.

The groundswell against him, from the masses to his own team, has now turned Hamlin all diplomatic and conciliatory. What a pity. It's just like when you, the masses, beat Kyle Busch into submission last year.

Again I groan at your moaning that there is no spice in NASCAR, alternating with your anger at anyone who throws a little spice on NASCAR.

I must ask yet again: What do you want?

You complain constantly about the vanilla, clockwork posture of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus and their threat to five-peat, and then when somebody breaks out of that blandness you scream for him to shut up.

Some of my colleagues on the Monday Roundtable took Hamlin to task for bringing mind games into the Chase.

Listen: Do you remember why Dale Earnhardt's championships were fun? Dramatic, even when he was running away, or even when he was losing?

Mind games. Out in public. He was the maestro of mind games down the stretch toward a championship. He played them at every opening and created his own openings when needed.

Twenty years ago this fall, Earnhardt was dueling Mark Martin for the Winston Cup. At a joint press conference at Phoenix, Earnhardt began to gouge publicly if subtly into Martin's past drinking problems, trying to dredge them up again.

They were served lemonade, and Earnhardt demanded "some vodka in it," and gazed at Martin with that cobalt-eyed smirk of his. Then he announced that when they got to Atlanta for testing the following week, they were going to "come in and have a beer" after every lap they made.

Earnhardt kept playing mind games even in the minutes after he lost to Jeff Gordon by 34 points in 1995: "Guess they'll be serving milk instead of champagne at the head table in New York."

And now Denny Hamlin is out of line for calling out the 33 team?

That really is a crock.

What do you want?

To summarize all the action: You had a dark horse (Bowyer) barely make the Chase with an aggressive run at Richmond, then keep charging from 12th all the way to second in the standings with a Chase-opening win at New Hampshire, then had him beaten back down to 12th by NASCAR with a 150-point penalty, then had an appeal lodged that had a chance to launch him right back into contention, then you had Bowyer take shots at Hamlin's Chase-leading team at Dover, then you had Hamlin retaliate and more, then you had Kevin Harvick go out and fender-bang with Hamlin on the track in practice, then you had Hamlin and Harvick go nose-to-nose in the garage …

And then you had the unkindest cut of all, when Hamlin's own crew chief, Ford, decided the remedy for Hamlin's running his mouth publicly was to run his OWN mouth publicly, ripping his driver. Oh, and team president J.D. Gibbs, though more diplomatic, sided more with Ford than with Hamlin.

So the owner and the coach criticize the quarterback publicly.

Now you talk about a crock.

The nearest thing to criticism of Ford, other than here, was a timid suggestion by some that perhaps he should have spoken to Hamlin one-on-one behind closed doors.

All in all, there's been plenty of action, right out of the gate.

And just think of what's to come: We've yet to hear from the Brothers Busch or Carl Edwards, all still in contention, all of whom can usually be counted on for some sort of commotion-detonation.

Please don't shout them all down, NASCAR Nation. Please sit back and let them entertain you.

Or never complain to me about boring Chases again.

Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at edward.t.hinton@espn.com.

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