Opinion: NASCAR more of a sport than you’d think

Andrew Cox

Abbi Pittman

Andrew CoxNASCAR season wraps up in November, but who really cares? Who wants to watch a car turn left over and over?

That can’t be a sport.

But it is. And before you dismiss it, take a deeper look.

We classify sports by what they involve. Rules and objectives are a given, but then there’s competition, athleticism, strategy, skill and practice.

People use these traits against NASCAR’s status as a sport, when in fact they actually all apply.

Objective? Get around the lap. Competition? Do it before the other cars do.

Yes, that might look to you like just a bunch of fast cars going in a circle. But if I use that same argument for, say, baseball, then it’s just a bunch of people smacking a ball with a stick and running around a diamond.

What about strategy, though? How can speeding cars have tactics? 

Well, driver Denny Hamlin didn’t lose the 2010 championship because he didn’t go in a circle fast enough.

He lost because his pit strategy was bad. 

In the second-to-last race of the season, imprecise fuel mileage calculations placed Hamlin a few laps short of making it to the finish.

The team could have chosen to stretch his fuel mileage and risk running out of fuel, or play it safe and surrender points (yes, points) in the process.

In any “points race,” first place receives 43 championship points, second place receives 42, and so on until last place (43rd), which gets one point.

A bonus point is given for leading a lap, three for winning the race and one more for leading the most laps.

Drivers have to be strategic with the points they need to earn. Should they make a pit stop or try to lead the lap for the extra point? Should they conserve fuel and pick and choose how many laps they want to lead?

But there’s more to a sport than strategy. There’s also athleticism.

And yes, NASCAR requires athleticism.

NASCAR drivers are fierce athletes who have to be very aware of the complexity of their sport.

They must have killer reflexes to avoid collision, and they need to have enough endurance to last – without food or bathroom breaks – for 500 miles at an average speed of 180 m.p.h. in a hot car.

In fact, five-time champion driver Jimmie Johnson was named the top male athlete of 2009 by the Associated Press, topping Gold Medalist Usain Bolt, among others.

Still think just anyone can drive a racecar?

It takes a lot more skill and practice than you’d think.

Your four-hour road trip going 70 m.p.h. with a fast food stop is little league baseball by comparison.

Cox, a junior studio art major from Pfafftown, is the senior editorial cartoonist.