Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Popularity Predicament

Let's get this out of the way... This is about bumping for the Indianapolis 500 and James Hinchcliffe and why despite his stature in the series his stature is one of the reasons why he shouldn't be in the Indianapolis 500.

Let's start with the basics... Nobody should get into the Indianapolis 500 because of how popular they are. That is a dangerous precedent to set and a controversial topic for years to come.

None of us should want drivers, regardless of who they are, what they have won or how many Twitters follows they have to get in the race because of their popularity and I am saying this because of the children. Do you really want the message to be to children don't worry about ability as long as you are popular you will get taken care of? It is bad enough now we have a generation of people obsessed with what they say in 280 characters and looking like fools in bullshit YouTube videos. The last thing we need is to say don't worry about work ethic, don't worry about problem solving, don't worry about failing because as long as people like you and retweet you everything will be taken care of and you will get everything you want.

Nobody wants life to be like that and life shouldn't be like that. You should be forced to take failure on the chin and re-evaluate every decision made. People should be broken when things don't go their way. This is a way how better people are made. Some will rise and make sure it never happens again and do everything in their power to learn from this. Other won't and will continue to crumble.

This year it is James Hinchcliffe but who is it next year? If Kyle Busch says he is doing the Indianapolis 500 next year do you want Kyle Busch, to be locked into the field for because of how many Twitter followers he has? Should Arie Luyendyk, Jr. be gifted a spot in the field in 2019 because he was on a reality show? Imagine if Fernando Alonso was bumped from last year's race and the outcry had he been added to the field solely because of the notoriety he brings to the race. Drivers are a big part of the Indianapolis 500 but no driver is bigger than the race.

James Hinchcliffe is a beloved driver in IndyCar and he is a good thing for IndyCar but that should not lock him into the field. Who else should be locked into the field? Should Max Chilton expect to be taken care of if it is him on the outside next year? What about Kyle Kaiser? The last thing IndyCar should want to do is alienate drivers and play favorites.

Nobody should be penciled in. Duke isn't penciled into the Elite Eight of every NCAA Tournament. The New York Yankees isn't penciled into the American League Championship Series each year. Everything is earned. Have a bad regular season? You don't make the playoffs. Have an off night and can't make a three-pointer if your life depended on it? Well, you better hope your opponent is having a worse night than you. Hinchcliffe had his off night in the form of a green racetrack, successful qualifying runs by Oriol Servià and Conor Daly and a tire pressure sensor rattling around while heading out for a qualifying run with less than ten minutes on the clock. Everything that could have gone against him did and those are the worst days in sports.

But we should not get hung up on James Hinchcliffe not being in this race. IndyCar shouldn't want one guy to parade around and specifically this reason. Spread those crumbs around. It is a chance for someone else to step up and make a name for himself or herself and there are plenty of capable people. Josef Newgarden, the defending champion and championship leader, is still in this race. Alexander Rossi, second in the championship, is still in this race. Marco Andretti is still in this race. Graham Rahal is still in this race. Robert Wickens has been the darling of this season and he is still in this race. Ed Carpenter has a chance to be a great story. Scott Dixon and Will Power both have chances to add to their highly successful careers. Simon Pagenaud has a chance of making himself a household name. Sébastien Bourdais could complete the comeback story meant for Hollywood. Ryan Hunter-Reay could end up becoming a two-time Indianapolis 500 winners. Fan favorites Tony Kanaan and Hélio Castroneves are still in this race. Castroneves could become the fourth driver to win four Indianapolis 500s! And Danica Patrick is back in this race.

We cannot focus on who is not there especially when there are many others in this race capable of carrying the torch.

Hinchcliffe aside, bumping should remain at Indianapolis Motor Speedway strictly because of the humbling moment of seeing a beloved figure brought down to earth. It is sports, it is competition and the beauty is we should go in having no idea what could happen. There is nothing better than going to a sporting event without a clue of what will occur and then being able to say for years to come "I was there!" Sports shatter our preconceived notions of what is possible. Just when we think we have saw it all another unexpected moment occurs and we have to redefine what we think is possible.

We need those moments. We need to leave an event repeating to ourselves "James Hinchcliffe isn't going to be in the Indianapolis 500" because we can't believe it to be true. That is the magic of sports; going in thinking we know what will happen and exiting stunned by what previously was thought to be unfathomable.