The Frontstretch: That's History! NASCAR's Checkered (Flag) Past, One Story at a Time: Wishful Thinking by Amy Henderson -- Thursday May 12, 2005

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I admit, I’ve been a tad grumpy this week. I’m not really sure why. The rumor of Darlington’s untimely demise sure didn’t help any, but that’s another story. I’m at various points in researching a few articles, but I confess, I just didn’t feel like working on any of them. What I felt like doing was calling up one of my understanding racing buddies and complaining. So, I compromised, and came up with a list of five things that should be racing history, but unfortunately aren’t, and I will now share them with you, because what fun is complaining if nobody hears you?

1. Restrictor Plates
Not only do they make for some scary and dangerous racing, they also apparently have the rather obnoxious side effect of making people see things that don’t make much sense. First, a by-product of plates, The Big One, thins the field at Talladega to the point of looking like a country-fair demolition derby. Then, some fans and media try to read just a little too much into the cause of the incidents. The first time around in the latest melee we know as Talladega, Jimmie Johnson got loose and got sideways, Mike Wallace got slam-drafted and wiggled down, and these two rather benign occurrences just happened to coincide. Had they not been three inches apart to begin with, both drivers would have had room to save their cars. You try driving down your local Interstate without drifting more than two inches to either side for four hours and then tell me how either of those drivers is to blame. But that aside, multi-car crashes are dangerous, and someone is going to get hurt. There needs to be a solution sooner rather than later.

2. 12-4-A
For those unfamiliar with this particular entry in the elusive NASCAR Rule Book, rule 12-4-A is the generic rule against “actions detrimental to stock car racing.” It seems like every driver or crew chief hit with a penalty for any infraction gets 12-4-A tacked on for good measure. The way I see it, if someone is fined for an unapproved thingamajig and is penalized under the unapproved thingamajig provision, leave it at that. With a few exceptions, like blatant cheating or ignoring NASCAR race control directives, swearing at officials AND throwing things at them too, most infractions do nothing to hurt stock car racing. A car too low in post-race inspection may not be legal, and penalties may result, but it is not “detrimental to stock car racing.” Fans aren’t going to stop watching or spending money because someone had an unapproved roof flap. Ditto a couple of guys with their own personal grudge match on the track. Penalize them for rough driving for sure, because such actions are dangerous, selfish, and thoughtless, but don’t try to tell me they’re “detrimental,” because most fans love the unbridled emotion behind them. If the fans love something, it’s not detrimental. I’m not advocating cheating or rough driving, but someone needs to buy NASCAR a dictionary.

3. Nextel Cup money in the Busch Series
Not Cup drivers, in reality I have little problem with them having some fun and racing to win without the pressure of points. The real problem here lies in teams owned by Nextel Cup owners, with Cup money and Cup resources being used to run Busch cars. With the exception of point leader Carl Edwards, most of these “Cusch” teams don’t even have Cup regulars driving them, because they are running for the Busch championship and for driver development for Cup operations. This taints the series because there are still teams that are strictly Busch Series entities, teams who aren’t developing Cup drivers, teams who want to win the Busch Series championship because it actually means something to them, and yet they have to do it without the money the Cup teams throw at their Busch operations. Can you name the last Busch Series champion NOT to race under the banner of Hendrick Motorsports, DEI, Richard Childress Racing, or Roush Racing? If you didn’t guess Jeff Green and ppc Racing back in 2000, don’t feel too ashamed; they’re the only ones in the last seven seasons. Of the top six teams in Busch series points, the first four are Cup-owned. Of the top ten, only two, Team Rensi and ppc Racing, are not heavily backed by Cup owners. It’s not wrong for Cup teams to develop drivers in the Busch Series; it’s wrong for NASCAR to let them spend Cup money to do it.

4. Shane Hmiel
I shiver when I see this guy anywhere near my driver. He’s fast, but he is seemingly incapable of using common sense at any time. His idea of “racing” seems to be “drive hell bent for leather to the front and to heck with anyone who happens to be in my way.” We’re not talking bump-and-run for the win on the last lap, we’re talking wreck a guy for twelfth place with 20 to go. His lack of patience is often rewarded by his equipment being used up too soon, so I guess poetic justice does exist. He’s certainly not a team player or a good teammate. But my real issue here is that this guy was suspended for a positive drug test, and missed a handful of races at the end of a season, and was back by Daytona. For whatever reason, the sanctioning body was far too lenient, considering he tested positive after a race. Think about that, and about the lives that were potentially put in jeopardy. And for this, just a few races off? I can’t help but think that somewhere is some other kid who is just as talented and doesn’t drive dirty or test dirty but is without an upper-level ride because of who his daddy isn’t.

5. The Budweiser Shootout and the All-Star Challenge
Everybody complains about the hectic Nextel Cup schedule these days, yet these two non-points paying races are still on the schedule. Letting them die a quick painless death would serve a couple of purposes. First, it would eliminate what is basically two free test sessions for exactly the teams who don’t need them-the teams that are already winning poles and races. Many teams who could use more track time are excluded. Sure, they have the Nextel Open, but that’s a short practice session and a handful of green flag laps. Eliminating these two events would allow for a couple of options. One, and the most important, is an off-week late in the season, likely the week between race 26 and the Chase for the Championship, which would allow those teams to regroup before ten races that already mean too much not to have an extra week to prepare for. The second option would be to either go to Daytona a week later for just the 500, or to move the whole shebang back a week and add another late-season off-week, which could save a lot of headaches (or Thanksgiving weekend bellyaches). Or, there could be one off-week before the chase and a points race added to the schedule so that every fan could cheer for their driver, not just a select few.

It’s likely that most of these are here to stay, at least for the time being. NASCAR is not likely to make any changes that might either affect their revenue in any way or upset a few select teams, because they don’t want to deal with the potential fallout. I can see their point, but at some point someone is going to have to prioritize. It’s too bad, but no time soon will any of them be history.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


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