The Frontstretch: NASCAR, Fix the Future...NOW! by Amy Henderson -- Monday October 9, 2006

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NASCAR, Fix the Future...NOW!

That's History! NASCAR's Checkered (flag) Past, One Story at a Time · Amy Henderson · Monday October 9, 2006

 

This isn't a history column, per se. That's the usual agenda, but if you came in looking for some stories from NASCAR's glorious (and not-so-glorious) past, you might leave disappointed. What I'm going to write about – what I need to write about after the race at Talladega – is how NASCAR needs to prepare for a future that is less than bright. NASCAR has made the same three mistakes (or variations on the theme anyway) for far too long, and as the sanctioning body of one of the most popular sports in the country, they must learn from these mistakes for the good of the sport – and now, rather than later, before enough fans start leaving your house as fast as I can run.

First up is NASCAR's seemingly arbitrary, knee-jerk reaction to all things safety and the subsequent rule changes. On Friday, after Jeff Gordon flirted with the apparently magic speed of 200 miles per hour, teams were handed new, smaller restrictor plates to shave off another 5-10 mph on the track to a "safer" 190 or so. With qualifying at noon on Saturday and the only two practices behind them, teams were NOT given a practice session to test throttle response and drafting capability with the new plates. So much for safety.

Every time an engine is restricted, even a little more than before, the driver of the car is robbed of more than horsepower. He (or she) is also robbed of throttle response – an often time-critical component of car control. The driver must have the ability to control the car's closing and drafting rates with the gas pedal. Restricting the engine can drastically change how the car will react to a small lift or press on the pedal, and even a small change in that feel could result in a driver miscalculating a distance and causing a multicar crash. It isn't the speed that's dangerous, not really-it's the potential for high-speed, multicar crashes. Perhaps they got lucky (there was only one fairly large crash), perhaps not (could the change have cost the late race spin that cost Dale Junior and Jimmie Johnson so dearly?) but it was a chance NASCAR should never have taken. Just like the decision to run plates at New Hampshire a few years back (teams were given practice time then, but the plates did NOT slow the cars to speeds below those of Busch Series cars like the one Adam Petty died in), NASCAR made an off-the cuff decision to create the illusion of safety, but not to solve the overall problem. (NASCAR knew about a potential problem in GM engines causing the throttle to potentially hang open before Petty's accident, too, and chose not to address the real problem) It's not safe to implement a rule and not give tams time to adjust. Period.

NASCAR's second mistake became glaringly obvious on Sunday. The sanctioning body seems to have difficulty in enforcing its rules uniformly. Officials warned Dale Earnhardt Jr. midway through the race about excessive bump drafting and the "no-bump" zones on superspeedways. Logically, that should have served as a warning to every team on the track that NASCAR was not going to tolerate any more bumpdrafting in the corners. They said it was going to be punished, right? Well, it wasn’t.

Then, when Brain Vickers won the race by bumpdrafting his teammate Jimmie Johnson at an angle in a corner, NASCAR failed to do anything about it. Don't let the "the race was over" angle fool you – if NASCAR enforced their own rule like they should have, than Kasey Kahne should have been celebrating in Victory Lane – not Vickers. Vickers, in one of his ever-morphing versions of the story, admitted he was bump-drafting Johnson. "”He knows just as well as I do that if I hadn’t have been bump-drafting, he never would have had a shot to pass Junior," Vickers said Sunday night. So, NASCAR, where's your rule? The driver admitted he was bumpdrafting when he wrecked two cars. Was the sanctioning body so afraid to look biased toward the Chasers that common sense went out the window? Whatever the reason, NASCAR must, must, MUST either enforce both the bump-drafting rule and the yellow-line rule fairly and uniformly to retain a semblance of credibility with the teams and the fans.

Finally, Sunday's race showed the glaring need for a different rule change. As of right now, the field is frozen under caution at "the moment of caution," meaning when the yellow comes out, often after several cars are spinning. Shouldn't the "moment of caution" be when the crash actually started, especially on the plate tracks? Seems to me that would protect the innocent victims of these multicar crashes. After all, wasn't the moment of caution when Joe Nemechek and Kyle Busch got loose, causing a chain reaction behind them that ultimately ended the days of several teams early? Wasn't the moment of caution when Vickers got into Johnson's bumper and sent him sliding into Earnhardt? NASCAR has enough scoring loops and enough video to do this right.

There is no reason that the moment of caution is the moment NASCAR decides there maybe ought to be one rather than when a crash or problem actually starts. If a car can't complete the lap, maybe they should be scored that way – which makes Johnson's 24th-place finish legitimate if not fair under the circumstances. But Earnhardt Jr. got his car refired and was able to complete the lap. If the "moment of caution" was actually the moment of caution, he would have won the race. Wouldn't this method be fair to teams and solve the "wreck a guy to win" mentality all at once? It would still allow for bump-and-run moves, but it would force drivers to do the move correctly (which is moving a car up the track, not ever spinning it out), which would only enhance the racing and emphasize drivers' talent.

The time for NASCAR to make these changes has come. In order to make the sport safer, fairer, and more competitive, the governing body needs to look long and hard at the way they do things. To ensure a rich history, NASCAR must first look forward. A forward-thinking organization will only make the racing better for both teams and fans – and what a history they’ll have to look forward to!

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Marc
10/10/2006 03:57 AM
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“Then, when Brain Vickers won the race by bumpdrafting his teammate Jimmie Johnson at an angle in a corner, NASCAR failed to do anything about it.”

Better check the replays a few more times. Yes the 25 was bump drafting just before the crash…but.

You will slao note Johnson pulled out in an attempt to pass on the inside of the 8. As Vickers attempted top follow he misjudged the distance between himself and the 48.

The result was contact between the right rear of the 48 and the left front of the 25. Sorry, that’s no where near a “bump draft” created accident.

Just a racing one.

As for your “moment of caution” nonsense, one question: Are you a Dale Jr. fan?

Oh and BTW the 25 and 48 weren’t in the corner when the accident occurred.

Geesh!

FS-Amy
10/10/2006 07:20 AM
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I watched the replay several times. Vickers misjudged the distance becase he had been bump drafting down the entire backstretch and didn’t back out as the 48 prepared to pass the 8 going into turn 3. Even Kurt Busch, who is one of about five drivers I don’t like, and who had little to gain by it, said Vickers clearly needed to back off Johnson’s bumper when they pulled down to pass.

As for the moment of caution? Think about that for a moment. It makse sense. 95% of the time it won’t have an impact on the outcome of the race because the damaged car(s) would either have to pit for repairs or not be able to complete the lap. Once they pit, they forfeit track position anyway. What it would do is eliminate the impact of last lap mistakes on plate tracks and poor attempts at bump and run moves on other tracks-a correct bump and run does NOT spin or wreck the other car, so that would still be acceptable and perhaps make the racing better because drivers would have to do it right instead of being slopy and putting a car in the wall, because they would know if they turned the guy and he completed the lap, the field is frozen.

Frank
10/10/2006 07:39 AM
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At the moment of the crash they where not “bump drafting. It was a misjudgement of speed and distance by Vickers. It was a racing accident. He should have backed off a little before trying to follow JJ.

racer
10/10/2006 08:41 AM
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Just a thouhght I was at the race but have not seen 1 mention of the deplorible actions of fans throwing trash on the track not pc I guess

Nikki
10/10/2006 09:08 AM
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You are right Amy, NASCAR was very inconsistent on Sunday. They warned Jr. not to bumpdraft like that again and about five seconds later he was putting the bumper on Kurt in the corner and sent him up the track. Luckily Busch held on and didn’t wreck, but NASCAR should have penalized Earnhard Jr., especially after that. Had they done that, there is a good chance that Earnhardt Jr. wouldn’t have been in the lead in the end and, therefore, Johnson wouldn’t have had to try to pass him, Vickers wouldn’t have run into him, and we wouldn’t have this controversy. Basically, this whole thing is NASCAR’s fault—had they enforced their own rules, this never would have happened. :)

Chatham
10/11/2006 10:00 AM
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As long as Talladega is the home of restrictor plates, it will likewise be the home of bumpdrafting. This is the natural curse of events when drivers lack the power to win with only their own engines backing them up. Talladega, especially with the new surface that makes even the lowliest car handle like a champ, is half Russian roulette and half popularity contest, with a dash of racing. Since everybody knows Jr. will do what it takes (bumpdrafting) to get the win, people literally line up to draft with him.

On the Vickers matter, I have this to say:

1. It’s the last lap. Precedent says that as long as it’s for the win, not 4th or 5th or 17th, anything goes on the last lap. I think the honorable thing to do is play nice, but racin’s racin’, and winning is what drivers are paid to do.

2. Vickers was trying to bumpdraft, but Johnson clearly slowed up a bit (likely because he left Jr’s slipstream) before Vickers came down. I think Vickers simply didn’t see this in the split second of the pass attempt, and so he didn’t realize that coming down meant hitting Johnson. After all, that’s a situation that’s as dangerous for Vickers as anybody. I wouldn’t risk crashing the leaders (and quite easily myself as well) if I thought a podium finish was in the works for me, and a win was in store for my championship teammate. Drivers don’t spend years in Cup without making a reputation. Vickers isn’t known to be a dirty driver, and I don’t believe he was playing dirty on Sunday. This is just what happens at 200 mph. Mistakes happen, even with the best drivers, which is why they have the “Big One” every year. So everybody needs to take a deep breath and remember that people aren’t perfect.

Dan
10/11/2006 10:55 AM
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Has anyony taken into account the new restrictor plates. Loosing this horsepower make Johnson go even slower once he left the draft. Maybe this caused the miscalculation by Vickers. Maybe NASCAR is to blame afterall by not allowing the drivers to get used to the plates by having at least 1 practice before the race.

 

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Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

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