The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: Boys Be Good, Peace Summits and Rough Restarts by Bryan Davis Keith -- Tuesday June 14, 2011

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ONE: What Happened to “Boys, Have at It”?

Sunday’s race at Pocono was not all too bad a show, but the highlight of the race was still seen early in the going as Kevin Harvick took to racing Kyle Busch very very hard, pushing him down the track for almost the entire length of the front straightaway on numerous occasions. It got to the point that NASCAR officials instructed both drivers to tone it down and stay off each other. Kevin Harvick didn’t deny it post-race either, noting that Busch “knows he has one coming.”

Harvick spent a lot of time plotting Kyle Busch’s downfall. Why is NASCAR foiling the fight?

Really? Stay off each other? Two drivers racing extremely hard, yes, but making no contact and not impeding the races of any of the other competitors on track need to cease and desist? This from the same sanctioning body that (albeit correctly) decided that an unprovoked physical assault between owners was worth only a fine and probation? This absolute farcical piece of officiating derailed some of the best side-by-side racing the sport has seen in recent weeks, even if it was the product of two very hot-headed drivers throwing common sense and courtesy to the wind.

It only confirmed what every observer out there is well aware of…that NASCAR is desperately trying to play two games at once; maintain the “boys, have at it” protocol that was put in place to spark fan interest and re-energize aggression and rivalry amongst the top stock car competitors, yet also try to feign that the sanctioning body are still able to exercise the type of control over actions on the track and in that garage that Bill France Jr and Sr. did.

But that era of control is long gone. Even after laying down fines and probation, Happy and Rowdy still played their game on the track and on national TV. Even after telling them to cut it out as Sunday’s race progressed, Harvick did not hide the deliberateness of his actions, nor that he was still out to get Kyle. With “boys have at it” comes self-policing. NASCAR’d do well to remember that and stop making themselves look foolish playing interventionist on Sundays.

TWO: The Secret Fines Have Got to Stop

Speaking of playing interventionist, Ryan Newman all but acquiesced this weekend that he had been secretly fined for the second time in as many seasons by NASCAR, this time after he reportedly punched Juan Pablo Montoya during a NASCAR-supervised peace summit at Darlington. NASCAR would do well to learn a lesson our government can’t seem to either…that interventionism never solves anything. Only stakeholders can resolve issues between stakeholders.

In this case, it comes down to Newman and Montoya who, since 2006, have plenty of history of being at odds. Now fortunately, their tussles have not been overly violent, destructive or even involving other competitors. But there’s still bad blood between the two. And that bad blood is just that. They’re the only stakeholders in this conflict, and the onus is thus on them to decide when it gets finished and how.

Consider Days of Thunder. Fred Thompson, head of big bad NASCAR, decided that he could not have Cole Trickle and Rowdy Burns doing whatever they felt they needed to on his race track, so he arranged a summit between the two. By the time the scene concludes, the hatchet had been buried and Thompson likely counted his money that evening convinced that his astute leadership calling all involved in a conflict to the table led to peace.

The truth? Rowdy and Cole rented two cars, beat the living hell out of each other, and in doing so came to realize that there was no conflict; they were both talented racers that enjoyed competing against each other. Their feud was settled on their terms.

Whether Newman and Montoya have a peaceful resolution in them, or no resolution, is irrelevant. They’re the ones that will settle their squabble, and on their terms. No amount of meetings or money is going to change that.

THREE: Shifting Has Returned to Pocono. Bravo!

To avoid going completely poisonous in writing five points for to ponder, NASCAR does deserve kudos for opening the rules enough to allow the return of shifting to racing at Pocono. The decision to implement a gear rule a few seasons back that removed shifting at Pocono and Gateway did no favors to the quality of racing at either facility, removing both an exercise in equipment management for the driver and a team’s transmission package.

The return to shifting did not end up having a dramatic impact on Sunday’s race, nor did it go off without a hitch. From frontrunners like Tony Stewart to lesser-funded drivers like Dave Blaney, a number of drivers reported experiencing transmission issues over the course of 500 miles. At the same time, it added a new wrinkle for driving a track that, given its one-of-a-kind configuration, should be difficult and different to drive. And it went a long way to reintroducing the type of stress on equipment that 500 mile races are meant to evoke.

Then again, when the Cup guys return to Pocono later this summer they’ll probably have gone a long way towards developing transmission packages capable of handling the racing. Hopefully, that will also translate into better racing as well.

FOUR: End of the Road for Todd Bodine in 2011?

After another disappointing Truck Series race resulted in another wreck and dismal finish for the No. 30 team, team ownership for Germain Racing admitted that it is very likely the truck will be parked for some races in 2011. A lack of sponsorship and being so far removed from the title chase does little to justify the expenses of running the team. To some degree, they have a point; Bodine and the No. 30 have been way off this year as opposed to the taut form they demonstrated during their title runs in 2006 and 2009. Also, sponsorship hasn’t been as forthcoming as back in 2009, where the team ran literally week-to-week, securing sponsors one after the other to piece together a full schedule.

But this is the same Germain Racing camp that not only expanded to include two new teams in 2011 (albeit with funded drivers), they’re also running a full-time Cup car that’s a fully dedicated start-and-park… with sponsorship on the quarterpanels (the No. 60 Cup car has carried decals from Big Red soda all season long dating back to Phoenix, not running the distance in a single one of those events).

Kind of hard to believe that there isn’t enough money to keep piecing just enough dollars together to keep both the team’s flagship entry and a two-time champion on track. Especially when Big Red has shown a willingness to move their dollars to the Truck Series as well as Cup (Brendan Gaughan carried the Big Red colors on the No. 62 this past Friday in Texas). If it’s a case of Bodine and crew being overly frustrated and needing to get away, so be it. But the sponsorship argument doesn’t seem to jive.

FIVE: Time to Revisit Restart Rules?

Johnny Sauter was audibly furious after being black-flagged on the final lap of Friday’s Truck race for changing lanes on the restart prior to crossing the start/finish line. The resulting black flag nullified the fact that his No. 13 was the first truck to cross the finish line, handing the win to Ron Hornaday and costing the points leader the ability to capitalize on a rough evening for second-place Cole Whitt.

In terms of following the rule book, NASCAR got the call spot on correct, consistent with the ruling they made back in February that cost David Ragan a shot at the Daytona 500. But is this the proper ruling? Why exactly should the leader of the race be forced to start in a straight line? After they restart the race, why not allow them to go at it? After all, the leader should enjoy every advantage being up front should he not?

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

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Carl D.
06/14/2011 09:08 AM

I can only imagine what the repercussions would have been if a driver back in the old days had brought a lawyer to a Nascar meeting with Big Bill France or Bill Junior.

06/14/2011 12:32 PM

ONE: I know exactly why they chimed in on what was going on between Busch and Harvick. If either one had been put in the wall by the other, that would violate their probation. Nascar doesn’t want that to happen because then they would be backed into a corner and have to enforce a real punishment to the offending party.

FIVE: I would bet a months pay that if it was Kyle Busch that did the same thing that Sauter did there would be no penalty. The penalty to Sauter was the correct one, but if it was one of their favorites, would it have been enforced the same. That’s where the question comes in for me.

Kevin in SoCal
06/14/2011 02:01 PM

ONE: So you’re ok with two drivers using their cars as weapons at 180+ MPH on the track with 41 other racers out there with them? Sure, nothing happened as Kevin forced Kyle down the track, but what if their antics caused someone else to wreck? Are you ok with that, too? Thats why NASCAR stepped in and told them to knock it off.
I remember Pocono a few years back with Tony Stewart and I forget the other driver, but they got into a shoving match on the track and took out several other drivers in the process. I’m not a fan of that kind of racing.

06/14/2011 02:31 PM

What you just explained Kevin, is what started this whole mess in the first place and I didn’t see Nascar do much stepping in there. So I hope you don’t condone the initial action as well. If you do, than your either a Kyle fan or you like double standards.

Bill S.
06/14/2011 05:25 PM

I love the secret fines! It is only a short step to having secret qualifying, secret races, and announcing Junior as the winner of the secret championship!

And ALL drivers should add their personal on-retainer attorney to their entourage. Enough with the model-wives and the kiddies! Let’s see the girls and guys with the briefcases and legal pads.

06/15/2011 06:40 AM

I don’t always agree with Kevin in SoCal, but he’s got a point with this one. If Kyle and Kevin have a problem with each other they can slap box in the garage rather than take my driver out of the race. Love your columns Bryan, but NASCAR was right to step in there.