The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: Fixing Cautions, Bumpers and Races by Bryan Davis Keith -- Tuesday May 1, 2012

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Five Points to Ponder: Fixing Cautions, Bumpers and Races

Bryan Davis Keith · Tuesday May 1, 2012


ONE: The Double-Edged Sword of Debris Caution Wrongs

Tony Stewart certainly wasn’t the only person upset about losing Saturday night’s race, and for that matter having Saturday’s 300-mile race determined by a conveniently placed water bottle a stone’s throw from the finish. Fellow FS writer Matt McLaughlin has been so kind as to remind the sanctioning body for as long as I’ve been on staff at this site that NASCAR fans aren’t stupid…they’re more than capable of figuring out when the officials in charge are manipulating a finish.

Despite NASCAR’s insistence that they picked up some stray sheet metal in Richmond, no driver can verify the claim. Mysterious, ain’t it?

This one was about as open-and-shut a case of manipulation as has been seen since the Mark Martin/Jimmie Johnson episode in the fall Atlanta race of 2004. While there wasn’t a dramatic storyline that NASCAR was determined to see written this time, the motivation was clear; after two straight weekends of mundane racing on intermediate ovals, there was no way fans weren’t going to see a late lap battle at Richmond. Even if, prior to the yellow flag for that dastardly water bottle, the “Action Track” had grossly failed to live up to Dale Jarrett’s promise for plenty of yellow flags made before the start of Friday’s NNS race.

Speaking of that NNS race, check it out. Only three caution flags, the race ended on a 70+ lap green flag run…and the finish was everything a promoter could ask for; full of contact, decided by inches, something that would do Sportscenter highlight reels and still photos justice for years to come.

Just goes to show that this shouldn’t be a hard lesson to learn. This sport is too unpredictable to think that one can effectively guarantee a good finish. Stock car racing is not entertainment, it happens to be entertaining. It’s just less so when the folks running the show do everything in their power to over-regulate and over-officiate.

TWO: Yeah, That Really Just Happened

Speaking of those overzealous officials…how is it that with literally hundreds of uniformed officials, a scoring tower full of personnel and enough cameras stationed around the track to make a European urbanite feel at home, there is confusion over who is actually leading the race?

The scoring pylon says Carl Edwards is leading. The spotter for the No. 99 car was supposedly told by an official that Carl Edwards was leading. Yet, Tony Stewart’s the one lining up in front in the preferred line coming to the green.

The sad thing is that given the uncertainty surrounding this restart situation, there will never be a conclusive way to figure out right and wrong. Did Edwards’ spotter really get told by an official a mere three seconds before the green flag waved that the No. 99 was the race leader? Or did he just happen to take a gander at the scoring pylon when faced with a split-second question to answer for his driver? If the No. 99 team was confused as to where they were starting, if they thought they were the leader, why wouldn’t they have been raising holy hell about getting lane choice?

Frankly, the evidence suggests to me that this error is on the No. 99 team for making a bad assumption and not the sanctioning body. NASCAR’s doing something wrong when it comes down to the driver’s word that his spotter said they were in front. There’s something to be said about conflict of interest regarding that story.

But then again, after thinking further, I can vividly imagine a NASCAR official telling spotter Jason Hedlesky that Cousin Carl was indeed out front…because past experience has shown that NASCAR, having scores of officials covering every inch of a facility, has never been strong at communicating the story to them all. Rewind back to February 2011, the Truck race at Daytona where Michael Waltrip won with his failed rear spoiler. In a span of five minutes, Frontstretch spoke to two NASCAR officials regarding the way NASCAR was inspecting that spoiler, and got two completely different accounts of how the inspection was being handled and why.

With any other sanctioning body, I’d think Carl Edwards and crew flat messed up. Then again, this was a NASCAR race.

THREE: What’s in a Name?

A whole hell of a lot. Just ask Ryan Blaney, whose Nationwide Series debut Friday night received more air time than that of X-games athlete Travis Pastrana and became one of the most analyzed first races the Nationwide ranks has seen since Danica Patrick and Joey Logano. It’s not often one can say that about a team like Tommy Baldwin Racing fielding a new prospect.

That being said, take away the name Blaney…anybody out there think even that eighth-place run would have gotten the kind of attention that it did? Ryan’s got a tremendous amount of promise as he’s been a terror on late model circuits across the South, but he’s also a rather quiet 18-year-old…and one of about 50 million late model racers out there trying to break into the big-time. Hell, there was another 18-year-old with ARCA experience that made their debut on Friday night in Tanner Berryhill, and he got scarcely a mention over a two-hour plus telecast. As for TV time? Forget about it.

Blaney’s a bad example to make a point with; his dad’s been an upstanding figure in the Cup garage for decades now and hey, wheeling an independent team car to a top 10 in the Nationwide Series these days is an accomplishment for any driver. But there is a point to be made here…it’s not a level playing field for drivers trying to break through. With old guard and ownership in the booth, directing the play-by-play of NASCAR racing to the millions watching, there’s a tremendous amount of control exercised in the booth as to who makes it and who doesn’t.

Ryan Blaney? He’s a real talent. This kid’s gonna do his dad proud and be around for a while. But the amount of hype, coverage and kudos that were bestowed on him this Friday night make it abundantly clear there’s very powerful people rooting for him. That sucks for guys like Tanner Berryhill.

FOUR: The Implications of Bumper-Gate

The Nationwide Series Breakdown from this week went into plenty of detail of just how dramatic the repercussions of likely penalties against Richard Childress Racing and Turner Motorsports for modified bumpers will be come the end of 2012. But the penalties that all but certainly will be handed down on Tuesday…and the appeal that will undoubtedly follow…are going to send just as many shockwaves through the racing community.

After all, just look at Jimmie Johnson’s C-post episode from Daytona. The penalty went all the way to the Supreme Court of Stock Car Racing…then was overturned, a major coup for NASCAR’s most powerful team in Hendrick Motorsports.

In terms of stature, Richard Childress Racing isn’t too far behind in that regard. And not only is Elliott Sadler’s championship campaign in serious danger as a result of the bumper episode, so is Austin Dillon’s. It’s personal, it’s family for RC and his team. Don’t for one second think that should the appeals process go up the food chain on this one that objectivity will be 100% able to overcome the influence and dues paid by Childress and RCR.

Problem is, should the appeal go all the way to the top only to get overturned again in this case, now the system looks toothless. Two powerful teams getting out of two “major” penalties isn’t an image the sanctioning body’s going to want a part of.

Buckle up folks, Bumpergate may prove more exciting than a race at Texas. Too soon?

FIVE: An Earnhardt Kind of Weekend

As discussed in point one, it is not possible, no matter how hard the sanctioning body tries, to fix a stock car race. There’s just too many moving pieces. But, when it comes to plate racing, they can certainly push an event in a particular direction. It’s been done before…anyone really think the No. 3 was going to lose when it returned to the track at Daytona a few years back?

Which begs the question…in a real doldrum for the sport that’s seen calm races, no on-track feuds and big-names such as Gordon, Earnhardt, Patrick and Pastrana all making little more than a whimper in terms of highlights, is it so hard to believe that the No. 7 on Saturday and the No. 88 on Sunday might get the mystical bigger plate?

Both will be factors in their respective races. And should they be up front late in the going, take a real good look at how well they can pass…and how everyone acts around them. Draw your own conclusions from there.

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

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Today on the Frontstretch:
ATHLON SPORTSBOWLES: Is Kevin Harvick A Hall Of Famer?
Racing to the Point: I’ve Got the Green-White-Checkered Blues
Beyond The Cockpit: Ron Capps Could Have NASCAR Stars Trying… Drag Racing?
IndyCar Driver Profile: Sebastien Bourdais
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in Sprint Cup: Darlington – Off Week Edition
Couch Potato Tuesday: Moving NASCAR Coverage Onto the Web
Voices From The Cheap Seats: NOTeworthy News


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05/01/2012 01:34 AM

Its “journalists” like you and most of the staff at Frontstretch that do more harm to the sport than good.

If you don’t like the way NASCAR handles things…if you don’t like the racing…go pretend to write about something else…because all you’re doing is bitching and moaning.

The reason Ryan Blaney got coverage on Friday is because he ran up front. Top ten most of the night. In his first race. With the big guns of the sport. It’s called a storyline…something important for television coverage. Good on Tanner Berryhill for making his first start, but unless he runs up front or sticks it in the fence…its not compelling TV.

05/01/2012 07:49 AM

“big-names such as Gordon, Earnhardt, Patrick and Pastrana….”

Ok, Gordon, four time Cup Champion.

Ok, Earnhardt, has Daddy’s big time name.

Huh? Patrick, done nothing but the media thinks she’s something. Maybe secretly want in her firesuit.

Pastrana, never heard of him if again it wasn’t for the media hype. Another flat-brimmed cap, “cool kid” wanting to get exposure.

You guys just can’t report a story, but rather like the mainstream media, you want to create a story. What a shame, or should it be sham?

05/01/2012 09:04 AM

You lump Earnhardt with Gordon, Patrick and Pastrana as making little more than a wimper? Hell man, Earnhardt is second in points and 5 away from first and you say he has made barely a whimper? Have you been watching the races at all or are you just another writer who is so dang jealous of Dale Jr’s nation of fans that you have to hurl venom when given a chance? And the #3 only won that race with Nascar’s assistance? Please tell me how Nascar convinced 42 other drivers to cooperate with them in this little charade. WTH are you drinking/smoking?

I realize the quality of writing has swirled the bowl for years, but this kind of untalented, nonsensical, factless diatribe isn’t worthy to line a bird cage.

The next time I see your name, I’ll remember to just pass on by.

05/01/2012 10:11 AM

Thanks Frontstretch for being the site we can go to to read about the truth in nASCAR. Most others are just part of the propaganda machine. They call it racing. The racing is no more than a concert with cars as a prop. The drivers are dressed up like the band Kiss and there are always a bunch of groupies on pit road. Even blow smoke after the concert,I mean race.The tracks are just a social scene for the elite.

05/01/2012 10:15 AM

I have to say – Ryan Blaney drove one hell of a race. He deserved the credit that he got and he finished 8th. When Danica (and I do like her) finishes 38th, she gets like 5 minutes of post race time. So, give the kid some credit. HE KILLED IT!

Michael in SoCal
05/01/2012 10:50 AM

Writing about a mystical bigger restrictor plate? Really? You got any proof about this? Oh yeah, the race hasn’t even happened yet, and yet you’re writing about it. What a load.

And by the way, I think the word you’re looking for is mythical, not mystical.

Sometimes the coverage of Nascar on the web is bad. This is terrible.

05/01/2012 01:51 PM

You could give Danica a Hemi (a real one) and she still wouldn’t win the race.

As to Junior, NASCAR not only wants him to win, but they want to pump Hendrick’s 200th for every ounce of publicity. He’s been running well and he knows how to drive plate tracks, so it’s hard to say who would be responsible if he pulled off a win. Certainly if they made it easier for him then this is one of the more likely places that they would get a payoff.

05/01/2012 01:58 PM

Even as young Mr. Berryhill was getting no attention neither was young Ms. Long who finished ahead of both Princess Danica and Mr. Pastrana.

05/01/2012 02:48 PM

I Think I gotta go with GoFast & Rick …This ? …Article is not worthy of any one who carrys media credentials …I Think I to will considor passing by on this ?..writer

05/01/2012 03:27 PM

Pepper and Jr. Nation, don’t worry, Dale Jr. is going to get his only win this year in 2 weeks at Charlotte. In what is becoming an Embarrassing annual “win”, he will “win” the PITY PASS into the Sprint All-Star race, after again driving the best equipment in Na$crap and and not being able to win the Sprint Open race for Losers, because he was “saving his equipment” for the All-Star race. BTW, Dale Jr. hasn’t won a Cup plate race in eight (8) years.

05/01/2012 03:28 PM

you want to pick on how an article is written and not address the big picture issues that are raised? really?
the late race mystery debris caution – to even a casual fan that caution seemed suspect. With nascar’s credibility bleeding away faster than it’s tv ratings this issue is valid and needs to be addressed. desperate people (or ones in tv contract negotiations) have been known to do desperate things.
Carl –
he’s proved a few times that he’s a pretty good stock car driver, just not a very smart one. i wasn’t surprised it turned out as it did.
one’s last name –
the media outlets that cover nascar have a worse credibility problem than the organization itself. They are bleeding traditional consumers while failing to attract new ones. if the trend continues Matt M might be right about the fat lady. This is the biggest issue in my mind. here we have the organizing body who’s credibility is suspect (right or wrong it’s the perception that matters) being marketed by outlets who promise drama, entertainment and excitement. What do they deliver? snooze fest races where the bulk of the drama (or what people are talking about) is not derived from the actual racing but manufactured and delivered to us by a team of people (with the biggest offenders having the same last name)who can’t/aren’t allowed to deviate from their scripts in between commercials many of which are offensive or asinine.
Bumper gate –
see credibility problems above.
Big names –
i think the point may be that the media would have us believe that those are the “storyline” names and each is failing to deliver (against the storyline which appears to be quite mythical i might add.) even jr although doing quite well is doing it with a very quiet jimmie j style.

Phony Cup
05/01/2012 10:10 PM

The end is near.

05/02/2012 02:28 AM

@babydufus…I have no problem with HOW the article was written…I take issue with the content and how its presented.

I agree completely that FOX’s commentary leaves plenty to be desired…mainly a muzzle for the two Waltrips, but like it or not, politics plays a huge part in TV coverage…its ugly and dirty and necessary but its not going anywhere. Like sausage. Tastes halfway decent, but sure isn’t pretty to watch being made.

I also agree that NASCAR may have some credibility issues. BUT…imagine how hard it is to distinguish something that can cut a tire or fly into the stands when hit from a plastic bottle (which by the way, can be sharp, and if hit will go flying off just about as fast as the car that hit it).

Unless an official happens to be standing on top of the offending debris, its very hard to identify. Most of the time, its reported by a driver who told his spotter that he saw something. Think about how hard it is to identify crap lying on the side of the interstate. Now add in 70 -110 more miles an hour, a full face helmet, and windows you can’t really see out of. Stock cars are notoriously hard to see out of. All the driver saw was something on the racing surface that he knew wasn’t supposed to be there….so what does NASCAR do? If they can’t identify it, they throw the caution and go check it out. It could be nothing…but hey, better safe than sorry, right?

When Carl hit the fence at ‘Dega three years ago, there was major outcry for the people who got hurt by the parts that flew into the stands. Pieces fall of these machines and they end up in the seats. Happened at the Rock this year. Not sure if it made TV, but there was a woman about 5 rows up in the entrance of turn 1 who got cut by a piece of something on her left thigh that cleared the fence.

As for showing it on TV…remember our driver scenario? Now imagine trying to find that same piece of debris through a black and white viewfinder with a screen slightly larger than an iPod…unless the camera op knows exactly where to look, he’s not going to find it. Unless its a big, honkin, chunk of car. Sure FOX, ESPN and TNT take 75 plus cameras to the track, but they can’t see everything. The production staff has more important things to focus on. Don’t forget ,this race is happening live. If someone misses it, its gone.

One final note… if you don’t like the way NASCAR runs things…if you think its rigged, if you think Hendrick, Childress and Roush have secret back room deals with the France family… DON’T WATCH. Simple as that.

05/02/2012 10:38 AM

If the debris is so tiny that they can’t see it and aren’t absolutely sure its debris, especially with 14 laps to go, they need to stay green. The cars are safe, the walls are safe, its about time the Cup series takes off the kid gloves. Aren’t these guys supposed to be the best drivers in the world?

Funny how they go to Daytona/Talladega and don’t have a problem destroying car after car with huge wrecks, but a little spec of metal alarms everyone to the point that we need to hault the race immediately in the name of safety. Hypocracy at its best.