The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: The (Lack of) Legitimacy in NASCAR Racing by Bryan Davis Keith -- Monday July 2, 2012

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ONE: Letting Wins Stand Detrimental to the Sport

Yes, Austin Dillon’s first Nationwide victory this past weekend at Kentucky was a feel good story on a number of fronts. A proud grandfather got to see his grandson carry on the family name in a big-time performance. The rookie that could served notice in the Nationwide title chase. And the No. 3 was dominant in a way it hasn’t been in over a decade.

Having said that, the car was found illegal in post-race inspection. It doesn’t matter that the failure stemmed from an apparent parts failure. It doesn’t matter that, as owner Richard Childress told the Sporting News, that the reduction in height was actually of detriment to Dillon’s machine over the course of 300 miles. None of that changes the fact that the car could not pass post-race inspection. It was illegal.

And even though NASCAR levied penalties Tuesday that ended up costing Dillon the points lead (ironically, another RCR entry ended up taking the point), the win still stands. Dillon remains a firm fixture in the title chase. And crew chief Danny Stockman will be back on the war wagon come Daytona this Friday night. Win a race with an illegal race car, keep the trophy and get slapped on the wrist.

Is it a wonder so many have a hard time taking this sport and the sanctioning body seriously?

Bruton Smith’s always been known for having a big mouth, but his latest comments regarding mandatory caution flags are both short-sighted and asinine.

TWO: Call for Mandatory Cautions Show Just How Bad Things Are

Those legitimacy concerns are nothing compared to the ones that would result should one Bruton Smith get his way. Following a weekend of relatively tame racing action that saw the first two events runaways and the third dictated almost entirely by track position (even with aerodynamic changes that were supposedly going to be game changers), Smith put the asinine notion out there that races needed cautions to be exciting. Even if that means, as it would in the case of many current tracks, throwing a yellow flag every 20 laps.

Talk about missing the forest for the trees. Making cautions mandatory doesn’t make racing exciting…it manufactures tension that a crappy on-track product can’t naturally produce. And NASCAR fans have already seen what taking a 400-mile Cup race and turning it into glorified heat races does; the product can range from the recent dud All-Star races of the past few years to the God-awful Brickyard 400 of 2008. That’s hardly an inspiring product to be aiming for. And it’s also essentially a sign that in the name of trying to placate fans with artificial moments of excitement, a highly influential race promoter is essentially proclaiming that 60+ years of racing history built on tests of man and machine over the course of demanding distances be thrown out the window.

Hey Bruton, here’s a thought. Take the millions of dollars that SMI obviously still has pouring into its coffers, tear up an intermediate oval or two and built a Martinsville clone. Instead of placing a damaged sport on another crutch, go back to what works.

THREE: What Does JGR’s Commitment to Logano Mean?

Team owner Joe Gibbs was reported Saturday to have stated that resigning Joey Logano was of top priority for his organization…an issue that apparently has become severable from the team’s longstanding sponsorship arrangement with the Home Depot. Said Gibbs, according to the NASCAR Wire Service, “Joey, we want to get that done. Everything else is kind of up in the air for us right now.”

There’s a lot to be gleaned from these remarks. For one, if the team is ready to commit to a statement that Logano is a priority and Home Depot isn’t being mentioned in the same breath, it’s a pretty good indicator that a seemingly illogical marriage is finally about to end. It would also seem to point out that, well, Home Depot is spoken for (read: Matt Kenseth got the ride…my fellow writer Matt McLaughlin did well to point out that Ryan Newman’s rage directed at the No. 20 car this Saturday wasn’t consistent with what was going on on-track; it suggested some larger frustration was at play.)

That leaves JGR with the same predicament that Roush Fenway Racing has been having with their underachieving development drivers…trying to convince a major dollar backer to sign on for Cup dollars to field a glorified Nationwide Series driver. It makes perfect sense that Gibbs would be pushing Logano at Kentucky; he’s only two weeks removed from his first legitimate Cup win, has been a terror at the Nationwide Series level all spring and is as accomplished a racer at Kentucky as anyone in Sunday’s field.

But make no mistake, No. 20 or not, Logano is going to be the fourth car or out of the fold at JGR in 2013. The owner good as said so himself.

FOUR: Do or Die Weekend for Edwards at Daytona

With all the focus on the Matt Kenseth saga this past week, the magnifying glass has also honed on how disappointing a 2012 season it has been for teammate Carl Edwards, the driver that owner Jack Roush focused all his attention on to the seeming neglect of the 2003 champion. And there’s definitely cause for concern in the No. 99 camp after the team’s pit strategy backfired in a major way at Kentucky, leaving them winless and outside the top 10 in points heading to the wild card race at Daytona. There’s something to be said for how far the No. 99 team has fallen; that they’re resorting to pit strategy to stay relevant on one of the intermediate ovals they used to be a sure thing on.

As inconsistent and unimpressive as the No. 99 has been this year, the reality is Daytona may well be their best chance before the Chase to score a victory and shore up their position for a playoff berth. Ford has won the last three Daytona races, and the summer 400-miler is one that’s been kind to Roush Fenway Racing’s underachievers; Jamie McMurray scored the first of only two wins during his ill-fated stint with the organization there in 2007, while David Ragan scored the only Cup win of his career last season.

Edwards came within a lap or so of winning this event in 2008, and there’s no reason to think the Roush Fusions will be less stout this weekend in a race that drivers agreed in consensus at Kentucky would be a carbon copy of what was seen in this year’s Daytona 500. The way his team is running, the plates may be their only shot at getting on the scoreboard for 2012, and generating any sort of momentum that would turn their campaign from rudderless to legitimate.

FIVE: Thursday Race Didn’t Seem to Be a Draw at Kentucky

The crowds were down for all three events at Kentucky Speedway this weekend, and there are a million different explanations to be had for it; extreme heat, the land hurricane of Friday afternoon, bad memories of 2011’s horrible traffic problems. That doesn’t change the results though; the Cup race did not sell out, the Nationwide race was nowhere near filling up the 60,000 seats the track had a reputation for filling before it got its Cup race, and the Truck race crowd was about what one would expect at any venue on the circuit.

Now, granted, the development series that Kentucky did so well with to land their Cup date were bound to take a hit, now that the big boys come to play. But there’s something to be said about the days on the schedule as well…it’s the Saturday show that draws the biggest. The weeknight event, one of a scarce handful across all three national touring series, just wasn’t the type of draw that would validate the type of talk heard early in the season about Monday Night NASCAR following the rain delay of the Daytona 500.

Sunday is race day. And Saturday night is the night to hit the local track, whatever the track may be. It worked for decades. There’s no reason it won’t work now. The Kentucky Speedway has always had to do things its own way, from suing the sanctioning body to try and get a Cup date to the nonsensical W-shaped garage (apparently a homage, when coupled with the D-shaped oval, to track designer Darrell Waltrip if one watched SPEED on Friday). Maybe a more conventional schedule would be worth a look.

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DoninAjax
07/02/2012 11:26 PM
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How about running the Firecracker 400 only on July 4th and start at 10 am on the dot?

Steve K
07/03/2012 03:08 AM
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Starting a race at 1PM on a Kentucky afternoon in June/July is probably not the best idea you have come up with. Way too hot.

I have a friend who will never go back to MIS because he never got to the track due to traffic issues. People hold grudges when they have been screwed. KY will sell out again, it will just take a few years.

SB
07/03/2012 05:56 AM
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Would throwing mandatory cautions be any more artificial than having the ‘chase’? I think not.

Fuzzy
07/03/2012 06:28 AM
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S B, you are spot on, the chase suc#s !

Gordon85Wins
07/03/2012 07:11 AM
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The Chase is the ultimate phony debris caution.

Andy
07/03/2012 08:06 AM
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Planned cautions are ridiculous, but advertising time demands a change.

How about this? Divide the race into five equal length heats. All 43 starts the first heat, the bottom six are dropped before the 2nd heat. CARS THAT DON’T COMPLETE THE FIRST HEAT GET POINTS BUT NO MONEY (no start & parkers!). The 2nd, 3rd and 4th heats also drop the bottom six, leaving 25 cars for the main.

Fifteen minute breaks in between for commercials and idle chatter from the booth. A few additional commercials during yellows, but not so many that we don’t have time to summarize pit stops before we go to green again.

No commercials, tech segments, Hollywood Hotel, fluff pieces or any other crap during green.

Tyler West
07/03/2012 09:31 AM
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Creating cautions is BS!! Bruton Smith is one of the MAJOR problems with NASCAR. He knows nothing about taking care of the product, he destroyed Bristol and now is trying to put the dagger in the heart of a once great sport. He and Brian France need to be run out of town. Spec racing is total crap!! And I swear to TV coverage makes me sick!! What the hell happened to Trackside? It’s absolutely stupid now! RaceHub sucks too. Get rid of all these former “drivers” who do nothing but suck up to Nascar. They have helped ruin the credibility of the sport. Boring flashy new tracks are another reason the races suck, they not built for racing, their built for riding. Most of these tracks are owned by SMI and we know they don’t care about a good product, it suck! Here’s another fact that proves NASCAR is out of touch, The Brickyard, one of the absolute worst events ever has been given the Nationwide race to go along with the Cup race. Are you kidding me!! The races at IRP we always great now it’s been replaced by another yawner. Way to go NASCAR. They have no clue as to how and direct the sport. It’s been left in the hands of retards who proven their worth with an increasingly bad product. It kills me to see this happening.

Driver [\] Down
07/03/2012 10:37 AM
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One video clip that TNT ran as a promo for the race really reinforced my opinion of what they call racing. It is the one showing a line of “cars” going single file down the track with the sun reflecting off of them. They all look like tin cans on a conveyer belt all stamped out of some machine. All were content to follow the other until the process was complete.

Upstate24fan
07/03/2012 10:52 AM
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NASCAR has held its policy of not stripping race wins for failing inspection for decades. Didn’t Richard Petty keep a win despite having an illegal engine? I agree with the NASCAR policy on this this one. The fans who show up should leave knowing who won the race. Taking a win should only be considered for a gigantic rules violation, (e.g. messing with the engine, tires, etc.)

Michael in SoCal
07/03/2012 11:07 AM
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Thank you Tyler, for reminding me of my upcoming boycott of all things Nascar the weekend of Indianapolis. To move the NW series race from IRP to Indianapolis was a terrible idea. The racing at Indy (for stock cars) is terrible, and the NW series racing there won’t make it any better. Now a NW race at a great short track, now there’s something the fans scream for every weekend.

Jim
07/03/2012 11:08 AM
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Bruton Smith does something nascar doesn’t do: He listens to the fans.

I urge all disenfranchised nascar fans to contact Mr. Smith and tell him how you feel and what you would like to see.

For example: I want to see more short tracks.

I don’t take Bruton’s comments on cautions too seriously. I think he was trying to get some discussion going on the lack of excitement in nascar racing these days.

Yvonne
07/03/2012 11:21 AM
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Did anybody REALLY think nascar was going to do a damn thing to Austin Dillon? They made a token gesture as a show.

Wayne T. Morgan
07/03/2012 12:54 PM
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That #3 only fined 6 points tells you something as to who is who in NA$CAR. And the last time I went to Daytona it was 1984 and Petty won 200th and it was on the 4th at 10.00am and we went to the beach aferwards.

Looney Tunes
07/03/2012 05:45 PM
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Lets use common sense Mr. Keith. Failure of inspection due to a part failure is one thing, failing inspection because of cheating is another.

There is no ‘intent’ with a part failure. Same as our laws pertaining to murder one, murder two and manslaughter.

NASCAR’s penalty is spot on.

DougS
07/03/2012 06:03 PM
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I had to look up five months of news releases on Jayski to find what I wanted. I would bet anyone complaining about Austin Dillon’s penalty are probably the first to say NASCAR isn’t fair in how it hands out penalties or fully believe that favoritism regularly takes place. I wish NASCAR would release specific data but they don’t do that. Now I’m not arguing that the car was illegal. But 3/8” to low and three inches too low are completely different entities. And NASCAR issued the same penalty across the board for ALL teams. 6 Points and 10,000 dollars. The only drivers to suffer two penalties this year. The #2 Elliot Sadler ride and #3 Austin Dillon. So their teams have lost a total of 12 points and fined $20,000. We’ll have to wait until one of Turner or Penske drivers/teams gets caught again this year to see if RCR is getting a special deal, which I highly doubt, because if I can fing the info in under 20 minutes you’d be sure a real journalist could also locate it.

Andy
07/03/2012 10:30 PM
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What about Dillon’s crew chief who was already on probation for an illegal nose section? Doesn’t anyone think that NASCAR’s probation rules need teeth? Everyone thought they did when Kurt Busch was involved but apprently believes that the Earnhardt connection is sacred and must not be dirtied.

mkrcr
07/04/2012 02:45 PM
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“And it’s also essentially a sign that in the name of trying to placate fans with artificial moments of excitement, a highly influential race promoter is essentially proclaiming that 60+ years of racing history built on tests of man and machine over the course of demanding distances be thrown out the window.”

Brian France has already done that. In so many ways.

Brooks
07/08/2012 01:13 PM
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Folks, NASCAR has taken away wins before, but it’s very rare. In 1992, Jeff Burton was disqualified after winning a busch series race for an illegal part (part unknown). Dale Jarrett was disqualified in 1995 at michigan after winning a busch race for an illegal intake manifold, and Mike Skinner won at atlanta in 1999 in the busch race, was disqualified for an illegal cylinder head. But he got his win back when the appeal board ruled in his favor. It’s rare, but it has happened.