The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: The Latest Failings of a Failed Sanctioning Body by Bryan Davis Keith -- Monday November 12, 2012

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ONE: Hello, Consistency?

Anyone that needs more proof as to whether or not name means something in the eyes of NASCAR got it this afternoon, with NASCAR bucking their typical Tuesday announcements to notify the racing world that when the Cup Series takes the green at Homestead, Jeff Gordon will be on the track. Despite premeditating a clear act of payback on the racetrack that collected championship contender Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano and Aric Almirola (not to mention very nearly wrecking points leader Brad Keselowski as well), Gordon got away with a points penalty that means nothing and a fine Hendrick Motorsports will scoff at.


If your name is Gordon, will it buy a pass from the NASCAR officials when wrecking somebody named Bowyer?

All of this after Kyle Busch was parked by NASCAR because he got into a tussle with a title contender in the Truck ranks at Texas. If anything, Gordon’s actions were even more egregious, as he took out a series regular in his home series and direct competitor to the No. 48 car that he just so happens to own. No conspiracy theory here, Gordon and Bowyer definitely have some history, but in context the four-time champion did something that made Busch’s antics from a season ago almost tame in comparison. For that, he’ll pay a pittance and lose points that he doesn’t need (the No. 24 was mathematically eliminated from title contention even before the penalty).

I’ll say the same thing I do in every case such as this, the drivers need to police themselves and the sanctioning body needs to back off and not arbitrarily assign penalties for such actions based on the prevailing winds of the fanbase and media. But seeing as how NASCAR is never going to be hands off as they should be, there’s ample reason they should be criticized for not parking Gordon. The only message that can be taken from this action is that the higher a driver’s popularity and level of achievement, the more leeway they’re going to get.

Kind of like Tuesday’s election…hardly a shocking outcome, but depressing nonetheless.

TWO: It’s Official. Yellow Flag as Broadcast Item

Jimmie Johnson hits the wall but keeps going and the yellow flag comes out. Debris on lap 167 brings out the yellow for no apparent reason. The red flag comes out almost immediately after the Gordon/Bowyer brawl, as if to give the TV crews ample opportunity to provide blow by blow coverage of the pit crews going at it and Bowyer’s frantic charge through the garage towards the No. 24 hauler. But Danica Patrick blows up, drops oil all over the track and is smoldering down the frontstretch and the race stays green, with the end result a massive pile-up.

Though one side of me is absolutely thrilled NASCAR finally let a race finish under green, there’s the other part of the equation. The sanctioning body’s officiating is strongly contingent on made for TV moments. They break up a green flag runs to allow commercial breaks to punctuate a pit cycle. The yellow is held off to ensure that post-race interviews surrounding a championship gone wild and a massive fight get aired. Objectivity or even competency for governing the premier level of stock car racing in the world are not apparent here.

Between the Chase format and the stark reality of manufactured cautions, does a Cup championship really mean anything anymore?

THREE: Keselowski’s Pit Miscues Cause for Concern

The mission for Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 team got a whole lot simpler over the final 100 miles at Phoenix. No need to race for a win at Homestead; rather, stay out of trouble and run a conservative race to score Penske Racing’s first Cup title ever.

But having said that, it’s not a sure-fire road to the Cup, and that’s not just because the opponent is the formidable Johnson/Knaus duo. Rather, it’s miscues on pit road that have shown up repeatedly over the course of the Chase (at Phoenix, Keselowski stalled the car on pit road early to drop himself from 11th to 23rd, and had his crew drop him from first to fourth on another stop later in the event).

While the No. 2 team ended up passing plenty of cars and taking care of business regardless on Sunday, the reality is pit road mistakes put cars in traffic. Cars in traffic are far more likely to find trouble. In short, business as usual will have the Blue Deuce flirting with trouble it doesn’t need. Though the driver and team have had tremendous luck throughout the Chase in finding their way through traffic (see Talladega, the end of this Phoenix race), one does have to ask, will they go to the well one time too many?

The entire NASCAR community will find out Sunday.

FOUR: RCR in Danger of Losing Two Titles at Homestead

Though RCR returned to Cup victory lane on Sunday with Kevin Harvick’s late charge to victory, the team’s chance at a Nationwide Series title went up in smoke late in Saturday’s event after a misguided move by driver Elliott Sadler. For all the turmoil surrounding the Childress operation this weekend following reports that Kevin Harvick would be leaving the team’s No. 29 car for Stewart-Haas Racing after the 2013 campaign, the team’s Nationwide struggles could be pinned solely on the driver.

Problem is, that’s not the only team RCR has running for a championship this coming weekend. Currently, Ty Dillon has the No. 3 truck within 12 points of leader James Buescher. And it was standing alongside that truck team on Friday that saw owner Childress the most visibly agitated of the entire weekend regarding the current situation unfolding between he and longtime driver Harvick.

Regardless of how demarcated the operations are at RCR between the different race series, there’s obvious tension under the Childress tent surrounding this current Harvick situation. And given how tight the bond is known to be between owner Childress and his grandson drivers, there’s very legitimate questions to be raised as to how much this emotional instability could impact the No. 3 truck as it tries to defend the Truck Series championship Austin won a season ago. Sitting 12 points back, with both Buescher and Timothy Peters standing in the way, the margin for error is zero.

FIVE: Hello, Consistency?

Rewind back to Monday night NASCAR and the night of Montoya vs. the jet dryer. Brad Keselowski became the biggest Twitter fad NASCAR had ever seen thanks to his tweeting a picture of the inferno from his race car and becoming the first driver to tweet from the cockpit during the race. It was hailed by everyone at every level of the sport as a creative and telling example of social media and its ability to bring fans closer to their heroes.

Fast forward to Phoenix, and now Brad Keselowski is getting fined thousands of dollars for checking the same damn cell phone in his car under a red flag.

Were the 140 characters not witty enough this time?

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Andy D
11/13/2012 05:19 AM
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Agree with almost all of your points, BUT

Point One: Let’s keep national politics out of race commentary. Or are some of your best friends team owners?

Point Five: You can fit a lot of electronics into a cell phone case. The ban is valid. The quiestion is, when were they banned? After the Daytona 500 NASCAR put out a statement saying that Keeselowski had done no wrong by having a cell in the car. You can pull a lot of rabbits out of a hat when you have a secret rulebook. This fine is because of Brad’s language in the post-race press conference and NASCAR should have the guts to say so.

Robin1
11/13/2012 06:35 AM
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Totally agree with everything you said Andy!

Gordon86Wins
11/13/2012 07:07 AM
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I’m a Jeff Gordon fan and I absolutely think he should have been parked in addition to the weak penalty he just got. So he won’t go to Vegas? Whoa, he’ll never do that again!

It is truly amazing that the caution flag gets thrown whenever a driver has a big lead (unless, of course, that driver’s initials are Dale Earnhardt Jr.), but a wrecked car could be sitting at the finish line and the official swallows their whistle. If the officials in NASCAR went on strike, would we even notice?

Carl D.
11/13/2012 07:53 AM
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Nothing about Nascar has been consistent in a long, long time, unless you count the consistent failure of Brian France to manage the sport in a competent manner. I’m not even going to call out Robin Pemberton; he’s just a puppet on a string.

Hadrian
11/13/2012 08:48 AM
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Respectfully, please keep your politics out of racing discussions. This is Frontstretch, not Politico.

steve
11/13/2012 09:06 AM
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To the contrary, I have no problem with Gordon taking Bowyer out. Tit for tat on the track, and not some silly yelling back and forth in the paddock is the way to let the drivers police themselves.

Yes, it was inconsistent with Busch, but NASCAR shouldn’t have suspended Busch. This time they got it right – although I wouldn’t have hit Gordon with as big a fine.

russ
11/13/2012 09:46 AM
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You have to wonder, some said that all it would take to turn Nascar around was for Jr. to win again – well he did and nothing happened.
The “new” Bristol was going to make a difference – well it didnt
The Chase – ditto
Allowing more mfg. identity will get more involvement – Dodge left
Now the wreck is going to bring fans back – remains to be seen doesn’t it?

Jim N
11/13/2012 11:06 AM
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Sorry Bryan I think you missed the root cause of Danica’s spin. ESPN clearly showed in a replay that Jeff Burton took her out. She didn’t “blow up”. And I’m no Danica fan, but geez, get it right, or don’t write it!

grumpiestoldman
11/13/2012 11:14 AM
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I just wonder which Hendrick teammate or associated team will get the call Sunday to take out the 2.
Gordon has shown that he’s not above wrecking a title contender, so I pray for Brad’s safety.

Kevin
11/13/2012 11:50 AM
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Point 2: “Between the Chase format and the stark reality of manufactured cautions, does a Cup championship really mean anything anymore?”

Sadly, no…which is why I don’t watch races anymore and now I just read the Monday recap column on this site.

Steve
11/13/2012 03:13 PM
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Jim N, I’m surprised Bryan didn’t blame Danica for the whole thing. He has that much disdain for that woman. And you can bet that he will never give her credit for running a good race. She was set to have her best finish in Cup totally raining on his anti-Danica cruisade. And I won’t even mention the political comment that has no place here.

Anyway, back to Gordon. You guys seem to forget that Edwards almost put Kes in the grandstands at Atlanta and got no penalty. And the retaliation was premeditated. I’m fine with the no penalty. My concern is where do you draw the line. If a guy is still alive for the championship, there should be some repercussions for taking him out shouldn’t there?

Joe..
11/13/2012 03:13 PM
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Gordon was mad and wrecked Boyer because last Tuesday we signed off on becoming, officially, a Socialist nation instead of a Constitutional Republic.

p
11/13/2012 03:24 PM
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As I said yesterday, hendrick has nascar in his hip pocket. As far as brian
having disdain for danica, how could you not have disdain? she is all about money(sponsor). as soon a the money stops she will be gone as she is not a top or middle of pack racer.

Joe..
11/13/2012 04:01 PM
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Bowyer

Tim
11/13/2012 06:13 PM
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How long will it be before all non-Hendrick/Chevy drivers get fed up with this stuff from Nascar? There will soon be 8 major Hendrick cars in cup with Stewart-Hass running 4 cars.

When is enough enough? When will the non-Hendrick fans have enough?

None of this latest B.S. is shocking. It’s just more of the same. Like the next four years of Obama only MORE. And you will PAY for it.

DoninAjax
11/13/2012 08:35 PM
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I wonder what the penalty would be if the name was Robby Gordon instead of Jeff Gordon?

Batman1970
11/14/2012 07:26 PM
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First off, I’d like to agree with the others — I have NO interest in any of the politics of the people who write for or frequent this site. When I want to have a discussion on politics, I’ll visit a political blog, not a NASCAR one.

For all of you moaning about the lack of a Gordon penalty — of course he didn’t get suspended. The guy’s a four-time champion. Comparing him to Robby Gordon? Please. There IS no comparison. Hyperbole much? The number of cars R. Gordon takes out in the course of a race is roughly equivalent of the number J. Gordon has taken out in his career.

Honestly, some of the ridiculous conspiracy theories (Gordon taking out Keselowski? Why would he ever do that? Gordon is not, nor has he ever been a dirty driver. He’s been known to use his bumper, but it’s often justified given the situation. We could certainly compare Harvic, Stewart, Earnhardt Sr., etc) are so far out there that their authors have lost credibility.

Please don’t forget that the Bush brothers have had anger management issues their entire career. When they do something stupid, no one is particularly surprised. This is a good sign that they NEED to be suspended in order to get their owners and sponsors involved to stop their dangerous behavior. What are the odds Gordon does something stupid like this again? He has enough self-respect that he’ll end up making an apology and admit his own foolishness. When have the Bush brothers ever done that with any kind of sincerity?

Let’s dial it back a bit and try to be realistic about this. It was a cheap shot that was ultimately a stupid move based on when it came in the race and what was happening on the track. No doubt, when Gordon cools off a bit, he’ll admit his own boneheadedness. No one got hurt, and he didn’t REALLY impact the outcome of the winner of the championship. At the end of the day, a whole bunch of scrap-metal will go to charity, and the Chase will go on (like it or not). If I were a Bowyer fan, I’d be as mad as can be. But I’m not. Instead, I can remember at least three incidents in which Gordon would leave his car and comment on Bowyers’ driving. This is something that’s been brewing for a while. It was only a matter of time.

Don’t worry, someone will make a similar stupid move (JPM), and people blow it out of proportion as well.

SteveS
11/14/2012 08:24 PM
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Bowyer said he was just staying behind Gordon and worrying about Kahne coming up as Bowyer was 3rd in points and Kahne was 4th. As Kahne closed in Bowyer decided to try getting by Gordon and in a racing incident they made contact and Gordon brushed the wall, stuff like that happens during RACING. Then Gordon tried to dump Bowyer and missed and got into the marbles and wrecked himself. Then Gordon wrecked Bowyer and Logano and Almirola which completely took Bowyer out of the battle for the cup as well as for 2nd in the standing against the car Gordon ‘owns’ AND allowed his team mate Kahne to move solidly into 3rd in the standings with Bowyer finishing 28th (16 points) instead of a potential top 5 (39 or more points). That’s taking someone out of a slim chance of the championship and a good shot at 2nd or 3rd and the two teams are either yours or a team mate all because you missed wrecking Bowyer and wrecked yourself.

And someone above refered to Pemberton as a string puppet, well, he is a hand puppet just like Helton and France and I don’t have to tell you where Rick Hendrick inserts his hand to make them respond. So there is no chance HMSCAR was going to suspend Gordon.

Toadie
11/14/2012 08:44 PM
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Hey Batman 1970, how’s it going at Nascar HQ.