The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off : NASCAR Notes While Adrift In The Doldrums Of June by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday June 18, 2009

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Editor’s Note: For this week, Matt put together a few random notes on some of the major NASCAR storylines heading into this weekend. Let’s get right to it:

Wow, no wonder TNT was able to outbid ABC and FOX for this stretch of the Cup schedule. Last week’s Michigan race was perhaps the most tepid and unpalatable event since Jeff Burton led flag-to-flag at NHIS during the restrictor plate experiment that failed. And it seems unlikely that things are going to get much better with upcoming races at Sonoma, New Hampshire, and Joliet. The sport is stuck in the annual early summer doldrums, races which seem to have been inadvertently designed to get fans to flick off their TV and turn to more pleasurable activities outside. Of course, any one of these upcoming events could turn out to be a classic; but, given past history, the odds are against that happening.

Thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends, and fans of Carlos Pardo who died in a horrific wreck during a NASCAR Mexico event last weekend. Pardo was leading the race when the second place driver got into the left quarterpanel of Pardo’s car, sending it spinning savagely into the outside pit wall. The wall was guarded by only a set of water bottles and when Pardo’s Ford hit it, the damage was so extensive that it seemed a bomb had gone off inside the car. The impact was so severe, the car’s roof panel was actually launched several stories into the air. Pardo was removed from the twisted wreckage of his car and rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead 45 minutes later. In a cruelly ironic twist, under NASCAR Mexico rules, when a caution flies the running order is reset to that of the last green flag lap. Since the race was never restarted, Pardo was awarded the win posthumously.

Pardo had won 10 races in 74 starts prior to this weekend, and was the series champion back in 2004.

Auto racing is an inherently dangerous enterprise, and some deaths just can’t be prevented. But in watching the video of the wreck, I was concerned by the odd shape of that pit wall which bent almost to the shape of a C at the pit entrance. The wall didn’t appear to be well constructed, and when it broke, it actually made the wreck that much less survivable. There was also no evidence of SAFER barriers placed anywhere at the track — and if that’s the case, they need to be added to all tracks right now. I’m not suggesting the series adopt the CoT (I don’t want Mexico to declare war on the U.S.), but I’ve been told that the foam between the rollcage and the sheetmetal — a key safety feature of the new car — can be easily adapted to the “old cars.” Considering the benefits, it probably should be on all chassis after this tragedy as an additional safety measure. You can’t save ‘em all, NASCAR… but you can’t lose any more from a lack of trying.

With the long feared cutbacks in the Big Three’s financial commitment to NASCAR racing finally coming to fruition, most teams, drivers, and the sanctioning body are just bracing themselves to see how bad the fallout will be. Off the record, most folks will admit they fear it’s going to get really ugly, and the future of the Truck Series seems increasingly uncertain.

Last week, it stopped raining long enough that his handlers were able to loosen the rope that holds Brian France’s mouth shut without fear he’d drown himself looking up at a cloudburst. Mr. France then opined that the current economic challenges in Detroit might just lead to other foreign car manufacturers to explore the waters of NASCAR racing. There was a lot of conjecture that Honda might be interested in joining the party, though I sure hope they don’t plan to race Ridgelines in the Truck Series — those things are uglier than an overturned outhouse.

In order to be considered for entry into NASCAR, a car manufacturer would need to have at least one plant producing cars in the U.S. Among the names France dropped were Nissan, BMW, Mercedes Benz (yeah, right), and Hyundai. Hyundai? Please tell me they’re kidding. My guess is the first time a Hyundai “Accident” wins a Cup race, the already rapid exodus of fans towards the exits will become such a stampede that women and children will be trampled to death. The demographical data that NASCAR provides on its own fans indicates that BMW and Mercedes ownership is out of reach for a large majority of them — so that wouldn’t seem a valid marketing strategy for the German automakers, either. And even with all the success Toyota has enjoyed at all levels of NASCAR racing lately, their sales are down 45 percent in a year-to-year comparison over last year (worse than Ford or GM). I’m not sure anyone is looking at NASCAR competition as a reliable form of marketing right now.

One of (my myriad) of self-appointed critics, a gentleman named Kevin from SoCal took me to task this weekend for expressing a feeling of nostalgia for the 24 Hours of LeMans, while holding less affectionate feelings for the upcoming Sonoma road course race. Maybe he was being facetious, but his argument seemed to be, “Is road course racing good or bad?”

Well Kevin, there’s simply no comparison between last week’s race at LeMans and this week’s NASCAR race at Sonoma. The cars at LeMans are specifically constructed to compete on road courses from the lugnuts on up. In comparison, heavy, wide, and under-tired Cup cars are crutched into some sort of acceptable handling on road courses. And then, there’s the experience factor. The drivers at LeMans are selected because they are among the best road course racers in the world. While NASCAR has many truly talented road course racers — the Gordons, Martin, and Stewart come readily to mind — the back half of the field looks like confused golden retriever pups hitting a newly waxed linoleum floor wide open. Add in a little rain like that one year in Montreal, and what you have is a farce of epic proportions. There’s also only one generally accepted passing zone for stock cars at Sonoma compared to many at LeMans. And, of course, one key factor at LeMans is the epic 24-hour length of the race. Sonoma only seems to drag on that long…

Now, there’s nothing wrong with road racing when it’s staged with cars built for that purpose, driven by pilots skilled in that discipline of racing. It’s even possible to have good racing in full-fendered coupes and sedans. In my mind, the greatest such racing was in the golden years of the Trans Am series that stretched from 1967 to 1970. Mustangs, Cougars, Camaros, Cudas, and Challengers waged war with full factory support in a series that ran heads up with NASCAR for popularity in most areas of the country outside of the Southeast. The racing was wide open, full contact, and unbridled with legends like Donahue, Follmer, Posey, and Jones at the wheel driving for fellow legends like Carroll Shelby, Roger Penske, and Bud Moore. In their efforts to dominate in the series, American carmakers produced such automotive legends as the Boss 302 Mustangs, the Camaro Z-28, and the Challenger TA/AAR Cuda twins. A look at the prices those cars demand at auctions like Barrett-Jackson speaks to the enduring affection for the good old days of Trans Am racing. (Oddly enough, Pontiac Trans Ams were never much of a factor in the Trans Am series back in the day — though Pontiac paid a fee to the SCCA for every Trans Am they ever built.)

So, what happened to end the Golden Age of Trans Am racing? Funny you should ask. The Detroit automakers began leaving the sport, just as they seem to be about to do in NASCAR right now. To fill the fields, the SCCA allowed foreign cars to run in the series, just as NASCAR is doing right now. The “street stock” appearance was one of the chief charms of the Trans Am series in the day. New rules were adopted that had the cars looking less and less like their street counterparts, just like NASCAR has done with the Car of Tomorrow. You know when someone who preceded you is nice enough to post signposts on the Highway to Hell for you, a wise man starts looking for an alternative route. Meanwhile, for fans of the old Trans Am series here’s a brief video showing the cars and crowds back in 1969.

If a test taken by Bubba The Love Sponge is any indication, the drug case against Jeremy Mayfield isn’t as cut and dried as NASCAR has led us to believe.

Uh-oh. If the rumors I’m hearing today are true, NASCAR’s drug case against Jeremy Mayfield just took a hit below the waterline.

I’m not sure who or what a “Bubba the Love Sponge” is — I’m from up north and I don’t even have a cell phone, much less satellite radio — and I have no idea how the tests were conducted, but the information I was provided today indicates Mr. Sponge took it upon himself to take Adderall and Claritin D (the same two medications Mayfield admits taking prior to his drug test). Mr. Sponge then submitted a urine drug test which supposedly revealed a false positive for methamphetamine.

My guess is someone called “Bubba the Love Sponge” is not a trained medical expert — I’m not going to have him look at my chest X-ray, and I surely wouldn’t allow him to take my temperature with a rectal thermometer — but whether he took the test seriously or as a joke, the results shed new light on the controversy.

If it can be proven that the two medications resulted in a false positive, NASCAR needs to immediately reinstate Mayfield, offer an apology, and reach a financial settlement for the monetary damages and loss of reputation that the driver suffered.

Of course, recently NASCAR seems to be saying that Mayfield is at fault for not telling Dr. Black he was beginning treatment with Adderall. Sorry, no sale. Adult Attention Deficit Disorder is a potentially embarrassing diagnosis for a fellow which could have adverse effects on others’ willingness to enter into business relationships with him. As long as the treatment isn’t going to affect his ability to compete safely, when a licensed doctor diagnosed Mayfield with this little understood disease and started a pharmaceutically correct regimen of FDA-approved drugs, that was between Mayfield and his doctor… no one else. There are reasons for the laws concerning doctor/patient confidentiality.

And if this mix of drugs is debatable … what’s next? “Hey, Dr. Black, I’m crapping through the eye of a needle right now. Is it OK to take some Kaopectate before the race?” “Hey, Dr. Black, I just hit 50 and I’m having a little trouble getting lead in the pencil. My wife is getting frustrated. Is Viagra OK the night before a race?”

What I really want to see is Brian France taking a random drug test. The cocaine rumors have been rampant since his Hollywood days, and I’d like to see them proven or disproved by analysis of a hair sample by an independent lab under tight security.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?


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06/18/2009 07:32 AM

Matt , i can’t think of any reason why foreign cars , all foreign cars shouldn’t be racing in Nascar Cup . BMW , Mercedes , Holden and Falcon ( Austrailian GM and Ford ) Honda , Suburu , and yes even Hyundai all have full blown race teams already . Bring em on . More competition , more fans brought on board , more money into Brians’ pockets .

The Pardo incident is regretable for many reasons , not the least of which is the apparent total lack of common sense by the track officials . That outcome was not necessary . I can look at that wall jutting out and realise that something radical should be done to change it . So can you . And neither of us are safety experts . So how dumb, or blind , or just lazy , must track officials be to miss hazzards like those . And if they aren’t missing them , why aren’t they being fixed ? And of course there are many more glaring faults , just like the one that killed Pardo , on tracks in every country on Earth . Including some Nascar tracks that have similar protruding pit walls only protected by water barrels , and vehicle openings in inside and outside backstretch walls .

Road racing is one of the best forms of auto racing for the simple reason that you get to see drivers actually drive . Turning left and right , sharp turns , long sweeping turns , short straights , long straights , shifting gears , and in many cases up and down hills . As most Cup drivers say , road racing gives them the chance to “ hustle “ the car . And theres no better show than Tony Stewart or Robby Gordon , or Kyle Busch , or Dale Earnhardt Sr. throwing a car sideways around a road course . The late , very much lamented Trans Am series you talked about is the perfect example . Jones , Follmer , Donahue , Titus , now that was a show , as much for the driving as for the cars .

Carl D.
06/18/2009 07:48 AM

I’m particularly disturbed by the apparent difference between Nascar’s safety standards in the U.S. and Mexico. Why has Nascar sanctioned a race at a track that would never be allowed to host a race in the U.S.? There’s no way that anyone can reconcile Carlos Pardo’s death with “expanding the fanbase”. A full investigation by a competent third party is in order.

06/18/2009 08:12 AM

Some nice writing and references today, big thanks!

Ah yes, the Trans-Am series in it’s hey day!

Nothing better than watching Parnelli Jones throw his race car around the track, and I do mean “throw”!

The biggest problem with road courses here in the US, narrow, no place to pass, particularly with the big bulky “stock cars” (did I really say that?), Only two “road course” come to mind that would provide real competitive road racing, not this follow the leader crap, one would be Road America, the other, believe it or not, would be the road course at Daytona!

No other road course exists that I know of that is capable of having two (2) “stock cars” (there I go again,
just old habits I guess) race side by side.

(well, there is a third, but it is so far out of the way, and that is Brainerd MN. A very nice, very fast road course, best I have ever driven on).

And I should mention the infamous Can-Am series! Now that was pure racing!

06/18/2009 08:41 AM

The tragedy in Mexico is a great example of NAXCAR only doing things when it is forced to do so. There wouldn’t be safer barriers or hans devices if Earnhardt, Petty, and Erwin hadn’t died. Even then NAXCAR had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the safety table. It costs money. NAXCAR only wants to make it, not spend it. Great comparison between LeMans and NAXCAR. I still think that the two road races should continue, just like I think there ought to be at least two on dirt each year.

06/18/2009 10:03 AM

It’s a shame with all of the safety changes over the past few years that we are still losing drivers at NA$CAR tracks. It seems to me that if NA$CAR has their name on it, it should meet certain specifications. Even our safety procedures at work undergo annual examinations and changes if necessary. The old saying “We’ve done it that way for forty years and it worked” doesn’t cut it any more.The safety culture has changed so much that they sent one guy home for two days without pay for a “procedure violation” and then sent him through a safety reinforcement program upon his return to prevent any future violations.
Do you think we could get away with that here? Let’s send Brian home for two weeks without pay and make some changes for the better and then put him through a “rules reinforcement program” upon his return. Who has a pocketwatch and a soothing voice? I think it would be worth a try anyway.
Hey Matt, did I see a Javelin at the 4:52 mark in the video?

don mei
06/18/2009 01:37 PM

ime Rock Park in Connecticut is hosting a NASCAR 200 mile road race in august for NASCAR East…been doing it for years. Its a hell of a show.

06/18/2009 02:30 PM

Matt… that Trans-Am race video was from the 1969 race at Donnybrooke Raceway in Minnesota, now known as Brainerd Int’l Raceway. It was the first Professional race ever held there and the first major race I ever attended.

06/18/2009 03:17 PM

Charles… you’d be surprised just how stock some of those cars were. There was one Camaro I saw in the pits that morning, that actually had a STOCK steering wheel! The MAJOR CONTROVERSY that weekend was the VINYL COVERED ROOF’S on the Penske Camaro’s. Imagine that! The Carol Shelby and Bud Moore teams protested, accusing Penske of acid dipping the roof metal, but they were allowed to run. The Fords had been winning that year, Mark Donahue was leading comfortably until his engine blew late in the race, giving one of the Bud Moore Mustangs the win. The vinyl roofs were gone the next race, and the Penske Camaro’s went on a winning streak, beating Ford for the title. IRONICALLY it was the last time Penske raced Chevy’s until he brought the ILMOR Chevy into the Cart Indycar Series. I too have driven the road course there, and have won semi-pro drag races there.

Ford Fan
06/18/2009 03:35 PM

Thanks for the update on Jeremy Mayfield. Although I am not sure I would call “Bubba the Love Sponge” as a witness any more than I would want to call Jeremy’s so called expert witness to testify.

I believe I made a similar argument about disclosure on another website. ADA rules and doctor-patient privacy do not require someone to reveal a disability or medication taken to treat such disability. Hope Jeremy wins his lawsuit, kicks out the Frances, reinstates Carl Long and brings back the old style cars like Trans-Am racing. Wouldn’t that be awesome!

06/18/2009 03:40 PM

What NA$CAR needs is to run a Sprint Cup street race in downtown Detroit !! Was there for the Red Bull Air Races this past weekend. There was a great crowd on hand and everyone had a great time.

Kevin in SoCal
06/18/2009 04:24 PM

Thank you for the shoutout and for explaining your position. But of course we’ll continue to disagree. I do like to watch road course racing among professionals like at LeMans. The problem I have with them is in series such as F1, IndyCar, and ALMS and Daytona Prototypes is what appears to be a complete lack of passing. The cars up front stay up front and rarely get passed, even worse than what we see in NASCAR races on ovals. But when the NASCAR drivers come to the road courses, its watching the “puppies on linoleum” that I enjoy. You’re guarenteed to see passing, cars nudging each other out of the way, brakes locking up, spins, and general mayhem. I think its great fun to watch these pros on ovals do something different with their cars.

Ford Fan
06/18/2009 04:58 PM

Amen Kevin. We should have a road course in the Chase. After all they make up almost 8% of the Races to the Chase. Maybe Jimmie Johnson will have to learn how to really drive then.

06/18/2009 05:55 PM

Hey over88ated, “Donneybrook“wow, forgot the name. I drove SCCA GT-1, loved “Brainerd”, long fast straight leading into a very fast turn 1, a touch of the brake and turn right, hang on. Fastest track I drove.

Penske was well known for his “stretching the rules” in the Trans-Am Series.

He showed up one year with an “illegal” fueling rig (at MIS), after repeated attempts to have him remove it (he did not think I was serious as he had called everyone’s bluff at the previous Trans-Am races), I refused to let his cars on the track for “official practice” on Saturday! He was HOT! But the rig came down!

He also was suspected of running traction control in CART series, illegal, but they could not find it on his cars. (among other things)

Richard in N.C.
06/18/2009 07:03 PM

As I read it Mayfield was under a contractual obligation to keep Aegis advised of the prescription medications he was taking, whether embarassing or not. I assume you feel differently about whether an airline pilot should disclose his medications in accordance with FAA rules, embarrassing or not, if they might impact his ability to function in the cockpit.

P on U
06/18/2009 10:07 PM

P on U says go Mayfield! Drug test Brian France – I agree. Once again Matt, U are P on U’s hero!

Richard in N.C.
06/18/2009 11:19 PM

Looks like Mayfield and his attorneys shot themselves in the foot again. Not many toes left.

06/19/2009 12:55 AM

The scion xB is the only vehicle ugly enough to compete head to head with the COT, don’t you think?

06/19/2009 03:35 AM

Was the test that this individual took a screening test or a mass spectrometry test? Because its not hard to get a false positive on a screening test. The screener is always done first, because if the screener comes back negative then you don’t have to spend the money on the sophisicated test.

So yes, its entirely possible that their little experiment came up with a false positive. However, a real lab doing the test would then follow up with some sort of mass spectrometer testing, which would be conclusive.

Somehow I doubt that the Love Sponge ponied up for a real test, and only submitted to a screener.

And Mayfield signed away his rights when he signed the drug testing policy at the start of the year. So Nascar would be perfectly justified in the legal sense to suspend him for not revealing that he took adderall.

Brownsburg Kevin
06/19/2009 09:41 AM

To itsborken, I agree but I think that the honda element could rival the Xb.