Matt McLaughlin · Monday September 27, 2010
The Key Moment – On lap 338, Jimmie Johnson took the lead from Kyle Busch. Busch contested the issue, but only briefly.
In a Nutshell – So much for the Monster Mile at Dover. This one was a Monotonous Dozer.
Dramatic Moment – Apparently, the NFL games were replete with them.
It wasn’t racing per se, but a part of it – simply bizarre to see one Chase contender after another make unforced errors that cost them big time.
What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week
Well, OK, yeah, we’ve got some stuff to talk about this week. Some folks wondered why I was saying there was nothing to talk about in last Thursday’s column. Let me explain what a deadline is to a beat writer. I don’t get up at 4 AM Thursday morning (perish the thought) and begin banging out my MPM column. My late week column needs to be submitted by Wednesday at sundown. Typically, I start considering a concept for the column on Monday and bang out a rough draft. Tuesday, I finish the column and edit it. If at all possible, I submit it late Tuesday to give the editor types, who are as burnt out as I am this late in the season, a little help, especially since my columns take some work to make ready for primetime. They had to hire a special editor in charge of oversize obscure words just to work with me. By the time the Bowyer story broke Wednesday, I was somewhere west of Lancaster on a big two-wheeler, rolling away the miles before winter’s cruel darkness parks it for the season.
OK, back to racing. It’s all right for NASCAR officials to decide a race-winning car is illegal. It’s happened numerous times, too many to count, and it’ll happen again. (Despite the fact NASCAR says that they never strip a winner of a victory after a fact, maybe they ought to ask Dale Jarrett who was stripped of a Busch Series win at Michigan. Or, if he’s still with us, Glenn Dunnaway, who won the very first race in what is now called Cup racing only be disqualified for illegal wedges driven into his rear left springs to stiffen them, an old bootleggers’ trick. Or Fireball Roberts, who was disqualified after winning the Daytona Beach Race in 1955. But I digress.) What’s not acceptable is to take three days to announce the race winner’s car was found illegal. If NASCAR had any credibility left, that would be incredibly damaging to it.
Oh, and for the record, race fans, never try to explain to a non-fan how a driver who won the race is found to be cheating and yet keeps the win. You can talk until your face is blue and they’ll never understand it. Explaining NASCAR corporate policy to a stick and ball fan is like trying to teach a pig to sing. It’s a waste of your time… and it annoys the pig.
I had an interesting discussion with a buddy after he told me about the RCR / Bowyer penalty. We both agreed that it seemed ludicrous that Bowyer lost 150 points and the team lost $150,000 for sixty thousandths of an inch, a height about the width of the comma that precedes this phrase. But Randy and I got to talking about it. If the height infraction was the height of two quarters, would the penalty have been OK? It didn’t seem so. So how about the height of a stack of three quarters? Four, five? We both agreed if the height discrepancy had been a full inch, the penalty would have been warranted. But where was the cut? My final opinion is that the penalty ought to reflect the intent and extent of the infraction. In Bowyer’s case, the penalty was excessive because the extent was so small, the performance advantage near nil, and the intent not clear. A more serious infraction, say hidden traction control, would warrant such a penalty. Such a device didn’t install itself, a driver would have to know it was there to utilize it to its full effect, and the performance advantage would be tremendous. It’s the same deal with nitrous… one of several other things I could mention that’s far more devious than this minor mistake. So I think what has everybody shaking their heads is the gargantuan amount of the penalty for such a Lilliputian infraction. If they’d hit the team with a 10-point, ten thousand dollar fine for the same issue, I wouldn’t be writing about this.
Some folks, Denny Hamlin in particular, are defending the big penalty claiming RCR (and other teams) have been warned for months that while their cars are legal, they are just barely legal, pushing the edge of the envelope to the ripping point. No kidding? When NASCAR writes the rules, it is the job of the crew chief and car builders to push them to that limit looking for a performance advantage. Every cubic inch in the engine, every millimeter of spoiler height, every cubic inch in the fuel cell gives that extra edge, however minute when racing competitors are also pushing the envelope. If the cubic inch displacement rule is 358, who is going to bring a 347 stroker just to be sure they’re legal? I guess that’s what bothers me about NASCAR’s Research and Development center taking three days to decide Bowyer’s Chevy was illegal by such a small degree. The guys who build the cars are supposed to be pushing the edges, coming up with new tricks which fall in the gray area that NASCAR hasn’t ruled are black or white yet. When NASCAR sees those tricks and decides retroactively to stamp them as illegal, they’re discouraging innovation in a sport where the cars are already too generic. I want to see races and championships decided in the team’s shops while they burn the midnight oil and on the track, not in the R & D center.
Clint Bowyer probably sent Mark Martin dinner after Martin’s car was disqualified after qualifying for Dover. At least it deflected some negative attention away from the RCR team. Martin’s car was found to have rear shocks with illegally high internal pressures. So, what’s going on? Apparently, the trick to making the car of sorrow handle better is to get the back of the car up further in the air so the rear spoiler is in clean air. To do this during the race some teams, most notably the Hendrick cars that have been dominant over the last few years, are using trick rear shocks. When cold, as in pre-race inspections, the car sits at a legal height. As the shocks heat up during an event the gas within them expands, raising the rear ride height. The car might not pass the height stick test immediately after the race, but given a half-hour to cool off at rest the gas contracts and the car returns to legal height. Apparently, some other teams figured out what HMS was doing and have tried to mimic it. Now, some are getting caught. It’s the same deal as back in the ’90s when first Harry Gant, then Bill Elliott’s Junior Johnson-equipped team figured out the advantage of camber on the rear wheels. Once the secret was out, NASCAR banned it.
Denny Hamlin had some less than kind comments discussing the Bowyer penalty, saying directly RCR was making ludicrous excuses and were clearly cheating – adding everybody knew they’d been doing it all year. Kevin Harvick, Bowyer’s teammate, took that issue up with Hamlin on track in the first practice session, repeatedly ramming Hamlin’s car in the rear bumper to the point both drivers were forced to the garage area to repair their cars. NASCAR garage booths are awarded based on owner points, so Harvick and Hamlin’s cars were parked side to side, and the “discussion” continued with both men getting in each other’s faces – though there appeared to be no physical pushing or shoving. (Wimps.) Maybe Harvick was just trying to hit the back of the No. 11 car just enough to raise the height of the rear spoiler so it would be just as far outside of ride height requirements as Bowyer’s “illegal” car? Hamlin did some trash talking, Harvick used his front bumper to respond in kind, while Bowyer was on the other side of the track offering himself some “plausible deniability” in the payback. Could this actually get interesting?
What bothers me the most about Clint Bowyer’s penalty, besides the severity, is his car was the only one checked out at the R & D center. If all twelve Chase-contending cars had been taken to the same R & D center and put under the microscope, what other infractions might have been found? What sort of points penalties might have been leveled against the drivers competing with Bowyer for the title? At the end of the day, might we have learned all twelve cars were cheated up and that’s why those twelve teams made the Chase? In my opinion, if one Chase car is taken to the R & D center, all twelve should be. If one Chaser’s engine is put on the dyno after the race, all twelve contending car’s engines should be checked.
I’ll nominate this one for line of the year. Richard Childress was asked about the verbal battle between Denny Hamlin, his teams and team members maintaining their innocence: “You can’t win a pissing match with a skunk.”
How long is it going to be before some of these field-fillers in the Nationwide Series figure out you can’t advance your position racing to the yellow flag? Yeah, it’s tough to see beyond the high-banked corners at Dover, but what about those bright yellow blinking lights (including the one on the dash) and the spotter screaming over the radio? The accident involving Elliott Sadler on Saturday was both frightening and unnecessary. Ironically, the driver who hit Sadler’s stricken car, Drew Herring, was sponsored by some outfit named “Get Loaded.” Maybe that explains things.
A number of you are telling me that you no longer watch races live, preferring to watch them on your DV-R when it’s convenient to you. So to aid a quick and orderly review of Dover, the two legitimate lead changes occurred on laps 14 and 338. The other fourteen “lead changes” NASCAR cites were as a result of leaders dropping into the pits during green flag sequences or a driver taking the lead while in the pits under the yellow.
The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune
It’s hard to decide which category to lump A.J. Allmendinger under this week. He thoroughly dominated the first half of the race, leading 143 laps with seeming ease. But an equalized tire caused by a two cent lock washer sent the No. 43 car to the pits and cost Allmendinger two laps. While he recovered well enough to finish on the lead lap in tenth place, he’s got to be left wondering, “What if?”
Martin Truex, Jr. had a strong run going, leading the race at one point, but a wheel left loose on a lugnut and a broken axle exiting the pit box after repairs were made ended his day.
Matt Kenseth, who has had problems more than once entering the pits at Dover, misjudged his pit entry once again, locked up the front tires, missed the pits anyway, and had that flat-spotted left front tire blow up and remove most of his left front fender. D’Oh!
As if he needed more problems after last week, Clint Bowyer got nailed speeding on pit road and never really recovered from the penalty. But hey, they say consistency wins championships. Bowyer has been twelfth in the points forever now.
Last week, Tony Stewart and team gambled on fuel mileage and lost. This week, they gambled on two tires and lost a ton of track position. A subsequent speeding violation on pit road was just the icing on the cake en route to a 21st-place finish, two laps off the pace.
The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune
Kurt Busch got nailed for speeding on pit road and launched into the Mother of All Hissy Fits, declaring his day was done. But once he calmed down, Busch drove back to a fourth-place finish.
Kyle Busch overdrove his car and put it into the wall, yet another unforced error by a Chaser. Though the steering was clearly tweaked and he never competed for the top spot again, Busch drove to a respectable sixth-place finish.
Jimmie Johnson had to overcome some uncommonly slow work in his pits to win the race.
Mark Martin started out back because of that shock infraction and at one point was listed as two laps down. Yet he drove back to a twelfth-place finish without the help of a Lucky Dog free pass.
- Johnson’s sixth win this season ties him with Denny Hamlin for the most Cup victories this season. Johnson has now scored twelve wins since Jeff Gordon’s last Cup victory.
- Jeff Burton finished second in both this year’s Dover Cup races. Those are his best two results of the year.
- Joey Logano’s third-place finish was his best since Martinsville early this spring.
- Kurt Busch (fourth) managed his first top-5 finish since Watkins Glen.
- Carl Edwards (fifth) hasn’t finished worse than twelfth in the last eleven races.
- Kyle Busch (sixth) has scored five straight top-10 finishes in the Cup Series.
- Paul Menard’s seventh-place finish was his best since Atlanta in March.
- Ryan Newman finished eighth for the third time in the last four Cup races.
- A.J. Allmendinger is averaging a tenth-place finish in the last three races, considerably better than his average eighteenth-place result for the season.
- Jeff Gordon (eleventh) hasn’t had a top-5 finish in nine races now.
- Mark Martin’s twelfth-place finish was his best since Pocono.
- The top 10 finishers at Dover drove three Fords, three Chevys, three Toyotas, and a Dodge.
What’s the Points?
Denny Hamlin hangs onto the points lead, but is now just 35 points ahead of Johnson. Johnson advanced four spots in the standings to take over second place. The brothers Busch (Kyle, then Kurt) are third and fourth, while Kevin Harvick fell three spots to fifth in the standings.
Carl Edwards moves up to sixth, while Jeff Burton climbs up two rungs to seventh. Jeff Gordon is eighth, 83 markers behind and with a healthy 57-point advantage of his own over ninth-place Greg Biffle. Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, and Clint Bowyer round out the top 12.
Under the Classic (read: legitimate) points system, Harvick would be leading by 208 points ahead of Kyle Busch and 218 points ahead of Gordon.
Again, this is all subject to change, pending the RCR appeal on Wednesday and any infractions discovered after the race, in the middle of next week… or possibly sometime in the days before Christmas.
Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) — Another two can race. Maybe next year my columns will be sponsored by Fruit Loops, because the Cup series has become Two-can racing. Yes, I’m leaving that one hanging over the plate. Have at it.
Next Up – Going to Kansas City, Kansas City here we come. Ain’t never seen no Keebler elves in Kansas City, so where’d this giant cookie-cutter come from?
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