Fanning the Flames · Matt Taliaferro · Thursday February 14, 2008
Thanks for another solid batch of input this week. I know everyone’s adrenaline is pumping because it’s Speedweeks, and I’m loving the feedback… so keep it coming. Remember, this is your column, your chance to be heard. To do so, as always, click here.
Q: Matt, I have been trying to figure this out. Busch deliberately hit Tony's car three times coming off the track. Even if Tony blocked Busch from exiting pit road, he wasn’t using his car as a battering ram… and yet, they both receive the same punishment??? I can only hope that I am never assaulted, and that NASCAR doesn't sit in judgment — because I would go to prison with my assailant.
â€” Sharon G.
A: According to Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's VP of Competition,
“The accident was a racing incident. How they conducted themselves after that, after the accident and coming onto pit road and from there through the rest of the evening, is why the penalties were equal.”
Asked to elaborate on why Stewart was penalized, Pemberton added, "Both drivers are getting the same penalty. They both have some responsibilities out there on how they handle themselves, some of it on the track, some of it off the track, and I'm going to leave it at that."
That last part, of course, was in reference to Tony allegedly punching Kurt in the NASCAR hauler. Pemberton's quote, however, was contradictory to what NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said earlier the same day when he stated, "… nothing that occurred off the track factored into the penalty."
By Wednesday morning, Poston's quote has been stricken from the records. Seriously, it's as if he never uttered those words. Even an article posted at ESPN.com was changed after Pemberton's statement to reflect the fact that Stewart's portion of the penalty had, in fact, everything to do with his actions in the hauler. Poston's were gone. Go ahead, try and Google it.
I can't for the life of me figure out why NASCAR is feeding us double-talk at this stage. I agreed with the penalty handed down, but now find myself shaking my head as NASCAR once again doubles back and spins its own story. Must be nice having "the worldwide leader in sports" in your back pocket.
Q: Will any of the new wave of open wheel imports be as good as Juan Pablo Montoya was last year? If so, who do you see stepping up?
â€” Rush Rocket
A: Yes, let's talk open-wheel imports, because that seems to be a popular topic entering the season. And to begin, let's break down Juan Pablo Montoya's rookie season:
In a nutshell, one win, three Top 5s, 20th in points. Not bad, but not up to Denny Hamlin's two-win, eight Top 5 performance, Kyle Busch's two-win, nine Top 5 season, or Kasey Kahne's 13 Top 5 runs.
Goes to show what earning your stripes in a stock car will do, and along those lines, I don't see any of this year's open wheel crop matching JPM's rookie performance. Aside from a possible Top 10 on either of the road courses, it's going to be a long year for Dario, Villeneuve, Carpentier, and Hornish. Take into account that two of the four aren't even in the Top 35 in owner points and only one â€” Hornish â€” has sure-thing sponsorship for the duration, and you begin to see the mountain they face.
I'm sure one or two will be around in five years, but certainly not all four. And none are my pick to win Rookie of the Year honors. That goes to Regan Smith.
Q: Let me see if I got this right. NASCAR came up with the CoT for a couple reasons: Safety (which the HANS Device and SAFER walls have largely answered), and to get the racin' back in the hands of the drivers.
So, listening to many of the driver interviews during testing, they all seem to talk about having NO input whatsoever in setting up the cars. The engineers and computer geeks run simulations, and the driver is told just to "shut up and drive." Drivers no longer need to have a knowledge of setups or changes, because they no longer have any input in this area. What's wrong with this picture?
A: The drivers may not require a working knowledge of the car's chassis, suspension or engine, but in the end the car is set up according to the driver's derriere. If he's not happy with the setup, odds are the team doesn't win.
Having the car fast right off the hauler is imperative now, which is where the seven-post shaker rigs and computer simulations come in. Once car and driver are at the track, though, it's the driver who tunes the thing in and makes an already fast car into a winning car.
Q: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. needed a statement win early in the season and got it in the Bud Shootout. I think the monkey is off his back now. Is this the type of win that gives his team what it needs to win the Daytona 500? I say yes.
â€” Jeff Calaveros
A: It sure doesn't hurt from a momentum and confidence standpoint. And I think you're right: Junior does need a statement win early, and Daytona provides that opportunity more so than California or Vegas.
But keep in mind that a 70-lap sprint and a 200-mile marathon are completely different animals. Junior very well could win the 500, but I'm not of the opinion that a Shootout victory equates to success in the big event â€” even if they roll out Emma again. It sure doesn't hurt to beat everyone else to Victory Lane, though — exhibition race or otherwise.
Q: I wonder what the drivers of the 1959 Daytona 500 would say about the CoT and what NASCAR has become, with its diverse field of drivers. Most of them would tell you that today they wouldn’t stand a chance of being in the field, they don’t have the "Hollywood" looks. Recently Richard the “King” was on SPEED, voiced his opinion and didn’t apologize one time. Did you see his speech? I, for one, would like to hear more from Richard, Junior and Bobby Allison. Just thinking out loud.
â€” Joe Mitchell
A: I did not see the Petty interview you're referring to, but it's my guess that Lee Petty, Curtis Turner, Junior Johnson, Marvin Panch, Fireball Roberts, Tiny Lund, and Buck Baker â€” all participants in the 1959 Daytona 500 â€” wouldn't have much need for the spectacle that is NASCAR, or the marketing requirements drivers are now held to. They'd most likely be happy running at some local short track where stock car racing can be accomplished in its purest form.
Of course, Richard Petty was in the '59 Daytona 500 and he still loves the sport even in its current manifestation. Still a fixture in the garage on a weekly basis, still full of the fire and passion to lead Petty Enterprises into the future … so what do I know.
Speaking of legends, a legendary move returned just in time for the 500, courtesy of the CoT â€¦ long live the slingshot! Who would've figured that, huh?
Enjoy the 500, peeps.
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