The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... Edwards "Probation" Green Lights Driver Aggression, Gibbs Falls Behind, And NASCAR's Dangerous CoT by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday March 10, 2010

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Did You Notice? … That while the fans are broken up about Carl Edwards’ penalty (or lack thereof), the drivers really aren’t all that upset. Take a look at this cross-section of Tweets about the incident:

Brian Vickers: I bet the 12 will think twice about wrecking anyone again!
Kyle Busch: (retweeting Matt Yocum’s opinion in support of his own) Coulda woulda shoulda…jeeeesh.People want the gloves off, drivers show more personality, and now they complain. Nothing happened. move on.
Michael Waltrip: Good call #nascar. You can’t ask the driver to take their gloves off one week and then tell ‘em to put ‘em back on the next.
Scott Speed: You go #nascar!!! 3 race probation for Edwards! Awesome I love it!!! I bet Keselowski is scared now.

I bring this up because it tells us a couple of things about the state of the sport…

1) Brad Keselowski doesn’t have many friends that drive a race car. I say that because there are no long lines of tweets expressing utter frustration Edwards wasn’t suspended for one race or more. In fact, I have yet to see more than maybe one or two people outside the Penske Racing family who’s an active driver openly stick up for Brad (sorry Kyle Petty, you don’t count).

Does Brad care about being the loner? We don’t know yet, but it’s an interesting question to ponder. I’ve always felt the most successful people beat to the beat of their own drummer, and one of the reasons I do appreciate Brad the person is how he’s up front and honest, that what you see is what you get without beating around the bush. Ironically, just like Carl he’s not driving in the Cup Series to make friends; he’s here to win races. Still… it’s got to be notable for him that the rest of the NASCAR driving community saw him flip and pretty much came back with the attitude, “Well man, you deserved it.” That’s the type of reality check that makes or breaks a driver’s career … and after falling to 33rd in the points, you wonder if a change in style (or a Dale Carnegie book on making friends) will be in order over at the No. 12 shop.

2) Drivers understand the risk that’s involved with their sport. Like it or not, the ugly truth is Carl’s bump could have killed Keselowski. It’s an awful thing to say; but guess what? Any other ill-timed accident, a blown engine at the wrong place, about 1,000 different things could have given those drivers a real chance at serious injury as well Sunday.

That’s because racing at its core revolves around risk. If the drivers all ran around in circles at five miles an hour, would we watch? Don’t get me wrong; we don’t watch for the wrecks. But we watch knowing these men are putting their lives on the line to do something extraordinary we’re not capable of doing. I think with the points racing and single-file parades we’ve often seen in recent years, people thought that these drivers lost that sense of aggression, that understanding of how risk plays into the sport. But if they didn’t … they’d all be calling for Carl Edwards’ head right now. So I think it’s an amazing, healthy response in this sport for drivers to universally be in support for a punishment that was so much lighter than what anyone expected, I think my jaw was permanently open for about the first 5 minutes after the penalty was announced. In fact, I wish you could have tape-recorded my first five conversations after this whole announcement went down – the shock put me into a tailspin where I sounded like a drunken stoner on the phone for 15 minutes.
You know, that should be a show. “Candid Camera For Shocking News: How People React To Things They Never Expect.” First up: Scott Speed reacting to the fact he can actually finish a Cup race in the top 10. Zing!

Alright, I digress. Let’s get back on point …

3) Drivers are ready and willing to get the green light for payback … and they have it. As Dale Jr. has said recently about NASCAR’s rule changes, he feels like there’s no one looking over his shoulder. After the penalty that was just announced – three weeks of probation for flipping another driver – I don’t think anyone’s going to feel Big Brother’s even within 100 feet of them.

And that means Bristol could be one of the most exciting races in recent years. Bad blood still brewing between Montoya and McMurray? We could see it spill out on that crazy half-mile. Does Denny want to get a little more payback on Brad? Well both of those cars have bumpers, don’t they? I’d expect them to get used sometime next week or the following Sunday at Martinsville…

Yeah, I understand there’s a limit to the lunacy. These guys will still have sponsorship and championship obligations which will keep them from taking the ultimate risk every time out. But when they get mad, there’s now one less thing bouncing around in their heads that’s making them hold back from retaliation … and for fans desperate to see a little more action and a little less points racing, that can be nothing but a good thing.

4) NASCAR ignored the tide of public opinion. I have hundreds upon hundreds of emails from you fans (and appreciate every single one). My unofficial count is 70 percent pro-suspension, 30 percent anti-suspension. So there were a lot of surprised people today … but for those worried about safety, you have to understand that NASCAR racing is inherently unsafe. Anything could happen at any time, and see rule #2 … drivers accept that. They really, really do.

With that said, those of you still looking for the sport to put the hammer down have yourselves a ray of hope. I was talking to a car owner today, and he said if there’s so much as a minor injury under this new system, the threat of liability and big money sponsorships will force the sport to go back in another direction. God forbid anyone ever hopes for someone to get hurt; but if you’re really put off by Edwards getting away scot free, know that over the long-term this policy isn’t quite set in stone yet.

Don’t believe me? Just listen to Mike Helton on the teleconference today:

“Historically, if you look back at NASCAR’s reaction to things, we may react to the first incident differently than we react to the third or fourth or fifth incident.”

A-Ha! I knew the inconsistency would pop up at some point! You can teach an old dog new tricks, but you can’t expect him to forget the old ones right away!

Did You Notice? … That this year’s label of Most Disappointing goes to Joe Gibbs Racing? Right now, none of their three cars are inside the top 12, and while Joey Logano’s had a solid start Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch have had more slipups than OchoCinco in one minute of rehearsal for Dancing With The Stars. But while Ocho-what’s his name can slip in the privacy of his own home, Gibbs’ public slipups have everyone scratching their heads and waiting for him to call a coaching timeout to fix the mess.

We hate to rain on Joe Gibbs’ parade … but all of a sudden, his Cup program seems to be slipping to a level of mediocrity we haven’t seen from them in years.

What’s going wrong? The answer, my friends, may be as simple as cold, hard cash. Gibbs has more of that in the Nationwide Series than anyone else, one reason why their Toyotas dominate head and shoulders above the rest of the field pretty much about every week. But one area in which they continue to struggle is Cup partnerships with other programs. Check out some of the top teams above them:

Hendrick: Partnership with Stewart-Haas Racing, supplying chassis for six cars
Childress: Partnership with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, teams have engine deal together (five cars working together)
Roush: Alliance with Front Row Motorsports and Richard Petty Motorsports, technical alliance (totaling 11 full-time cars sharing info)
Penske: Lone organization supported by Dodge, allowing the manufacturers’ primary focus and all their money to be pumped into the program (three cars … but with a deal that makes it seem like six)

Let’s compare that to the meager three cars of Gibbs, whose smaller operation puts them at a disadvantage. Like building their own motors opposed to the other Toyota programs; I guess that’s a blessing in disguise this year considering how many TRD engines have failed, but at the same time the independence can also lead to isolation if those horsepower numbers are down.

Meanwhile, as teams like Childress, Roush, and even Michael Waltrip Racing pick up investors, Gibbs has their family money and … well … that’s about it. When’s another financial backer going to step up and add a monetary boost to what’s only a three-car team?

I’m not saying money’s the only problem here; clearly, bad luck, immaturity, and an inability to stay consistent during an entire race has played a factor amongst their driving trio. But you wonder if with all the chassis and engine cooperation amongst all these other programs, suddenly Gibbs might be turning into a bit more of an underdog than we thought.

Did You Notice? … That in the midst of all this talk about the Keselowski – Edwards wreck and its implications, very few if any people are talking about the Car of Tomorrow itself? If Keselowski doesn’t flip, it’s doubtful that incident becomes a national story – and the car didn’t go up in the air just because Edwards hit its back bumper.

No, my friends … that car flew as directed ‘cause there’s a wing attached to its rear.

With that said, let’s stop and review. We’ve now seen cars fly up in the air at Talladega (restrictor plates, Ryan Newman), Dover (short track, Joey Logano), and Atlanta (intermediates, Brad Keselowski). And this car is supposed to be safer … how?

Still waiting for your answer … still waiting …

The bottom line is while NASCAR will never admit this mistake, the handling and the safety record of this car show it’s been a disaster from the start. After 16 years since the introduction of the roof flap, you’d think safety would have improved to the point we’d be seeing cars flip into the air only in near-impossible scenarios. I understand we’re going a little bit faster these days … but not that much faster. How these engineers could have designed this car and not thought of the upward aerodynamic ramifications of the wing is beyond me.

There’s just one thing I know for sure … we need to get it off as soon as possible.

OK, time to go mourn my UConn Huskies’ self-destruction this week. Talk about teams going in two opposite directions … the men drop out of the NCAAs while the women set an NCAA record for consecutive wins.

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03/10/2010 04:39 AM

DID YA NOTICE?… The A-frame crushed completely in on the right side of BK’s car, the side that it truly smashed the ground on?

Newman’s wreck earlier this year had him flipping and not even coming close to the amount of impact when he was upside down and landing on both A-frames pretty squarely. Yet that led to the roll cage crushed enough to be touching his helmet.

Now think if BK’s impact had been reversed and the driver’s side A-frame took the major impact… HE WOULD BE DEAD!!!

The first time, I thought maybe it was a fluke. Now that we have a 2nd crash showing this same lack of A-frame safety, it is a fact.

I don’t care how much I dislike a driver, I don’t want to see them dead.

Come on people SPEAK UP!!!

NA$CAR is changing all the rules to get drivers hurt and killed again… thinking that it will increase ratings.

Another 1 or 2 deals like this and I truly am going to stop watching. I didn’t go to Fontana, 30 miles away, or Vegas, 300 miles. So I’m already upset enough to not want to watch a race in person. It won’t take much more to stop me from watching them at all.

And at the very least least they could have fined Edwards 25 points for driving down pit row the wrong way.

Probation isn’t even a slap on the wrist in NA$CAR. Show me one time in which a driver that was on probation in which his penalty was increased because he was on probation. It’s a waste of breath to even say it.

Mike In NH
03/10/2010 07:36 AM

The COT is a weird paradox – more likely to crash (especially with the wing when you’re going backwards), but generally safer when you do (I can state that after seeing the McDowell, Logano, Edwards, Newman, and Kes crashes, and comparing them to the NW crash that took out Franchitti in the old style car, the last time I can recall a driver missing races after a race injury in the top 3 series).

I do agree with Fred that they A-pillars are worth a look, but on the other hand, how would the old car have handled that kind of crash, especially with it having less headroom than the new one?

And here’s food for thought: while the racers are all aware of the danger, on a level none of us non-drivers are, after seeing drivers walking away from all these nasty-looking crashes, how many are being just a bit more aggressive, thinking they can walk away from more, or abuse this car more because it’s tougher (especially around the doors due to the crash foam)?

Next off, please – the tire-cutting splitter.

Mike In NH
03/10/2010 07:37 AM

Oh, by the way Tom – great article. Almost completely spot-on. :)

Stephen HOOD
03/10/2010 08:06 AM

I applauded when Edwards whacked Kyle Busch. I was a little angry when he attempted to amputate Junior’s arm. I was indifferent when he caused Matt Kenseth to duck. But, I do feel that his actions on Sunday were scary. Of the driver’s you quote who think Brad got what he deserved, most drive like Brad. Wasn’t it Vickers who took out his teammate and Junior at 190 miles per hour to win at Talladega? Only Speed lacks aggression and that’s because he only recently learned to drive his car. Brad’s antics have mostly been in the NW series and he gets into these incidents because he’s actually racing with them. Most of the other Nationwide regulars seem to have a hard time getting to the front. So when Denny looked in his mirror or Carl looked in his mirror or Kyle looked in his mirror and the 88 was there, I guess they felt threatened. Personally, I think they’ve all acted like cry babies. I’d like to go back and count the times Denny, Kyle, Carl, and Brian have bullied someone for a win or a pass. I guess its difficult looking at yourself in the rear view mirror (and later out of the windshield).

Hammond Knot
03/10/2010 08:33 AM

Nicely said Tom.
I for one am glad that they just let Cousin Carl off the hook. He did exactly what every other driver has wanted to do for some time. Now the fact that Brad’s Car rolled over like a dog waiting for a belly rub is not his fault. It’s NASCAR’s fault. They have known from the beginning that this car is pig. Any engineer worth his salt can look at that rear wing and tell you if that car turns around and that wing starts to lead the car it’s going to provide lift. Not only lift but it makes the roof flaps ineffective by pushing the air over the top of them negating their effectiveness.
It’s and easy fix though…get rid of the stupid wing and put back the spoiler. Then get rid of the silly spliter so tire aren’t getting cut down anytime somebody passes a little close.
Man in the last 5 yeasr this sport and just taken a nose dive, thanks Brian Farce, where ever it is you may live and vote……
say hi to JM’s step mother in the next cell down from yours.
XOXOX your loyal NA$CAR Fans

03/10/2010 08:40 AM

Right you are Stephen. How soon one forgets all the “I’m Sorry” many times when Carl wrecked someone. Carl had driven for several years yet seems to not know how to handle his car. The best example was the bump at the Dega race and also not getting off of Brad after he bumped him. Carl is a goody two shoes in front of a camera but not in real life. btw you forgot when he went to bully Harvick and landed on Harvicks hood. Your memory is better than some. lol

Phil Cappallo
03/10/2010 09:23 AM

Have to agree with Robbie Gordon asking what would have happened if it was him instead of Carl. NASCAR, with their “case by case punishment” has become a joke. Jimmy Spencer was suspended for several races for punching Harvick. Not during the race, but hours after it had ended. But if your a star and use your car as a weapon… boys will be boys.

03/10/2010 10:01 AM

I wrote in yesterday saying that Edwards shouldn’t be suspended. That would have been real hypocritical of nas$car. The only reason, and the only reason that car went air born was because of that rear wing. They can’t get rid of it soon enough. If the car had not lifted off the ground we wouldn’t be having this discussion. I DO think the boys could handle it better, say like having at it after the race. That would be interesting.

John Beverly
03/10/2010 10:02 AM

Look to me that Carl Edward did what needed to be done, Brad Keselowski has be picking a fight with Edwards even last season in the Nationwide serises. Keselowski took out Edwards at Daga last season, and for some strange reason, he started the same old crap this year. It was a job that needed to be done, Edward stepped to the bat.

03/10/2010 10:04 AM

I totally agree with some of the above…the CUP regulars are cry babies..they go to the Nationwide Series and EXPECT the regulars to step aside and NOT race them! BK has been lucky..and good..and been able to keep up with the good old boys..and they don’t like it. Well the message sent to BK goes both ways. I hope all the rookies, also rans, start and parkers, slower cars, and lessor teams “get this message” and quit “stepping aside” when one of the chosen ones is coming up behind them. “ What goes around comes around” is totally right in this situation..I just don’t know if the “big boys” are expecting it to affect them!

03/10/2010 10:08 AM

There is one good point about Jerkhead Edwards being on probation. His car now has a target painted on it! Everyone will be out to put this jerk in his place! My bet? he’ll be put into the wall within the first 10 laps at Bristol, both on Saturday, AND Sunday! And I sincerly hope it’s Brad who does it! Can’t retaliate, now, can he! Ha! Ha! Ha! And I hope he hits that wall good and hard to knock some sense into that brainless head of his! Edwards, you suck! get out of NASCAR NOW!!!!!

Carl D.
03/10/2010 10:12 AM

Steven HOOD is right… just about every driver that has a problem with BK has been just as brash and aggressive as Brad has been. Does that mean Keselowski gets a free pass? No, but that doesn’t mean you wreck a guy at 190mph to make a point, either.

I also agree that it’s no coincidence that the guys who have beef with Brad are mostly Nationwide series regulars. Maybe the fact that none of them has won a Cup title but have no problem using Cup-level money and equipment to beat up on the minor leaguers tells you something about their character.

03/10/2010 10:16 AM

I agree 100% with Stephen HOOD, The drivers quoted above all driver as aggressive as Brad. I remember Brad saying he was going to race the Cup guys hard because if he did not they would think they could run over him. Phil made a great point, what would of happened if Robby Gordon would have flipped another driver. Why did Carl think a wreck at 190 mph this time would be different then the last couple of wrecks at this speed where THE CARS FLIPPED OVER. This is the first time in over 25 yrs I have no tickets for a nascar race, the last I gave up were Bristol, I have to say I’m glad that I saved my money. Tom how can you say a caution fest/demo derby is exciting. I have been to many Bristol races with 150+ laps of caution, when the drivers DID NOT HAVE THE GREEN LIGHT to wreck each other.That is like going to a hockey game JUST TO SEE THE FIGHTS.

03/10/2010 11:08 AM

I know that the big focus is on the fact the car went airborne. And, I get that. If it is a product of the wing, then no big deal as by the time Nascar comes to visit me in Texas, it will be gone. Really, Bristol is likely to be the last wing-race.

But, from a “legislation” issue, and Carl getting off with no punishment, the airborne-ness was not the issue for me. The issue is: A car 150+ laps down purposefully wrecked a top-5 car with just 2-3 laps to go. Carl not getting any meaningful punsihment is a green light to have the championship decided by backmarker teammates, and team orders.

So, Watch late in the chase this year. Will David Ragan turn Jimmie into the wall to help Biffle/Kenseth in the title hunt? Obviously, this has all been given tacit approval by the sanctioning body.

I understand the safety arguments, and I am glad noone was hurt…but in a more immediate sense, the #12 team cannot get those 100+ points back that Edwards took away, and Edwards was punished, maybe, 3 points (by being parked).

I am all for self-policing, rubbin-is-racin’ etc etc etc…but really? Being 150 laps down and wrecking a top 5 car with just a couple laps left in the race? What happened to actual sportsmanship?

This isn’t a “racing deal”, it’s just weak tea, and should have been treated as such.

03/10/2010 11:18 AM

In fact , despite the numerous engineering degrees that DW uses when telling us the COT flys when going backwards because of the wing , i would have to dissagree . A wing only works when it has clean air flowing over it . Thats obviously not the case with a COT upside down and backward . The COT wing may have a very slight amount of lift when upside down , but it certainly wouldn’t be responsible for the car “ flying “ into the fence . Now those of us who remember the old days can easily remember cars getting upside down at the superspeedways with very little help and no wing whatsoever . Thats why the flaps were designed many years ago . Neil Bonnetts’ crash at Talladega years ago in one of RCRs cars for example . It was almost identical to the Keselowski incident . I do know that the spoiler is a much better way to go than the wing thats currently being used .

03/10/2010 11:27 AM

What an amazing bit of logic Tom.

So people can get killed in NASCAR by accident, therefore homicide by COT is OK.

It is a miracle a fan, or a track security employee keeping fans off the fence, was not killed.

This was some dumb shite on Edwards part and he ruined the end of the race.

He is such a putz.

03/10/2010 03:35 PM

Since NASCAR has chosen to do nothing, now is the time for Jack Rousch to step up and suspend Edwards for a race. I know if I was his owner, he would be an unemployed driver at this point.

No Spin
03/10/2010 05:36 PM

Tom Bowles: Mark said “The COT wing may have a very slight amount of lift when upside down” the problem is NOT lift it is the wing Stall that is why Nascar can not prove there is a problem, it only takes part of the wink to stall and the car takes over, and you have a flying car. No one has talked about this because they just have no idea what to look for, after all the COT is the greatest thing since sliced bread, sorry that was Joey, I believe what is happing is, and could be proven If you put a small model in a wind tunnel and start turning it different angles it will start flying, with a drastic change of incident on the wing, part of the wing stalls, the trunk becomes a lifting body in some ways like flaps on airplane, I believe Nascar knows all of this but the wing looked cool and the cot was to be different.

03/10/2010 08:28 PM

Did you notice?… Who is sponsoring the Bristol Nationwide race?… SCOTTS. This is Na$crap, follow the $$$! Na$crap will sell their soul for a $1. Three race probation for Carl, no surprise there. Watch him in the SCOTTS car at Bristol.

03/10/2010 09:12 PM

I agree with Mike. After hearing the “penalty” for Edwards, a Days of Thunder image came to mind with BK on Edwards bumper waving “remember me?”. NA$CAR wants the gloves off? Paybacks are a bitch.

03/10/2010 10:40 PM

Look folks…you can’t have it both ways. The fans and the “media” have all been complaining about NASCARs micromanagement of drivers and demanded an end to it. NASCAR gave you that and now you don’t have the stomach for it. What gives? Now I don’t condone what Carl did…but every pseudo NASCAR media blogger out there seems to want his head right now for actions they have previously pined for with fond remembrance of the classic driver heros. You want to blame someone for the safety of Brad? Blame NASCAR for building a car which does not act predictably under circumstances it was tested under on Sunday. By all rights, Carl expected he was going to simply take Brad for a spin and give him a bad points day. Had that happened, you’d all be complaining about something different. Because of the spectacular outcome that was not Carl’s intention, you’d rather place personal blame on Carl and pretend like NASCAR is and has always been a PC and friendly sport, but with fire and emotion and personality…you can’t have it both ways!

03/11/2010 07:10 AM

Did you notice that Nascar toke engines for testing and NOT ONE OF THE DOMINATE CHEVYS ARE GETTING TESTED!

They got the Busch, Kennseth, Speed, and Mcdowell!

Something not right, Jimmy Johnson and Hendrick get to skip the exam!!!!!!!

03/11/2010 10:02 AM

It’s not the flipping that should have got him suspended. Its the being over 100 laps down and taking out a top 5 car, after trying 3 times. Speaking of chicken carl, has anybody else noticed how much smaller he is since nascar started doing drug testing? Can someone say steriods?

Don Mei
03/11/2010 01:56 PM

Way to go Nascar!! I give up. Maybe figure 8 races at Daytona next?

Lunar Tunes
03/12/2010 12:37 AM

The drivers dont seem to mind all that much about Carl or his actions. If he was a real threat or danger, you’d think his peers would be calling for his head, but guess what….they aint! What does that tell you?

Get over it. You dont like it? Maybe Pinewood derby is more your speed. Cars hardly ever wreck at the Pinewood Derby and fans and participants rarely get hurt or killed! (lots of cheating though!!!!)

Don Mei
03/12/2010 09:03 AM

Gollee lunar tunes…or is it looney tunes…Im kind of wondering what youve ever raced in your life except…yep..Pinewood Derby. Get a life.


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