The Frontstretch: Much Ado About Nothing At Kansas: Attempting To Create Controversy Where There Is None by Vito Pugliese -- Wednesday October 3, 2007

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Much Ado About Nothing At Kansas: Attempting To Create Controversy Where There Is None

Voice of Vito · Vito Pugliese · Wednesday October 3, 2007


The Chase for the NEXTEL Cup is now three weeks old, and there is yet to emerge a dominant or favored contender to win the 2007 championship in NASCAR's elite division. Mainly because everyone keeps wrecking. One would think that might be a talking point as we move 1/3 of the way through the title chase. However, the biggest story coming out of Kansas this week was Greg Biffle winning the Lifelock 400.

Or not winning the Lifelock 400 if you ask Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer.

As NASCAR arbitrarily shortened the race a couple of times following the second rain delay of the event, Greg Biffle held a lead a little over one second ahead of 2nd place finisher and home-state hero, Clint Bowyer. After Juan Montoya's tire ripped apart everything in the right front wheel of his Havoline Dodge Charger, the caution came out, the field was frozen, and the race was completed under caution.

As the cars came out of turn 4, Biffle swung the No. 16 Aflac Ford Fusion to the apron of the track, as the Ford Shelby GT500 Mustang pace car pulled away. Biffle was apparently out of fuel, but coasted across the finish line, and parked it in the infield grass. Meanwhile, Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer jockeyed for position under yellow, passing each other (which is not allowed) and Biffle. Following the race, both contended that they should be the winner since Biffle didn't maintain pace car speed, even though NASCAR's stated policy is that competitors need to maintain "reasonable speed". The discussion carried on into the evening and the next day on several popular call-in shows, television, and in print.


Do you honestly believe that NASCAR is going to rip a win from someone because they fell a couple of mph below pace car speed? The car was still in motion from what was its own power. Many fans may not remember (because they weren't here yet), but in 1991 during the spring event at Talladega, Harry Gant was out of fuel, but was pushed to victory on the last lap by teammate Rick Mast. The win was allowed to stand; after a race that was completed on a Monday due to rain and featured an ensuing wreck that sent Kyle Petty to the hospital with a shattered left leg, everyone was simply happy to see it end.

After six hours of racing, raining, and wrecking, they should have this past Sunday as well.

The controversy fire was fuled earlier when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. inadvertently got into the back of Kyle Busch and the No. 5 Hendrick Chevrolet - the team he will be driving for in a few short months. Many speculated with baited breath, what effect this might have on Junior's association and relationship with his new car owner. After all, a non-Chaser just wrecked a Championship contender. Surely there must be some fall out!


Do you honestly believe that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. did that on purpose? That was a prime example of a "racing incident". This wasn't ramming into the back of someone in the middle of a turn, he wasn't trying to "rattle his cage", nor was he under orders from Rick Hendrick to ruin Kyle's chances and send him packing early. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. does not have a habit of running into people or wrecking them intentionally, least of all his soon-to-be race team. Just because Dale Junior has yet to win a race this year, doesn't mean he's going to resort to Mad Max driving techniques and lay waste to the field with his bumper.

Some have speculated that the only reason why the race was restarted so late on Sunday was to give someone other than Tony Stewart a chance to win the race. Stewart had ascended to the lead by staying out longer than most everyone else on fuel. Had the strategy worked, Stewart would have captured a win, and been sitting pretty in the Chase.

Instead, a wrinkled front fender from an ensuing restart would lead to a blown left front tire and a wreck, eliminating him from the race and Kurt Busch, who was caught in the resulting crash, from contending for the win. Surely had Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon been leading, the race would have been called as it was in Pocono this past July. Jeff Gordon was flagged the winner, even though the rains had stopped and there were well over 4 hours of useable Eastern Standard Daylight Savings Time at their disposal.


NASCAR made an honest attempt at giving the fans their money's worth, to see more than 133 laps of racing. They are in the middle of a Championship chase, while the NFL is just picking up steam and getting their regular season underway. Major League Baseball is now in the throes of post-season dramatics, as evidenced by the thirteen-inning contest on Monday night between the Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres. Would either of these sanctioning bodies call a game due to inclement weather in the 3rd quarter or 7th inning just to get it over with and move on to the next stop?

What was ironic - the No. 2 and No. 20 coming together on more than one occasion this year - went largely unnoticed by the broadcast media. Stewart bobbled and collected Busch while leading the Daytona 500, wrecked Busch at Dover, prompting Kurt to fly down pit road and stop next to him, screeching to a halt inches from a crew member. No one seemed to pick up on the fact that this was the third time these two had been involved with eliminating one another from competition. Many seemed more preoccupied with the salty language used by a cranky Stewart the morning before, telling a cameraman that he had invaded his private personal bubble.

Many seemed oblivious to the fact that Greg Biffle was so tight on gas in the first place. Had the caution not been thrown, under the green flag conditions they were racing under, Biffle likely would have been coasting onto pit road the next time by. This was completely ignored during the race broadcast, and no mention was made to a fuel issue as everyone marveled at Bowyer stalking Biffle. It should not come as much surprise however. During the early stages of the race, there was a 3-wide battle for the lead as Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, and Jeff Gordon were swapping positions from corner to corner.

No need to cover that though. Let's cue those dopey Valvoline-In-The-Future-Commercials instead.

Right about now, someone will undoubtedly bust out with the ever-popular cliché, "no one seems to want to win this championship!" While you're at it, give me that "hot potato" analogy as well. As if someone really doesn't want to take the bull by the horns and wrap up a championship that is by no means decided or even has a clear-cut favorite at this point. Trying to make a story where there isn't one, creating controversy where none is needed, does little to foster interest in the Chase, and leads to shoddy reporting of the races themselves as well.

Soap Operas air on weekday afternoons, not on Sundays. As if heading off to the biggest, most steeply banked variable in all of motorsports wasn't enough to generate interest, with a new car, new rules, and the unknown of 43 cars running inches apart on an old Native American burial ground. As much as NASCAR is chastised for style over substance, perhaps some members of the media covering it should be as well.

The Frontstretch Newsletter, back in 2014 gives you more of the daily news, commentary, and racing features from your favorite writers you know and love. Don’t waste another minute – click here to sign up now. We’re here to make sure you stay informed … so make sure you jump on for the ride!

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?


©2000 - 2008 Vito Pugliese and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Sean Decker
10/03/2007 04:32 AM

Thank You Vito!

10/03/2007 06:59 AM

re: the Jr/K Busch incident: I don’t think there was anything intentional on Jr’s part either and he admitted he made a stupid move. But, you tried to make it sound like turning someone on the straightaway was less of an offense than if it had been in the turn (I guess you’re referring to Hamlin wrecking Petty) and I couldn’t disagree with you more. Spinning someone from behind on the straights is a pretty rare occurrence in just about any kind of racing and that’s usually evidenced by the victim’s shock in the post incident interviews. It usually sounds something like “I can’t believe he spun me out on the straightaway for Christ sakes!”. I think what you’re trying to say is that it’s Jr so, it’s okay because like just about every other article that even mentioned the incident, you don’t want to upset Jr’s sensitive fans and lose readership. Just like the Hamlin/Petty incident was blown way out of proportion because it’s Kyle Petty and he’s just the nicest guy in the world (give me a freakin’ break!) all of you writers chose to just ignore the impact of the Jr/Busch incident because of Jr’s popularity. Like everything else in the world, it’s all about perspective and the parties involved. Hamlin wrecking Petty was no worse than Jr wrecking Busch, it was the aftermath that made the difference. I’m no Kyle Busch fan but, did anyone else notice how much more professionally he handled the situation that the older, “wiser?”, veteran Petty? I guess not, don’t reall reading anyting like that! I guess it’s a good thing that it was such a strange race Sunday or all of you might have been pressed to actually give the Jr/Busch incident some REAL coverage.

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
10/03/2007 07:22 AM

MM77 –

That was a racing incident. Kyle slid up in front of Jr. a little, Jr. didn’t lift. As we saw with Stewart later on, the current cars drive under the back of the car in front without much effort, with the way they have the nose and fenders shoveled down.

I’m not worried about offending the Jr. fans; mainly because I won’t be in the lower grandstands at Talladega this weekend (ducking)…

As for Hamlin and Petty….none of the other leaders had an issue getting around him. I have a hard time believing he suddenly decided to start blocking the 11 on a whim. We heard the radio transmissions from Hamlin a few laps earlier when racing with Kenseth for the lead; team was telling him to settle down and lay back – he said “Gotta lead every lap.” He just needs to settle down a little bit, and I think he’s admitted as much.


Mike C
10/03/2007 07:43 AM

There is not one person who watched that race ( and even people who didn’t but know NASCAR tactics ) that doesn’t believe the race was restarted to keep Gordon and Johnson in the “ Chase “ . Gordon said himself that he knew NASCAR understood the importance of the chase and wanted to restart it . Not for the fans ( they have never given the slightest thought to the fans on anything ) and not for the sake of trying to finish the race . The re-start was to keep Stewart from running away with the points lead and to make sure that Gordon and Johnson had a chance to improve their positions .

M. B. Voelker
10/03/2007 07:51 AM

As the guys on INC clearly pointed out via repeated replays, Jr clearly came down the track instead of holding the high line against the wall.

I’m not going to throw any rocks because my drivers make mistakes too, but it was purely Jr’s mistake that made my odds of being able to buy a Kyle Busch Championship Jacket this year very, very long. :-(

10/03/2007 08:15 AM

Next race, looks like with the real storm brewing in the gulf they better put “rain tires and windsheild wipers” on the cars ( sick joke). Could be a long wet afternoon in the southland. I hope not though. that is always a good race and it would be intersting to see just what that CoT can do when it’s for real. you know inspite of all the knocks against the “car” we still see races the drivers and mecanics make them work, ah the American spirit still lives, enjoy.

10/03/2007 10:18 AM

I’m in full agreement about the whole reasonable speed thing. It’s just one of those things where people will be outraged no matter what happens; were the win to be taken away from Biffle, you would have a hell of a lot more controversy and a lot more outrage. Besides, if dropping a few mph below the pace car speed falls out of ‘reasonable speed’ range, what about when the Lucky Dog speeds around everyone and goes full tilt around the track?

I don’t think the race should have been restarted, either. They set an official race mark for a reason, and for a sport that is so desperately trying to create an even and fair playing field for everyone involved based on strict standards, improvising solutions on the spot purely for entertainment purposes is just ridiculous. If a baseball game goes 5 innings (making it an official game) and is then delayed by rain, would they wait around for 3 hours and then just play until the middle of the 7th just for the hell of it?

NASCAR needs to figure out whether it wants to be a legitimate sport or just pure entertainment, because it can’t seem to stick with one side.

10/03/2007 10:41 AM

I believe the best point of this article, and there were many good ones, is that the media and race coverage of the entire series sucks. If you read the stories, its about a soap opera. Our series has slowly drifted away from the racing in the past few years. Now the biggest headlines are about what car number a driver will drive next season. My belief is that we need to get more media pumping up the Chase and not criticizing everything. Our meida makes our series into the joke it is perceived to be. We will never get the football fans by reporting soap opera style. Report the competition and that will bring more sports fans in. I am a big time NASCAR (racing in general) fan, and I get completely bored with ESPN and others. We need to fix the problem. The racing is not boring if you are at the track. The racing is boring on TV because you don’t get to see the battles around the track.

Mark Rubley
10/03/2007 10:42 AM

NA$CAR can’t figure out how to be a sport…it’s too busy being a business… a BIG business, making money hand over fist. That is all they think about. NA$CAR = Now All we $eriously Care About is Revenue. I remember the days when the only musical entertainment befor the race was our national anthem. The drivers were introduced and walked across the stage without fireworks. The race was run and the winner got a kiss, a nice check and a trophy. Brian France has pretty much destryed that. But that’s ok…. he made millions doing it.

Kathy in PA
10/03/2007 11:24 AM

It all makes sense…except the part about the Pocono race. Why didn’t they restart the race? I’ve yet to hear a plausible explanation. Why didn’t “NASCAR make a honest attempt at giving the fans their money’s worth” that day?

Brian France Sucks
10/03/2007 11:52 AM

Kathy in PA, the reason they didn’t restart that race was because Jeff Gordon was leading. And no, I’m not a card carrying member of the Jr. nation. Say what you want, but when Jeff Gordon wins in controversial fashion, see Talladega 2005, people go berzerk and NA$CAR smiles as exposure increases for next week’s race. A little Chase hype, anyone If Ryan Newman had been leading the Pocono race it would have been restarted. Gordon has been the beneficiary of NA$CAR’s arbitrary rulings at the end of several other races. The man is a great driver, but old Brian France seems to favor him as a tool to increase ratings and exposure, the Pocono deal being another example. Sure, the 24 gets penalized like all the rest, but the end of the race seems to be when NA$CAR favors him. And I agree, the t.v coverage IS ATROCIOUS. The MRN guys do an excellent job; if you can’t TIVO the race tune into those guys while watching a muted screen. Anbything is better than listening to Bill Weber, Rusty Wallace, and the NA$CAR bootlickers on the Fox network. And oh yeah, get some DAMN LIGHTS AT CHASE TRACKS AND WE WOULDN“T BE TALKING ABOUT MOST OF THIS!

10/03/2007 02:54 PM

Trip, you nailed it. This yellow journalism/fabrication of interest method of reporting tells how lazy journalists work in today’s media. If they reported the stories that happened, as opposed to the tale that they would like to be told, they wouldn’t have to keep covering their lie just to justify what they wrote in the first place.

Vito, kudos on a good article and calling out for sensible thought. Of course, maybe the non-sensible thought is what we like about this sport to begin with. Whoa, this is getting _Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainence_deep. My brain is starting to hurt. Give another High Life.

One story that I had hoped to see written about was…Why weren’t Clint Boyer and Jimmie Johnson penalized for passing under the yellow? This is a very specific rule with no interpretation needed. So instead of hearing Jimmie Johnson whine like a 6-year-old girl about Biffle, we could hear him whine like a 6-year-old girl about getting docked 10 spots in the finishing order.

Larry Burton
10/03/2007 06:14 PM

In the Busch race a few weeks ago, nascar said you had to blend in and maintain speed with the pace car to hold your position. Now they’re saying you don’t have to maintain speed with the pace car which is very strange indeed! Less end this from now on and make the rule you can keep your position during a caution if you can maintain pace car speed {without the pace car slowing down to accomodate you}. Now, isn’t that simple? I can tell you one thing, if I saw the 2nd and 3rd place cars about to pass me under caution I would have never let them unless I couldn’t maintain speed for whatever reason. My question is why didn’t Biffle if he was able to maintain pace car speed?

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