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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: No NASCAR Drug Testing? No Bristol Bumping? & No AT&T?

Thanks for the questions this week, everyone! There were so many you’ve left me no need for an intro; time to match your questions with some thoughtful analysis and (hopefully) correct responses.

Q: I read that NASCAR instructed the television announcers to not refer to the No. 31 RCR Chevy as the “AT&T Chevy” at Bristol this past weekend, because of the ongoing lawsuit between the two parties. If this is so, why was the AT&T car graphic shown for the weekly AT&T text poll?Daniel Miller

A: You noticed, too? I had the same question when the AT&T Crew Chief Challenge graphic came on the screen depicting a fully dressed AT&T Chevy – so I asked a member of the ESPN production crew what the deal was. He told me that the AT&T promotion is a totally separate entity from the AT&T-sponsored RCR Chevy. In essence, the AT&T Crew Chief Challenge is a paid advertisement and can therefore contain an AT&T Chevrolet.

Believe me, while NASCAR and/or Nextel may be finicky about their car sponsors, they’ll take anyone’s commercial dollars.

Q: Why does NASCAR not have a drug testing policy in place? With all the athletes in today’s age being accused or just plain busted using illegal substances, why isn’t NASCAR being proactive?Piledriver

A: As relevant a question as I’ve ever been asked in the parameters of this column and yet, one that I cannot give a definitive answer to.

Actually, they do test, in a NASCAR-type way, of course. The sanctioning body performs preseason physicals and can request a drug test from any driver, crewman, team member, or NASCAR official at any time if there is a “reasonable suspicion.”

As to why NASCAR is not being proactive in instituting a random testing policy, regardless of a probable cause, I can only speculate that it does not believe it has a problem with drugs or performance enhancers in the sport. While that may be true in the Cup Series, what’s to lose by taking an aggressive stance on such an important issue?

Kevin Harvick agrees: “I think we owe it to the sponsors and the fans to 100% know that this is a clean environment,” Harvick was quoted as saying shortly after the Aaron Fike drug-related suspension in July. “It would eliminate a lot of those problems of the younger drivers that disrespect the sport and the system. Shame on NASCAR for not policing our garage better than what they police it right now.”

My fear is that NASCAR will one day have to be reactive when a high-profile figure finds himself in some sort of trouble. When that happens, NASCAR will wish it hadn’t been in denial all these years.

Q: Hi Matt. My question concerns the wings on the Car of Tomorrow. If a car is involved in a wreck and the wing is damaged to the point that it cannot be used, will NASCAR give the team another wing so the car can go back out and compete?Mark Veyhl

A: According to Nextel Cup Series Director John Darby, NASCAR hands out the wings to the teams once they are at the track. In the case you describe, NASCAR will give the team another wing to use if the original is damaged beyond repair in a racing accident.

Q: I’ve been watching Bristol races for nearly 20 years, and I have to say I’m more than a little disappointed in the repaving that was done to the track. I’m not a guy that watches for the wrecks, and I can appreciate the side-by-side racing, but the magic that was Bristol wasn’t there. Where does the fix lie? Is it softer tires like I’ve heard so many talk about? Does the track need to age?Matt Liscano

A: I’ll agree that there never was a “jump up out of your chair” moment, like we’ve become accustomed to having in past Bristol races. But in all honesty, the last two Bristol night races have been a bit short on drama as well.

The fix, I believe, lies in the softer tires you mentioned. I also think that the race hinges on drivers’ temperaments on any given night; they were able to run a little less aggressively because they had an extra groove to stay off of one another.

As for the track aging: I guess that will change the characteristics of the track some, but unlike other repaved venues, Bristol went from one lane to two. The other repaves we’ve witnessed required drivers to exclusively utilize the low groove for a few races (at least) because they couldn’t stick up top. We don’t have that problem here.