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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Ford Engines, Regular Season Strokin’ & Of Course, Talladega

I think you all knew when you clicked on the Fanning the Flames link this week what was coming. And make no mistake; it’s here. Beyond a weekly column for entertainment or educational purposes, this is a forum that Frontstretch has presented you, the fans, the opportunity to sound off within. And that’s great. The feedback I get from you every week is always relative, always challenging, and certainly entertaining.

In case you didn’t hear, we had a little controversy at Talladega this weekend, and the second Dr. Jerry Punch exclaimed, “They are saying Tony Stewart has won the race. Tony is the official winner here at Talladega!” I knew I had to be on my game. Well, not one hour later the first email arrived. I’m not publishing all of the letters, because they all said virtually the same thing, that being: “Regan Smith got jobbed.” Instead, I’ve responded to the pair that best represent what I heard all week. If you’ve tired of reading, writing, talking, or listening about “The Talladega Ruling,” you may want to skip down to Kenneth’s question. Otherwise, let’s address this.

Q: It is easy to see why NASCAR made the ruling they did regarding the winner at Talladega: Stewart: Two-time champion; Home Depot. Smith: Rookie; Principal Financial Group.

That is a no-brainer. Forget fairness, rules, or anything else. The big dog gets the bone, while the little dog starves, even though the big dog did not deserve the bone. – Ken Seal

A: Today’s NASCAR leadership and the decisions it’s made, along with the avenues it’s pursued over the last few years certainly has made it easy for us fans to think along those lines, hasn’t it Ken. Well, call me naive, but I’d like to believe that dollar signs didn’t rule the day on Sunday. Yes, The Home Depot is the Official Home Improvement Something or Other of NASCAR; and yes, Subway is a very visible corporate entity that has raised its stake in the sport of late. The Principal Financial Group? Well, it had a quarterpanel. DEI’s compass had the hood.

It’s hard to look past those facts when a controversial call goes the way it does. At the end of the day, however, I’m still too trusting to believe the control tower made the decision strictly because of the decals (or lack thereof) on the cars… but not so trusting that the thought hasn’t crossed my mind and I’m not considering it.

But I don’t buy, and never will, that being a two-time champion vs. a rookie had anything to do with the call. I’d think a rookie scoring the biggest upset of the year would be better for the sport as a whole. And I certainly don’t buy into what some have said: that Toyota gets favoritism and that’s the reason.

Ken, you may be totally right on this one. I can’t tell you how the guys in the tower came to the decision they did or what their motivation was. But I’ll say that from where I sat and coming from someone who has watched NASCAR his entire life, France, Helton, Hoots, Hunter and whoever else is up there totally, totally blew the call on Sunday.

Q: Matt, haven’t we seen NASCAR not make the appropriate call on the yellow-line rule before? How stupid do they think we are? Will we just forget other times and who it was? Just when I think I’ve been played for a fool for the last time, they manage to top themselves one more time. I should expect it by now.

Regan, you deserved better! I’ll be rooting for you from now on! – Pete Doster

A: Funny how a driver’s misfortune can actually gain him fans, huh? Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace can speak to that. Anyway, to Pete’s point: If NASCAR tells the drivers in the driver’s meeting – and this from David Hoots in the Talladega sit-down – that, “If you race below the yellow line and in the judgment of NASCAR you advance your position, you will be black flagged,” then why hasn’t NASCAR consistently enforced the rule in the past? Moreover, why has it verbally contradicted itself on the matter?

The only individuals that I’ve heard or read who side with NASCAR on this specific incident are the television outlets and their websites (think ESPN, NASCAR.com, SPEEDTV.com… they’re vested) who act as if nothing out of the ordinary happened, and further, can’t believe anyone would dare question such a cut-and-dry rule.

Hello, guys… just because you speak to “simple fans” doesn’t mean the fans have forgotten Kyle Busch’s pass with four to go earlier this season at Talladega, Johnny Benson’s coming to the checkers at Daytona in 2007 and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s with five to go at Talladega in ’03. Those are all instances of drivers advancing their position by going out of bounds in an event’s waning laps – and all instances of a NASCAR no-call.

Above and beyond the issue at hand is an even bigger one. See, everyone has a right to their opinion on this or any other matter, but for some in the media who work for NASCAR-partnered websites or other NASCAR-related outlets to not look at this issue with a sense of subjectivity (NASCAR and “subjectivity” in the same sentence… go figure) is a gross neglect of your duties as a journalist. I don’t want to lump everyone from those outlets together, because I have seen some handle this as professionals, but many are all too willing to toe the company line, and that isn’t our job.

And that, thankfully, is all I have to say about that.

Q: I read that Dodge used their new engine last week [at Kansas]. Has Ford tested their new engine on track anywhere yet? – Kenneth Leffel

A: Not just yet, Kenneth. I talked with Ford Racing’s Kevin Kennedy a few days back and he told that the new Ford engine has not been track tested as of yet and that it will, of course, go through NASCAR approval after its submission. Ford’s plan, he said, is to start a roll-out of the engine during the 2009 season, pending NASCAR’s approval.

Q: With my boy Kyle Busch tanking and Jimmie Johnson just hitting his stride, do you think NASCAR’s regular season will become some sort of preseason training ground for good teams before they start racing “for real” when the Chase for the Cup starts? – Rowdy Rush

A: Long time, Rowdy. I was hoping you hadn’t bailed on the season once Kyle said bye-bye.

I don’t think the majority of the teams have the luxury of holding back and testing/experimenting during the regular season. Most teams, of course, aren’t the No. 48, which can notch top 10s running at 90%. Jimmie and Chad – off to a slow start this year – didn’t get so radical in their “testing” that they put themselves in danger of falling out of Chase contention, but they did use the first dozen races or so to try some new tricks out. Jimmie said so himself in March:

“We’re working. We’re working to get smarter every time we get on the racetrack and sometimes it’s just as important to learn what doesn’t work as what does work.”

Do I need to translate? Good.

Basically, I think those who are safely within the top 12 – say, first through fifth or sixth – will start tinkering with setups and testing exclusively at Chase tracks. The new setup didn’t work? That’s OK, I’ll just ride it out in 12th with the knowledge that 12th is good enough this week.

Do we want to see that? Of course not, but that’s an unintended consequence of the playoff format currently in place.

That’s it here. Gimme a shout. I’ll get you in next week.

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