NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Talking IROC, Driver Cash & The Perp Who Got Away With One

What, no questions about the ABC/ESPN2 fiasco this past week? I’m fairly shocked, but not entirely disappointed, as I believe we’ve run that topic out of Dodge. Maybe the grind has gotten to everyone so much that what would have been a huge uproar in March is taken with a shrug-of-the-shoulders and shake-of-the-head in November.

In any case, I promise that this column will not abruptly stop mid-sentence two-thirds of the way through, only to be found on our sister site… not that we have one. Although Turn2.com, Backstretch.com, Turn3.com, Turn4.com, trioval.com and pitroad.com (Turn 1 and dogleg were taken) would make for a cool “family” of Frontstretch websites.

Meanwhile, the “first time, long time” idea worked like a charm last week, so therefore, we’ll give it another go. If you’ve never asked a question or given an opinion in Fanning the Flames, just type in “First time, long time” in the subject line and I’ll get you in next week’s final column of the season.

Q: According to the Frontstretch newsletter, Jimmie Johnson took home $261,711 for his [Phoenix] win. My question is, does he get that money, or does it all go to Hendrick & Gordon (so they can pay the crew and expenses)? Instead, is Johnson paid a weekly salary like in other pro sports?

And another quick observation: Each year, the NFL & MLB have owner meetings where all the owners get together and discuss hot topics and whether any rules should be changed or not. Why doesn’t NASCAR do this? They could easily get all the race team owners and fly to Daytona for a couple of nights. I know we don’t have 32 owners, but I think this would be a step in the right direction. Thanks again. – Ben

A: OK Ben, let’s talk money. Card, hold, stinking cabbage. Or how it’s divvied up, anyway. A number of contract disputes over the last couple of years between drivers and owners have laid open some driver contracts in a court of law. Just like that, these contracts are public domain (thanks, Bobby Ginn… er, well… maybe not).

The prize money awarded at the conclusion of a race is actually paid to the car owner, but much of that goes back to the driver. A typical driver’s contract spells out a base salary (which varies widely), a percentage of individual race winnings given to the driver (usually a 40-50% take), a cut of souvenir sales (roughly one-third goes to the driver), as well as bonuses awarded to the driver for any number of things, including championships, race wins, top fives, etc. Throw in travel allowances and a company car (no, not that car, an actual street car) and it makes for a decent living.

As for an owner’s meeting, when the owners have no say, what’s the point? I mean, it’s the France’s show, right? Actually, don’t tell anyone, but there is a somewhat mysterious club called the NASCAR Yacht Club, whose very existence was subject to speculation until just a couple of years ago. A small group of the sport’s power brokers (series leadership, car owners, drivers) gather every so often when the sport visits an East Coast venue with ocean access, where they kick it on their yachts for a few days.

While the gatherings are mainly organized to blow off steam, rumors abound that serious business is discussed. Legend even has it that NASCAR’s annual trip to the Brickyard was hatched one year when Tony George was a guest of one of the “members.”

And here I thought my boys and I, with our Fish-N-Skis, float noodles and longnecks, had it made.

Q: This may be a longshot, but is there any talk of bringing the IROC Series back? I loved watching the drivers from different series race against each other. I guess the Cup Series is IROC now, huh? – Gene

A: Yeah, it’s about as close to IROC as we’ve seen since 2006, when the International Race of Champions held its final event, Gene. I loved that old series too, especially the Z-28s they ran back in the ’80s. Classic stuff.

Unfortunately, the tough economic times prevent the resurrection of a once-great series with an eternally-great ideal: Take 12 of the world’s greatest drivers and put them in identically prepared cars in order to determine the world’s greatest driver. Was the ultimate goal actually met? Well, that’s open to debate… but it was fun watching ’em go!

With the premier stock car series on the planet in tough shape from a sponsor and manufacturer standpoint, though, you can only imagine how difficult it would be to piece together a start-up series that was liquidated two years ago. Sorry, Gene.

Q: Matt, let me preface my question by saying this: I know we are dealing with NASCAR, so there is no such thing as consistency. But how is it that [David] Gilliland gets parked for wrecking [Juan Pablo] Montoya one week and [Matt] Kenseth gets off after wrecking a whole pack of cars the next?

No points? No fine? No nothing??? Whatever. – David Patrick

A: Well, judging by the opinions I’ve read on this very site all week, mine may not be a popular take, but here goes:

Gilliland turned Montoya head-on into the backstretch wall at nearly 180 mph at Texas. Bad move. Dangerous, boneheaded… insert your own adjective here. And even in that extreme case, Gilliland was only parked after NASCAR realized Montoya could not continue. Until then, it was only a five-lap penalty (he was down a couple laps, anyway). No fines, no points docked.

Kenseth turned down on AJ Allmendinger at Phoenix (after an admitted boneheaded move of his own) and popped him in the right front as the field came to the checkers. There was no turning head-on into a wall at 180.

The unfortunate part, of course, was the chain reaction. Allmendinger swerved down into Montoya, and all hell broke loose. That made the bonehead quotient seem a bit higher; but had Allmendinger not been collected by Montoya, we wouldn’t be talking about this, because there would not have been so much scrapped sheetmetal.

Besides, that’s part of the charm of stock car racing in my estimation. Not the wrecking, mind you, but the rough ‘n’ tumble, payback’s-a-bitch aspect of the sport. If you fine a guy for rubbin’, you’re draining the little character that remains out of the sport.

So here I am, folks. Hit me with it… I know it’s coming!

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