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Fanning the Flames: NASCAR’s Trifecta of Current Events

We’ve got some in-depth stuff this week, so I’ll keep the opening thoughts short. Actually, they’ll be non-existent. So take a guess as to what we’re starting with…

Q: I have read several articles about Kyle Busch‘s poor behavior, but seeing him tonight bash the Gibson guitar on the floor twice is the lowest I have seen him become. Someone needs to take him down a dark alley and teach him some respect and give him an attitude adjustment. This is a mark against his family and how he was raised.

Also I wonder what the Nashville Speedway people and the Gibson guitar people thought about this. I am sure their comments would not be printable, and rightly so. Busch should be bashed and raked over the coals by every reporter that writes about racing. He is a disgrace to the racing world. – Elvin Wood

A: Somewhere on Saturday night, Paul Stanley was smiling. Of course, Paul uses a prop guitar at the end of a KISS show, and maybe Kyle should have taken note.

You know Elvin, for such a black and white issue, I’ve felt pretty gray all week. I really don’t know where I sit on this one, and that’s rare. The left side of my brain thinks Busch should have thought long and hard about destroying a $30,000 trophy. It’s the only original, after all, and a lot of pride and hard work went into designing it. There’s also the issue of class. Whether he thought it was cool or not, it just wasn’t a classy way to celebrate a victory.

I live in Nashville, and let me assure you, the majority of those who follow racing (and even some that do not) did not like what they saw one bit. It hit a little closer to home for these folks who take pride in the musical heritage of the city and for how that specific trophy truly embodies the culture – it’s more than just a sparkly cup bolted onto a wooden base. It really says “Nashville;” and for a town that loves its racing (and still mourns the loss of its Cup Series dates) it was taken as a slap in the face, regardless of how Kyle intended it.

With that said, there’s still the right side of my brain that screams, “Whoa! I’ve never seen that at a race before… cool!” That may sound crass in itself, but we’re the ones that bemoan our vanilla drivers. We complain of rehearsed victory lane celebrations and an endless list of sponsors that seem to mask true jubilation. Case in point: When David Ragan earned his first Nationwide Series win at Talladega just a month ago, I read that he didn’t appear happy enough. He was too ho-hum about it all, even if that is his personality and he doesn’t know any other way to be.

Well, this is Busch’s personality and for better or worse, he ain’t changing. I can’t help but wonder if a rogue, brash driver back in the day… say, Tim Richmond, had pulled the same stunt, would we still be throwing stones – or would our memories lead us to shake our heads with a grin and say, “That son of a gun… boy, those were the good ol’ days.”

I don’t know the answer, Elvin. And I still don’t know exactly where I stand on the guitar smashing, but those are my thoughts.

And if you’d like to know what the people at the Nashville Superspeedway thought of his antics, I’ll tell you that when I contacted Sean Dozier, the track’s director of public relations, earlier this week about the incident he was curt in saying, “Kyle did not ask permission or give us any warning that he was going to do this in victory lane. Sam Bass did not know about it in advance, either. He acted completely on his own.”

Cliff Hawks, the track’s Vice President and General Manager, said on a Monday drive-time radio program that (and I’m paraphrasing) if it were up to him, Kyle would never be invited back.

Q: Matt, my question is what is the big deal about the NEW restart? I may be a little on the old age side, but I remember that was the way it was in the old days of NASCAR or any racing for that matter. You lined up in your position in the race at any restart and just received credit for the laps actually run past the start finish line.

Did I miss something, or do I not understand the restart procedure? – Terry Bagwell, NASCAR fan forever

A: The difference is there are no longer cars one-lap down (or more) lined up to the inside of the leaders. Instead, the lead-lap machines will line up two-by-two (as opposed to single-file) like you’d see at the start of the race. The lapped cars now line up behind the lead-lap cars.

“We’ve heard the fans loud and clear,” Brian France told us last week. “‘Double-file restarts – shootout style’ are coming to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series!”

Jeez, you want a medal or something? Congratulations, you’ve taken the lapped cars out of the equation on the restarts. You’ve also taken a lot of pit strategy out of the equation, too.

Q: Matt, in record time NASCAR has implemented double-file restarts for Pocono. While this gives NASCAR the appearance of “listening to its fans,” isn’t this really just another gimmick?

NASCAR has already given us the “improvements” of the Top 35 rule, the Lucky Dog and the CoT – all trying to shore up the sagging attendance and ratings for the races that have been going steadily downward for the past five years. I’m not saying that the new restarts won’t be a good thing, but have they really done anything constructive? – Sally Baker
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A: Don’t forget that Chase “improvement,” Sally. And while the Lucky Dog rule came as a byproduct to NASCAR’s mandate that cars would not race back to the yellow flag, I don’t have as much a problem with that one because of the safety issues involved.

However, NASCAR has thrown a lot of new ideas at us all of the sudden, and this from a sanctioning body that typically takes to change with the same zeal as I feel when my fiancé confiscates the remote and plants it on Dancing with the Stars. So the question is “Why?’ Why now, after ratings and attendance have sagged for the better part of two and a half years, has NASCAR decided it’s time to pull the trigger on these things? And why, if the sanctioning body is making changes at such a fast and furious pace, did it take so long to implement the current safety standards and drug policy?

Why? Because NASCAR is reactive. Four drivers perish within the space of a year and a half? Uh oh, better mandate those SAFER barriers, closed-faced helmets, and HANS devices we’ve had on the back burner. Some kid goes public that he raced in a Truck event smacked up? Hmmm… if we can’t tell a guy is geeked on heroin on raceday I guess this current “when we feel like it” drug policy isn’t doing the trick. And now, after two full seasons of lackluster racing that the powers that be have turned a blind eye to, we get some changes. Not meaty stuff, mind you, but changes nonetheless.

Look, I’m all about making the product better, but lining the lead-lap cars up side-by-side on restarts at the front of the field ain’t bringing my buddy who quit watching three years ago back. He can’t tell the difference on restarts, because to him the cars all look the same anyway, and quite frankly, he doesn’t care anymore. He’s gone for good, along with thousands like him because (this is his own words), “All the tracks and cars look exactly the same. Why devote 36 Sundays to the same thing every weekend?”

Cosmetic changes just aren’t going to do the trick anymore.

And to complete the current events trifecta (had we gotten a Jeremy Mayfield question, we’d have hit the superfecta)….

Q: Did NASCAR take that many points from [Richard] Petty and that much money[referring to the Carl Long penalties]? Or is it the small company situation?! “I (NASCAR) can get these guys ’cause I can.”

They would not try this with Hendrick, Roush or others. – D. Lamphron

A: I’d agree that NASCAR wouldn’t lower the boom on one of the big boys – not this hard. A 12-week mandatory vacation would never, ever be given to a Hendrick, Roush, Childress or Gibbs (or Stewart, which I guess is the most fitting example). The 200/200, $200,000 would be levied, though. No doubt there.

Actually, the history of the 12-race suspension goes back to Petty’s oversized engine that you inquired about which took place in 1983. His powerplant after the Charlotte fall race that year measured in at a whopping 381.983 cubic inches (well above the 358 limit). The King kept the win but was docked 104 points (the difference between the winner’s points and the last car on the lead lap). He was also fined a then-record $35,000, although I’ve been told that he won $40,400 anyway, so he came out ahead. No suspension, though. It was then that NASCAR announced that the next oversized engine would cost you 12 races.

To my knowledge, no team owner, driver or crew chief has served a 12-race suspension due to a big engine. Junior Johnson was close, getting the book thrown at him in 1991, but he appealed and had it shaved down to four.

I think the important thing to remember in all this is that Petty and Johnson got nailed for running big engines in points-paying races, knowingly using them to gain a competitive advantage. Long got crucified with a hand-me-down piece of crap that was 50 horsepower light in a qualifier for an exhibition race. Big difference.

And before I go, and not that anyone asked me specifically, but for the love of God, no… Danica Patrick is not coming to NASCAR! Why are pixels being devoted to a story we all got burned on a couple years ago? The move makes absolutely no sense, and is an obvious bargaining chip in her desire to wrestle a bigger and better contract from someone in the IRL.

Don’t get sucked into the hype, people. Danica = web hits.

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