Fanning the Flames: NASCAR’s “Terminology Guidelines” & The Return of Silly Season

I love the sport of NASCAR. I really do. But some days, the sanctioning body really puts me to the test. Such was the case when the tweets started flying yesterday about a supposed memo NASCAR sent to its TV partners “recommending” they use certain verbage to describe the racing action.

These “terminology guidelines” include the request that fans continue to be deluged with the term “double-file restarts – Shootout Style!” (the proverbial fingers down the chalkboard to my ears). Other preferences? The Car of Tomorrow is heretofore known as the “new car” and the Lucky Dog (one I kinda liked) the “free pass.”

I know this all shouldn’t stick in me craw, because I have bigger issues on my plate as well. But it does. Why? Because it proves the sanctioning body doesn’t hear the fans. The Shootout Style thing is played, has been for a while… and people make fun of it. Yes, people laugh. As far as the Car of Tomorrow, it will stop being referred to as such when it actually performs like one. And the lucky dog, well, I mean really… who cares how the announcers refer to the cars getting their lap back?

Seriously, are such miniscule details being discussed when two touring series are in such ill health that sponsorship issues plague even the mightiest of teams, ratings and attendance continue to slide, there is a driver with a meth habit, their own drug policy is under fire, and the fan base grows increasingly frustrated with rules that aren’t consistently enforced?

Really, is a “Shootout Style” memo the one I wanted to be made aware of yesterday?

That said, we’ll get to the meat of the column. Let’s talk… about the important stuff.

Q: Chicagoland was another track without a wall between the track and the pits. There are several, Atlanta being another. Why does NASCAR allow this? What are the rules? I see the potential wreck happening and a car, or cars, out of control coming into the pits while someone is getting serviced. I have never heard this discussed and would like to see a writer do an article on this if the subject is worthy of it. Thanks. – Fred

A: I don’t know that specific NASCAR rules exist governing whether a speedway has a pit wall or not, but if you’ll notice, it’s the tri- and quad-oval superspeedways that are not equipped with a pit wall that separates pit road from the front infield. At these facilities, there is plenty of room to see trouble coming (though not necessarily enough to get a car cleared of its pit box) as opposed to a place like Dover, Bristol or New Hampshire, where the time it would take a spinning car to get from the racing groove to a pit box would be infinitesimal.

I guess the reasoning for not having a wall at the big tracks is that the sightlines from the spotter and crew chief, coupled with a big infield that allows the crewmen time to scatter if need be, doesn’t require it. And believe me, those crewmen are aware of what’s going on around them – you grow eyes in the back of your head if you’re around a racetrack long enough.

With that said, I noticed two weeks ago at Daytona that Tony Stewart’s crew quickly jumped back behind the team’s pit wall after Stewart crossed the start/finish line when the wreck started sliding their way. I could see, even in victory, that they were hesitantly whooping it up in the pit box, knowing things weren’t especially “stable” on the racing surface.

Q: Kevin Harvick or Brad Keselowski? Or maybe even Danica Patrick? It must be nice to be Stewart and Rick Hendrick. This wasn’t thought to be much of a free-agent year, but it looks like SHR has some attractive options. I’d have to go with Harvick. The fit is a perfect one. Thoughts? – Ted Decker, Delevan, N.Y.

A: First, let’s get legal: Thus far, Stewart’s third car is as real as a Daytona Beach neurosurgeon with an Australian accent falling for a California-born NASCAR driver with open-wheel roots and the name of a Wisconsin short-tracker.

However, assuming SHR expands to a three-car operation in 2010 (which, admittedly, Stewart is open to), you’re right in that it’ll have the pick of the litter. Let’s just hope it isn’t a litter of runts. I say that because Harvick’s name – unless Shell-Pennzoil gives Richard Childress its blessing to go get another – is out of the running. This, from RC yesterday:

“Richard Childress Racing has a multi-year contract with Shell-Pennzoil that includes the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Shell-Pennzoil remains a great partner for RCR and Kevin Harvick as well as our sport overall. RCR also has a multi-year contract with Kevin Harvick that includes the 2010 season. That said, Shell will be the sponsor and Kevin will be the driver of RCR’s No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet Impala SS in 2010.”

Childress can’t afford to lose Shell, particularly now, when teams are setting budgets for 2010. And we’ve already heard that RCR may have to downsize to two or three cars. And when Childress speaks about sponsor situations, you can typically etch it in stone. Although Harvick would make a picture perfect fit at SHR, Ted.

Which brings us to young Mr. Keselowski, who’s riding a wave of team-owner love. The rumors are rampant and changing daily, telling us he could land anywhere up and down pit road, from Penske to Red Bull to SHR.

This, from Brad a week ago:

“I don’t have anything signed. I’m not particularly close on the Cup level. I am very close on the Nationwide level to tying that up to drive for JR Motorsports. So, I feel good about that, but the Cup level is not even close.”

OK, so it’s looking like Kes in a JRM Chevy in the Nationwide Series. Therefore, you’d have to throw Penske’s Dodges out. That leaves Red Bull, which has been talking up a move to Chevy under the Hendrick umbrella.

Truth with Red Bull is, no one knows what next year will look like until Jay Frye gets stateside from his vacation with Herr Mateschitz in the Austrian mountains. Until then, no one can speak with much authority on what this bunch is up to. And because of that, we hit a dead end.

And then there’s the lovely Danica, batting her eyes, playing coy and staging a very public autograph session in the middle of touring hours at Stewart-Haas Racing on Tuesday. Ted, I could be so far off on this one that when I swing and miss, I corkscrew into the ground like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon – but I just don’t think she’s going to make the jump. We’ve seen the power plays before. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice… ahh, never mind… I always mess that phrase up and end up looking like W.

Q: Hello Matt! The Silly Season talk has picked up but talk of Rusty Wallace Inc. moving to Cup has died down. That topic has been shelved with the renewed interest in the Keselowski, Patrick, Harvick talk (am I leaving anyone out?). Is Rusty still planning to raise RWI to Cup? If so, when? I assume Stephen (sic) will fill one seat, but will a second team make the jump, too? Thanks, and keep up the good work. – Debbie Masters

A: You’re welcome, Debbie. I received this email and the one prior within an hour of one another and thought, when I first started reading, that we were opening another can of worms, only this one with an open Rusty Wallace Inc. seat involved.

As it turns out, we are not – although Rusty has mentioned taking his outfit Cup racing, with the first salvo fired right here in Nashville back in April before the Nashville 300 Nationwide race:

“Ideally, if all the moons lined up, I’d start in 2010. Two cars [and] I’d want Steve [Wallace] and Brendan [Gaughan] to go right in.”

So, there’s that. But resources and money are tight right now (as I remind my loving fiancé daily) and to that, Rusty said, “I’d definitely be looking at doing some type of technology merger with a team, and the one that makes the most sense is Childress. That’d be a quick way to get going.”

With the uncertainty surrounding Richard Childress Racing at the moment, I decided to give Greg Wallace a shout. Greg is Rusty’s oldest son, and also serves as a Vice President at RWI. By his response, if anything was going to happen, they’re not willing to share at the moment:

“Rusty Wallace Racing is committed both to the growth of our organization and to the pursuit of winning races and championships,” Greg told me. “Going forward, we will continue to pursue strategies and opportunities that help us further those goals.”

Hmmmm. I don’t think the chances of Rusty making that jump by 2010 are too good.

Speaking of the fiancé, I’ve promised to take her to the new Harry Potter movie tonight which, truthfully, I’m looking forward to. Hey, don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it.