In my weekly Voice of Vito piece yesterday, I wrote how some of the rules in NASCAR need to be amended to make more sense and provide additional equity to the sport. I went off on the pit-road speed limit (which is an oxymoron if you think about it, since there is almost a 10% fudge factor allowed), Lucky Dog wave-around, and the capricious application of penalties for what is considered rough driving. Having read through the headlines Wednesday, another item could have been added to that list, as there was a Goodyear tire test at Dover for the September, 27th race at the Monster Mile.
One thing struck me as odd as I perused the list of drivers participating at the test. of the eight drivers attending the two-day event, two of them are currently qualified for the Chase.
In a series that no longer permits open testing at sanctioned tracks throughout the year, why are two drivers in championship contention – Jimmie Johnson and Juan Pablo Montoya – permitted to gain additional testing time at what is the second of the 10-race playoff format? While these tests are often scheduled weeks or months in advance, for a series that constantly endures criticism that it favors certain drivers over others, this is not doing much to erase that notion. One could surmise that NASCAR is throwing a bone Montoya’s way after the pit-road penalty at Indy cost him what appeared to be certain victory, but does the No. 48 team really need to log additional laps at this track? Since joining the series full-time in 2002, Johnson and Chad Knaus have posted four wins in 15 starts.
According to my TI-85 calculator that I used in high school, that means he wins over a quarter of the time he goes to Delaware.
Johnson and the No. 48 team also won here just about a couple of months ago, leading 298 of 400 laps in the Autism Speaks 400. I think its safe to say Chad Knaus and company would figure things out next month at the Dover 400, even if the tires supplied were Flintstone Pterodactyls instead of Goodyear Eagles.
Now the situation with Montoya being a chosen to participate in the test raised a few uni-brows as well. After nearly winning the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, Montoya rebounded with a second-place effort at Pocono, replete with a highlight-reel save after getting clipped by Kasey Kahne on the final restart. This weekend, Montoya is one of the odds-on favorites to contend for the win at the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen. Having won seven races in Formula 1, as well as registering two NASCAR wins on road courses in his brief stock car career (Mexico City in the Nationwide Series and Infineon Raceway in Sprint Cup), this weekend could very well be a watershed moment for JPM and EGR racing program.
A strong finish – or possibly even a victory – could very well be what gets him over the hump and cements his position in The Chase for the Championship. Montoya finished fourth here last year, and in his only other appearance at the Glen in 2007, engaged in a memorable slap-fight with Kevin Harvick after the two were collected in a wreck in the first turn. That being said, where there no other Chevrolet teams besides Montoya and Johnson to test tires for a Chase race? Jeff Burton, Casey Mears or Clint Bowyer all probably could have been suitable substitutes.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to pick on the RCR guys; they’re just pretty much the only Chevrolet teams not in Chase contention at the moment.
David Ragan and Bobby Labonte, who have struggled mightily all year long, were two of the Ford drivers at the test – it wasn’t as if Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards or Greg Biffle were on hand to get some Chase preparation. Kyle Busch (rather than teammate Denny Hamlin who is fifth in points) and Marcos Ambrose were on hand for the Toyota bunch, and though Busch is in 13th in points and knocking on the door just 101 markers back from 12th, the way he has been running of late, that door is likely to swing open and bust his nose up should opportunity hear him calling.
Considering that David Stremme and AJ Allmendinger – rather than current Penske and Richard Petty Motorsports Chase-contending cohorts Kurt Busch or Kahne – were representing Dodge, the selection of Johnson and Montoya for the Chevrolet brigade seems that much more skewed.
In the interest of keeping the playing field level, particularly when it comes to the outcome of the series championship, some consideration should be given to the position of the drivers at the test. The potential influence it could have on determining who takes home the Sprint Cup at the end of the year in Homestead, could bring more unwanted suggestions of manufacturer or driver favoritism.