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Voices from the Heartland: Veto the Bill to Change the Rules

Yesterday on this very front page, my esteemed colleague, Vito Pugliese (and I hope I spelled that right, ‘cuz I’m pretty sure he has some pretty heavy “family” ties) seemed to have “a problem with three rules in particular” that defined the outcome of recent races. They were (in order): NASCAR’s pit-road speed limit, the Lucky Dog and the penalty box.

It seems that Vito would like to have certain nuances of these rules changed. In his defense, however, I will say that although he would like to see them fixed immediately, he would also settle for his proposed changes to be implemented before the start of next season. But simply the possibility of changing the rules right now is what I would like to address first.

One thing that has always peeved me about NASCAR is not the fact that they occasionally employ “selective” enforcement, but the fact that they are able to, and do, change the rules as they see fit right in the middle of the season. To me, that is preposterous, even if it is a GOOD rule change.

As a “professional” sport, there should be a review at the end of each year that includes the sanctioning body, the owners and other selected members of the teams that go over the rules and any concerns that may have arisen from them during the previous season. If there are changes to be made, they should be made then, and – here’s the clever bit – adhered to for the entire upcoming year! If they need tweaking some more, then change them at the NEXT meeting, not in the middle of the year. That way, everyone is on the same page and no one can bitch (well they can, but not with real conviction) about it later.

Take, for instance, the sudden change of the double-file restarts. First of all, we have always had double-file restarts; but now, due to a midseason fix to the rules, we only have guys on the lead lap up front. Now, those that know my work know that I have been advocating a fix for a long time, ever since they started the Lucky Dog rule (more about that later). But while I am happy that they did finally change it, changing it in the middle of the year was just wrong! No other sport fixes their rulebook in the middle of the year. The NFL, for example, didn’t suddenly move the goal posts to the rear of the endzone after week 7 because some new super-legged kicker walked on to a team giving them a decided advantage. So as you can see, this is one area where NASCAR should be like other sports, sticking with rules that should be set at the beginning of the season and lived with for the entire year. ‘Nuff said.

Now, on the other things….

Pit-Road Speed Limit

This one is simple enough. The bottom line is that the only one to blame for Juablo not winning the Brickyard 400 is Juablo himself!

The speed limit is already set in stone. NASCAR, in what I find as an extraordinarily rare case of being reasonable, gives the competitors a five mph cushion above that limit just in case there are differences in the engines (as we all know there are). Your State Patrol does the same thing. If you are traveling down the Interstate doing 70 in a 65-mph zone, there is an extremely little chance that you will get pulled over and given a good talking to. It is when you are nudging upwards of 75 in that 65-mph zone that you are asking for trouble. On pit road, just as in real life – like within the city limits – those “cushions” become smaller. Having them is a must, though, because all the cars are different. Furthermore, having no cushion in place and citing it as a “safety factor” is ridiculous as well. Chances are, you’ll be just as dead if you are hit at 55.11 mph as you will be at 60.11 mph.

Well, at Indy Juablo was caught speeding in two separate “time zones.” He was doing “country” speed in “city limits”… and that just doesn’t wash. In truth, the ONLY thing that NASCAR should be ridiculed about when it comes to this subject is the simple fact that they used guys with stopwatches to police pit road until 2005! That, my friends, is just ludicrous.

Bottom line is, there is nothing that needs to be changed here. We don’t need speedometers in the cars and we don’t need to have pit-road speeds posted for all to see – least of all the driver. And if these guys didn’t have a proclivity to speed down pit road at any given time, why is it that over almost every radio, on every pit stop, you hear the CC reminding the driver to “watch your speed?!” These guys are the supposed best in the world; they should, and do (most of the time) know what they are doing.

The Lucky Dog

If there was one phrase that certainly fit for Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus at Pocono, Lucky Dog was it (although I’m sure many fans and opposing teams alike used a slightly deviated female version of the phrase.) That being said, I, like Vito, am in favor of the Lucky Dog as a whole. However…

In today’s NASCAR, which ironically matches our society, the concept of parity and of course the “kit car” rules the roost. Long gone are the days when one guy, who happens to be two laps down, is going to motor around the entire field not once but twice because he is suddenly that strong! And even then, back when it was conceivable and when lap down cars did restart next to the leader, it’s not often that they just took off and burned the rest of the field that badly as many who recount these tales of yore would have you believe. In most cases, if a lapped car was able to get in front of the leaders, it was often another quick caution that allowed them to motor on around, OR, back in the days of “gentlemen drivers,” the caution would fly and the leader would slow down and let a lapped car pass him, specifically letting him have a lap back before getting to the line. That was not always the case… but it happened more often than not.

So, what happened with the No. 48 team at Pocono was just pure luck and rarely occurs. Yes, the particular track that NASCAR happens to be racing at that week does come into play here, as the bigger the track the more time you have to work on your car should you choose to pit. However, to say that Johnson somehow manipulated the rules or took advantage of them is nuts. It was just dumb luck that no one else was one lap down. Or two laps down! Not only that, but Johnson had to get incredibly lucky not once, not twice, but three times! It was just their day!

Couple being some of the luckiest SOBs alive and the fact that they never gave up and have been in similar (well, not usually three laps down, but down early in a race) situations before and have kept fighting – even won – I, for one, thought they did one hell of a job! And most of you know that I’m not a big Johnson fan! I did not feel that the rules had been bent out of their original intent one bit. Do you not realize just how many things had to “come together” for them to pull off what they did? Dumb luck and hard work was all that happened there.

The bottom line here is, it has happened before, it did happen on Monday, and at some point it will probably happen again in the future with this rule. But it’s like shooting a hole-in-one or picking up a 7-10 split… when it does happen, you say, “you lucky SOB!” and then let it go.

The Penalty Box

Actually, as I watched the action between Robby Gordon and David Stremme, I was laughing. Hey, we all know Robby Gordon. He wasn’t going to let anything “go.” Was anyone really that surprised that the two kept after each other? If you were, please proceed immediately to Aegis Labs for testing under the auspices of NASCAR’s new Drug/Alcohol Free Fan Policy (also, like the rulebook, unpublished!).

No, what I was surprised about was that NASCAR parked them both for five laps. My first thought was “Good! They both got what they deserved!” Usually, NASCAR will show some sort of favoritism toward one or the other, leaving the rest of us to really wonder that age old question. “Why?”

Well, these guys were like two siblings fighting in the back seat of a long trip. NASCAR, having other, more pressing things to do, like running a race, finally stopped the car, came back there and gave them both a good spanking – regardless of who started it or who hit whom first.

Neither one of these jokers were a factor in anything, and both were acting like Saturday night locals going after each other on the dirt. I, for one (and please don’t lapse into shock when you read this) thought NASCAR did exactly the right thing. Punishing one more than the other would have been wrong and opened up an even bigger can of worms or closet full of conspiracy theorists.

So again, NASCAR surprisingly, actually did the right thing here. Wow, I said it twice!

Must be a full moon!

Stay off the wall (and off the radio as you plot your revenge!)

Jeff Meyer

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