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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? Edwards “Probation” Green Lights Driver Aggression, Gibbs Falls Behind & NASCAR’s Dangerous CoT

Did You Notice? That while the fans are broken up about Carl Edwards’s penalty (or lack thereof), the drivers really aren’t all that upset. Take a look at this cross-section of Tweets about the incident:

I bring this up because it tells us a couple of things about the state of the sport…

1) Brad Keselowski doesn’t have many friends that drive a racecar. I say that because there are no long lines of tweets expressing utter frustration Edwards wasn’t suspended for one race or more. In fact, I have yet to see more than maybe one or two people outside the Penske Racing family who’s an active driver openly stick up for Brad (sorry Kyle Petty, you don’t count).

Does Brad care about being the loner? We don’t know yet, but it’s an interesting question to ponder. I’ve always felt the most successful people beat to the beat of their own drummer, and one of the reasons I do appreciate Brad the person is how he’s up front and honest, that what you see is what you get without beating around the bush. Ironically, just like Carl he’s not driving in the Cup Series to make friends; he’s here to win races. Still… it’s got to be notable for him that the rest of the NASCAR driving community saw him flip and pretty much came back with the attitude, “Well man, you deserved it.” That’s the type of reality check that makes or breaks a driver’s career … and after falling to 33rd in the points, you wonder if a change in style (or a Dale Carnegie book on making friends) will be in order over at the No. 12 shop.

2) Drivers understand the risk that’s involved with their sport. Like it or not, the ugly truth is Carl’s bump could have killed Keselowski. It’s an awful thing to say; but guess what? Any other ill-timed accident, a blown engine at the wrong place, about 1,000 different things could have given those drivers a real chance at serious injury as well Sunday.

That’s because racing at its core revolves around risk. If the drivers all ran around in circles at five mph, would we watch? Don’t get me wrong; we don’t watch for the wrecks. But we watch knowing these men are putting their lives on the line to do something extraordinary we’re not capable of doing. I think with the points racing and single-file parades we’ve often seen in recent years, people thought that these drivers lost that sense of aggression, that understanding of how risk plays into the sport. But if they didn’t… they’d all be calling for Edwards’s head right now. So I think it’s an amazing, healthy response in this sport for drivers to universally be in support for a punishment that was so much lighter than what anyone expected, I think my jaw was permanently open for about the first five minutes after the penalty was announced. In fact, I wish you could have tape-recorded my first five conversations after this whole announcement went down – the shock put me into a tailspin where I sounded like a drunken stoner on the phone for 15 minutes.

You know, that should be a show. “Candid Camera For Shocking News: How People React To Things They Never Expect.” First up: Scott Speed reacting to the fact he can actually finish a Cup race in the top 10. Zing!

Alright, I digress. Let’s get back on point…

3) Drivers are ready and willing to get the green light for payback… and they have it. As Dale Earnhardt Jr. has said recently about NASCAR’s rule changes, he feels like there’s no one looking over his shoulder. After the penalty that was just announced – three weeks of probation for flipping another driver – I don’t think anyone’s going to feel Big Brother’s even within 100 feet of them.

And that means Bristol could be one of the most exciting races in recent years. Bad blood still brewing between Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray? We could see it spill out on that crazy half-mile. Does Denny Hamlin want to get a little more payback on Brad? Well both of those cars have bumpers, don’t they? I’d expect them to get used sometime next week or the following Sunday at Martinsville….

Yeah, I understand there’s a limit to the lunacy. These guys will still have sponsorship and championship obligations which will keep them from taking the ultimate risk every time out. But when they get mad, there’s now one less thing bouncing around in their heads that’s making them hold back from retaliation… and for fans desperate to see a little more action and a little less points racing, that can be nothing but a good thing.

4) NASCAR ignored the tide of public opinion. I have hundreds upon hundreds of emails from you fans (and appreciate every single one). My unofficial count is 70% pro-suspension, 30% anti-suspension. So there were a lot of surprised people today… but for those worried about safety, you have to understand that NASCAR racing is inherently unsafe. Anything could happen at any time, and see rule No. 2… drivers accept that. They really, really do.

With that said, those of you still looking for the sport to put the hammer down have yourselves a ray of hope. I was talking to a car owner today, and he said if there’s so much as a minor injury under this new system, the threat of liability and big-money sponsorships will force the sport to go back in another direction. God forbid anyone ever hopes for someone to get hurt; but if you’re really put off by Edwards getting away scot free, know that over the long-term this policy isn’t quite set in stone yet.

Don’t believe me? Just listen to Mike Helton on the teleconference today:

“Historically, if you look back at NASCAR’s reaction to things, we may react to the first incident differently than we react to the third or fourth or fifth incident.”

A-Ha! I knew the inconsistency would pop up at some point! You can teach an old dog new tricks, but you can’t expect him to forget the old ones right away!

Did You Notice? That this year’s label of Most Disappointing goes to Joe Gibbs Racing? Right now, none of their three cars are inside the top 12, and while Joey Logano’s had a solid start Hamlin and Kyle Busch have had more slipups than OchoCinco in one minute of rehearsal for Dancing With The Stars. But while Ocho-what’s his name can slip in the privacy of his own home, Gibbs’s public slipups have everyone scratching their heads and waiting for him to call a coaching timeout to fix the mess.

What’s going wrong? The answer, my friends, may be as simple as cold, hard cash. Gibbs has more of that in the Nationwide Series than anyone else, one reason why their Toyotas dominate head and shoulders above the rest of the field pretty much about every week. But one area in which they continue to struggle is Cup partnerships with other programs. Check out some of the top teams above them:

Hendrick: Partnership with Stewart-Haas Racing, supplying chassis for six cars
Childress: Partnership with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, teams have engine deal together (five cars working together)
Roush: Alliance with Front Row Motorsports and Richard Petty Motorsports, technical alliance (totaling 11 full-time cars sharing info)
Penske: Lone organization supported by Dodge, allowing the manufacturer’s primary focus and all their money to be pumped into the program (three cars… but with a deal that makes it seem like six)

Let’s compare that to the meager three cars of Gibbs, whose smaller operation puts them at a disadvantage. Like building their own motors opposed to the other Toyota programs; I guess that’s a blessing in disguise this year considering how many TRD engines have failed, but at the same time the independence can also lead to isolation if those horsepower numbers are down.

Meanwhile, as teams like Childress, Roush and even Michael Waltrip Racing pick up investors, Gibbs has their family money and… well… that’s about it. When’s another financial backer going to step up and add a monetary boost to what’s only a three-car team?

I’m not saying money’s the only problem here; clearly, bad luck, immaturity and an inability to stay consistent during an entire race has played a factor amongst their driving trio. But you wonder if with all the chassis and engine cooperation amongst all these other programs, suddenly Gibbs might be turning into a bit more of an underdog than we thought.

Did You Notice? That in the midst of all this talk about the Keselowski – Edwards wreck and its implications, very few if any people are talking about the Car of Tomorrow itself? If Keselowski doesn’t flip, it’s doubtful that incident becomes a national story – and the car didn’t go up in the air just because Edwards hit its back bumper.

No, my friends… that car flew as directed ’cause there’s a wing attached to its rear.

With that said, let’s stop and review. We’ve now seen cars fly up in the air at Talladega (restrictor plates, Ryan Newman), Dover (short track, Logano) and Atlanta (intermediates, Keselowski). And this car is supposed to be safer… how?

Still waiting for your answer… still waiting….

The bottom line is while NASCAR will never admit this mistake, the handling and the safety record of this car show it’s been a disaster from the start. After 16 years since the introduction of the roof flap, you’d think safety would have improved to the point we’d be seeing cars flip into the air only in near-impossible scenarios. I understand we’re going a little bit faster these days… but not that much faster. How these engineers could have designed this car and not thought of the upward aerodynamic ramifications of the wing is beyond me.

There’s just one thing I know for sure… we need to get it off as soon as possible.

OK, time to go mourn my UConn Huskies’ self-destruction this week. Talk about teams going in two opposite directions… the men drop out of the NCAAs while the women set an NCAA record for consecutive wins.

Tom Bowles is on Twitter! Follow Him!