Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito: NASCAR Life Lessons From a Goodfella

“You learned the two greatest things in life: never rat on your friends… and always keep your mouth shut.”

Those are the words of wisdom from Jimmy Conway to a young Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s film Goodfellas. That came to mind this week when I got to thinking about a couple of people who have made news this week for talking too much. And to squelch any speculation due to my surname – no, I do not have mob ties.

News came down this week that NASCAR had fined a pair of unnamed drivers (Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman) $50,000 each for comments made impugning the integrity of NASCAR. The first one was pretty easy to figure out – heck I was there for it. Following his win at Michigan last month, Hamlin admitted that his nine-second lead was going to produce a caution with a handful of laps remaining.

“I knew a debris caution was coming. We have to do what’s right for the fans. It’s tough because I was literally thinking inside the car that I’m all for some of these cautions, but if I don’t win because I maybe get a bad restart I’m probably angry because I’ll feel NASCAR changed the outcome of the race. And, no I didn’t see the debris. But, I understand this is a show business and we typically get them (debris caution) every week.”

In a statement released by NASCAR earlier this week, they said that the fines were levied not because of driver’s speaking their mind, but because, “It is the sanctioning body’s obligation on behalf of the industry and our fans to protect the sport’s brand.”

OK, then how about either A.) Showing the debris – something other than rollbar padding, a foam Gatorade bottle or a wad of duct tape, or B.) not throwing a caution at the last minute to make a race out of a runaway, and/or C.) Not restarting the race over and over until there is a big crash and a “last-lap pass for the lead.” Brian France has stated his desire for a, “Game 7 moment”; however it’s things like these that are perpetual Game 6 Bill Buckner moments and a bigger threat to the legitimacy of the sport and integrity of the competition.

The other big talker of the past few weeks has been Ray Evernham. It seems every time Evernham starts spitting game and gets those big dentures to flapping, he causes a bit of a ruckus. He has repeatedly suggested that Mark Martin will “do the best thing for Hendrick Motorsports” and step aside a year early for Kasey Kahne in 2011.

The best thing? You mean nearly winning a championship and five races last year?

Originally HMS wanted to sign Martin through 2012, but Martin – who will be 53 by the time the 2012 season is underway – was not sure if he wanted to commit to another full-blown season of championship chasing two years in advance. Martin had originally tabbed Kahne late last season to suggest that he take over the car in 2012 and let Martin complete the next two years of his contract. Evernham meanwhile looks to assume a role within Hendrick Motorspots with Kahne, as our Managing Editor Tom Bowles mentioned yesterday in his Did You Notice? column, not as a crew chief but rather a race strategist – whatever that means.

One can only imagine the power struggle that may potentially develop between Kahne’s crew chief – which may or may not be Alan Gustafson or Kenny Francis – and Ray Evernham.

From the outside, Evernham gives the impression of a man so desperate to be back on the inside, he will incite any disharmony he can, to sow enough controversy until he can destabilize the situation enough to help along the outcome that he seeks.

It’s quite a dichotomy; the most respected driver in the garage area versus a man who is best known as a crew chief whose selective interpretation of the rules would make Chad Knaus look like an altar boy, and is the same guy who left his wife for a woman 24 years younger than him – ultimately to the detriment of what was his NASCAR Sprint Cup race team. One of his drivers at the time, Jeremy Mayfield, addressed this and was promptly dismissed from his No. 19 Dodge; the rest unfortunately is history. Evernham ended up having to sell his team, and Mayfield is battling NASCAR in court over alleged methamphetamine abuse.

While that first Goodfellas quote delivered by Robert De Niro would possibly best be heeded by Hamlin in the future, there is other offered by Joe Pesci’s character Tommy DeVito, which would fit well for Ray Evernham.

“Cornuto… it means he’s content to be a jerk. He doesn’t care who knows it, he’s content.”

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