*ONE: Hello, Consistency?*
Anyone that needs more proof as to whether or not name means something in the eyes of NASCAR got it this afternoon, with NASCAR bucking their typical Tuesday announcements to notify the racing world that when the Cup Series takes the green at Homestead, Jeff Gordon will be on the track. Despite premeditating a clear act of payback on the racetrack that collected championship contender Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano and Aric Almirola (not to mention very nearly wrecking points leader Brad Keselowski as well), Gordon got away with a points penalty that means nothing and a fine Hendrick Motorsports will scoff at.
All of this after Kyle Busch was parked by NASCAR because he got into a tussle with a title contender in the Truck ranks at Texas. If anything, Gordon’s actions were even more egregious, as he took out a series regular in his home series and direct competitor to the No. 48 car that he just so happens to own. No conspiracy theory here, Gordon and Bowyer definitely have some history, but in context the four-time champion did something that made Busch’s antics from a season ago almost tame in comparison. For that, he’ll pay a pittance and lose points that he doesn’t need (the No. 24 was mathematically eliminated from title contention even before the penalty).
I’ll say the same thing I do in every case such as this, the drivers need to police themselves and the sanctioning body needs to back off and not arbitrarily assign penalties for such actions based on the prevailing winds of the fanbase and media. But seeing as how NASCAR is never going to be hands off as they should be, there’s ample reason they should be criticized for not parking Gordon. The only message that can be taken from this action is that the higher a driver’s popularity and level of achievement, the more leeway they’re going to get.
Kind of like Tuesday’s election…hardly a shocking outcome, but depressing nonetheless.
*TWO: It’s Official. Yellow Flag as Broadcast Item*
Jimmie Johnson hits the wall but keeps going and the yellow flag comes out. Debris on lap 167 brings out the yellow for no apparent reason. The red flag comes out almost immediately after the Gordon/Bowyer brawl, as if to give the TV crews ample opportunity to provide blow by blow coverage of the pit crews going at it and Bowyer’s frantic charge through the garage towards the No. 24 hauler. But Danica Patrick blows up, drops oil all over the track and is smoldering down the frontstretch and the race stays green, with the end result a massive pile-up.
Though one side of me is absolutely thrilled NASCAR finally let a race finish under green, there’s the other part of the equation. The sanctioning body’s officiating is strongly contingent on made for TV moments. They break up a green flag runs to allow commercial breaks to punctuate a pit cycle. The yellow is held off to ensure that post-race interviews surrounding a championship gone wild and a massive fight get aired. Objectivity or even competency for governing the premier level of stock car racing in the world are not apparent here.
Between the Chase format and the stark reality of manufactured cautions, does a Cup championship really mean anything anymore?
*THREE: Keselowski’s Pit Miscues Cause for Concern*
The mission for Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 team got a whole lot simpler over the final 100 miles at Phoenix. No need to race for a win at Homestead; rather, stay out of trouble and run a conservative race to score Penske Racing’s first Cup title ever.
But having said that, it’s not a sure-fire road to the Cup, and that’s not just because the opponent is the formidable Johnson/Knaus duo. Rather, it’s miscues on pit road that have shown up repeatedly over the course of the Chase (at Phoenix, Keselowski stalled the car on pit road early to drop himself from 11th to 23rd, and had his crew drop him from first to fourth on another stop later in the event).
While the No. 2 team ended up passing plenty of cars and taking care of business regardless on Sunday, the reality is pit road mistakes put cars in traffic. Cars in traffic are far more likely to find trouble. In short, business as usual will have the Blue Deuce flirting with trouble it doesn’t need. Though the driver and team have had tremendous luck throughout the Chase in finding their way through traffic (see Talladega, the end of this Phoenix race), one does have to ask, will they go to the well one time too many?
The entire NASCAR community will find out Sunday.
*FOUR: RCR in Danger of Losing Two Titles at Homestead*
Though RCR returned to Cup victory lane on Sunday with Kevin Harvick’s late charge to victory, the team’s chance at a Nationwide Series title went up in smoke late in Saturday’s event after a misguided move by driver Elliott Sadler. For all the turmoil surrounding the Childress operation this weekend following reports that Kevin Harvick would be leaving the team’s No. 29 car for Stewart-Haas Racing after the 2013 campaign, the team’s Nationwide struggles could be pinned solely on the driver.
Problem is, that’s not the only team RCR has running for a championship this coming weekend. Currently, Ty Dillon has the No. 3 truck within 12 points of leader James Buescher. And it was standing alongside that truck team on Friday that saw owner Childress the most visibly agitated of the entire weekend regarding the current situation unfolding between he and longtime driver Harvick.
Regardless of how demarcated the operations are at RCR between the different race series, there’s obvious tension under the Childress tent surrounding this current Harvick situation. And given how tight the bond is known to be between owner Childress and his grandson drivers, there’s very legitimate questions to be raised as to how much this emotional instability could impact the No. 3 truck as it tries to defend the Truck Series championship Austin won a season ago. Sitting 12 points back, with both Buescher and Timothy Peters standing in the way, the margin for error is zero.
*FIVE: Hello, Consistency?*
Rewind back to Monday night NASCAR and the night of Montoya vs. the jet dryer. Brad Keselowski became the biggest Twitter fad NASCAR had ever seen thanks to his tweeting a picture of the inferno from his race car and becoming the first driver to tweet from the cockpit during the race. It was hailed by everyone at every level of the sport as a creative and telling example of social media and its ability to bring fans closer to their heroes.
Fast forward to Phoenix, and now Brad Keselowski is getting fined thousands of dollars for checking the same damn cell phone in his car under a red flag.
Were the 140 characters not witty enough this time?
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