Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s failure to move onto the next round in the Chase Grid might perhaps be the best thing to happen to the Chase detractors who want to see the end of it all. I mean, Earnhardt was doing so well and was poised to potentially win his first career Sprint Cup Series championship, a huge storyline for a sport trying to pull in and maintain a mainstream audience. Now that Earnhardt is out of the running for the championship, NASCAR executives have to change things, right?
Actually, I think NASCAR is getting exactly what it wants.
Consider the final few laps of last weekend’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson, two drivers who were nearly unanimously on everyone’s grids for the final four, were in danger of missing the next round. Unless they went to Victory Lane, they would be shut out from the Eliminator Round and any chance at winning the championship would be therefore … eliminated.
So it wasn’t all that surprising when both of them were at the front of the pack with under 10 laps to go, aggressively trying to reach the lead and stay there. Keselowski, depending and benefitting heavily from the presence of teammate Joey Logano (who was already guaranteed a spot in the next round), found himself side-by-side with Ryan Newman on the last lap. Somehow, some way, he was able to hold onto the lead, block several lanes of traffic, win the race, and keep himself in the running for another title. The final few laps were worthy of a quickened pulse, and it delivered.
Of course that means Johnson and, yes, Earnhardt were shut out. However, the race at Talladega played out exactly the way NASCAR wanted it to. The finish wasn’t just exciting because it was so close (though that helped). It was also exciting because several drivers up front were in must-win positions. This race meant something – the entire season, even – for three of the strongest teams in the garage area. Talladega generally provides great racing, but this new format put this date in a position of utmost importance. Win … or nothing.
Earnhardt’s absence from the Chase might be a loss for NASCAR, but I wouldn’t expect anything to change for next season. So far, the season is going exactly as planned.
Now onto the mailbox:
“Roger Penske basically admitted to team orders when he was in the media center after Brad won. After the bitch-fit NASCAR threw after the Richmond/MWR deal, how are they allowed to get away with that? Isn’t it basically the same thing?” Stephanie
Those are completely separate issues. First of all, Michael Waltrip Racing didn’t just ask teammates to assist one another in the race. They intentionally had Brian Vickers pull down pit road in order to influence the positions on the track, and, though this part was never proven, it appears that Clint Bowyer was asked to spin out on purpose in order to put Martin Truex, Jr. in a better spot to make the Chase. Those were manipulative behaviors in order to influence the outcome of the race and not simply helping a teammate advance their position through the draft or other means.
Also, even if NASCAR did have a problem with what went on last weekend (and they haven’t always taken very kindly to team orders), there isn’t much they could do at a track like Talladega, where teammates routinely work together in the draft. It’s just the way that style of racing works. If NASCAR reacted to every case of teammates helping one another, they would have to react to nearly every driver in the field.
I’m not a big fan of team orders either, but Penske didn’t ask Logano or Ryan Blaney to spin out Johnson if he got too close to the front in closing laps. He just asked them to help Keselowski in the draft if the opportunity presented itself. I’m sure Rick Hendrick would have asked the same thing had more of his cars been in the Chase than out.
In fact, that’s how it would have worked with any team out there. We don’t have to like it but it’s virtually unenforceable.
“Why wasn’t Ryan Newman penalized if he failed post-race inspection? NASCAR playing favorites and being inconsistent again, I see…” Marco
Newman’s car was too low on both sides in the rear after the race, but NASCAR later determined that the infraction was caused by damage incurred during the race,
rather than by adjustments made by the crew. I would hope that you would find that fair considering that’s something out of the team’s immediate control. Unless Newman intentionally keeps his car clean so that he doesn’t fail post-race inspection (which no one, especially not NASCAR, wants), those things are going to happen.
I’m sure we can all bring up instances where the team seemed to have a reasonable explanation as to why they failed post-race inspection and were penalized anyway, but I still think the assessment was a fair one. Why ruin a driver’s chances at winning the championship if it was easily determined that there was not an attempt by the team to gain an unfair advantage?
Rules infractions will always be a bit of a point of tension between fans and NASCAR because so much of what happens goes on behind closed doors, and inconsistency hasn’t been the sanctioning body’s strong point. However, I think they got this one right.
“I went to Charlotte a couple weeks ago and was lucky enough to get some infield passes and was able to get right up close to a lot of different place and places. It was really neat! I really enjoyed the new perspective. I was watching pre-race inspection and noticed that the officials were using what looked like iPads. I’m usually able to get to a couple races a year and hadn’t noticed them doing that before. It’s possible I just missed it, but is this new?” Celia
They were actually Windows Surface Pro 2 or Windows Surface Pro 3 tablets and, yes, it is a newly developed technology that allows officials to use tablets for inspection. In fact, Charlotte Motor Speedway was the debut weekend for officials to begin using those tablets and applications as a part of the inspection process.
Microsoft and NASCAR recently entered a partnership in working to develop an app on a Windows device to allow them to streamline the inspection process in a more efficient way. Before, the inspection process was paper-based. If you didn’t notice, the process was generally slow-moving and tedious. They created this new system in order to speed things up and make it easier to access all of the information.
Forbes recently published a story about this new technology and apparently it’s gotten positive reviews from the officials who will be using it. Time will tell if this will be a good thing, but I can’t imagine going back to a paper-based form would be a positive.