NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? … NASCAR’s Gamble With Pandora’s Box, Hamlin’s Heist & Quick Hits

Did You Notice? … No drivers were penalized in Tuesday’s list of fines and suspensions doled out after the Texas brawl? NASCAR chose instead to come down hard on four crew members, all from Hendrick Motorsports whose punches were clearly captured either through photos or video footage obtained from the pit road incident.

The punishment most will agree with surrounded Jeremy Fuller, the rear tire changer for Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 team. Fuller, who was caught in the melee even though his driver had no role in any on-track incident was fined $25,000 and suspended for the next six Sprint Cup events. Fuller, whose punches were caught vividly by multiple media outlets had no business jumping into a fight he had no stake in. He’ll be joined on the sidelines by Jeff Gordon crew members Dwayne Doucette and Jason Ingle, each given the same six-race, $25,000 punishment along with fellow team member Dean Mozingo, handed a lesser suspension (three races) and a $10,000 fine. (Crew chiefs Kenny Francis and Alan Gustafson were fined $50,000 but only placed on probation for the next six Cup Series races, leaving them fully able to prepare for the rest of the season).

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
Brad Keselowski was one of three drivers who escaped punishment after Sunday’s Texas brawl. Should he have? (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

As for their missing helpers? It should have limited impact on the title race: none of Gordon’s suspended crewmembers pit the car and Hendrick’s depth inside the four-car shop runs deep. The only way in which there would have been shockwaves is if the drivers showed up on the “bad boy” rundown, but… surprise! Nowhere on that list read the names Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, or Kevin Harvick. That’ll leave fans up in arms, as you could have argued each deserved at least a fine based on recent history. We’ll start with Gordon. Bloody lip aside, his “dips***” heard around the world was the type of swear once deemed unacceptable on television by a sport that prides itself on family values. A decade earlier, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was docked 25 championship points (the equivalent of five in today’s system) for saying the s-word live on television from Talladega Victory Lane. Not only was that paired with a $10,000 fine, the penalty was upheld by NASCAR’s three-man appeal system, costing the driver momentum that helped contribute to losing his hold on the Sprint Cup title. Certainly, Gordon’s role in the fight could be debated, and I’ve always thought losing points for off-track behavior was rather extreme. But doesn’t everyone get fined for saying bad words on the airwaves? Isn’t that a universal code across all sports?

Next, we go to Harvick, whose gentle shove of Keselowski one could argue started the whole damn brawl in the first place. A gentle shove, these days can cost you a lot of money: just ask Casey Mears, who was fined $15,000 this spring after getting caught shoving Marcos Ambrose on camera. Ambrose, who responded with a punch of his own paid even more ($25,000). But Harvick gets… nothing? Thank God the court of real life doesn’t work the same way. Otherwise, there’d be no such thing as arson because we could all just light a match, walk away and watch the fire unfold while eating popcorn.

Brad Keselowski’s role in this whole mess, in terms of earning a penalty is the most debatable. On-track issues aside, he left the track spitting blood and was busy taking punches rather than throwing them. The contact with Gordon, then Harvick did not result in an in-race penalty from NASCAR, which legitimized those moves in the rulebook. But this incident is also the second causing a circus-like atmosphere surrounding Kes in less than a month. Probation is supposed to result in a lower level of tolerance, right? I guess maybe not.

I’m not saying you had to throw the book at these guys; fines, in each case along with probation through the rest of the year (and for Keselowski, extended through the first few races of 2015) would be enough. NASCAR, for its part likely held off because it wanted to reemphasize that for drivers, expressing their emotions off the racetrack is OK and part of their “Boys, Have At It” edict. But by doing nothing, absolutely nothing to the sport’s biggest names two days after this brawl spread across the country puts the rubber stamp on this type of fighting. It also breaks precedent, in Harvick’s case over the course of a single season and stinks of pandering to popularity rather than common sense. (Ratings at Texas, by the way were a 2.8, one of the few increases for NASCAR this Chase with viewership that ticked up significantly from a year ago). Indifference keeps emotions high, but it also leaves them at risk for them to bubble over dangerously with an enormous amount on the line at Phoenix. I wonder how manufacturers feel about their poster boys acting like warmup acts for the WWE? Is this total “hands-off” approach satisfactory to them and the millions they pump into motorsports to help their marketing image?

Gordon, Keselowski and Harvick have kept their mouth shut this week, although no one shows any signs of backing down. Owners Rick Hendrick and Roger Penske, respectively have given their drivers 100 percent votes of support. Keselowski, shortly after the penalty retweeted a joke with serious overtones: “#ThingsCaleNeversaid: I’d go three wide here but Bobby and Donnie will be pissed, and I am here to make friends not win races.” (Cale means Cale Yarborough, a NASCAR Hall of Famer and one of the sport’s most respected, albeit aggressive drivers). Others have continued throwing verbal jabs at Keselowski, with Hamlin the latest to join in the fray with Tuesday’s media teleconference.

“I think that the challenge a lot of drivers probably have right now with Brad is there’s no remorse,” Hamlin said. “He has the right to feel the way that he feels. But when there’s no accountability, [other drivers are] going to be upset with you.

“It’s tough to win a championship if nobody likes you. That is going to be a very, very tough task. So I mean I think that you’re going to have to – you always have to just watch your mirror. And that’s a tough way to race. It really is a tough way to race.”

Hamlin, of course, is part of a growing chorus of drivers in the garage area feeling disrespected, ready to give no respect (and perhaps a swift kick to the No. 2’s rear bumper) in retaliation. Should contact happen at Phoenix, an incident that costs Keselowski or others a shot at the championship all hell could break loose. NASCAR’s “no call” here has done nothing to reduce that from happening, as no one feels like they need to fear any consequences. The extras were proven guilty, leaving the main attractions sitting inside the cockpit free to do whatever the hell they want.

Opening that Pandora’s Box can go both ways. All we know is, after Tuesday NASCAR is prepared to make that bed and lie in it.

Did You Notice? … Denny Hamlin is leading the Sprint Cup point standings without a single top-5 finish during the Chase? It’s true. Hamlin’s average finish of 13.4 over the past eight races is an eye-opener, a number that would easily qualify as the worst of anyone who won during the 11 years of NASCAR’s Chase format. With a best run of sixth at Chicagoland, this year’s playoff opener Hamlin has done no better than seventh since, sprinkling in a 37th at Loudon in September and an 18th at Russian Roulette Talladega last month.

“The breaks are falling our way, for sure,” he said Tuesday. “The performance is not necessarily falling our way. Obviously, we’re kind of gifted some circumstances we’re in right now. But we have an opportunity to capitalize on that.“

Hamlin, who saw a title slip from his grasp in 2010 now has a unique chance to make up for that. He’s the only one of the remaining contenders that wouldn’t be inside the top 10 in points without a postseason format (17th). Missing a race earlier this season, he’d have missed the cut under last year’s Chase system and has run no better than third outside the restrictor plate crapshoots of Daytona and Talladega. Much of the focus the past few weeks has centered around underdog Ryan Newman, whose four top-5 finishes this year equal the wins of no-longer-in-Chase contention Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson. But Hamlin, who has just six top 5s of his own might be an even bigger upset, especially in a year where Toyotas have won just twice in 34 events.

“I feel like this year the pressure on our race team is a lot less than what it was in 2010,” he added Tuesday. “The expectations are a lot less from the media and the fans’ perspective, I believe.”

There will also be a lot of questioning the sport’s new format if he, Newman, or a winless Matt Kenseth wind up holding the trophy in Homestead.

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before we take off…

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
Chase Elliott, 2014 Nationwide Series champion… and future driver of the No. 5 Cup car in 2016? (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

– So Chase Elliott is so far ahead in the Nationwide Series title chase he might clinch this weekend, at Phoenix and make the season finale at Homestead a mere coronation. Elliott has three wins, on the verge of taking the title as an 18-year-old rookie and is sitting pretty as the sport’s hottest prospect. Meanwhile, Kasey Kahne has just three top-5 finishes in Cup and has a pit crew performing like the Three Stooges. Confidence with crew chief Kenny Francis, his head wrench for nearly a decade at this point seems to have hit an all-time low. At this rate, they’re poised to suffer through a 2015 “lame duck” season, ala Mark Martin a few years back unless Hendrick does something. Will the maverick owner divorce these two, getting aggressive and hoping that’ll spark his driver in case a surprise retirement by, say Jeff Gordon forces him to keep Kahne? Or will he just let the whole thing play out, knowing Kahne’s struggles make it easy to install his up-and-coming youngster in a full-time Cup ride come 2016? It’s an interesting decision.

– Remember when Greg Biffle made the Chase? He hasn’t registered a single top-10 finish so far during the postseason. Teammate Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. is in the same boat while future Roush Fenway full-timer in Cup, Trevor Bayne, put up a big fat DNQ in his first run with the No. 6 car. No wonder Elliott Sadler moved over to RFR’s Nationwide operation for 2015. By the end of next season, there could be openings galore.

Stewart-Haas Racing put three of their four cars inside the top 11 Sunday. Kurt Busch, paired with new crew chief Tony Gibson looked like he had a new lease on life. Danica Patrick? She was 36th, put our of her misery after hitting the wall and seemed rudderless on the radio with rookie crew chief Daniel Knost. SHR claimed Patrick would be better with an engineering type; however, Knost has no IndyCar experience, just a great education. They’ll both need to learn quickly together to keep this car from falling back to 30th each week, a shame after Danica was quietly making progress in her sophomore season.

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Dennis

Failing to see how you would see fit to extend Brad’s probation. What was the infraction? Calmly standing beside his car? Getting pushed from behind? Getting grabbed? Getting punched by one or two of Jeff’s crew members?

kb

Right on Dennis and a few others. that we are even having this discussion and the fact that the fiasco happened on Sunday and the fact that Brad is a innocent ganged up on and people are defending things they have no business defending in regards to Sundays stupidity astounds in a sad way. BRAD DID NOTHING WRONG, in fact he was a class act thru it all, cannot same for the one who doesn’t like to be raced and the insanity of Harvick..mental health professional take note of him and some fans as well. Scary stuff.

kb

…Yes anybody not distracted by these sideshow fights after the race will notice the travesty of Hamlin even being in the Chases, given his actual (yes real) points position is 17th. JJ, Jr. and the like are out and here is Hamlin with one lucky plate race win and lackluster results all season long, has the possibility to be the Champion. The fact he is tied right now in the 3 race bologna is a sham. This has to be a sad mark on this sport. If that comes to pass, Brian will have a press conference and deem this disastrous format a success.

kb

…Danica quietly making progress..come on. We have gone through a couple of crew chiefs, we don’t like this we get that, we want somebody with an engineering background..blah, blah, blah. It is her..period. Tired of it, why is she news, oh yeah her gender.

jerseygirl

Brian France was obviously very happy with the situation as it has worked out. I don’t know if the fans feel the same way about what is going on. When this format was announced, I said that it would result in a crapshoot/demolition derby mess. I didn’t expect though that someone could potentially win the trophy w/o much in the way of wins.

salb

How much respect from the fans is Denny getting bad mouthing a fellow driver? With the way his team has run this year, it sure comes out sounding a lot like sour grapes.

Jeremy

I’m getting pretty sick of NASCAR pandering to Jeff Gordon. Nothing against Jeff as a person or a racer, he’s a HOF driver and great at what he does, but seriously? Last year they create a spot to put him into the chase (would they ever do that for anyone else? Swap Newman and Gordon in that situation, and the answer is No, Newman is told “tough luck pal”.) Now, they let him swear on TV with no penalty at all, despite precedent (see reference to Jr. in this article)? I thought Jr’s fine/points penalty was ridiculous – he was in victory lane and overcome with happiness at his feat and let one slip in the moment. It was harmless and innocent, unlike Gordon who was obviously angry and using the platform to launch a verbal tirade against Kez. NASCAR needs to get credible and apply the rules with some sort of consistency.

I do agree, Kez did not deserve any penalty in this situation. He escalated nothing (off track). Harvick should have drawn some kind of penalty, I think, for instigating the melee. But then, I also think Kenseth should have drawn a penalty a couple weeks ago for physically jumping Kez from behind. As well as stiffer penalties for both Kez and Hamlin for their little bumper car battle through the garage area.

But that’s just my opinion, for what it’s worth – which is pretty much nothing. ;-)

Bill B

I saw someone else mention that since the race was on a cable channel and not network television the FCC doesn’t come down on cursing as hard. Don’t know if that is true or not. Don’t remember what race or channel Dale Jr got penalized for cursing. Just throwing something out there that may explain why.

Earner

Overall to severe for all (imo) ..But smashing cars up with pedestrians & racing through the garage & pit area…Now thats way safer (using your car as weapon & escape vehicle is ok with the sponsors?)
Sounds like a brian type of plan
Enjoy Pheonix all
p.s. imo this one was just racing/ don’t blame Jeff & don’t blame Brad (Harvick just wanted some entertainment)

Mike

I would like some explanation for Harvick’s “no call” on his shove. He had no more business being involved than the Kahne crewman. BK did everything right, given he was already on “probation,” whatever the hell that means. The rest of these clowns (JG, DH, JJ and the rest) better cinch up their belts and man up between the green and the checker. How about EARNING some of those million$ by getting up on the wheel? BK is doing just that and the only respect he needs if from Roger Penske.

Mathan

Denny can lecture Brad on how to win a championship because he himself has won a… oh wait…

Carl D.

It’s awful hard to lecture anyone while choking…

Bill B

The current standing in the chase are a joke.
The races themselves have become a joke.
NASCAR has been, and continues to be, a joke.
This format has created a monster that has a low probability of awarding the driver that was the best or won the most but has a high probability of pandering to the lowest common denominator to get viewers. Welcome to the Jerry Springer show.

It is obvious that NASCAR is extremely reluctant to penalize anyone in the chase because they don’t want to spoil their orchestrated reality show. I guess what we all have to wonder is, What will it take for a chase guy to receive a penalty? I kind of feel this new system lends itself to being able to penalize someone since, one, you can always overcome a points deficit with a win and, two, the points get reset each round.

I don’t like Denny Hamlin but he does make some valid observations in his rant. Not necessarily about Brad specifically but how things work to keep these things from boiling over. I agree, you ruin someone’s day “going for it” you can at least act like your sorry if it doesn’t work out (unless it was an obvious payback then, what’s the point).

Carl D.

Tom..

Do really think Kes should be punished for racing aggressively in this elimination fiasco? Yeah, he deserved the probation he got for acting like an ass at Charlotte, particularly afterwards in the garage, but his hard racing for the win Sunday in Texas was Brad just doing what any driver worth his paycheck is expected do to keep from being eliminated. I’ve always respected your opinions as fair and sensible, so I’ll chalk those comments above up to a little pandering to the Hendrick fans.

Janice

As a long time avid fan, this year has turned me off; like many of the sentiments that I am reading I am hoping that a non race winner takes home the championship just to prove what a travesty this year has been. I’m also hoping that I can kick the habit over the off season. I used to love it, every race no matter how boring-and there were always some-was important, just because of the possibilities. First the chase was shoved down our throats and we all became sick of hearing about “a good points day” from the second race on and then this fiasco. I work in a public venue and developed many Nascar buddies over the years: most of us are now just wanting to get off this train wreck. It’s too bad that the race has become lost in this soap opera.

Mathan

The Chase has been here for ten years now; that’s an awful long time to be thinking about getting off this train wreck. Honestly, since there is no sign of the change coming you want, why on Earth are you still watching on Sunday and complaining on Monday? I still think the Chase is dumb but it’s now a part of NASCAR – just like the big goalie pads in the NHL compared to a few decades back – so one must accept it or simply move on. Clearly the Daytona boys aren’t reading the Frontstretch comments board for input, or if they are, it’s over a glass of champagne and a cigar.

Bill B

You must have not read her comment that closely
“I’m also hoping that I can kick the habit over the off season”

The answer to your question
“want, why on Earth are you still watching on Sunday and complaining on Monday”

is because she is addicted like I am.
I haven’t been able to find a 12 step program and I don’t have the power (yet) to go cold turkey.

And just for the record, I hated the old chase but I am finding this new version even worse and maybe even unbearable.

Mathan

I did. One of the divorce’s ten years in the making I guess. Best thing is pack the bag and leave instead of living the definition of insanity, eh?

RickP

BK’s move didn’t seem that extreme to me either but if the drivers want to have a chat over it, then let them do it. GET THE CREW MEMBERS OUT OF THE WAY! I am a bit surprised that none of BK’s crew got fined which I think that they should have. Gordon didn’t get dinged up around the mouth by an avid fan, it was a crew member that got away with it.

I just find it funny that NASCAR has a problem when punches start flying yet the footage that is shown over and over again is the 1976(?) Daytona 500 aftermath…………..where punches are thrown, and is credited for getting NASCAR on the map. Hypocrites.

Dennis

I think NASCAR couldn’t find pictures/footage showing BK’s crew members biffing Jeff. Otherwise they’d be suspended as well. Yeah, NASCAR is certainly hypocritical. They pretend they don’t want fighting but they laugh all the way to the bank when it happens. News stations that don’t normally mention the races had lots of video to show this week.

Elroy

Good site! I really love how it is easy on my eyes and the data are well written. I’m wondering how I could be notified whenever a new post has been made. I have subscribed to your RSS feed which must do the trick! Have a great day!

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