Did You Notice? There was no penalty for a trio of Joe Gibbs Racing teams accused of trying to alter the splitters on their racecars?
Our Jerry Jordan reported splitters had been adjusted to curve further inward, shaped with Bondo or resin in a way to push the car lower and closer to the racetrack. For those who aren’t an expert in technical jargon, here’s how to understand it: you get more speed when less air is sneaking underneath the car as resistance to slow it down.
NASCAR’s decision not to issue penalties, on the one, hand makes sense. It’s consistent with past incidents in which they’ve confiscated splitters in pre-race inspection. But here’s where I do see some sort of inconsistency. If you’re late for pre-qualifying inspection these days, or if you have to go through too many times, you earn a warning that costs you choice of pit stall. You tweak a part that leads to getting it confiscated by NASCAR before the race and nothing else comes of it? Don’t you think that’s a little strange? It’s like getting no jail time for stealing the crown jewels while spending a year behind bars for swiping a Coca-Cola.
Conjecture as to what JGR did would calm down, of course, if NASCAR would come out and explain why there was no penalty in this situation. In the NFL, for example, should a penalty flag get thrown, video replays combine with an officials’ explanation as to how a team didn’t play by the rules. NASCAR has gone a long way in becoming more transparent in recent years – simplifying and publicizing the rulebook is one such example – but it needs to get better at explaining why they’ve made decisions.
No longer can incidents like this one end with “no penalty” and nothing more. No longer can there be an appeal and the three-member panel gives no explanation on why they’ve made their decision. Could you imagine if a lawyer looked up an appeals case and the only written explanation was “decision affirmed?” They would go nuts. Yet NASCAR expects everyone to digest the rules as if we’re two-year-olds that disobeyed Mommy’s orders not to play in the kitchen. Sorry, when dealing with adults in this Information Age you need to overexplain, not underdeliver. Fans are intelligent enough to know why. They need facts and not silence as answers to their questions.
That said, do I think JGR’s splitter issue is a big deal in the long run? No. NASCAR took the parts in question long before the race and forced the teams to find legal replacements. But I won’t ever know how much we should have cared or whether that opinion is right because NASCAR hasn’t provided an explanation. Why they took the splitters will always be a mystery… and there should be nothing mysterious about their decisions.
Did You Notice? Silly Season has slowed to a crawl, creating the fewest changes in recent memory? Now that the musical chairs have stopped, resulting in the dissolution of Michael Waltrip Racing, there’s only two official driver changes in place for 2016. Clint Bowyer is replacing Justin Allgaier over at HScott Motorsports while Chase Elliott moves into the No. 24 car vacated by a retiring Jeff Gordon. All other major free agents chose to remain with their current teams rather than moving on and testing the waters elsewhere.
That lack of evolution in the form of few new opportunities hurts the sport more than it helps it. One of the reasons the NFL has become a year-round obsession is the way players move around through free agency, the draft and how teams are constantly retooling. NASCAR can only market offseason storylines so much if every driver, every team, is going with the status quo to hit the reset button come February.
Franchising, while filled with pros and cons, also helps contribute to the downside in this case. How can a new owner come into the Cup Series when the medallion program remains undecided in mid-November? How can drivers like Ryan Blaney plan their future and talk to sponsors with a giant unknown of if their team will have a guaranteed spot or be forced to qualify on speed every week? With potentially four spots available in a shrunken, 40-car Cup field? Forcing owners to “buy in” will also limit the ability for an independent to just randomly show up and qualify every week. It’s not like that’s been happening recently anyway but stabilizing the rides also limits spontaneity.
It’s a tricky balance because there is a need for established owners to feel like there’s a safety net, ensuring some value for their team in case sponsorship or competitiveness evaporates. But NASCAR, in some ways, needs to shake things up and this is the one area where they can be afford to be less stable. New people create new buzz. New employers create new storylines. Old partnerships… become old over time. It’s just reality.
Did You Notice? Quick hits before taking off…
- Did the Matt Kenseth – Joey Logano feud lead to a bump in NASCAR viewership at Texas? The 2.6 Nielsen rating there was the highest we’ve seen for that Chase event in four years. Clearly, the buzz around the Martinsville incident generated national attention, but I’d argue the biggest change was putting the broadcast back on network television. ESPN, where Texas lived for the past few seasons, has been dealing with declining cable subscribers. There’s a reason they laid off 1,000 employees last month. While the big four (CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX) aren’t what they used to be, they’re still readily available to anyone dropping cable for Netflix and switching to a digital antenna instead. It’s a note to ponder as NASCAR has sold its future to boosting these smaller cable networks, making their position more tenuous as the 18-to-34 generation views cable itself as a luxury they simply don’t need.
- I think we have an early favorite for 2017 Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year: Erik Jones. Jones, designated to move up full-time with Joe Gibbs Racing, put together an impressive performance in his first “triple duty” weekend. A finish of 12th despite all the chaos surrounding Kenseth’s No. 20 Sprint Cup operation was impressive in just his second series start. A solid fourth-place result in the Xfinity Series race showed how formidable he’ll be in that division next season. But perhaps the best run of the weekend was how well Jones smacked around the competition in Friday night’s Camping World Truck Series race. Reigning champ Matt Crafton, a veteran who’s no slouch, came in with plenty of momentum and looked ready to take control of this title race. Instead? Jones punched right back, clicked off a dominating victory and now controls his own destiny over the final two races. That’s the mark of a kid on the rise, not someone who needs more seasoning. Six years after mishandling Logano, JGR needs to realize how talented this kid is and put all the right pieces around them. No need to make the same mistake twice.
- Rookie Jeb Burton is the only full-time Cup driver this season not to finish a single race on the lead lap. Without a top-25 effort driving for BK Racing, it’s crystal clear he’ll need to take a step back into the NXS or Truck Series next season in order to rebuild his future. Who could replace him? BK wanted Sam Hornish Jr., offering him the world before Hornish chose rebuilding his career back in the NXS and eventually moving his way back forward to Cup. If the former open-wheeler is still willing to stay inside the sport, no matter the funding, he’ll likely have an option to slot in with Toyota over there.
About the author
The author of Bowles-Eye View (Mondays) and Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 30 staff members as its majority owner. Based in Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild.
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