Race Weekend Central

Rules…There was a Rule?

So, for the third week in a row a team that is gunning for the big show in Homestead was parked due to a simple rules violation.  This week, the team of Matt Kenseth’s No. 20 was sent home after they had seven crew members come over the wall while repairing crash damage from the Lap 199 wreck.  When the smoke cleared from anger and dismay, it became apparent that the crew was the one unaware of the crash clock rules regarding how many people could work on the car.

During another officiating moment of confusion, the winner of the race was dinged for a restart violation for diving below the white line before the Start/Finish line, but the No. 4 car following right on Truex Jr.’s bumper was left to enjoy the fruits of the strategic move. When asked for clarification, NASCAR said that it was the leader of the inside line that had to stay within the boundary for the restart–it was not the responsibility of the third place driver.

Last week the No. 48 team was parked due to some confusion over when the red flag was actually lifted, and crew members started wrenching on the car before Simon Says. The week before that all of NASCAR nation scratched their heads when the tower remained oddly silent while the Lowe’s Chevy tightened lug nuts with the car clearly parked out of its box.

Now, ensuring that the rule book is being followed is totally the job of NASCAR.  We spend hours in line for inspection each weekend. Every angle, brace, and weight is measured repeatedly before it is attached to these speeding chariots. Each Sunday all the teams attend the drivers’ meeting where rules are reviewed and discussed.

So why is it that not only are the fans and broadcasters are left struggling to keep up with the nuances of the fabled rulebook, so too are the teams?

Well…it’s a big book.  In days gone by, we more often saw the results of careful study of the storied tome when a crew chief would show up with an artistic interpretation of how a car ought to be made.  Sometimes it slipped through the eagle eye of the inspection bay, and other times it did not.   When a team found a “competitive advantage,” NASCAR would haul all the best teams off to a hardened facility and deconstruct the latest adaptations and make adjustments to the BOOK.

The teams that continued to excel after each iteration of rules adjustments spent tons of time looking for the white space left by very specific rules.

Well, now that the physical shape of the cars is pretty much narrowed down the selection found at a pinewood derby, NASCAR had to start challenging these championship caliber teams with additional nuggets hidden in the sections of the rulebook that has remained fairly static for quite some time.

Each of these confounding incidents over the past few weeks involved exceptions to the rulebook. What is most alarming is that the teams known best for massaging section and line are the ones being tripped up.  Does this mean that Chad Knaus, Jason Ratcliff, and Cole Pearn are lying down on the job?  No, not at all.  It really means that their job is nearly impossible to perfect.

What we should pay attention to is that these snags in the competition are having a significant effect on the championship.  This may be an indication of the grand plan constructed in Daytona behind closed doors. If NASCAR isn’t able to level the playing field between Hendrick, Gibbs, Stewart-Haas, Childress and Roush by pin-pointing the location of bolts, perhaps they could throw a wrench in the day by tinkering with some of the more steadfast rules.

It is certainly making the fans sit up and take notice of action on the track before the final 20 laps.  It gives the broadcasters something to do while they tick off hours between lead changes. It’s…a talking point. It’s also a mystery.

I guess it’s time for all of us to go back to school, because neither Matt Kenseth nor most of NASCAR Nation understands exactly what is happening to our sport anymore. That can’t be a good thing.

SOMETHING SHINY

Somebody is going to the races! Phoenix Raceway announced this week that all their camping spots have been sold for the upcoming race weekend.  Let’s see if we can see those numbers carry through to 2018.

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