What to do, what to do? One of the things that Bill France decried when shepherding the sport of NASCAR was that the fans should walk away knowing who won the race. Apparently that meant that the fans knowing something equated to cementing the results and tinkering with infractions later.
Matt Kenseth failing laser inspection after the race at New Hampshire last weekend brings into focus a rule that has seemingly become archaic. The tolerances for Kenseth’s car may have been off by miniscule amounts and may have had little to do with the outcome. That’s quite possible. Considering that Kenseth’s car had passed all pre-race scrutinizing, this instance may seem like one where the rule breaking and likely penalty of losing 15 points is enough.
However, this instance does raise the question of just what it would take to be stripped of a win.
In NASCAR, the answer may be that tinkering with the engine or fuel would be where the line is crossed, but up until that point, the name in the record books will stand. That seems peculiar but it is what it is.
Perhaps the better question to ask is what the fans would rather see. Would they rather see a driver take the checkers, celebrate and go home with that image, only later to find out that the win wasn’t quite justified but still stands? Or would they rather see the organization perform in a just manner?
While the two racing series have little in common, Formula 1 stands by taking away a win. In 2008, Lewis Hamilton won the Belgian Grand Prix only to be stripped of the win later. He had been found to bypass a chicane and gain advantage over another driver and suffered a 25-second penalty, which dropped him from first to third. Felipe Massa, who was not the driver Hamilton passed, moved up to first with Hamilton’s penalty. That was only eight years ago, not a tale told from some wizened bearded person in a tower somewhere.
Things aren’t the same any more and the reaction from Kenseth’s car failing has been slanted toward the negative side. Right now, the system favors cheating and taking the proverbial slap on the wrist but perhaps if NASCAR is willing to start taking away wins, there’ll be less incentive while also calming some fan angst.
This aspect is a difficult one of the sport to figure out.
Happiness Is… Sitting Out. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is doing the smart thing by taking care of himself and sitting out a second race this weekend as NASCAR heads to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Brickyard 400. Many an article proclaimed the same thing when get got out of the car last weekend at New Hampshire. If you’re a fan of his and hope that he may return to the track in the future, making such a move is the right one.
For NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports, however, Junior’s absence is one that will be supplanted by some of the biggest hype this year since Daytona. As the sport heads to a track where attendance has lagged and the ratings have dipped, having the retired Jeff Gordon take over the wheel of the No. 88, should provide a certain spike. Even the casual fans who may have one eye away from the sport will be likely to turn the race on at some point. The national headlines following the story surely won’t hurt anything either.
As for Hendrick Motorsports, all eyes will be on them, which probably means moving product. While the official car collector car will still likely have Junior’s name above the door, any collector will know that for this week, it was Gordon behind the wheel. And talk about coming to a weird sense of a circle, with the late Earnhardt’s chief rival in the 1990s now taking over for his son for a couple races? Wow. The big question will be whether Gordon can show some of the skill that made him a five-time winner at the track. Perhaps being away from the week-to-week grind will prove a benefit after knocking off some rust.
Happiness Is… Time. One of the more silly aspects of NASCAR (and yes, there are many, but this column isn’t called Silliness Is, perhaps next year) is the way that pit road speed is determined. For all the technological aspects that have been incorporated in broadcasting the sport, such as showing speed, RPMs, braking, etc etc, the governing body has still not put together a solid way of clocking and enforcing pit road speeding. Using timing lines and the old distance over time equation allows for determining an average speed but not spikes in speed – which is where everyone should be concerned regarding pit road safety.
The fact that the governing body advertises where the timing lines are is just another one of its idiotic decisions if they’re really looking to curb speeding. After Martin Truex, Jr. endured a pit road infraction by toying with the boundaries of the timing lines and passed the leader on pit road, NASCAR is FINALLY getting wiser and adding more timing lines. That’s still not a great fix but it does indicate that they’re looking for a better way to keep things in check when the drivers are in that area. The organization even let it slip that they’re looking into using the GPS data to keep track of speeding on pit lane, which would get rid of the whole timing line nonsense, though it’s in beta testing. But it sounds like it’s time.
Happiness Is… Backing. While not of much concern to NASCAR fans, this bit is good for all of motorsports, especially as NASCAR seeks to sell the naming rights to the Cup series. In Formula 1, Sauber Motorsport has been struggling financially. Since BMW left backing the team and F1 in 2009, the team has been doing its best to get by. There’s good news that indicates companies are still willing to invest in motorsports, as Longbow Finance has taken over the team ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix this weekend. This move should be a sigh of relief for the team as they have, at times this season, had difficulty paying their personnel. The team and team name is now secure for the immediate future.