1. NASCAR announced heavy penalties for Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 teams this week, including a 35-point deduction and a three-week suspension for crew chief Paul Wolfe, after the car failed post-race weights and measures at Phoenix International Raceway. The No. 4 team of Kevin Harvick also got hit with a one-race suspension for crew chief Rodney Childers and a 10-point deduction after an illegal track bar assembly Do the punishments fit the crimes, and does the No. 2 team’s argument that it passed preface inspection hold water?
Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: The punishments fit the crimes, and at this point in the season they make the most sense. NASCAR is setting a precedent early on with what it’s willing to tolerate and what will not be overlooked. It’s best that the teams learn now rather than at Richmond International Raceway in September or Charlotte Motor Speedway come October during the playoffs. Brad Keselowski‘s biggest setback is losing his crew chief Paul Wolfe for two races that also appear in the playoffs, Martinsville Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway. The points fine is essentially irrelevant since he already won a race this year at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The fact that the No. 2 passed pre-race inspection just shows how close to the tolerances that teams are pushing and how much can change on a car during the course of three hours.
Michael Massie, Staff Writer: I’ve heard the saying, “If you cheat, then you’re supposed to beat,” which basically means that it looks ridiculous when someone breaks the rules and still fails to win. Keselowski and Kevin Harvick finished fifth and sixth at Phoenix, respectively. Good finishes, but they were nowhere near dominant. I think these penalties should be performance based. If either driver went out and lapped the field, then a severe penalty should be given. The fact that both teams struggled to get top 10s says that it did not give them a huge competitive advantage, so the penalty should only be a slap on the wrist. The fact that the cars passed pre-race inspection does hold merit. Smokey Yunich is considered to be one of the NASCAR legends because he was a genius at exploring the gray area. If a team can cheat, and NASCAR cannot prove how, then they deserve credit.
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: If NASCAR is going to be stringent about inspections and assessing penalties, it has to be thorough and consistent. A failed inspection — either pre-race or post-race — is precisely that, a failed inspection. Violate the rule book and get caught, expect some form of punishment. As long as penalties and punishments are doled out consistently to those who decide to bend the rules too much, all will be good in the racing world. Post-race inspection failures seem like they’re after the fact, but teams know the rules before they take the green flag. Adjust accordingly before the event to allow for tolerance constraints.
Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: I think they’re fair, and, like the lugnut penalties, in line with what NASCAR said it was going to do. It doesn’t matter how far the car was out; NASCAR builds in a tolerance already, so if it’s over, it’s over. I like that NASCAR is taking steps to keep teams honest; if a team can prove that something broke or that the issue was due to crash damage or contact, then NASCAR needs to be lenient, but otherwise, “it passed before the race” doesn’t fly with me. There are plenty of ways to adjust a car beyond the tolerances during the race, so if teams don’t want to get in trouble, they need to be conservative enough in the race that that they are within the rules after the race.
2. NASCAR will run restrictor plates on the XFINITY Series cars at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this summer in an attempt to close up the field. Will it work, and if not, what might?
Howell: Running restrictor plates on the XFINITY cars at Indianapolis seems like too little, too late. The elephant in the garage is the fact the IMS is simply not conducive to good stock car racing. If NASCAR wants to provide a better XFINITY race, the sanctioning body should move the cars back to Lucas Oil Raceway.
Bryan Gable, Staff Writer: I doubt it will work. The problem is that to create true pack racing, you need sustained high speeds. Indy is not like Daytona International Speedway, where you can slap a restrictor plate on a car and run wide open all the way around. Indy is flat and requires high braking in the corners, which is going to throw off the effects of the draft. If anything, passing will be harder because everyone will be running close to the same speed. Unfortunately for NASCAR, there is only one track in Indianapolis that can consistently put on a good stock car race, and that track is Lucas Oil Raceway.
Henderson: I don’t think they tested it with enough cars to really know. They had a couple of teams at the test, and the aerodynamics of 40 cars is not the same as the aero of a handful of them. I worry that while might bunch the field up, there won’t be much passing. The high-drag Cup package a couple years ago produced a terrible race, and this just feels like another incarnation of that. I hope I’m wrong, but this has the feel of a desperation move that just won’t cut it, especially compared to the stellar show NXS used to put on at LOR.
Pugliese: I don’t think it will for the simple reason that Indianapolis is a one-groove racetrack. What they’ve created is an IROC race from the late 1990s, which got just as strung out as any other stockcar race here. Unless they’re going slow enough in the corners where they can make a second groove, it’s not going to have the desired effect. It might work at a track like Michigan International Speedway or Auto Club Speedway that is banked with multiple grooves, but the Brickyard is becoming a bit of a also-ran event on the schedule with the type of racing it has been producing. A valiant effort in trying to make something here work, but using the infield road course might end up being the best idea of them all.
3. Austin Dillon was not penalized this week after intentionally wrecking Cole Custer on Saturday during the XFINITY race at Phoenix. Dillon was parked for the remainder of that race, but not for Sunday’s Cup race. Was this the right call, or should NASCAR have benched Dillon on Sunday? Is the sanctioning body setting the stage for more retaliatory incidents by not reacting to Dillon’s actions?
Henderson: Yes and yes. Take what I said about praising NASCAR for consistency above and throw it out the window on this. Kyle Busch was parked for what, to some, was the exact same infraction: a Cup interloper wrecking out a series regular. While this crash was at lower speed and less severe in the end, the next time might not be, and there will be a next time because NASCAR has basically told everybody it’s OK. It kind of gives fans the impression of the spoiled, entitled next generation of racer doing what they want with zero consequences. Dillon and his brother already have that reputation to some extent, and it’s not a good look.
Pugliese: The incident with Austin Dillon was quite over blown. He barely made contact with Cole Custer and was away from the field and any safety vehicles. I don’t think he should have done it simply because he’s a visitor and competes in a higher-tier series, and it was a legitimate accident for which Custer took responsibility. But to think it was a malicious, violent act is a being a bit precious.
Massie: Dillon retaliated the right way. He touched Custer just enough to let him know he did not like the way he raced him. More importantly, Dillon did it under caution, which meant that the speeds were significantly reduced and the move was less dangerous. His move was nothing compared to Jeff Gordon’s intentional wrecking of Clint Bowyer under green flag at Phoenix in 2012 that took out several cars. Gordon’s move was way worse and he received a slap on the wrist, so the fact that Dillon only got a lecture from NASCAR is right on point.
Gable: It was not very smart on Dillon’s part to go after Custer for what was obviously an accident, but the calls to have him face a penalty over such minor retaliation are unfounded. Since when did bumping someone under caution become the crime of the century? This is stock car racing; people are going to lose their tempers and retaliate. Furthermore, NASCAR’s parking of Dillon came off as rather stupid, considering Dillon’s crew could not have repaired his car in five minutes anyway.
4. Ryan Newman snapped a nearly four-year winless drought last weekend in Phoenix. Other drivers suffering a win drought of more than 100 races include Paul Menard, Trevor Bayne, Clint Bowyer, Jamie McMurray and David Ragan. Which of these drivers will be the next to snap his dubious streak?
Massie: Clint Bowyer is an eight-time winner and has finished in the top five in points three times. He might have been the 2012 champion had Jeff Gordon not intentionally wrecked him at Phoenix. He will win soon and often this season. The only reason he has a winless streak is because of the junk equipment he has been in the past three seasons. Richmond and Talladega Superspeedway are in a couple of weeks, and Bowyer has won twice at both tracks and could likely break the streak at either of them.
Howell: My money is on Bowyer. He seems to be a new man now that he’s driving for Stewart-Haas Racing. You can see it in his attitude and in his interactions with the media. Jamie McMurray would be my second pick, given the early-season momentum of Chip Ganassi Racing. One of these two will find Victory Lane within the next six weeks.
Gable: Bowyer is the best bet to win first. Being in a Stewart-Haas car gives him the best chance he’s had to win a race in years. That said, I have been impressed with the speed of the Ganassi cars early in the season, and it would not shock me if McMurray made a visit to Victory Lane as well.
Henderson: My money’s on McMurray here; he and Chip Ganassi Racing as a whole have looked a touch stronger than the No. 14, which is rebuilding from a dismal couple of years with a new driver in it. They’ll get there, but McMurray is a step closer for now.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.