The wheel is turning and you can’t slow down
You can’t let go and you can’t hold on
You can’t go back and you can’t stand still
If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will
Sometimes, I find my opinions in direct conflict with other NASCAR fans and even scribes. It’s not that I set out to be a contrarian but perhaps I was just born that way. Some folks need alcohol to make them ornery. For me, it just comes naturally.
I can’t claim that I’m 100% correct in the opinions below but I can attest this is exactly how I feel. And we are, in fact, dealing with one irrefutable fact. I’m writing on a deadline.
The Man Behind the Curtain
I was prepared this week to discuss the mini-controversy arising from the finish of last week’s Cup Series Dover race. Once again, the infamous overtime line on the backstretch, which marks the spot where a race is official if the leader makes it that far during an overtime finish caused needless confusion. To sum up, after reviewing all the video I could find, I am convinced that Jimmie Johnson did, in fact, make it past that line prior to the caution flag being displayed and was, in fact, leading at that point. So I think a lot of the controversy has to be attributed to folks who just don’t like seeing Johnson win.
But that finish was badly overshadowed by the controversial ending to the Truck Series race in Texas Friday night. Having once again reviewed every video I could lay hands on, I am 100% convinced NASCAR blew that call and Chase Briscoe won that race.
Let me start by saying I’m extremely happy that Timothy Peters wasn’t hurt in the course of the extremely violent wreck that, in effect, ended the race. It was frightening to watch that truck tumble and slide on its roof.
Anytime there’s a caution that late in the event, it’s bound to cause some confusion. One train of thought is “it can’t be helped.” The other is that the people who are officiating the race should be prepared for such occurrences.
The TV crew calling the race did absolutely nobody any favors. They incorrectly claimed that since Christopher Bell got to the start/finish line first on the last lap of green flag racing he had won. That’s never been the case, at least not as long as I’ve been paying attention. And those same announcers seemed not to notice the race had, in fact, completed its last lap.
To add even more confusion to the mix they then said the red flag had been thrown, which happened after the race was officially over. On most laps, the running order reverts to the last timing/scoring loop but on the last lap, they use whatever video or other evidence they can find (including but not limited to the TV film. Remember, there are more cameras focused on the race than just the one the producer chose to show at the time.)
FS1 showed footage shot from the rear of Bell and Briscoe’s trucks showing clearly that Briscoe was ahead by about a foot when the caution lights came on. I assumed Briscoe had won as I’d guess anyone watching on TV or in the grandstands would have assumed as well.
But not so fast! NASCAR said that the moment of caution was not the moment those strips in the TMS catch-fence illuminated. Those aren’t official at all, despite the fact they’re the most visible and irrefutable visual evidence a fan at the track or watching at home, not to mention the drivers circling the track at high speeds, get that the caution flag is out. Ignore those silly yellow strip lights. They’re just something track GM Eddie Gossage decided to add to the facility because he hates money.
A caution period actually begins when a NASCAR official out of sight in the control tower pushes a button to signal the caution with what amounts to the Fickle Finger of Fate. Note that doesn’t mean when the official yellow lights illuminate. It’s when the button is pressed. How many milliseconds of delay that involves I can’t tell you. As for those lights on the catchfence, there may be some further delay still. Like when I hit the switch entering my bedroom, the lamp comes on either before or after the lights recessed in the ceiling. It just both illuminate so fast no human eye could record the difference.
So if it was the Magic Finger in the booth pulling the trigger, not the yellow lights illuminating at the track that signaled the caution. How are we to know that Bell was ahead of Briscoe at that moment? Well, it’s simple. NASCAR released a photo with a time stamp in one corner (but zero evidence the caution lights were on) showing Bell was ahead. Though the time stamp is worthless without the lights being illuminated. So how do we know Bell won? Because NASCAR said so. And they wouldn’t lie to us, right? (I just blew a mouthful of Coke out my nose laughing even as I typed that.) Ignore the man behind the curtain! The Great and Powerful NASCAR knows who won.
This rule (and ruling) is too ridiculous to last even until next weekend. The rule clearly should be that the moment the yellow caution lights illuminate the caution period has begun and the field is frozen whether it’s the during the event or on the last lap. Dial up the video that shows the cars in question as the yellow light comes on. The TV network involved and fans watching the race can confirm NASCAR’s call independently. I’ve never been much on Wizards operating behind curtains.
The unsavory and unsatisfying finish leads to another inescapable conclusion. The “overtime line” needs to go the way of the infamous portable fence they once used in Victory Lane to keep drivers off the roofs of their cars. Fans in the stands are paying a lot of money to see a race. Simply put, like in some other racing series, the new rule should state that all races will end under green. No more confusion! The sole exception to that rule would be Talladega and Daytona, the plate tracks. If a race at either of those places went the scheduled distance and ended under caution, that’s OK with me. Why? Have a glimpse at the video below to show what happened at Talladega when they decided to stage a one lap shootout. If you ask the lion tamer to stick his head in the beast’s mouth all day long, don’t ask him to tickle the lion’s nuts at the end of the show as well.
Last week two drivers, Kyle Busch in the Cup event and Chase Briscoe in the Truck race, each lost a tire and wheel assembly while out on the racetrack. Both teams were dealt draconian penalties for those infractions; the loss of their crew chief and the involved tire carriers and changers for four weeks. That is a bit harsh. It’s also exactly what the rulebook says happens to those found guilty of such a violation. NASCAR actually adhering to its own rulebook? Can I get a hallelujah, Brothers and Sisters? Yes, it’s happened before, but Haley’s Comet has blown past the earth before and it’s still not an everyday occurrence.
Some folks admitted that danged rule really painted NASCAR in a box, but many added that the sanctioning body should look at the “intent of the rule” and perhaps rescind and soften the penalties handed out or change that rule for next year. In this case, said pundits claimed the wheels fell off because of human error. It wasn’t intentional on the teams’ parts. My guess is a wheel has never fallen off a race car intentionally. These folks claim the rule was originally intended to penalize teams that only installed two or three lug nuts on a late stop to get a competitive advantage. It wasn’t meant to penalize anyone just for being a chucklehead.
Hmmm. My guess is that the rule was originally intended to try to keep there from being loose wheels rolling around out there on the race track. If you’ve ever lifted a NASCAR approved wheel assembly or even if you’ve changed a flat tire on your daily driver, you’re aware they weigh a whole bunch. When a wheel assembly rolls out onto the track, it could easily be hit by another race car at full speed and launched who knows where. If it’s launched into the grandstands, the results can be disastrous.
This isn’t some far-out doomsday “what if” prediction. Fans who have been following the sport awhile recall that three spectators were killed and six others injured after a tire flew into the grandstands at Michigan during an IndyCar race. Also, back in 1999 at an IndyCar race at Charlotte a wheel assembly entered the grandstands killing three people and injuring eight others, some of them seriously.
If you’ve been following racing a really long time, you’ll recall that the AMA (Automobile Manufacturers of America) boycott of automobile racing in the mid-50s came about not only due to the tragedy at LeMans but when a young boy was killed at a NASCAR event after being hit by a flying tire. Even before that (1931), an 11-year-old lad, Wilbur Brinks, was playing in his own backyard down the street from Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A tire torn free from a car involved in a wreck bounced a few times and then hit young Brinks in the head, killing him instantly.
There have been more recent instances of tire and wheels hopping the fence at NASCAR races but going into the infield rather than the stands. In the most memorable instance I can recall lately (and perhaps one of you can refresh my memory where and when) the tire hit a pickup truck hood. At the same time, on top of that truck a bunch of good old boys enjoying the race and a few beers cheered heartily when they were shown on TV. They went and got the tire/wheel assembly as a souvenir and seemed unphased by the damage to the truck.
Had that tire bounced differently, those people might not have just been phased…they might have been dead.
So, regardless of intent, let’s keep that rule in place and enforce it evenly. It’s not a balls and strikes call. The tire either came off the car or it didn’t. Yes, a wheel can get knocked off in a hard wreck, but all five wheel studs had better be shorn clear off if that’s a team defense. If the intent of the rule is to help ensure that all race fans attending an event go home safely afterwards, I think we’re all in agreement that’s a noble goal.
Climb Every Mountain
Last week, some imbecile at Dover thought perhaps he’d get a better view of the race if he just went ahead and scaled the catchfence separating the track from the grandstands. He was told firmly to get his fool ass down from there and then compounded his problems by resisting arrest.
Some fans and writers wanted to know why the incident wasn’t shown or at least mentioned on TV. They also wanted to know why NASCAR didn’t instantly throw a caution when the moron went up the fence. I’ll tell you why. Cause some folks are just damned stupid.
I’m not sure what the attraction is to being on TV, but it turns some people into idiots. Even while the local news reporter is informing Action News viewers that a family of seven and their warm fuzzy puppy all perished in an overnight fire, in the background you’ll see a bunch of morons doing jumping jacks, dancing in the street and yes, eventually mouthing “Hi Mom.” At which point, their mom is probably cringing wondering how she ended up parenting such an obnoxious callous jerk.
So if FOX had indeed aired the film showing that astrophysicist scaling the fence at Dover, my guess is this week at Pocono there’d be at least a dozen fans lined up and waiting to scale the fence to get on TV. It’d soon be an every week thing screwing up all the races. That’d happen even if the slubberdegullion’s five minutes of fame was followed by a note they’d been arrested on felony charges for risking a catastrophe.
So why wasn’t a caution flag thrown? For the same reason. Let’s say that a fan’s favorite driver is badly in need of a caution to get his lap back, make a pit stop or yes, even win a race. Loyal fans of that driver knowing they could bring their hero that much needed caution flag would head for the fences. Which, of course, might cause the fans who favor another driver to try to make things right by seeing to it their boy got the caution he needed to the detriment of the first driver who a fan “helped out.”
I don’t know about you but I don’t want to sit through a race constantly interrupted by unnecessary cautions over and above the ones for the end of stages and invisible bits of debris NASCAR calls already. So what if one of those fence-climbers were, in fact, to fall onto the track while officials withheld the caution? As is I see it, once you’re on the wrong side of that fence, my friend, you’re in play. Whatever awful thing happens to you is your own dang fault and the human gene pool will be better off for your demise.
Back in 1991, a fan (in this instance from the infield) did, in fact, decide to take a stroll on the racetrack during the race. By his own admission, this would-be organ donor had been drinking since before dawn and his buddies bet him he couldn’t dash across the track, touch the outside wall, and come back. So he decided to try.
Race leaders Donnie Allison and Kyle Petty were stunned to see the drunken imbecile out there in the middle of the track as they bore down on him at close to 160 miles per hour. They managed to swerve to avoid him and the dude suddenly found himself incentivized to move a great deal faster. He finished crossing the track and dove over the outside wall, apparently having thought better of trying to return across the track as his last two functioning brain cells died in one another’s tight embrace in a lake of beer.
The congenital idiot’s day just kept getting better. He headed off into the woods that surround the Pocono track and got his dumb ass lost. Out of beer and wishing to be rescued, he went Boy Scout and built a signal fire to summon help. That accidentally started the woods on fire, of course, though for his effort he was in fact rescued by some very unhappy police officers who hauled him to jail to end the merriment.
Believe it or not, I still think that guy was only the second stupidest “fan” to ever attend a race. In 1986, an inebriated fan decided to steal a car. The car as it turns out was the pace car for that day’s event and it was parked on pit road. How exactly this brain surgeon thought he was going to outrun the police on an oval racetrack defies common sense. Watch the story play out if you wish but kids don’t try this at home… or at the local speedway.
DW, Part Deux
Yep, the headlines this week involved young Darrell Wallace Jr., who goes by the nickname “Bubba,” though I am uncomfortable referring to him as such. Either way, Wallace got his first chance at driving a Cup car filling in for Aric Almirola, who is still mending after his savage wreck in Kansas. Wallace, as most of you know, is black. And he’s black in a sport that is almost exclusively white and which some folks still think is totally “redneck” because of its Southern roots.
I’m glad Wallace is getting this chance and wish him well. If it brings some new fans into the grandstands, well there’s plenty of room now, ain’t there? And if it starts some young black men and women thinking about their own possible careers in the sport, be it as a driver, an owner, a pit crew member or a new writer (don’t do it kid!) well, then that’s a good thing.
But racing is, and always has been, a performance game. Once fully suited up in their fireproof armor it’s hard to tell if a driver is black or white, or even female or male. The checkered flag is black and white. You start collecting those flags regularly enough and your career will be just fine. (Unless you act like Kyle Busch off the track.)
I think there’s another story being overlooked here though. Until this weekend, Wallace competed in the XFINITY Series in a Roush-owned Mustang. He’s currently fourth in the standings in that division. But the team has announced that outfit will no longer compete unless sponsorship can be found.
Wait a second. When a car owned by a longtime owner like Jack Roush, sitting fourth in the points, with a personable and highly visible driver heavily involved with social media can’t find sponsorship to meet the costs or running the schedule what hope do the smaller or new teams have?
So what’s going on?
- We’re now seeing the tip of the iceberg. Like the Cup Series, NXS is facing declining TV ratings and dwindling attendance. A lot of sponsors are leaving the series or are disinclined to get involved as a result.
- The cost of running competitively even in NXS has gotten totally out of hand and that issue needs to be addressed short term, not long term. As always, those NXS teams with close ties to Cup outfits have an unfair advantage in what they can afford to spend, bringing in a seasoned pit crew to the companion races while levaraging help from the automakers. You can’t outdrive them until you outspend them.
- Cup drivers (a few in particular) keep entering NXS races, stealing the wins and top finishing positions. Fans are tired of seeing the same moonlighters win and for a potential sponsor, why bother backing a guy who’s among the top series regulars week in and week out (like Wallace) when a Cup driver is going to get all the TV time and the accolades in Victory Lane? “Best in class” isn’t going to sell a lot of ice cream. My guess is that had the Cup regulars been removed from the NXS series five years ago by now a driver like Wallace would have some wins to solidify his racing resume as he moves up to Cup.
Keep in mind that once Almirola heals and returns to racing, Wallace is out a ride. He has no NXS team to fall back on anymore barring an unexpected development.
Pointy-Headed Little Devil
OK, so the entire Pocono event Sunday may not have ranked as an instant classic but you’d be hard-pressed to cite a better final 15 laps in a Cup Series race this season. Congratulations to Ryan Blaney for his first career Cup win. (Blaney joins Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as first time Cup winners this season.)
But once again, a look at the points awarded after the race leaves one wondering if the local convenience store is spiking their coffee with LSD. Blaney got 40 points for winning the race. (Plus five playoff points, but let’s not go there. I don’t want to have to explain to so many of you what those are yet again. Magic fairy dust, OK?) Second place Kevin Harvick got 51 points Sunday, the most of any driver in the event. Third place Erik Jones got 39 points, 1 less than Blaney. Five other drivers got as many or more points than the race winner including ninth place Kyle Busch, who got 47. This result, my friends, is simply insane. Go ask Alice, because I bet she’ll be baffled too.
It’s My Job To Be Cleaning Up This Mess
You know it could be worse, folks. You could still be in middle or high school and facing final exams this week even while temperatures outside turned the classrooms into E-Z-Bake ovens. Remember those old “compare and contrast” questions on the exams that made you want to throw yourself out a window? Well, let’s compare and contrast Danica Patrick and Fernando Alonso this weekend.
After a decent run that actually saw him in a points-paying position, Alonso’s efforts in the Canadian Grand Prix came once again to naught thanks to yet another expired Honda powerplant. Alonso has been pretty vocal in complaining about the current sad state of affairs that has seen McLaren/Honda fail to score a single championship point to date this year. Suffice it to say, I very much doubt Fernando was in the best of moods as he climbed out of his inoperative race car.
Last month, Alonso had also decided to sit out the Grand Prix of Monaco to race in the Indy 500. He had a fine run going there as well before…well, umm….his Honda powerplant went belly up. While at Indy, Alonso found American race fans are very different than F1 fans. They expect a certain degree of access to the drivers, something almost unheard of on the F1 circuit. And Alonso must have found the requirement to interact with the fans and get treated like a rock star agreeable. He stunned those in the grandstands after his McLaren failed Sunday by going up into the crowd to shake hands and sign a few autographs. The race commentators sounded like their heads were in imminent danger of exploding.
Meanwhile, Ms. Patrick was not in the best of moods. A fan in an off limits area apparently sought either an autograph or a few seconds of her precious time. When she blew him off, Patrick was loudly booed by those watching the encounter from the other side of the fence. Rather than scurrying off like a vermin, Patrick took the opportunity to remonstrate those gathered before her. She reminded those unwashed masses that her job isn’t to sign autographs. It’s to drive race cars and communicate effectively with her crew chief in an attempt to make her car better.
It’s notable that Ms. Patrick has done those jobs poorly during her five-year sojourn into Cup racing. And in her comments, Patrick seemingly overlooked one of the unspoken but real facets of the job of Cup driver. You need a big dollar sponsor to fund the effort and that’s especially difficult when the stats you’re posting on track are somewhat less than stellar, to be kind about it. On a brighter note, next year likely Patrick will find she is no longer employed to drive a race car or communicate with a crew chief. Then, she can just tell people she doesn’t want to sign autographs because she’s a b…unpleasant person. Problem solved.
Our second compare and contrast exercise involves Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch, neither of whom won Sunday at Pocono but both of whom almost did. It looked like a battle between the duo when they restarted the race on the front row with little over a handful of laps left to run. (Though to be fair, laps are 2.5 miles long at Pocono.) Kyle Busch had been leading much of the race and his team elected to leave him out there during the caution period, gambling on track position being worth more than fresh rubber.
Keselowski had pitted the lap before that caution flag flew so he had fresh rubber and plenty of gas to make the finish. What he didn’t have was a very good restart. He began charging backwards through the pack as soon as the green flag dropped. Busch took the lead and blocked viciously side to side as Ryan Blaney tried to find a way around him, at one point nearly sending the No. 21 into the grass. Blaney eventually blew past Busch, who then began falling back in the field as well, having apparently licked all the red off his candy in the spirited duel with the sophomore driver. It’s my guess that neither Busch nor Keselowski was hollering “hooray for me!” when the checkered flag flew.
Because he finished ninth, Busch was off the hook for required media appearances, so we were spared another tantrum like he threw in the press box at Charlotte. Whether Busch declined an invite to do a post-race interview or if FOX wisely chose to avoid him, I can’t tell.
Meanwhile, Keselowski went with a different tack. Though doubtlessly disappointed, Keselowski himself conducted the Victory Lane interview with Blaney, congratulating his young rival on a fine result and a first career victory. (The previous day, Blaney had done the Victory Lane interview with Keselowski after the NXS race as part of FOX’s All-Driver coverage which ironically showed just how badly old DW (who has won one less race than Bobby Allison) screws up race broadcasts.
The ability to conduct oneself with class and good humor in defeat is one of the notable attributes of great athletes. Ironically, it helped Keselowski sell some soda pop…err, beer of sorts. He managed to keep his sponsors logo on this driver’s uniform and cap clearly in focus while he filled in doing the interview. Well done.
About the author
Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.
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