Pour me something tall and strong,
Make it a hurricane before I go insane,
There’s only six races left to go, but I don’t care.
Rain at a race track. It’s one of the biggest annoyances for race fans and one of the few that can’t be blamed on NASCAR management. The late Ben Blake once taught me the only thing worse than rain at a race track is rain at a race track with lights because you never knew how late it was going to be before NASCAR got the race started or threw in the (thoroughly sodden) towel. But I recoiled hearing some say that the rain delays caused by Hurricane Nate were “a disaster.” Sorry, but what happened in Texas during Harvey and Florida and the Caribbean during Irma were disasters. This weekend’s weather woes were just a pain in the ass.
When did our sport devolve to the point that drivers whose cars can’t clear pre-race inspection after a certain amount of tries got sent for a time out? It was ludicrous to watch Joey Logano have to sit on pit road at Dover in his car watching everyone else practice, like a bad little boy forced to watch his classmates enjoy recess. My guess is the only reason he wasn’t wearing a dunce hat (helmet?) was because it wouldn’t fit in the car.
I’ve got no problem with penalizing drivers and teams for infractions in pre-race inspection as it might in fact impede their efforts that weekend but the whole sitting in the car thing is over the top. Perhaps next time a NASCAR official opens pit road with an ambulance parked at the entrance he can be forced to go sit on a stool in the corner? Let’s face it, most of today’s drivers wouldn’t know how to alter the suspension settings of their cars if you gave them a full Snap-On roll-away toolkit and trilingual illustrated and typed instructions. So maybe make the crew chief sit in the car for an entire practice session instead?
Have you ever had to deal with that nagging feeling there was something important you had to do but had forgotten. Like, I don’t know, retract the pedestrian steps by the start / finish line that allow folks to crossover to the infield? Erik Jones, taking a turn at the wheel of the NBC show car to film a feature segment at Charlotte, claims he never saw that retractable stairwell but he surely heard it when he clipped it at triple digit speeds. Again, NASCAR officialdom’s blindness to the most basic safety precautions is simply stunning in what’s supposed to be a professional sport.
Seriously? As if the ambulance on pit road and the stairwell incident weren’t enough to finish the blooper reel, Saturday night’s XFINITY race featured yet another one of those RUFKM! moments. Beneath the flagman’s stand there’s a digital display board. When NASCAR issues a penalty to a driver his car number is illuminated on that sign. If the driver refuses to respond to that penalty the board is then used to warn him that NASCAR will stop scoring him until he complies. Only during Saturday night’s race, that digital display board was way below the flagman’s tower…as in it was lying in the middle of the race track during what NBC was madly hyping away as the Playoff Race to End All Playoff Races.
Fortunately, none of the championship-contending cars hit the board, though Jeremy Clements said he hit some of the resultant debris and cut down a tire. Had someone smashed that board and ended their race with a broken radiator or oil cooler, how would NASCAR have addressed the situation? Fortunately we didn’t have to find out…this time.
I think most of us can agree ambulances blocking pit road and digital display boards on the track are a bad thing, but sometimes it comes down to judgement calls. Still someone is going to have to explain to me how Michael Annett’s smoky late race spin in traffic during Saturday night’s race didn’t warrant a caution, but Kyle Busch’s spin on lap 280 (not the ones on lap 327 or 137) bought out the yellow instantly. One more time folks. It is NASCAR’s job to officiate races, not orchestrate them.
Related to the above; in addition to being consistent, NASCAR must also be transparent. Yes, social media went up in a conflagration Sunday evening when the No. 48 team was allowed to tighten lug nuts outside their pit box with no penalty. Obviously part of the furor was because Jimmie Johnson, a seven-time champion some fans haven’t warmed to, was involved. If Johnson were to walk across a swimming pool those fans would claim he’s too lazy to swim.
Johnson entered the pits fourth, but there was some sort of issue on the left front tire of the No. 48 car. When the jack dropped Johnson dumped the clutch only to be told by crew chief Chad Knaus to stop. He initially started reversing but stopped with the nose of his car well outside the team’s pit box at which point the lugs were tightened.
Knaus claimed that as recently as the New Hampshire race last month he was told that it was OK to tighten lug nuts outside the pit box. (Apparently Knaus is the only crew chief NASCAR decided to clue in on the new “rule.”) NASCAR said it comes down to a matter of safety. They’d rather have the team tighten the lug nuts outside their pit box than potentially have a wheel coming off. The new “rule” apparently reads that the lug nuts have to be tightened “in the vicinity of” the team’s pit stall. “In the vicinity of” is one of those nebulous measurements like “a moment” or a “pubie.”
The fact remains to tighten the lug nuts outside a team’s pit stall a crew member has to drag an impact gun out of the pit box which I’d say qualifies as “removing equipment from the pit box,” something we’ve all seen drivers penalized for time after time over the decades. If the change is in fact related to safety is it also now acceptable for a driver to stop outside his box to have the gasman remove a fuel can that exited the pit attached to the car? I mean having that fuel can fall off on pit road or worse yet out on the track could leave some bruises.
NASCAR says that the extra time the No. 48 team lost fumbling the ball on that pit stop was penalty enough for the team. Damned gracious of them I’d say. Consistent and transparent, folks. It ain’t hard. My bay window has been doing it for years now.
But, has such a thing ever happened before? Indeed it has. During the 1990 Mello Yello 500 at Charlotte (oddly enough) the late Dale Earnhardt suffered a pit road communication issue during the race. He exited his pit and the two left side tires fell off the car near the exit to pit lane. At that point Earnhardt’s crew, the Flying Aces as they were known, broke every rule in the book running down pit road with jacks and wrenches to repair the stricken No. 3 car rather than wait for a tow truck or flatbed as the rules would have required. (A tow truck and flatbed were dispatched but never used. Earnhardt drove back to the pits.)
It ended up being a bad day for Earnhardt anyway. He finished 25th, 14 laps off the pace. Mark Martin, Earnhardt’s main title rival that year, could have delivered what might have been a knockout blow that day, but the Roush engine under the hood of the No. 6 car dropped a cylinder late in the race and Martin finished 14th, three laps behind the leaders. Still Martin left Charlotte that fall with a 49-point lead over the Intimidator. Two races later that year Earnhardt won at Phoenix while Martin finished 10th. Thus Earnhardt went into the season finale at Atlanta that year with a six-point edge over Martin.
Earnhardt went on to finish third in that race while a comedy of errors for the No. 6 team left Martin 6th. Earnhardt edged the Roush driver by 26 points to claim the 1990 Winston Cup championship. Had the rules been followed at Charlotte there’s no way of saying how things might have ended up.
Speaking of the NXS elimination round at Charlotte, oddly enough the same eight drivers who entered the race in position to advance to the next round ended the night still holding one of those “coveted” eight spots. But then there’s those “valuable” five bonus points for the race winner, only Alex Bowman isn’t competing for the title so those points did nobody any good at all.
I hate to sound like one of those tinfoil hat types, but I’m not very comfortable with the notion of using facial scanning at stock car events. ISM, the new track title sponsor of Phoenix (an ISC track) says that they won’t be taking pictures of fans but they will use facial scanning devices to track those fans age, race and genders. Such devices are hardly new. The NFL uses facial recognition scanning at the Super Bowl to try to track any known terrorists who might try crashing the party. And nowadays walking down the street or through a mall you’re likely aware there are cameras watching you near constantly. I’m fine as long as those cameras are only used to document crimes and criminals but I’m a whole lot less fine that without my permission my cell phone is recording a record of when I visit a gun shop, liquor store or even Walmart. (They do sell beer and guns at most Walmarts after all even if you’re just in there for flashlight batteries.)
This weekend CMS debuted the new artificial glass (Astroturf?) they’ll need to help create the road course that will replace the Charlotte playoff race on the traditional tri-oval next year. So let me see here. Artificial grass, for an artificial road course to add some artificial excitement to an artificial method of crowning a Cup champion. Got it.
Yet another aside, patient readers, as it’s growing late in the season: remember when “artificial” was a bad thing? Artificial Christmas trees top the list, but then we weren’t blessed with sustainable harvested fair trade conifers. One of the soft drink manufacturers used to market its cola as “the Real Thing.” Yeah, really bad for you, but the real thing none the less. There are still a few things that are undeniably real; the look of a ’70 Mustang Mach One crouched at a traffic light ready to pounce, the sound of Levi Stubbs voice leading the Four Tops, the taste of that first cold beer after the lawn is cut on an August afternoon, Annie McCormack’s eyes, the feel of your favorite pair of jeans fresh out of the dryer, the staccato thunder of a Harley pulling a long grade into the setting sun, the first hint of the scent of the sea rolling down the Garden State Parkway into OC, the opening notes of Racin’ in the Street, the feel of a friends hand on your shoulder when nothing seems to be going right, and the first time that kiss with someone special gets serious. Sorry, I don’t do artificial. Not on Sunday afternoons and not in real life.
Chase Elliott has now finished second six times in the Cup Series, though he is still looking for his first win. Elliott’s dad Bill finished second eight times before managing his breakthrough win at Riverside in 1983. The all-time record for second-place finishes in the Cup series prior to a win is James Hylton’s mark of 12 runner-up results prior to his win at Richmond in 1970. In the modern era (Post 1970) that record for futility was set by Harry Gant with 10 second-place finishes before his win at Darlington in 1983. More recently Kasey Kahne was runner-up six times before he won at Richmond in 2005. In 2015 Kevin Harvick finished second 13 times (and won two races). He also finished second in the points that year.
The inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959 was run without a single caution flag. That wasn’t the case in 1960. Though the caution flag flew just four times, a large portion of the field of 68 starters either wrecked or blew up with just 38 cars listed as finishing the race. Add the carnage in the two qualifier races and practice sessions and there was a lot of torn up race cars that week. In fact NASCAR had to postpone the next two races on the schedule just to make sure they had enough entries to have full fields. So why am I bringing this up? The Truck Series has been having enough trouble filling fields for their races and the truckers will be racing at Talladega this week. We’ll see which teams are still able to show up at Martinsville.
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.