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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

Did You Notice?: A Battle For NASCAR Control

Did You Notice? … NASCAR and its teams are facing a showdown over pre- and post-race inspection? There’s been a continual back-and-forth this season between inspectors and teams; time and again, we’ve seen cars forced to start at the rear of the field after failing to get cleared in time for qualifying. There’s also been issues in pre-race inspection, most notably at Dover when Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman got sent to the rear.

Now, there’s a clear pattern in terms of post-race inspection problems. Take a look at the list of drivers docked for rear window violations this season.

2018 REAR WINDOW PENALTIES

MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES

Kevin HarvickLas Vegas, 20 driver/owner points deducted

Chase ElliottTexas, 20 driver/owner points deducted

Daniel SuarezDover, 20 driver/owner points deducted

Clint BowyerDover, 20 driver/owner points deducted

Kyle LarsonKansas, 20 driver/owner points deducted

Among those represented on that list: four major NASCAR multi-car teams, all three manufacturers and four drivers currently in playoff position. The problem is widespread in the latest quest for teams to find a gray area; the violations remind me of the rear skew we saw a few years back that had everyone driving crooked until NASCAR put the hammer down. Among those teams affected in the process were powerhouses Team Penske and Hendrick Motorsports.

The issues have gotten widespread enough NASCAR Vice President Scott Miller took to the airwaves to send a warning shot. Miller claimed on SIRIUS XM Radio Tuesday night the next car to be penalized would get a 40-point hit to their total along with a three-race car chief suspension. It’s almost a full race’s worth of points, the type of consequences which should leave teams quaking in their boots.

But are they?

More than at any time I’ve seen, race teams and owners are speaking up against NASCAR penalties and procedures. People appear upset over the nitpicking surrounding inspection, a lagging business model in the wake of disappearing sponsorship and pit road adjustments like the new NASCAR-issued air guns. Officiating calls from missing lug nut penalties to tire violations are seemingly getting questioned every week.

20 years ago, this type of mutiny would be quelled by old NASCAR head honcho Bill France Jr. walking into a meeting and putting the hammer down. This sport had the type of benevolent dictatorship where if you didn’t like the way the rules were made, well, there’s a door to your right and some lovely consolation sheet metal to sell on your way out.

But who’s the benevolent dictator now? NASCAR President Brent Dewar, the corporate face becoming more of a presence as a leader in recent years? Vice President Steve O’Donnell? Miller? None of them have the ultimate authority and name value of the Frances, the family who for better or worse has owned this sport since its inception in 1948.

So where is that guy, Brian France, these days? The answer is nowhere to be found amidst a confirmed report the entire sport is up for sale. And when the boss is away, well… everyone else will jostle for power. Owners emboldened by a charter system that guarantees them starting spots and the cold reality no one else wants to take their place are fighting NASCAR’s rules and regulations with increased ferocity. There’s a recognition officials trying to lay the hammer down right now don’t have the same authority. Heck, a potential sale to an unknown buyer could leave their own jobs hanging in the balance.

And a potential sale, after all, won’t be as valuable without any cars on the grid. That leaves owners recognizing their power, looking for their piece of the pie and armed with their own ideas to revitalize the sport. What’s stopping them here from saying, “So what?”

Plus, in the case of drivers like Harvick, a 40-point penalty won’t do much. He’s already guaranteed a spot in the postseason with more playoff points than anyone else on the grid thus far. The only threat packing a serious punch is a six-figure fine, suspensions that take effect during the playoffs or the threat of losing a postseason spot (See: Joey Logano at Richmond last year).

I don’t think NASCAR will go there. But I don’t think teams are backing down on trying to gain an edge with this rigid package, either. So who will bluff first?

For the first time in seemingly forever, it may not be the owners.

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off….

  • NASCAR’s All-Star Race, after three transfers from the Monster Energy Open, will have 20 cars in the starting lineup. There’s an average of 38 drivers on the grid each week so far this season. That means, in the sport’s calculation, 53% of the field is All-Star caliber. Maybe that’s part of the problem here? Jamie McMurray is a great guy but it feels like a stretch for drivers with his stat line to earn an automatic bid. By comparison, an average of 7% of NBA players are considered All-Stars. Less than 10 percent of MLB players make the cut and the numbers are even lower for the NFL.

I understand NASCAR can’t drop that low. You can’t have a race with just the Championship 4, right? But maybe there should be a tighter standard going forward. Unfortunately, gone are the days when 100-110 drivers would attempt at least one race over the course of the season. Just like 16 playoff spots feel like too much… 20-21 is beginning to seem like overkill.

  • The incident between Chase Elliott and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. tells me more about Elliott, regardless of fault. What we do know is Elliott is beyond frustrated with a season that’s been a clear step back. 89 races into his career, there are zero wins and his No. 9 Chevrolet isn’t showing the speed to run up front anytime soon. He’s led only eight laps, is on pace for a career low in lead-lap finishes (seven in 12 races) and has suffered through multiple NASCAR penalties already this season. The sport’s likely new Most Popular Driver is running out of patience for both the new Camaro and his team.
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About Tom Bowles

Tom Bowles
The author of Bowles-Eye View (Mondays) and Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 30 staff members as its majority owner. Based in Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild.

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21 comments

  1. If I am not mistaken, doesn’t a driver have to compete in every race of the season to qualify for a “Chase” spot (without a waiver)? If this is so, then suspend the offender for 1 race, thus making them ineligible for the championship. Look at what the encumbered finish did to Logano…

  2. The one consistent comment I see that is correct, and I have inspected Cup cars a few times, is the rules are too strict. No one can look for that little edge over the competition. I liked the days when Bill France’s (Sr. or Jr.) answer to someone complaining about an aero advantage would say, “Don’t come to me complaining, call Detroit.” In other words, we ain’t gonna do your work for ya! The car bodies still had to be stock, and NASCAR did name models that were legal, but if there was another one that fit the measurement parameters , it also was legal, unless it was deemed that it shouldn’t be. Like the “Gray Ghost” LeMans, Harry Ranier brought for Buddy Baker. That car, and anymore like it, if it wasn’t brought back to the competition, would have caused a massive change to a 43car field of expensive to change over Pontiacs.
    Leave them looking like they are, keep the safety in them, max. 358 with the spec EFI. THEN give them minimums and maximums to work with, and go racing. Adjust for safety, including concerning how the car drives, and for unexpected “jack rabbits”.

  3. Thought this was about a battle for control of the inspection process, but obviously I was wrong.

    Seems that the teams are embarked on a game of spy vs spy. One where they see who can go just a little bit beyond further than the competition whether its legal or not, daring nascar to do something drastic to rein them in. The funny part is that its a futile game with no end to it.

    Or, perhaps the RTA is trying to lay down a marker for use in bargaining with whoever buys nascar. Regardless its a bit tiresome.

  4. And the Most Popular Driver is relevant how?

  5. And finally, and then I will let this go. Tom Bowles, do you and your media brethren realize that every time you criticize Chase Elliott, you add several hundred to his vote total – whether it be for the All-Star race or the MPD? His father won 16 MPD’s because the fans loved him and the media hated him. And since most people hate the media, the old proverb applies: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

  6. Chase Elliott should be planning his exit strategy from the black hole that is HMS NOW! His car is slow, his crew chief is incompetent and his team owner doesn’t give a damn, because all his young drivers have good sponsors. Contracts are made to be broken. And Kurt Busch can’t hang on to his ride forever. If he has to park his car on the backstretch after a bad race, forcing the crew to look for it, now is the time to do it! Kyle Busch has won 40 races since being fired by HMS. Time for Chase to become NASCAR’s new bad boy even if he has to sit out a year to get away from the Fat Felon.

    And yeah, he will win MPD by a landslide, but then should turn it down at the awards ceremony, because the NMPA never honored their commitment to name the award after his father. The rat-faced Blaney will never be anything but runner-up, in spite of Echo’s adoration. And racism will keep Bubba from winning.

    • I have to asked, racism BY WHO will keep Bubba from winning? NASCAR, team owners, drivers, sponsors?

      Personally I think the only thing that keeps any driver from winning is their ability and, more importantly, being on a top tier team. Right now, Bubba will only win as an RPM driver if he backs into a win (weather, fuel mileage, etc) or if he wins a crapshoot Restrictor Plate race because RPM is not even close to being a top tier team.

      I also think NASCAR would love to see Bubba win a race so they could wave him around while they preach how NASCAR is striving for diversity.

      • I was referring to racism in the MPD vote, not on the track. My last paragraph was in response to Echo’s comments about the MPD, nothing more. Read for comprehension.

  7. There are too many rules. NASCAR has taken too many tuning and adjustment tools away from the teams. There is no real room for innovation and NASCAR is far too involved in the designing of the cars. Want fewer penalties? Then tear up the rule book and give the teams an opportunity to design and build race cars instead of spec cars.

    Chase is growing frustrated with his situation. Hendrick has been increasingly struggling for the last 4 years or so. For some reason most pundits seem motivated to ignore the signs of struggle over the last several years at HMS. Roush proves that dominate super-teams are not immune to long term struggle. Firing an experienced race winning driver hasn’t seemed to help much either. Guess maybe he wasn’t the problem.

    • After one week you make that judgement? Kenseth js there mostly to find out why they cars finish as poorly as they do, because they AREN’T CONVINCED it’s the drivers. You’re looking at it backwards.

  8. Simple solution. Car fails inspection twice Park it. Get the back up. If it fails twice you don’t race. That will stop the non-sense immediately.
    The so called All Star race is a farce. Remember when the fans voted Xfinity driver Truex in. He wasn’t even a Cup driver that year. And was Patrick an all star? Do other sports change the format every year? Since it is the same cast of characters we watch every week isn’t every race an all star race? When it was the Winston in the beginning it was special now it is ho-hum.
    Time for Chase Elliott to quit whining. He got the big applause for the Hamlin deal and must have it in his head that this is the way to act every time things don’t go away. Even Larry Mac blasted him this time over the Stenhouse caper. The media is hell bent on making him the most popular driver. All because of his daddy.

    • The media has never been hell bent on favoring the Elliotts. Bill was openly criticized by the media for blowing them off when he was busy working on his car, in the day of “working drivers,” as opposed to the celebrity chauffeurs we have today. In fact, press hostility probably contributed to Elliott’s popularity. Certainly, Chase has inherited most of his dad’s fans, but look at his social media, and you will see it is dominated by young swooning females, not old farts who pay attention to the media. And most of his voting public don’t even know who Larry Mac is. But they do know Chase is way cuter than Ricky Stenhouse or Ryan Blaney.

      • Funny thing is that if the fans who voted for Bill Elliott, really saw him away from “his fans”, half of them wouldn’t even have voted for him. Nice to the people he could make money from in kitchk and swag. Ignored the fan who wasn’t covered in his garb because he didn’t make anything off of him. At least that’s how it appeared to me, when the times my wife tried to get him to autograph a nice 8×10 we have of him in his car. The first time she tried was Daytona 1991, last time MIS 1995. It’s in my file drawer, still unsigned.

        Dale Jarrett took a year or to to autograph a sports section with a color full width picture of him and Davey Allison finishing side by side for Dale’s first cup win. But his son Jason, got it done for me and sent it back. (BTW in 2001, while at a race working for ARCA I had a heart attack, in Illinois, managed to get back home to Mich. to go to a hospital at home, Jason goes back to NC, then is the only driver or ARCA affiliated person, who called the hospital to see how I was doing. That’s an All-Star to me.)

        • Bill, like most drivers, preferred to do organized autograph sessions rather than fan ambushes. I met him at the Jax Auto Show in 1995. He showed up early, stayed late, was unfailingly courteous and even joked with me about being from Wisconsin. And the vast majority of any driver’s fans never meet him in person. They just find something they can identify with or admire. I have heard horror stories involving all the well-known drivers and how somebody said that somebody else said they were rude and arrogant. I don’t expect drivers who are running from practice to team meetings to sponsor events to stop and make friends with every fan who attempts to interrupt them when they are working. Bill was shy and uncomfortable in the spotlight and that endeared him to more fans than Jaws ever had. If somebody burst into my office unannounced and demanded an autograph, I’d tell them to make an appointment. I expect no more of athletes going about their business.

          And of course, my favorite driver between Bill and Chase was and still is Kyle Busch. I find his antics delightful in the Stepford Wives world of NASCAR. Kyle has arguably done more for the sport than Gentleman Jimmie.

          • And by the way, the tee shirt Bill signed for me that day was a generic Brickyard 400 shirt that had no connection with him or his marketing firm whatsoever. Yeah, he’s just a greedy bastard just like Earnhardt Sr. and Jr.

  9. Not so fast with naming Chase most popular driver. Your using tunnel vision and following the herd. There’s a hugely popular driver named Blaney on the track.

    • I like both Blaney and Elliott but wouldn’t say I’m a fan of either. Still, if I had to bet on who will win the most popular driver vote, I’d put my money on Elliott if history is any indicator.

      I’ve never understood the whole Elliott most popular driver thing but it is a sure as death and taxes.

      • And taxes after death.

      • Popularity is hard to quantify even by professional psychologists. But Chase has all the most obvious ingredients: good looks, his dad’s “aw shucks” demeanor, sex appeal to the young female population, a driving style than does not include ramming his way into a Daytona 500 win, and ironically, his difficulty getting that first Cup win. Add a reasonable amount of humility spiced with the occasional temper tantrum. That last is hardest to achieve. A driver does not want to be treated like a doormat, but if he wants to win the MPD, he should keep his tantrums a bit short of the Kyle Busch variety. Bill managed to make the fans love him at the same time the media hated him and that was a potent combination, because it increased his fans’ determination to get him the MPD no matter what monkey wrench the NMPA threw into the rules – paper ballots, 900 phone numbers, and finally the various iterations of Internet voting. I used to joke with my friends that Dale Sr. could never win the award during the phone voting process, because his fans were not bright enough to press the “3” button on the phone.

        But winning elections, from dog-catcher to POTUS are all about the same thing – grassroots support in getting out the vote. The Elliott-Earnhardt cabal has this covered, while fans of other drivers seem to think if they vote once during the entire polling period, that is good enough. As long as NASCAR and the NMPA encourage multiple voting, the effort of the fans counts for more than the actual number of fans!

  10. I have no sympathy for guys bending the rules. Punish them and keep ramping up the penalties until they comply. The rules are set, abide by them. NASCAR knows about the back window now so anyone that continues to go there is lazy and deserves what they get. Look somewhere else for an edge and use that until NASCAR closes that loophole, and then look somewhere else. It’s like knowing there is a speed trap around the next corner and continuing to speed, just plain stupid.

    The all-star race needs to go away.