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(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

4 Burning Questions: What Was Brad Keselowski Thinking?

What will happen to the July Fourth weekend for NASCAR in the future?

This weekend will mark the ending of a 60-year tradition.

In 1958, there were just three superspeedway races on the NASCAR schedule at three different racetracks on three major holiday weeks. There was the Southern 500 on Labor Day at Darlington Raceway and the Northern 500 at Trenton Speedway in New Jersey a few days following Memorial Day. That 500-mile race at Trenton in ’58, by the way, was the first-ever 500-mile stock car race at a racetrack besides Darlington,

Back in 1956, Raleigh Speedway hosted a 250-mile race on July 4. The series returned to the North Carolina 1-mile oval on America’s birthday the next two years. The 1958 race was both the final Grand National Series date for Raleigh ever and the final non-Daytona International Speedway race on that day/weekend until 2020.

The July Daytona race has had some great moments in the past 60 years. Many point to Richard Petty’s 200th win in 1984 as a watershed moment in NASCAR, but one of the most underrated finishes in the history of NASCAR came 10 years prior to that in 1974.

Starting next year, NASCAR will move the 400-mile race to almost two months later, to the end of its regular season. In its place on Fourth of July weekend will be the Monster Energy Cup Series’ annual visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Indy has a lot of positives on paper. It’s in a great location; Middle America seems like a great place to hold a Fourth of July race. Indianapolis has long been and still is a top five TV market in the country for NASCAR racing. And there is no more hallowed ground in North American motorsports than Indy.

But there are going to be some problems with the date nonetheless. One of the reasons why Indy’s date was moved to September in the first place was because of how hot and humid the area around the track gets in the summer. Now it’s being moved back to July, and NASCAR is just assuming the weather isn’t going to be miserable?

If Indianapolis decides to install lights and run the race on Saturday night, then there’s no real problem outside of the usually mundane racing stock cars at Indy produce. But if not, the industry is going to be in for a long weekend next year.

Will International Speedway Corporation make any changes to its weather policy?

A couple of weeks ago, I posed the question as to what NASCAR would or could do to combat an increase in carbon monoxide cases in the last couple of months.

(As a side note, with Cody Ware at Sonoma Speedway and Kyle Busch at Chicagoland Speedway, we’re now up to five known incidents since the beginning of May and no word from NASCAR on the issue.)

I outlined that any sport’s two biggest priorities are to ensure the safety of the fans in attendance first, followed by the safety of the competitors. NASCAR failed both at Chicagoland.

When it came time for the start of the Cup race on Sunday, there was lightning in the area of the racetrack. NASCAR, rather than getting the covers on the cars and getting the fans out of the grandstands to avoid, I don’t know, one of them getting hit by lightning, simply went on with the race start. The race lasted 11 laps before NASCAR stopped the race for the weather for over three hours. Almost as soon as they got the covers on the racecars, the clouds opened up and a storm blew through the Joliet, Ill., racetrack.

Thankfully, there were no injuries to anybody. The fans got out of harm’s way and the drivers were able to play Mario Kart in their motorhomes. But this was way too close of a call. And for what? 11 laps of green flag racing?

To be fair, International Speedway Corporation, the owner of the track, does have a lightning policy. And it followed it rigorously during practice at Daytona on Thursday, July 4, a few days following Chicagoland. Let’s just hope that Chicagoland was an aberration and not a hint of what’s to come.

Will there be changes to pit stop penalty procedures going forward?

A controversy that kind of sprang out of nowhere occurred between Denny Hamlin and NASCAR.

Hamlin finished 15th at Chicagoland after receiving an uncontrolled tire penalty and later took issue on Twitter.

After NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell responded on SirusXM NASCAR Radio, Hamlin responded in kind.

During the first day of practice for this weekend’s events at Daytona, Hamlin explained to NBC Sports that Joe Gibbs Racing officials would be meeting with NASCAR later on in the day. He continued to elaborate his main point:

“The team officials have showed me in emails what they have prepared of multiple pit stops just from last week that are identical or more egregious than ours, and nothing gets called,” said Hamlin.”… It seems like wherever their eyeballs are on that particular stop is who gets especially looked at, but we have multiple video evidence of other pit stops from other race teams that are identical.

“You can not draw a difference between them and no penalty. That’s my complaint. It is a judgment call. It’s not black and white. There is no line. It’s not a line that gets crossed, it’s, ‘Uh, yeah, it looks a little more than arm’s length.'”

NASCAR is admittedly in a tough position on this. It can’t really just start clamping down on this, because like Hamlin said, there’d be multiple penalties every single pit stop cycle. But it also can’t go ahead and let uncontrolled tires run rampant on pit road.

The best solution might be what Hamlin suggested in his second tweet. Yes, it would cost the teams some money to have another crew member go over the wall. But it was always a dumb move to get rid of the tire carriers to begin with, because what costs did they really save for teams? Was the Race Team Alliance really trying to argue that the best way to cut costs wasn’t to try and curb the constantly increasing R&D or just general production costs for these teams? Because all laying those crew members off has done is just increase pit stop controversies the last few years.

What is Team Penske thinking at Daytona this weekend?

Practice at Daytona on the Fourth of July produced plenty of fireworks near the end of the day.

With about 20 minutes left in the final session, William Byron was leading a small pack of cars and went down to make a small block on Brad Keselowski and, well….

Byron ended up going to a back-up car. Keselowski made it clear that it was not an accident in his interview, during which he said he was making a statement with the move.

As Dale Earnhardt Jr. said on the broadcast after the incident, there’s 15-20 of those type of moves every single lap. This is after a practice session, by the way, where the Team Penske cars, most notably Joey Logano, blocked like crazy whenever they were racing near the front of the pack.

So was Keselowski unreasonable? Yes, of course. If I’m crew chief Paul Wolfe, I’m chewing him out the next couple of days. They could have very easily ended up causing a chain reaction crash in practice. In practice. Not even on lap five of the race, but in practice. By the way, that’s Logano right behind the No. 2 Ford in that clip, so Keselowski could have very easily forced his team to bring out two back-up cars with next to no practice time remaining on the weekend.

And the sad thing about all of this? Keselowski is possibly the best superspeedway driver in the sport. If it’s the final three laps of a race at Daytona or Talladega Superspeedway and Keselowski is near the front with a Ford driver (besides Michael McDowell) able to work with him, he’s probably going to win no matter what the rest of the field tries to do.

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About Michael Finley

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Michael has watched NASCAR for 15 years and began covering the sport five years ago. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and a proud member of the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA).

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6 comments

  1. Avatar

    I give him credit for sticking to what he said last year, whether or not I or others agree with it. He did say he was going to start driving through anyone who blocked instead of crashing himself to not hit the blocking car… Won’t be the first time he’s been involved in a car-wrecking pissing match with another driver. Should be a wild demolition derby Saturday night. How many cars are going to finish this time, 5? Hopefully Brad (or anyone else) won’t be sent into the catch-fence.

  2. Avatar

    Hey Brad, nice role model playing for your younger fans showing how cool it is to be a bully. You ought to be very proud. If Byron wasnt so good at the wheel, could have been more backup cars coming out. Teach our kids that, I’ll be tuning out.

  3. Avatar

    Brad needs a history lesson Carl Edwards could teach the class

  4. Avatar

    Better there then in front of 40 cars.

  5. Avatar

    Big fan of Brad and his driving skills, but that has to be the crappiest move I have ever seen him make. Maybe during a race, with a few to go, but PRACTICE. Don’t think Stewart or Hamlin had appointed him policeman. He might want to rethink the safety of the situation too.

  6. Avatar

    How can a tire be ‘uncontrolled’ when it is sitting within the teams pit box, not rolling, not in any other cars way? Makes no sense at all. As long as the tire is in the pit box and not a hazard to others, should be a no call.