Sunday something remarkable happened on the third restart at Bristol. Matt Kenseth was running second and was thus lined up beside the leader, Brad Keselowski. When the green flag dropped Kenseth clearly beat Keselowski to the line. Normally, Kenseth would have been black-flagged for such a violation and forced to make a pass through drive down pit road, likely costing him one or more laps. So was it a matter of a ball and strike call that the guys in the tower just missed? Here’s the weird part: After the race NASCAR said what Kenseth did was perfectly legal despite having penalized numerous drivers over the decades for the same infraction. We’ll get to their logic, or lack thereof, in a bit.
As the late Dale Earnhardt once opined, “Knock once to let ’em know you want by, then kick in the door.”
It was that Bristol night race in 1999 that defined racing at the .533-mile oval. Terry Labonte had made a surgically clean (by Bristol standards) pass on the late Dale Earnhardt on the penultimate lap; Earnhardt wanted by Labonte on the final one. Labonte wasn’t of the mind to open the door when Earnhardt came knocking. So the Intimidator went ahead and kicked the door down… or, as he termed it, “rattled his cage.”
It wasn’t pretty. It sure wasn’t surgically clean. In fact Ned Jarrett, calling that race for ESPN in the booth, termed it, “the dirtiest thing I’ve ever seen on the race track” – a rare bit of hyperbole by the consummate master of race broadcasts.
How confident was I that the penalties assessed against the No. 48 team for violations found in pre-race inspection at Daytona were going to be upheld? I actually wrote another column yesterday so I had something to file with the editors this week. Tuesday, I tended to errands and barely spared a glance at the Internet. I figured sometime late that afternoon I’d see a brief blurb the penalties had been upheld. That wasn’t worth sitting around waiting for on such a gorgeous, sunny and warm afternoon. So I did what I normally do on afternoons like today. I actually had my helmet in hand and was heading for the Harley when the phone rang. Anything that interferes with a chance to ride typically annoys me, but looking at my Caller ID I saw the number of a friend in North Carolina. He was working the “Stakeout” at the NASCAR R and D center Tuesday and promised to call me with any updates.
To nobody’s great surprise, the appeals board upheld the penalties assessed against the No. 48 team after Daytona on Tuesday. What probably caught everyone off guard was the media scrum Tuesday’s hearing became. The parking lot of NASCAR’s Research and Development Center was dominated by two massive satellite trucks set to beam the momentous outcome to the unwashed masses huddled around their cell phones and other electronic devices. The nearby Charlotte Motor Speedway got into the act, sending their somewhat scary track mascot, Lug Nut, to the parking lot where the fourth estate huddled replete with a food offering of fried cupcakes.
After Daytona 500 qualifying on Sunday Monday and Tuesday have traditionally been “dark days” at the track with no cars on the track. That changes next year with NASCAR running late models and modifieds on an improvised .4 mile track, something I’m looking forward to. But this year, there was nothing going on that Tuesday.
It’s been freakishly and delightfully warm and snow free this winter in Lancaster County, but that particular Tuesday it was about eight degrees too cold to take the scoot for a scamper.
NASCAR handed down their penalties to the No. 48 team for unapproved C-pillars on their Chevy Wednesday, and a lot of folks were surprised by how harsh they were. Chad Knaus, crew chief for the team, was fined $100,000. He and car chief Ron Malec were suspended for six weeks and will be on NASCAR probation until May 9th. Jimmie Johnson will lose 25 driver points, meaning he heads to Phoenix with a total of -23, a whopping 70 points out of the lead (and 58 out of a Chase berth.) Car owner Jeff Gordon will also be docked 25 owner points. (Let’s clear up a little confusion here, since people are already asking me. Jeff Gordon, not Rick Hendrick is listed as the team owner for the No. 48 car. The 25-point penalty _does not,_ in any way, affect the driver points Gordon earns in the No. 24.)
_Was the 2011 Cup season a good one, a bad one or a lousy one? Truthfully, there were moments this year that met all three definitions. One way or the other, what is conclusive is that the season is finally over. Before closing the books, let’s take a quick back look at some of the highlights, lowlights and abominations of this season’s NASCAR series…_
“For Part I of Matt’s Three-Part Series, Click Here”:https://frontstretch.com/mmclaughlin/36698/
“For Part II of Matt’s Three-Part Series, Click Here”:https://frontstretch.com/mmclaughlin/36699/
*Fuel Mileage Racing:* From time to time, a race win will be decided by fuel mileage. It’s been going on since NASCAR race cars had whitewalls and tail fins. The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong. But this year, it seemed that a ridiculous amount of races were decided by fuel mileage. What’s going on? At some of these cookie-cutter tracks, passing is all but impossible with these new cars the sport has to endure.
*The Homestead Season Finale Determines a Champion -* In what was certainly the best race of the season if not the decade, this year’s Cup title was on the line. Tony Stewart knew he could finish no worse than second in the points no matter how his race went. He was also aware if he won the race he had the championship tied up even if Carl Edwards finished second and led the most laps.
_In every playoff, there can only be one winner. So how did the other 11 drivers wind up staring at the Homestead trophy instead of taking it? Matt McLaughlin looks back on how each of the other Chaser’s title hopes died on the vine this season._
*Kyle Busch (12th place)* Busch’s title hopes died of self-inflicted wounds. When Busch lost his notoriously short temper and wrecked Ron Hornaday in the Texas truck event, he killed his own chances at a Cup title as surely as he deprived Hornaday a chance of winning the truck title. NASCAR asked Vile Kyle to sit out that Sunday’s Cup race at TMS and without earning any points that weekend he pretty much cemented his 12th- place finish. And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.