Saturday, September 14, 2013

13th driver added to '13 Chase on Sept 13... good luck for someone !

"You get a car, and you get a car, and you get a car, and you get a car, etc...."

Those words were spoken by talk-show hostess Oprah Winfrey in September of 2004 as she gave every member of her studio audience a new car on one episode.

Fast forward to NASCAR's Chase for the Cup, 2013 edition:

"You get a spot, and you get a spot, and you get a spot, etc...."

Oh well... I guess when Hendrick Motorsports calls NASCAR brass, the phone rings just a little bit louder.



Friday, September 13, 2013

The best is yet to come

I think the last ten races of 2013 have the potential to be some of this year's best yet, for a different reason -- the caliber of drivers who are NOT in the Chase.

That's right -- the caliber of drivers who are not in the Chase.

Any of the 12 drivers eligible for the Championship can win on any given weekend, and that's the reason they're in the Chase in the first place.  We know that they'll be "all in" each week to bring home a victory. 

However, this year probably yields the highest number of former Chase competitors and/or Chase contenders with something to prove:

Denny Hamlin:  Give him back the four races and the associated points he missed earlier this year due to injuries suffered at California, and he might just well be in the Top 12.  He has the same Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) equipment as do Kenseth and Kyle Busch, so we know that he can get the job done.  When you don't have anything to lose, look out.

Brad Keselowski:  For Brad, it all depends on which direction his momentum goes.  If he reverts back to the mid-summer slump that took him out of Chase contention, he'll be around, but wont' accomplish too much.  If, however, he has a Richmond-esque string of races, he will certainly look like the same BK that won last year's Championship.

Martin Truex, Jr.:  He's pissed.  He delivered gutsy, aggressive and workman-like performances the last two weeks at Atlanta and Richmond to drive his way into the Chase only to be penalized along with the rest of his Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR) teammates and lose his spot within it.  To add insult to injury, he did nothing wrong.  He didn't (allegedly) spin his car intentionally to bring out a yellow-flag or collude within his own or other teams to manipulate the finishing order.  All he did was race.  Look for more of this, and look out.

Jeff Gordon:   He's really pissed.  He has every reason to be.  The actions of MWR and the suspicions about Penske Racing (PRS) and driver David Gilliland also in collusion to manipulate the finish cost him a spot in the Chase.  He feels he deserves to be in, and I don't disagree.  A man on a mission is a man possessed, and Jeff still has it.  Hendrick Motorsports (HMS) equipment doesn't hurt, either.

Also of note -- our last two series champions (Keselowski and Stewart) are not in the Chase this year.  IF (and that's a big "if") Jimmie Johnson continues his struggles, the men who have captured the last seven titles won't be around this year and we'll have our first Champion since 2004 who isn't named Stewart, Johnson or Keselowski.

Let's get back on the track and have at it, boys !!


Note:  Since this was originally written, NASCAR has added Jeff Gordon as a 13th Chase driver.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Oh my !

Today's entry will focus on the alleged collusion between David Gilliland (#38) and Joey Logano (#22) and how I think it is different from the actions taken by Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR.)

Quite simply, I view the 38/22 situation as two teams getting together and making a deal that was acceptable to both of them.  This happens ALL the time.  The only two teams involved, and the only two finishing positions affected were those of the 38 and 22.  As long as this was acceptable to both, what's the problem?

There's a LOT of "this is our situation, can 'ya help us out" talk among teams and spotters each race, why would we expect this to be any different ?

MWR's actions were done independently and affected others outside of that team.  That, in my opinion, is what made NASCAR deem those actions over-the-line and worthy of the penalties announced on Monday evening.

NASCAR has already taken a very unprecedented step this week by reacting to MWR's Richmond actions which have altered the Chase lineup after we thought it had been set on Saturday evening.  I don't think it wants to do so again.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Oh, by the way...

OK - we're a few days removed from the events at Richmond, the resulting NASCAR investigations and the announced penalties.  Everyone has had a chance to take a few breaths, digest what they saw and react to how much justice was served with NASCAR's reaction.

Is it completely right?  No.  Will it ever be?  Probably not.  However, some truly newsworthy stories have been overshadowed this week with all of the attention elsewhere, and that's unfortunate.  Some of what we SHOULD be talking about follows:

- Jimmie Johnson is attempting to win his 6th championship in 8 years.  Like him or not, that's remarkable.  We're watching history evolve before our eyes.  He and crew chief Chad Knaus are arguably the strongest partnership in the garage, and they always seem to elevate their game at this time each year.  If they can erase the awful luck they've had since the second Pocono date at the beginning of August, this championship still goes through the 48.

- Kyle Busch also seems ready.  He has been in the Chase before and just not shown up.  However, he seems calmer, more focused and more humble this year.  I believe this can be attributed to his teammate, Matt Kenseth.   If Joe Gibbs' Racing (JGR) can find some consistent reliability from Toyota's motors, their preparation is second-to-none.  If the equipment is as steady as he now seems to be, don't take your eye off of the 18.

- Kevin Harvick is a sleeper.  He's quietly consistent, and that's what has gotten him this far.  I think his relationship with Richard Childress is still on good terms, even though he is leaving for Stewart-Hass Racing (SHR) next year.  He would like nothing more than to reward his car owner with a championship on the way out.

- Kurt Busch's remarkable consistency is also what has gotten him into the Chase this year, and I've said all summer that his team is on the verge of winning, and I still believe so.  What I really like about the 78 is that success seems to fuel them even more.  They were a mid-pack team in the past who approached 2013 with increased focus and vigor, and now they're a top-10 team just about every week.  Now that they're top-10, they'll soon be top-5 each race.  Once they win, they will win some more.  This could well be the team that goes on a Tony Stewart-esque tear these next 10 races, rattles off 3-4 wins, maintains their consistency when they don't win and hoists a Sprint Cup trophy just before Thanksgiving in south Florida.

All Chase competitors are worthy of their position in it.  Each can win on any given week.  However, with respect to Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth, I think that the championship will be won by one of the four drivers named above.  Good luck to each of them! 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In another era...


That's a term my grandfather used to use when he ascertained that a job wasn't done correctly or had been done incompletely.   In a way - NASCAR and its competitors have finally achieved some consistency that fans have been wanting for years.  Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR) put on a botchie-kook performance on Saturday night and NASCAR followed it up 48 hours later with a botchie-kook response as announced Monday night.

I appreciate and applaud the realization on NASCAR's part that actions needed to be unprecedented and taken quickly to regain, if possible, some of the integrity that was lost on Saturday night.  The sanctioning body was put in an impossible position to try and analyze and decipher a lot of information in a short amount of time, and was expected to do so correctly.  I wouldn't want the job.  Everyone appreciates the effort. 

I just think the penalties came up a little short.  Botchie-kook.

Specifically, here's where I think they should have sharpened their pencils and done some more work:

- "Cars spin out."  That's what NASCAR President Mike Helton said when asked by Jim Utter of the Charlotte Observer why the #15 car of Clint Bowyer wasn't given a penalty that would impact his seeding within the Chase lineup.  Mr. Helton claimed that it wasn't possible to decipher that the spin was intentional.   Botchie-kook.

- Marty Smith of ESPN asked why the resulting injustice to Jeff Gordon seemingly wasn't addressed at all, and was told that NASCAR doesn't react to the "ripple-effect" of actions, just the actions themselves.  Botchie-kook.

- In response to a question from Nate Ryan of USA Today, Mr. Helton exclaimed that is isn't possible for NASCAR to monitor all the conversations between driver, crew chief and spotter of all 43 teams simultaneously and their possible intentions.  Really?   Hire 43 people, train them as NASCAR officials, and equip them with 43 scanners.  Assign each one to a single car for the entire race.  Anything less is botchie-kook.

 In short, I don't think the penalties went far enough.  Circumstantial evidence is still evidence nonetheless, and the biggest inequity now is that Clint Bowyer begins the Chase with the same seeding he had before.  This was also an opportunity for NASCAR to react in such a way as to deter another team in the future from manipulating the outcome of an event for their benefit.  I'm not sure these penalties accomplish that objective.  Botchie-kook if they don't.

Maybe NASCAR's best reaction to this mess should have been to freeze the running order from the lap immediately prior to Bowyer's suspicious spin and declared that as the official order of finish and then set the Chase field based on those standings.   That would have eliminated the controversy from the #15's spin, the instructions given to the #55 team and their resulting impact on the race's outcome and the #99's "catch me if you can" restart.  That's what grandpa would have done.  Botchie-kook no more!


Monday, September 9, 2013

My Opinion On How NASCAR Can Fix This

Let's face it - NASCAR's credibility is on the line.  I won't take time here to review the chain-of-events that led to the controversial finish... if you're reading this Blog, you're fan enough to know that information.

The question now is what can the sanctioning body do to fix it?  Doing nothing will be just as criminal as the events themselves.  First things first, however.

My suggestions below assume the following:

1. Clint Bowyer intentionally spun his car on orders from the team to manipulate the finishing order.  There is enough circumstantial evidence to support this.

2. Brian Vickers' last lap speed (about 50mph slower than everyone else) was done to manipulate the finishing order.  Timing and scoring data clearly confirms the speed.

3. Clint Bowyer's sequence of pit stops the last 3 laps was done to manipulate the finishing order.  There is also enough circumstantial evidence to support this.

Here's what NASCAR should do:

1. Disqualify the 15 car from the Chase for "actions detrimental to stock car racing," and take away all points earned on Saturday night.  His point total going into Chicago is reset to what it was leaving Atlanta.

2. Insert the 39 car into the Chase because he was leading at the time of the spin and had the running order remained the same without the caution period, he would have earned a spot.

3. Disqualify the 56 car from the Chase because he directly benefited from Clint's spin.  Take away all points earned on Saturday night.  His point total going into Chicago is reset to what it was leaving Atlanta.

4. Insert the 24 car into the Chase because the actions of the 55 car caused the 22 to out place the 24 enough to get in.

5. The 22 car did nothing wrong, but did clearly benefit from the actions of the 15 and 55.  While not exactly right, leave the 22 in the Chase.

6. Issue a fine to Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR) in the amount of $500,000.

7. Suspend Michael Waltrip's NASCAR license for a period of one year.  This applies as to his role as an owner or a driver.  Fine Michael Waltrip personally $250,000.

8. Suspend crew chief Brian Pattie's (#15) NASCAR license for a period of six months.  The crew chief is responsible for the actions of all team members.  Fine Brian Pattie personally $100,000.

9. Suspend crew chief Scott Miller's (#55) NASCAR license for a period of six months.  The crew chief is responsible for the actions of all team members.  Fine Scott Miller personally $100,000.

I realize these penalties are unprecedented and extremely severe.  However, that's how severe this issue is.  There are three areas within the sport that you don't manipulate -- tires, fuel or engine size.  This is every bit as serious.

Do what's right, NASCAR.  Doing so shows us that you're serious about this and are willing to hold those responsible accountable for their actions.  This is, unfortunately, your sport's version of points shaving.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

If you build it, will they come ?

The Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS) now hosts only one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event each season due to poor attendance - the fans in that market didn't support, to the extent necessary, two dates each year.  One would think that with only one race, tickets would be at a premium, yet there was a plethora of empty seats on Saturday night.


Perhaps it was the fact that Saturday was the opening weekend of the college football season, which I understand is larger than life itself in the south.  Perhaps it was because this was a holiday weekend and people were engaged with friends and family.  Perhaps it was apathy for the sport by the local Atlanta media.  I don't have the answer.  Unfortunately, I think Atlanta has proven that they don't deserve a Cup date.

That's right - they don't deserve a Cup date.

With two weeks to go until the Chase for the Cup field is set, and with 18 drivers in mathematical contention to fill the remaining four spots and two alternate spots, what's not to love?  Saturday night, under the lights, drama, strategy, excitement, action, rivalries... if that isn't enough for 'ya, I don't know what is.

The fans who support Iowa Speedway in Newton, IA would know.  The 2014 schedule isn't finalized yet...



Friday, August 30, 2013

What if...

There has been much speculation this week about who is really in charge these days at Stewart-Haas Racing -- Gene Haas, the millionaire businessman often perceived as the "money" behind the operation, or Tony Stewart, the also shrewd businessman who is also a world-class racer and the face of the company to the public on race weekends.

This speculation rose to new heights this week when Mr. Haas revealed that the impetus behind the recent signing of Kurt Busch to drive a 4th SHR entry in the Sprint Cup series was his, and his alone.  Mr. Stewart objected to the expansion at this time, but was told that the decision had essentially been made.

I'll submit this thought:  With the addition of Danica Patrick in 2012 and Kevin Harvick for 2014, where was Mr. Haas in those deals?   Seemingly, nowhere to be found.  I'm sure he was aware of the situation, but the spotlight was on and the impetus came from Mr. Stewart.

Maybe Mr. Haas thought it was his time to take charge for really the first time since this partnership was formed beginning with the 2009 Sprint Cup season.  Stranger things have happened...



Thursday, August 29, 2013

Be careful out there !

On Monday, August 5th., NASCAR star Tony Stewart broke his leg while participating in a sprint car race in Iowa, ending his 2013 Sprint Cup season.  Almost before he was transported to the hospital from the track, the debate had begun about whether or not drivers should be allowed to participate in other forms of racing or other activities which might jeopardize their safety outside of their Sprint Cup responsibilities.

Now, legendary iron-man Bobby Labonte has broken three ribs in a bicycling accident and will miss this weekend's Sprint Cup race in Atlanta.  Ironically, Labonte's 704-race consecutive start streak ended earlier this summer at Sparta, Kentucky when team brass at JTG Daugherty Racing decided to replace him with A.J. Allmendinger in an attempt to get different feedback and improve the team's performance.

Between both men, they have 4 series championships and 69 wins.  Each will be a future inductee to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.  Each has a name that we expect to hear in conjunction with a Sprint Cup series race.  Each has a fan base that is intensely loyal and passionate.  Each was also sidelined in an instant.

My point?  Be careful, guys and girls!   I realize that sprint car racing for Stewart and a bike ride for Labonte is how they relax, rejuvenate and reload between Sprint Cup starts.  Some drivers golf, some drivers fish, some drivers race late-model dirt cars, some drivers scuba dive... I get it.  I fully support all of them and whatever leisure activities they pursue.  Please balance those enjoyments with your responsibilities to your team, your sponsors and your fans wisely.  

We need these wheel men for OUR relaxation each week.  I want to see Stewart, Labonte and others drive an 800 horsepower race car each week and not a motorized scooter down the halls of a hospital.  Wait a minute!  I might have just stumbled upon a whole new NASCAR division... hmmm.   What should we do first -- short halls?  Intermediate?  Fast restrictor-battery super halls?  Night scooters with the lights on?