by Chris Leone, Special To NASCAR commentary and driver pictures, 2012 NASCAR schedule, video, Bench Racing With Steve and Charlie
I do weekly Fantasy Pick'Em columns here at OPR, as well as the occasional opinion and analysis piece. I also provide the IZOD IndyCar Series coverage. For more on that, head to my site, OpenWheelAmerica.com. My Twitter handle is @christopherlion.March 13, 2012 8:27 pm UTC No Comments
After losing today’s appeal to the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel, Hendrick will continue to pursue the overturning of NASCAR sanctions imposed against Jimmie Johnson’s team on opening day of Daytona 500 inspection. The infraction in question, unapproved C-posts that didn’t fit NASCAR’s template, cost Johnson’s team 25 points, crew chief Chad Knaus $100,000, and Knaus and car chief Ron Malec six weeks of track appearances.
Today, a three-person appeals board decided that those penalties were just. Hendrick, unsatisfied with the decision, will take the issue to the board’s chief appellate officer, once again deferring any adjustments to Johnson’s team in the process.
Now, Hendrick’s case, if entirely accurate, might suggest that NASCAR’s handling of the car was a bit off. Hendrick claims that the C-posts, which were taken at Daytona before going through tech, had passed through NASCAR inspection 16 times previously (four times in each restrictor plate race last year) without fail.
The only problem is, proving something like that makes NASCAR look pretty bad. And if Johnson, Knaus, and Hendrick ran unapproved pieces all year in 2011, it’s pretty unlikely that they’re going to get any sympathy from anyone.
Knaus, meanwhile, wouldn’t be a likely recipient of any leniency from the board, no matter the significance of the infraction. He’s frequently been suspended, particularly in Johnson’s peak years. In both 2006 and 2007, the team’s two first championship years, Knaus found himself suspended at one point or another. In fact, his history of “bending the rules” (or cheating, if you’d like) started before he even joined Hendrick; back in 2001, an unapproved window net on Stacy Compton’s car drew NASCAR’s ire for the first time, and Knaus has been “innovating” ever since.
That’s not the kind of reputation that you want to have going into a visit with the head honcho of appeals.
Granted, under the highly unlikely scenario that the penalty is completely overturned, Johnson’s road to the Chase becomes much easier. With -23 points coming out of Daytona, Johnson has successfully climbed back to 23rd in points through Las Vegas, but he would jump into a three-way tie for 13th if he gets the 25 points back. Six weeks with Knaus and Malec at the track would be six less weeks of (likely) working with Lance McGrew, whose results as a crew chief with multiple Hendrick drivers have been so-so.
But the odds are stacked against them.
Without Knaus, Johnson will have to climb back into the top part of the points without the crew chief he’s won most of his races with (remember, Knaus was suspended for the 2006 Daytona 500 win). He’ll be in a situation he hasn’t had to deal with since running Busch races in the early 2000s – working with an average crew chief. We’ll have an opportunity to see just how good of a driver Johnson is without his biggest aide.
Maybe that’s why Hendrick is pursuing this so much. Maybe he doesn’t have faith in his top team to fully climb out of the Daytona hole without Johnson and Knaus working together, especially not with Malec (who served as crew chief for the four races that Knaus missed in 2007) unavailable. Maybe the season is as good as over if this fails. Maybe Johnson will have to work so hard in the early part of the season just to get back into Chase contention that they’ll have nothing left in the tank for the Chase itself.
Maybe going all the way makes a little more sense than we thought.
by Steve Wronkowicz
I am co-host of the syndicated radio show: ON PIT ROW. Over ten years on the air and three on the net; see what can happen when I don't let the facts get in the way of my opinions.March 8, 2011 8:01 am UTC No Comments
The stories that have come from this early season have been all that NASCAR could have hoped for. From twenty-year-old Trevor Bayne winning the “Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing” to a resurgence by veteran Jeff Gordon the first two weeks were storybookesque.
As week three headed to Sin City and all that Las Vegas has to offer it became apparant that NASCAR may just have pulled out of the malaise that it had been stuck in for the past three years. TV ratings are up for the race broadcasts and more importantly; non-main stream media has again found NASCAR’s personalities interesting.
To add even more excitement to the mix; Robby Gordon and Kevin Conway have a dust-up in the garage over monies owed from each party to the other, resulting in Conway filing a police report against Gordon. Kevin Conway’s sponsor Extenze supposedly owes Gordon money while Gordon supposedly owes Conway money. This is never a good situation unless you are the type that love reality TV. The Conway -Gordon tift is the kind of publicity you can’t buy.
All the jokes about Conway standing up to Gordon aside; Conway never should have let this difference of opinion make it to a police report. Conway’s handling of the altercation says as much about him, his sponsor and his place in the NASCAR community as is inability to drive a race car.
Sorry Kevin–take a couple of your sponsor’s products and man-up.
Photo credit: BethAnne Heisler/ON PIT ROW
by Steve Wronkowicz
I am co-host of the syndicated radio show: ON PIT ROW. Over ten years on the air and three on the net; see what can happen when I don't let the facts get in the way of my opinions.February 12, 2011 8:24 am UTC 3 Comments
Annett takes over the #62 Nationwide Series ride for owner Rusty Wallace that Brendan Gaughan drove in 2010. Once again NASCAR is showing how two-faced it can be with its drug/alcohol policy.
Annett was charged with DUI after being involved in a traffic accident and blowing a .32 when the legal limit is a .08; four times the legal limit. He has not had his day in court; so all the innocent until proven guilty talk is still appropriate. However; that fact has not deterred NASCAR in the past from “suspending now and asking questions later” when a driver or crew member has connection to drugs instead of alcohol.
Drivers have been to quick to chastise their own when the talk of drugs are associated with them. Annett’s probation doesn’t seem to be raising the same ire of his fellow drivers. Arguements have always been that drivers have to rely on the good judgment of their competitors while at speed on the track.
How can Annett’s competitors feel confident on the track racing him at Daytona where on-track speeds hover near the 200 mph mark? NASCAR has indicated that along with the probation they may ask Annett to participate in random drug/alcohol testing. Isn’t that NASCAR’s standard procedure?
Maybe having Rusty Wallace proclaim that Annett, “doesn’t have an alcohol problem” is enough for NASCAR officials, drivers and crews to have confidence in Annett’s decision making. Along with Wallace’s car ownership and his TV work he must also have become an expert in alcoholism detection and treatment. Wallace refused to suspend his driver because he was afraid to loose sponsorship money needed to fund his Rusty Wallace Racing teams.
Annett brought with him a sponsorship deal and without Annett in the car that sponsorship money, in theory, would be gone. What this gets down to is Pilot Travel Centers is running RWR and if the sponsor is running the team; then in essence that sponsor is running NASCAR and the decisions it makes.
Once again NASCAR has brought its credibility into question. The NFL has had no problem suspending its stars for questionable off field activities; just ask Ben Rothlisberger or Michael Vick. We all know that NASCAR continually compares itself to the football league; so why not now?
Annett should have been suspended for a period of time to investigate the incident and his ability to make decisions on the race track. And he should have to be evaluated by someone other than his unqualified team owner. Blowing four times the legal limit is not having an extra beer at a party. It is serious over consumption.
At least some of Annett’s competitors have to be wonder about their safety when they take the track with him out there…and that just isn’t right.
photo credit: Icon Sports Media
by Steve Wronkowicz
I am co-host of the syndicated radio show: ON PIT ROW. Over ten years on the air and three on the net; see what can happen when I don't let the facts get in the way of my opinions.January 16, 2011 8:33 am UTC 2 Comments
How much affect will NASCAR’s new rule that allows drivers to compete for a championship in only one major touring series have on the sport?
2010 saw only two drivers make a run at the Nationwide Series title while also competing in The Sprint Cup series. NNS champ Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards took the green flag in all thirty-five NNS races. Both Keselowski and Edwards intend to run the entire NNS schedule in 2011 as well; even though NASCAR will force them to exempt themselves from the championship hunt.
You have to go back to the 2004 and 2005 seasons to find a non-Cup regular who won the NNS championship, when Martin Truex, Jr. won back to back. Since then Kevin Harvick, Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch then Keselowski have taken their full-time Cup expertise to the Nationwide Series and won the championship.
Five years of domination by Cup drivers has resulted in NASCAR’s decision to limit drivers to running for a championship in only one series. Seems like a good idea. But couldn’t there have been a better way?
While the focus of the new rule is clearly directed at the Cup/Nationwide dilemma; there had to be a better and less far reaching solution to the problem. The real losers in the new rule are not the Cup regulars looking to grab Nationwide hardware and cash; but drivers looking to catch a break in the Camping World Truck Series while looking for a ride in Nationwide as well.
Look at drivers like Jen Jo Cobb, Justin Lofton or Brian Scott, to name only a few. Drivers that are looking to put deals together in both series; to not only increase seat time but also showcase their talent to prospective sponsors, are being greatly handicapped. NASCAR forcing them to declare a championship series before the season begins greatly minimizes their options.
What may look like a fully funded deal in one series may come up short before the end of the season, forcing them to fall back to a secondary opportunity in the other; but unable to collect championship points. This becomes a lose-lose situation for NASCAR and the driver.
NASCAR could have achieved the same result—getting a Nationwide Series only driver to win the championship by simply limiting the number of starts a Cup driver can make in the NNS. Kyle Busch finished third in the NNS standings in 2010 and only started twenty-nine races. Limit Cup drivers to starts in no more than two-thirds of the events, in the other series and the problem goes away and there is no trickle down affect to the other series.
Promoters, fans and television networks want to see Cup drivers in the other series. It is good for business. Having them consistently win the championship is not. But, please NASCAR, look at the far reaching consequences of the decisions you make. What may look like a simple solution may not be so simple for those trying to make a name for themselves in your other series.
by Chris Leone, Special To NASCAR commentary and driver pictures, 2012 NASCAR schedule, video, Bench Racing With Steve and Charlie
I do weekly Fantasy Pick'Em columns here at OPR, as well as the occasional opinion and analysis piece. I also provide the IZOD IndyCar Series coverage. For more on that, head to my site, OpenWheelAmerica.com. My Twitter handle is @christopherlion.November 2, 2009 1:16 pm UTC No Comments
So it goes every time the Sprint Cup Series visits the Alabama track, where upside down stock cars and a boring first 180 laps or so are about as inevitable as death and taxes.
Yesterday, both Ryan Newman and Mark Martin found themselves a little closer to the pavement than they would have liked over the course of the last few laps. Newman’s flipping Chevrolet actually landed on the hood of Kevin Harvick‘s car, nearly putting his rear wing through Harvick’s windshield. Martin’s car was overturned by a spinning Martin Truex Jr. after the third controversial tri-oval finish in as many races.
At least there was some excitement at the end, though. For the majority of the race, cars ran in single file; before the race, Mike Helton warned drivers against bump drafting in the turns, threatening penalties against those who were too aggressive. Since nobody wanted to cross the line and find out how harsh NASCAR’s penalty would be, the cars ran as if in a parade for much of the race.
Everybody remembers Carl Edwards‘ car taking off into the catchfence earlier this year, when Brad Keselowski turned him to win Talladega’s spring race. That incident caused NASCAR to crack down even further on the drivers, adding to the old “out of bounds” restriction – no passing below the yellow line. Ironically, bump drafting in the tri-oval, where most of the problems at Talladega take place, is still fair game.
The restrictions have turned off drivers like Newman, who feels that the drivers should be able to police themselves on the track.
“The more rules, the more NASCAR is telling us how to drive the race cars, the less we can race and the less we can put on a show for the fans. They have created a lot of boredom because we couldn’t race. It is survival,” he complained after the race.
“Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, all those guys, they respected each other.”
The real cause of the problems that NASCAR currently has at Talladega dates back to the finish in October of last year. In that race, Regan Smith made an out-of-bounds pass of Tony Stewart in the tri-oval for what he and his team felt was the victory.
Smith cited NASCAR’s previous comments that any driver who was forced below the yellow line made an out-of-bounds pass, the pass would stand. Smith felt that Stewart forced him below the yellow line, and instead of deliberately wrecking the two-time champion, he made a clean pass.
NASCAR’s response was to dump him to 18th in the finishing order.
So when Keselowski found himself in Smith’s position this spring, he learned from the precedent that NASCAR had set, and dumped Edwards. The result, one of the scariest wrecks that the new car has ever seen, injured eight fans. NASCAR’s response was to further exacerbate the problem by giving the drivers even less control of the race, forcing them to be patient until the very end, at which point accidents happen.
The least that NASCAR can do to remedy the problem, if not removing all of their restrictions altogether and letting the drivers monitor themselves, is to change their rules about the tri-oval. The accidents are always caused by bumping and running out of room in the tri-oval in the final laps. NASCAR should be cracking down on bump drafting on the tri-oval at the end of the race, while allowing passes on the apron.
This forces separation between cars in the problem area of the track, while also freeing up another lane for those drivers who get forced down. It makes a whole lot more sense than risking more major tri-oval accidents at the end of the race, and putting more drivers in danger.
Then again, NASCAR hasn’t made a lot of sense with most of their decisions at Talladega in the past year or so, have they? I hate to say that I saw this coming when Smith’s win was disallowed last year, but the sanctioning body has made it clear that under the current rules, drivers will not be penalized for wrecking others to win.
As long as that mindset is around, there will be major wrecks at Talladega. And I don’t care how safe the car is, or that none of the drivers have gotten hurt (yet) – they shouldn’t be happening in the first place.
by Steve Wronkowicz
Mayfield says he has at least two other tests, taken with an hour, before and after NASCAR’s, that show a negative result. Mayfield was on Sirius/XM’s “Late Shift” last night with Nate Ryan and Buddy Baker. Mayfield again claimed innocence and attacked NASCAR and specifically Brian France.
While the entire saga is starting to wear thin with race fans. The entire affair has those same fans wondering where it will all end. Mayfield is fighting for his good name. You have to wonder why would someone who was guilty go through all of this. If he were indeed guilty of using meth as alleged, the best course of action would have been to quietly go though NASCAR’s rehab program and be back racing as soon as possible.
If that were the course he had chosen, he would have been back behind the wheel by now with the fans solidly behind him, rooting him on. America loves the under dog and they especially love a reformed under dog. You don’t have to look any further than Major League Baseball’s Josh Hamilton. Hamilton’s drug use, struggles with recovery and ultimate success made him the 2008 media darling of baseball.
Mayfield didn’t follow that path, instead looking to prove his innocence in court. Now, multiple drug tests and spiraling subplots later, Mayfield seems obsessed with clearing his name and the racing be damned.
Mayfield’s “stepmom” – a term he prefers not to use – has now said that she witnessed Jeremy snorting meth thirty times. Mayfield has counter-attacked by claiming his “father’s wife” shot and killed his father then went to Jeremy seeking money. According to Jeremy, when he refused to support Lisa Mayfield, she sought out NASCAR as a paid informant.
This mess may take years to come to fruition but it is very sad for all involved. Jeremy never seemed to have the stereotypical drug user identifiers except for the occasional propensity to say the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time. You do have to wonder why would NASCAR choose Mayfield as the scapegoat if he weren’t going to be a willing participant.
Mayfield has claimed that if NASCAR takes him to the wall as a drug user then the other more high profile drivers, who have also tested positive, could be spared. Brian France did say that there had been other positives in the garage area.
Mayfield continues to fight a fight that appears he cannot win. If he does - or if NASCAR backs down – Jeremy could get a big enough settlement to get back in the racing business. If he loses the battle not much will be left except the reality TV circuit.