Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Fat-Bellied NASCAR Officials, You Make the Rockin’ World Go ‘Round!

This is getting good, guys ‘n’ gals. I wonder if the season were shortened to 25 or 30 if the intensity level of the competitors would go up quicker and stay there. My bet is it would. It’s a shame everything hits the fan after 33 weeks when most have drifted over to FOX and CBS for their Sunday afternoon dose of the NFL.

You know the drill. Let’s get to it.

Q: RE: Kyle speeding on pit road. The two-lap penalty aside, I thought speeding on pit road bought you ticket to the tail end of the field for the restart? I haven’t read anyone point this out and the announcers didn’t talk about it. What I am missing? When did NASCAR start parking guys for a lap for speeding? Thanks! — Jared

A: They started parking the offending driver this year, but not simply for speeding on pit road. That’ll still buy a hot shoe a quick trip to the end of the longest line (why do we still use that “longest line” term?), but speeding off pit road in an attempt to beat the oncoming pace car to stay on the lead lap will cost you a circuit in the box.

A driver speeding off pit road knows he’ll start in the rear anyway, so as it was, a pass-through was a toothless threat. However, an unsportsmanlike penalty is no longer a fingerless threat.

See how I did that right there?

Q: Hi Matt! Why are the media and message board posters so enraged about the Jeff vs. Jeff fight? No, not everyone is, but a vocal minority (I hope minority) seem offended that Gordon wanted to square off with Burton. Think back, people. That’s what made NASCAR! The 1979 Daytona 500! Imagine that ending without the fight and tell me it would have gone down in racing infamy. 

Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t think NASCAR needs fights every week, but some pushing and shoving (the Jeffs didn’t “fight”) adds some fun to the show. I’m sure when Phoenix gets here they will both laugh and do their best to shrug it off, but at that moment we saw true emotion. That’s sports in general and is not something to be neither encouraged nor discouraged. — Jenna

A: Honestly Jenna, I didn’t pick up on the same vibe. Actually, all I’ve read points to most fans getting a real kick out of it. However, you’ve obviously read some opinions to the contrary, so I can understand your taking time to write.

My take? I grew up watching NASCAR in the rough ‘n’ tumble ’80s when post-race scrapping wasn’t quite so uncommon. The language and reactions in interviews could get a little spicier than today as well, which gave the fans watching at home or in the stands the feeling that these guys really cared. They were passionate. Today’s drivers — not to say they’re less passionate — are pretty well set financially, so the difference between winning and finishing 20th due to a last-lap dust-up isn’t the difference between bologna and steak for dinner.

Today’s drivers are also more measured in their actions and words so as not to upset the sponsors, which isn’t done for the sake of the driver as much as the team. Yeah, I’m sure that was on the mind of the drivers back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but the money it took to get to and stay on top wasn’t comparable. The sponsor dollar, while important, wasn’t likely to stop coming in because of a fistfight in the infield. It was a looser time; much less PC.

My point: Yeah, it was fun to see the boys go at it, repercussions be damned. And the roar of the crowd when it went down was louder than I’ve heard for anything since the Bristol pre-race intros. And the next time you watch it, check out the NASCAR official that uses the belly bump like a reverse blockout on Gordon. My buddy and I flipped back to that for five minutes and laughed the whole time. He starts it at the 13-second mark and bounces JGo around for a good 10 seconds.

Q: Chad Knaus = Douche. What a chicken**** *move! Dance with the one that brought ya, bud. Johnson and Knaus’s success was built on that crews effort just as much as on Johnson’s talent or Knaus’s smarts. My money is on the 11 now. 48 is in desperation mode. Keep talking the s***  Mike Ford! — J. Schnoover, Deep in NASCAR Country!

A: Let’s keep the asterisks to a minimum, please. This isn’t Kyle Busch’s in-car audio. Schnoover, call it desperate, call it a slap in the face, say there’s a chink in the armor, tell me the fabric of the sport is stained by an organization — not a single team — bonding together to win a championship. Tell me it’s an Formula 1 “team orders” move. Whatever. Fine. It’s all those things. You’re right.

See also
The Cool-Down Lap: The Kyle Busch Conundrum, Sunday Meltdown Latest Fault of His Fire

And I couldn’t care less.

Why? Because this isn’t 1988 anymore… hell, it isn’t 2006 anymore… and teams, those teams’ leaders, and the methods they employ to win races and championships have evolved over time. It’s Darwinian, really. The strongest and most adaptable survive.

It’s no secret that the No. 24 and No. 48 teams work as one in the garage area and at the shop. Why are people so up-in-arms that they did what was best for the group on race day? It’s not like the No. 24 bunch was taken from Jeff Gordon while he was running in the top five. His day was done. The car was on the rollback. Jeff was in a golf cart. The best pit crew at HMS was loading up the war wagon while the best driver and crew chief were losing spots in the pits, and thus, the championship standings.

And to imply that Chad Knaus threw his boys under a bus due to a quick trigger finger, well, give me a break. These guys are professionals that get paid a lot of money to perform and the bottom line was they weren’t performing. They hadn’t been for a while. (Little secret for ya: It was well known that the No. 48 pit crew was viewed as the weakest of the Chase-contending triumvirate.)

Knaus is the head coach of the team and the head coach answers to the owner. It’s Knaus’s professional responsibility to Rick Hendrick to give the one team left in his stable with a shot at the title the best opportunity to win said title. And to Knaus’s credit, he did just that.

Now will that destroy the No. 48 team? Will it shred the chemistry that made it a four-time champion? No. A pit crew’s job is to be flown in on Sunday morning, put the pretty firesuits on and service the car. Pit crews at Hendrick Motorsports don’t pour over engineering numbers, they don’t tune engines, they don’t prepare the cars. They jack the car up, put on four new tires and drop in a load of gas in as little time as possible. They are a specialized unit — same as the fab guys, the engine department and the chassis shop — whose check is signed by Rick Hendrick, not Chad Knaus, not Steve Letarte.

If I’m Knaus, I make the same call. It’s game time. Give me the gamers.

Q: It’s about time Knaus made that move! That crew was costing Jimmie three, six, nine points a race by losing spots on pit road. Was the change unconventional being in mid race? Oh yeah, but that’s Knaus being Knaus. Great leaders make those tough calls. Kudos Chad! Enjoy the victory party in South Beach! — Grant B., Port Orange

A: Giving the Knaus Klub its time, here. Although let’s not get carried away with Jimmie being in a free fall or anything. After all, despite the spots lost on pit road over the course of the Chase, that No. 48 car hasn’t finished worse than ninth since Loudon. But point taken, Grant.

And lastly, since I (shockingly) had no one comment on the bird heard ‘round track, I direct your attention to the sage observations of one Jerry Seinfeld, who puts giving or receiving the finger in proper perspective.

Thanks for sticking around until the end. Enjoy whatever paybacks await us in the desert.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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