Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito: What NASCAR Really Needs Right Now – A REALITY CHECK

With the Auto Club 400 being abbreviated to the Auto Club 258 this past Sunday at Fontana (March 25), it has been a bit of a slow news week across the NASCAR media landscape.

Do you know how I can tell? Because everybody is still babbling about Bristol, feigning righteous indignation over the No. 48 team’s penalty appeal being overturned and yet another change to the All-Star Race in May. With all of this nonsense swirling about, it’s time for a REALITY CHECK.

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Bruton Smith announced that Bristol would be reconfigured prior to the August night race, after what appeared to be half of the seats being empty on a rainy, cool mid-March weekend in Thunder Valley.

My question is, reconfigured into what exactly? Three hours of 55-mph caution laps and 90 minutes of follow the leader? If you dig up the track and make it into a one-lane train, how is that going to engender fans to come out to the show? Will the threat of more wrecks draw the morbidly curious out to come see the caution at the end of summer?

REALITY CHECK.

The problem is not that of concrete; it is one of rubber and metal. Instead of spending a ton of money to fix a perfectly good racetrack, have Goodyear engineer some tires that actually wear out after 100 miles. They’re Eagles, not Assuratreds – they don’t need to go 70,000 miles. The whole two-tire/four-tire strategy is part of what helps makes racing interesting on a short track.

Besides, let’s say you make it a one-groove racetrack again. Is anybody going to beat and bang each other out of the way? No, because ever since about 2005, nobody’s ramming into each other during the final three weeks of the year before going into the Chase; they just ride around and try to stay out of trouble.

This is going to end up being a boon for the excavating company that is going to bust up the track and resurface it. In the end, it will likely end up being another episode similar to that which took place at Charlotte Motor Speedway a few years back: Take the best example of a unique track on the circuit and destroy it by trying to make it “exciting for the fans.”

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Speaking of Charlotte, there is now yet another change to the All-Star Race on May 19. Much like the championship points format that nobody can seem to agree on for more than three years, the All-Star Race will now allegedly place a premium on winning segments to propel a driver to really try to win the later segments.

Winners of the first four segments will move to the front of the field and line up in positions one through four, before making a required pit-road visit for the final mandatory pit stop. There is no requirement to take two or four tires – or just gas – so the pit stop will determine how they line up on the track for the final 10 laps.

This, in NASCAR’s opinion, will help to regain the excitement that has been missing from the All-Star Race for the last few – er – seven years. Singling out four drivers also has nothing at all do to with trying to draw any parallels to the Final Four NCAA Men’s Basketball bracket either, especially announcing this during the middle of the tournament.

REALITY CHECK.

Why is this new format going to make you try any harder to win the other segments? If the final lineup is determined by how you come off pit road, don’t take any tires and just get gas to come out first and pick the lane you want for the restart. We all know that tires don’t mean squat anymore, as it’s aero first on a downforce track, and whoever gets out first is probably going to win on anything 1-mile and larger.

If you aren’t first all is not lost; just take four tires because the first two are just going to try and do gas only to beat each other out, and you can probably bury it down in there and nudge them out of the way from third or fourth. If anything it’s probably better not to win the preceding segment, because then you make the decision that much easier.

Why not just run it like they did in The Winston back in the early 1990s when they had the best races: Segment 1: 30 laps, then invert the field. Segment 2: 30 laps. Segment 3: Final 10-lap shootout. Every time they keep trying to make it better to make it more exciting, they just dilute it and make it lame.

Part of what has really made this race a shadow of its former self is when they ruined the track by taking the bump out of turn 4, followed by the levigating which ruined turns 1 and 2, and then when they had to repave the whole thing because they screwed it up so bad to begin with.

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The announcement last week that Chad Knaus and Ron Malec would be reinstated – as well as the 25 driver and owner points – for the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team, sent many in the media into a tizzy, beside themselves that NASCAR’s penalty got more-or-less overturned. With the exception of the $100,000 fine that remained, crew chief Chad Knaus was absolved of wrongdoing – i.e., “cheating” – when the Lowe’s Chevrolet was removed from the inspection line prior to practice for Daytona 500 qualifying.

Many have cited that John Middlebrook being a former GM executive was partial and biased as the appellate officer hearing case by General Motors team owner Rick Hendrick, who also owns Chevrolet dealerships. Clearly, he must be on the take and not able to render a verdict with any sort of legitimacy.

REALITY CHECK.

If you work in NASCAR, guess what? You’re going to have ties to either the automotive industry or people in NASCAR. When Gary Nelson resigned as crew chief for Kyle Petty and SabCo Racing back in the early 1990s, did he turn a blind eye to the No. 42 Mello Yello Pontiac when it rolled through inspection? Did Robin Pemberton give the Blue Deuce a wink and a nod anytime something questionable came up during inspection since he used to be a crew chief for Roger Penske?

The fact of the matter is the motorsports community is a tight one and you’re going to have dealings with a number of people along the way who might be in positions of power and influence later on down the line. The fact of the matter is, in this instance, despite whatever Knaus had done in the past that warranted a fine or penalty, this was something that was caught while inspecting and examining the car by measuring it and using a gauge to confirm a part was out of specification.

In this instance, it was eyeballed and the team was told the C-pillars must be removed before it had been subject to any measured evaluation to confirm and document any wrongdoing.

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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