Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: The (Lack of) Legitimacy in NASCAR Racing

ONE: Letting Wins Stand Detrimental to the Sport

Yes, Austin Dillon’s first Nationwide victory this past weekend at Kentucky was a feel good story on a number of fronts. A proud grandfather got to see his grandson carry on the family name in a big-time performance. The rookie that could served notice in the Nationwide title chase. And the No. 3 was dominant in a way it hasn’t been in over a decade.

Having said that, the car was found illegal in post-race inspection. It doesn’t matter that the failure stemmed from an apparent parts failure. It doesn’t matter that, as owner Richard Childress told the Sporting News, that the reduction in height was actually of detriment to Dillon’s machine over the course of 300 miles. None of that changes the fact that the car could not pass post-race inspection. It was illegal.

See also
NNS Race Winner Austin Dillon Fails Post-Race Inspection at Kentucky; Penalties Forthcoming

And even though NASCAR levied penalties Tuesday that ended up costing Dillon the points lead (ironically, another RCR entry ended up taking the point), the win still stands. Dillon remains a firm fixture in the title chase. And crew chief Danny Stockman will be back on the war wagon come Daytona this Friday night (July 6). Win a race with an illegal race car, keep the trophy and get slapped on the wrist.

Is it a wonder so many have a hard time taking this sport and the sanctioning body seriously?

TWO: Call for Mandatory Cautions Show Just How Bad Things Are

Those legitimacy concerns are nothing compared to the ones that would result should one Bruton Smith get his way.

Following a weekend of relatively tame racing action that saw the first two events runaways and the third dictated almost entirely by track position (even with aerodynamic changes that were supposedly going to be game changers), Smith put the asinine notion out there that races needed cautions to be exciting. Even if that means, as it would in the case of many current tracks, throwing a yellow flag every 20 laps.

Talk about missing the forest for the trees. Making cautions mandatory doesn’t make racing exciting, it manufactures tension that a crappy on-track product can’t naturally produce. And NASCAR fans have already seen what taking a 400-mile Cup race and turning it into glorified heat races does; the product can range from the recent dud All-Star races of the past few years to the God-awful Brickyard 400 of 2008. That’s hardly an inspiring product to be aiming for.

And it’s also essentially a sign that in the name of trying to placate fans with artificial moments of excitement, a highly influential race promoter is essentially proclaiming that 60-plus years of racing history built on tests of man and machine over the course of demanding distances be thrown out the window.

Hey Bruton, here’s a thought. Take the millions of dollars that SMI obviously still has pouring into its coffers, tear up an intermediate oval or two and built a Martinsville clone. Instead of placing a damaged sport on another crutch, go back to what works.

THREE: What Does JGR’s Commitment to Logano Mean?

Team owner Joe Gibbs was reported Saturday to have stated that re-signing Joey Logano was of top priority for his organization, an issue that apparently has become severable from the team’s longstanding sponsorship arrangement with The Home Depot. Said Gibbs, according to the NASCAR Wire Service, “Joey, we want to get that done. Everything else is kind of up in the air for us right now.”

There’s a lot to be gleaned from these remarks. For one, if the team is ready to commit to a statement that Logano is a priority and Home Depot isn’t being mentioned in the same breath, it’s a pretty good indicator that a seemingly illogical marriage is finally about to end.

It would also seem to point out that, well, Home Depot is spoken for (read: Matt Kenseth got the ride. My fellow writer Matt McLaughlin did well to point out that Ryan Newman’s rage directed at the No. 20 car this Saturday wasn’t consistent with what was going on on-track; it suggested some larger frustration was at play.)

See also
Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: 2012 Kentucky Race Recap

That leaves JGR with the same predicament that Roush Fenway Racing has been having with their underachieving development drivers … trying to convince a major-dollar backer to sign on for Cup dollars to field a glorified Nationwide Series driver.

It makes perfect sense that Gibbs would be pushing Logano at Kentucky; he’s only two weeks removed from his first legitimate Cup win, has been a terror at the Nationwide Series level all spring and is as accomplished a racer at Kentucky as anyone in Sunday’s field.

But make no mistake, No. 20 or not, Logano is going to be the fourth car or out of the fold at JGR in 2013. The owner good as said so himself.

FOUR: Do or Die Weekend for Edwards at Daytona

With all the focus on the Kenseth saga this past week, the magnifying glass has also honed on how disappointing a 2012 season it has been for teammate Carl Edwards, the driver that owner Jack Roush focused all his attention on to the seeming neglect of the 2003 champion.

See also
Winners & Losers: The Harsh Reality of a Kensethless Roush

And there’s definitely cause for concern in the No. 99 camp after the team’s pit strategy backfired in a major way at Kentucky, leaving them winless and outside the top 10 in points heading to the wildcard race at Daytona. There’s something to be said for how far the No. 99 team has fallen; they’re resorting to pit strategy to stay relevant on one of the intermediate ovals they used to be a sure thing on.

As inconsistent and unimpressive as the No. 99 has been this year, the reality is Daytona may well be their best chance before the Chase to score a victory and shore up their position for a playoff berth.

Ford has won the last three Daytona races, and the summer 400-miler is one that’s been kind to Roush Fenway Racing’s underachievers; Jamie McMurray scored the first of only two wins during his ill-fated stint with the organization there in 2007, while David Ragan scored the only Cup win of his career last season.

Edwards came within a lap or so of winning this event in 2008 and there’s no reason to think the Roush Fusions will be less stout this weekend in a race that drivers agreed in consensus at Kentucky would be a carbon copy of what was seen in this year’s Daytona 500. The way his team is running, the plates may be their only shot at getting on the scoreboard for 2012, and generating any sort of momentum that would turn their campaign from rudderless to legitimate.

FIVE: Thursday Race Didn’t Seem to Be a Draw at Kentucky

The crowds were down for all three events at Kentucky Speedway this weekend and there are a million different explanations to be had for it; extreme heat, the land hurricane of Friday afternoon, bad memories of 2011’s horrible traffic problems.

That doesn’t change the results though; the Cup race did not sell out, the Nationwide race was nowhere near filling up the 60,000 seats the track had a reputation for filling before it got its Cup race and the Truck race crowd was about what one would expect at any venue on the circuit.

Now, granted, the development series that Kentucky did so well with to land their Cup date were bound to take a hit, now that the big boys come to play. But there’s something to be said about the days on the schedule as well … it’s the Saturday show that draws the biggest.

The weeknight event, one of a scarce handful across all three national touring series, just wasn’t the type of draw that would validate the type of talk heard early in the season about Monday Night NASCAR following the rain delay of the Daytona 500.

Sunday is race day. And Saturday night is the night to hit the local track, whatever the track may be. It worked for decades. There’s no reason it won’t work now. The Kentucky Speedway has always had to do things its own way, from suing the sanctioning body to try and get a Cup date to the nonsensical W-shaped garage (apparently a homage, when coupled with the D-shaped oval, to track designer Darrell Waltrip if one watched SPEED on Friday).

Maybe a more conventional schedule would be worth a look.

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