Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito?: NASCAR Consistently Inconsistent at Indianapolis

It’s been said that the only thing consistent about NASCAR are their inconsistencies. That rang true this past Saturday at Indianapolis, when Elliott Sadler was black flagged for beating the leader to the line in the late stages of the Indiana 250.

By now we’ve all seen the video. The No. 3 was into the back of the No. 2 while the No. 12 was into the back of the No. 22 – a teammate apiece for the two leaders. After the race, NASCAR’s Robin Pemberton stated that although Sadler did not jump the start, he cannot beat the leader to the line. When pressed he clarified they make exceptions in instances where a car may not take off due to mechanical difficulty.

While we can argue the merits of having your rear wheels off the ground and not being able to accelerate as a special circumstance, or being pushed by another car behind you as being one of those things out of the drivers control, how about this: use the freaking flagman. After all, what are they paying that person for if there’s this ambiguous restart box with cones jammed into the fence? A green light maybe that signifies go?

If the leader doesn’t get there first, big effing deal. Isn’t that kind of the point of racing, to beat the other guy? It’s too bad what happened to Sadler, but a bit ironic considering the principals involved.

Brad Keselowski was in the same position earlier this year at Bristol when he was running second to Matt Kenseth on a late-race restart. Keselowski beat leader Kenseth to the line and ended up winning the race – but NASCAR said he did nothing wrong. The same situation occurred at a Nationwide race with Keselowski and Kyle Busch at Phoenix in 2010. The first time it occurred, Keselowski received no penalty. When Kyle Busch did it later in the race, he was flagged for jumping the start.

The RCR cars on the other hand have been fined numerous times this year for improper modifications to the nose and fender area, and for having quarterpanels too low. Kevin Harvick was denied a clear road to victory at New Hampshire after he opted to split the lap car of Amber Cope rather than follow the lapped cars past her, clearing the way for Keselowski to win – even though Harvick had 22 laps to try and catch the No. 22.

Conspiracy theory? NASCAR throwing Penske a bone after the issues with AJ Allmendinger and for being a good sport and working with NASCAR through the events as they played out in the press. NASCAR also issuing their own brand of penalty to the RCR bunch for the rules infractions, one of which with Austin Dillon at Kentucky resulted in a near 10-second victory over the second-place car. No, lower quarterpanels don’t aid in downforce, but it helps the attitude of the car and keeping the front splitter from slapping the track on the washboard that is Kentucky Speedway.

Caught in the middle of all of this back and forth and indecision on whether the No. 2 of Sadler did something wrong – Robin Pemberton. If there is one guy who knows what a screw-job penalty is all about, it is Pemberton. As crew chief on the No. 6 Roush Ford in 1990, Pemberton was made the scape goat in the controversial 46-point fine levied against his team and driver Mark Martin after their win at Richmond.

It was Childress who protested the win, and the fine at the time was the most sever in NASCAR history. Exceptionally harsh many agreed, since the part was actually cleared that weekend in a technical bulletin – unknown at the time by Bill France who was laid up at home with a broken leg. The fine would end up costing the No. 6 team, Pemberton and Martin a championship. They lost that season to Richard Childress Racing and Dale Earnhardt by 26 points.

Is this a case of Pemberton exercising revenge against Childress for something that happened 22 years ago? Absolutely not. Though in NASCAR, it’s best to be nice to everybody, as you never know who’s going to be the judge and jury somewhere down the road.

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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