It’s six races into the Sprint Cup Series season. Five teams have locked themselves into the great lottery known as The Chase. There are 20 competitions left for us to determine which 11 other drivers might join the winners in the most lucrative part of the year. Right now we’re missing a long list of top guns from the almighty Chase list; most notably no Roush, RCR or MWR team has managed to snare a trophy, yet. What will the stables like RCR be willing to do in order to slip their guy into The Great Race? What is NASCAR going to do to keep them out?
As far back as last November, in the midst of the Chase, teams were feeding the sanctioning body plenty of things that ought to be watched: this included bending out sheet metal around the exhaust pipes and playing with the tire pressure. NASCAR was convinced their laser-sighted inspection machines would take care of the rest. However, it didn’t matter if the teams were tipping off the police, because given an opportunity to reap a massive reward, everybody who filled out entry forms has been willing to lay it all on the line in order to gain that extra 1/100th of advantage in the pursuit of playoff media exposure.
While the No. 31 team scrambles to build a credible defense for Luke Lambert, the rest of the garage is slowly crossing the next boundary pushing idea off the white board. The cat and mouse game is on.
- Don’t punch pins through your tires.
- Don’t bump the car when it sits in the inspection bay.
- Don’t drop weights on the track during a race.
- Don’t adjust the profile of your car between inspection and competition.
Damn! What else is left to do? Is it possible to wire an additional adjustment to the traction bar knob in the cockpit? How about an auto-dispensing fluid tank that can be opened up when you’re being hunted down by the No. 4. Some kind of explosive tape marking off your pit that can pop your neighbor’s tire when they run over it. We’ve seen jet fuel before…
It’s not like there’s anybody to blame for the non-stop tweaking of the rules cage. When you have a rule book and the requirement to win or be left behind, there’s not a whole lot that a highly competitive group of racers isn’t willing to do. Install a chip the size of a fingernail into the fuel injection system—that could be useful.
The sport is supposed to be a hallmark of rewarding the fastest car, and nothing more. However, that definition was created in an idealistic setting by a few guys sitting on bar stools. It lacked the requirement of a $20 million budget and the kind of propaganda machine only developed in small countries. Too much lays on the line for even the little guys to just follow the checklist and hope Lady Luck will smile down on you come Sunday afternoon. Complicating the rule book seemed to be the only way to halt the dominion of the few chosen.
Yet, in an intriguing backlash and balancing of justice’s scales, the winner takes all scenario for our playoff system simplified the whole thing.
You can put all the rules you want in that giant book. It doesn’t matter. If a team wants to see their car and driver in Victory Lane, they will have to throw in all their chips—even the fake ones—into the pot. You can call it cheating the system. The fact is, playing against the fence is the only way they are going to get to the top of the pig pile, all the while hoping that the ump didn’t notice the hole in the chain link.
It’s been said that perhaps Richard Childress Racing went too far when they “fixed” Ryan Newman’s tires in Fontana. However, without a trophy and now the possibility of a crew chief for six races, it easily argues that they didn’t go far enough.
If you think that NASCAR just brought the hammer down and we’ll see all the teams get in line over the next month or so, you’re thinking wrong. Instead, be prepared to be stymied by the engineering genius solutions that teams will have to bring to the track in an effort to Stump the Inspector over the summer.
Breaking the Rules was never what NASCAR intended when they laid it all on the line, but that’s what they got.
The Fight at Texas between Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton
Okay, it wasn’t really a fight. There was some heated flailing between the pair. The initial wreck looked downright awful, with Burton’s No. 31 drilling Gordon’s No. 24 straight into the wall, with apparent intent. What made this fight a video snapshot of NASCAR for years was the incredulity the NASCAR audience felt through the entire episode. There was no way Jeff Burton would intentionally wreck anybody, let alone Jeff Gordon. There was no way Jeff Gordon was gonna throw down, and yet he did.
After a 62 race winless drought, this 2010 moment reminded NASCAR Nation that Jeff Gordon had not given up, not yet, not for a long time to come. Enjoy!
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