Race Weekend Central

Four Burning Questions: Who Will Benefit Most from Easter Break?

Do the Penalties Fit the Crime for Danica Patrick and Kyle Busch?

Despite another thriller of a race to start the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, the week has been littered with penalty talk following Sunday’s Auto Club 400.

The weekend of events sparked numerous heat-of-the-moment tangents from Kyle Busch’s in-car radio rant, stating that NASCAR is fixed, to Cole Pearn’s oddly offensive tweet to Joey Logano and Danica Patrick’s timely return to her stomping days from IndyCar.

Though Pearn got off without punishment – which seemed right since it was through a social media outlet, later being deleted and apologized for – Busch found a $10,000 fine for denying his post-race media availability following Saturday’s intense XFINITY Series loss. Additionally, Patrick was fined $20,000 and put on probation through the next four races.

With everything finally announced on Thursday, you have to ask if these penalties fit the crimes. I believe they do.

First was Busch’s radio statements on Saturday. Yes, the words were severe and could possibly put the sport in a bad light considering he’s the Sprint Cup champion. However, to look past what happened a mere 15 seconds earlier is silly and almost pulls his statement out of context in a way. It was Hollywood-like yet devastating for Busch, who cut a tire on the final lap and choked around to lose the win in turn 4 by Austin Dillon.

One of the most gut-wrenching losses in NASCAR history will guaranteed to be met with some sour feelings in the following seconds after. Not worthy of penalty.

Now, avoiding media obligations is another thing as it is a practiced part of the job in major motor racing. If you don’t want to talk, sit in your car for a few minutes and cool down. The media will continue to do its job.

Patrick’s incident, on the other hand, was rather obvious as she approached the apron after exiting her car to confront a caution-paced Kasey Kahne. I love emotion and I have no problem seeing somebody do what she did. With as much adrenaline as these drivers have in their systems following insane competition and a death-defying accident, I, like most of us, fail to understand the mentality that generates in the cockpit.

But rules are rules and NASCAR followed what they put down following the fatal Kevin Ward, Jr. crash in 2014. I can respect that, too.

Who Will Benefit Most From Easter Off-Week?

Boy, this season is repetitious sometimes. More than any other sport, we are stuffed inside race season from February to late November with very little time in breath and relax in the middle. This weekend is among them as Easter spells off-week No. 1 for all NASCAR national series action.

With something so mysterious and cryptic as a weekend without racing, who could use – and possibly gain – from some time away?

2016 Fontana CUP Kurt Busch vertical Nigel Kinrade NKP
Kurt Busch was a massive surprise in Fontana, crashing in practice before finishing a disappointing 30th on Sunday. [Photo: Nigel Kinrade NKP]
To start, Danica Patrick and Kyle Busch could use some beach time after Fontana – something Patrick is already taking part in according to her Instagram feed.

Someone else who who may still be a little woozy in the head is Kyle Larson, who suffered a head-on blow Sunday in Fontana, walking away with high praise to the SAFER barrier he hit. Having to sit out a dirt race Wednesday at Placerville Speedway due to feeling “too sore to compete,” I know this weekend will meet him with a warm welcome. Especially with Martinsville seven days away.

The last break-worthy team will be Roush Fenway Racing, who will more than likely look forward to having valuable time to prepare for the next onslaught of races as well as posting Easter pictures on social media this weekend.

Off to a semi-sweet start to 2016, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. has captured one top 5 and two top-10 finishes in the opening five races while Trevor Bayne has noticeably improved in qualifying. Greg Biffle is the back marker of the trio, sitting 27th in points with only one lead-lap finish.

For the many teams and drivers with momentum, however, they’ll just have to pace themselves through this strange, perplexing weekend.

Why Not Take Advantage of NASCAR Off-Week with an IndyCar Race?

Maybe it’s an odd question with a holiday on the menu this weekend, but why not ask it? Couldn’t IndyCar pull off an Easter race? I think so.

Look, I am one for unity. I want to see NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula 1, Formula E, NHRA, etc., to all work together to promote and expose motorsports on our planet. For example, NASCAR and Monster Energy Supercross have done a great job over the years to support each other.

However, I realize there is a competition side of having separate motor racing organizations in similar U.S. markets. For IndyCar, with a painfully long off-season, NASCAR’s prolonged 38-weekend season is a tough thing to match. So why not take advantage of their off-time?

IndyCar is full of traditions, and I have one more: The Easter in Edmonton. OK, it doesn’t have to be at Edmonton, but you get my drift. Not racing on a NASCAR off-week is a missed opportunity. In these early season weeks where NASCAR is already flying through five races, IndyCar is trapped in a multi-week break before race No. 2.

And that race No. 2 is Phoenix, one of the sport’s most notable changes for 2016. I think a non-point Phoenix exhibition race on Easter weekend would have been a nice touch to build up the return to the desert, along with the sport having their valuable time in the light outside the month of May.

In Formula 1, Is the Radio Clampdown a Positive Change after Race No. 1?

There is positivity in the world of Formula 1. Don’t check your calendars; it’s not April Fools’ Day.

Following the mess that has been the qualifying changes in the recent weeks, the positivity instead comes from the change in radio communications in the sport. One that entails limitation in driver aid from teams.

In a sport slammed with state-of-the-art technology on the track, it is a welcoming sight to see a bit more difficulty thrown at the drivers. Nico Rosberg, who won the Melbourne Grand Prix last weekend, agrees.

“I think the direction is good to give ourselves more responsibility in the race,” Rosberg said. “It’s a good challenge, tough challenge but good. I think the most important is that [the fans] think it’s the right direction.”

Mercedes announced the specific number of in-race messages that were issued throughout the 57-lap season opener [eight compared to 21 in 2015].

Christian Horner, team boss on Red Bull believes telling the driver how to drive the car is “not what Formula 1 should be.”

“I think it was good that they were allowed to talk about strategic stuff, because that’s part of being a team sport,” Horner said. “And tactics. That’s great if the viewers get an insight into that — The tactics of strategy, in a team sport, is quite fascinating. And [it was] good that it was allowed before the race.”

This seems to have been a solid move forward as we begin the 2016 season. Nothing can quite spice up the show more than a little challenge for the drivers and teams. This radio clampdown is a positive move that hopefully goes even further in the years to come.

About the author

Growing up in Easton, Pa., Zach Catanzareti has grown his auto racing interest from fandom to professional. Joining Frontstretch in 2015, Zach enjoys nothing more than being at the track, having covered his first half-season of 18 races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017. With experience behind the wheel, behind the camera and in the media center, he thrives on being an all-around reporter.

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