Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: The Spirit of the Rules

The lingering storyline from Talladega turned out to be a trio of Joe Gibbs Racing teammates whose strategy was to run far off the pace all day, including at the finish. NASCAR says the three didn’t violate the spirit of the 100 percent rule. What say you?

Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: Hanging back at the plate tracks has been a strategy teams have used for a long time, but it’s been more prominent recently (another unintended consequence of the Chase?).  I don’t really care one way or another if a team does it; if they hang back and avoid the crash but can’t get to the front, well, that’s their own fault.  If they do it and win, it worked. But I do think NASCAR was wrong here, because it said the drivers’ actions didn’t help a teammate, which was what the rule was really designed to prevent — but it did, or at least it had great potential to, because had they joined the fight at the end and one of them inadvertently passed or pushed someone else past Denny Hamlin, Hamlin’s Chase would have been over. So by not taking that chance, yes, the spirit of the rule was violated.

Mark Howell, Senior Writer: It’s difficult to define exactly what it means to run at 100 percent. It’s like when people say that they’re really hard workers while hanging out in the break room or updating their Facebook page from their office. Levels of competitive exertion are seriously relative terms. I’ve been with race teams where we ran as hard as we could despite the fact that our car was off the pace and we needed to stay out of everyone’s way. Not that this is what the three JGR cars were doing at Talladega last weekend, but it’s difficult to judge just what racing at 100 percent really looks like, especially at a superspeedway.

Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: The only people complaining about it are either vehemently anti-Toyota or Austin Dillon fans. There was absolutely nothing to be gained by the Nos. 18, 19 and 20 JGR cars to mix it up and possibly get caught up in a wreck, eliminating themselves from championship contention. There’s a reason why races are 500 miles not and five laps; there is a certain amount of strategy involved in auto racing, just as there is any other sport. Do you constantly swing for a home run in baseball? Is every play in football a 50-yard go route? Any suggestion that what they did violated the spirit of any rule is patently false and downright absurd. No different than any other driver in the past 68 years who took it easy when he was trying to maintain a championship position. So spare me the tears from the bummed-out bow-tie boys who didn’t seem to be wringing their hands over the No. 48 dogging it running 23rd to help save Chase Elliott a point.

NASCAR confiscated hollow jack bolts from the No. 78 prior to qualifying (rules state these much be solid) but stated there is unlikely to be a major penalty.  Right call?

Howell: Last time I considered the state of jack bolts, I don’t recall having to choose between solid or hollow. That choice usually comes when buying chocolate rabbits at Easter. Teams always have a fascination with hollowing parts out to reduce weight — I’ve heard crew chiefs over the years strategize the benefits of hollowing parts and using materials like titanium to add strength while maintaining a NASCAR-legal exterior. The No. 78 team was caught with illegal parts. I believe the punishment should be fairly severe, especially if NASCAR wants to ensure that such indiscretions aren’t seen again.

Pugliese: Yes. This is an issue that occurs at the shop when they’re prepping the car on the setup plate. It’s an oversight and not an effort to circumvent any rules. As much as a non-issue as the JGR cars taking it easy Sunday afternoon.

Henderson: Wrong call.  We all know every ounce counts in racing, less weight in one place means it can be added somewhere else to change the car’s handling.  Things that are supposed to be solid and are hollow instead didn’t get that way by accident. Yes, Martin Truex, Jr.’s engine detonated and it doesn’t matter in the scheme of the Chase, but there should have been a penalty. It might have been too small to give a big advantage but that doesn’t mean the team wasn’t trying to gain a small one.

With one single-car team reportedly selling its charter this offseason and another considering it because it’s in a position where it could be revoked in a couple of years, should there be an underlying concern for the health of the sport as a whole?

(Photo: Logan Whitton/NKP)
With charters up for grabs after just one year, should fans be worried about the state of NASCAR and auto racing as a whole? (Photo: Logan Whitton/NKP)

Pugliese: Not so much the charter, but rather the reduction of the field to begin with down to 40, and the dwindling ratings are what point to icebergs on the horizon. Economic uncertainty due to an over-inflated stock market, a re-emerging housing bubble and election year lowest race record EVER since 2001. What would be interesting would be to see if there would be any ratings increase or change if they went back to the Latford system used from 1975-2003. My guess is there would be a net effect of zero, one way or the other. The Chase hasn’t worked since after 2004 or 2005. The new format gives the media something to fret over like the Final Four brackets it is trying to emulate, but it hasn’t caught on. The casual fan doesn’t care; fall is for football and even the NFL is experiencing a ratings decline. The fact is that this series has become prohibitively expensive in which to participate. Reduce the number of races to reduce the expense and create scarcity of product to help increase demand.

Henderson: It’s not really about the charters.  You will see these bought and sold as the years go on, but it is an issue when teams try and fail to make it in the sport.  It’s not like Tommy Baldwin and Frank Stoddard didn’t know what they were doing, but the odds are so stacked against anyone without $20 million to spend, and in the long run, that’s a problem.  I’ve heard fans say they wish someone other than the usual suspects could be competitive.  Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen regularly without some major changes.  The sport needs competitive teams at all levels, and the possibility of a couple going under is not a good sign.

Howell: Change is inevitable in everything. The selling/shifting/swapping of charters should not be seen as a harbinger of bad times ahead. Some might say that it’s actually a sign of future growth; new teams replacing old ones means we’ll see fresh blood and new ideas around the series. Without the ebb and flow of charters, we’ll be stuck with the same teams doing the same things they’ve always done. Change can be a good thing, and I think that’s what these shifts in charters among teams is reflecting.

Martinsville Speedway is on the docket for this weekend for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series.  Who’s in the best position to make a statement in their respective Chases?

Henderson: On the Cup side, either Jimmie Johnson or Kevin Harvick is in a good position at a track they both run well at to make a statement to Chase favorite Joe Gibbs Racing that it’s not going to be as easy as they thought.  As for the trucks, both Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter need a shot in the arm, and one of them just might find it in Victory Lane.

Howell: It’s now officially go-time! We’ll see Joey Logano punch his ticket to Homestead-Miami Speedway at Martinsville this weekend. On the Camping World side, we’re going to see a shootout between William Byron and Sauter. The NCWTS race just might be the best show on the docket this week.

Pugliese: Truck Series: I’m going to say Christopher Bell. Martinsville bodes well for him — not so much because he’s ran well there in the spring (he didn’t), but because the next tracks look pretty good for him. He won at Gateway Motorsports Park, which kind of has some similarities to Phoenix International Raceway, and he finished fourth at Kentucky Speedway and sixth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Are they Homestead replicas? No, but close enough, given the speed and banking involved. He just needs to not stub his toe at the Paperclip, and he might be able to pull one off here. For the Cup Series, while many would say Johnson or Hamlin given their respective records there, I am going to go with Kurt Busch. The No 41 team has been nothing short of adequate all season long, staying out of trouble, finishing races and not doing anything silly to take itself out of contention. Busch made a great move coming to the line to preserve his Chase hopes, and if he and Tony Gibson can figure out the combination that earned them their first win together here in 2014, it’ll set the stage for Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix nicely.

About the author

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Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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I was can’t stand anything Toyota, and I was not happy with the Austin Dillon move with Ty..SOOOO..NEXT………

Brian made that rule because of his fake outrage at Richmond, big whoop teams did what ever he was mad at forever! .BUUTTTT because who was “hurt”, the pitchfork crowd was a screamin’ at the injustice of the race.. and he had to do something! Calm the villagers… so he made that rule…100% all the time. Well the Gibbs Girls clearly were in violation of the rule. Now…some argue “strategy” etc. when that is why the rule was implemented in the first place! Now Nascar because at this point Toyota is their biggest piggy bank..that retoric and logic goes bye-bye and the offenders, from Castle Daytona get a pardon. They make the rules, but they don’t enforce the rules…selectively of course.


Forget the charters. The biggest red flag on the sport’s health is still no new title sponsor, with the 2016 season wrapping up in just over three weeks.


Does any one else get the impression that maybe Brian wasn’t exactly factual when he told the benefits of the charter system? Isn’t it time we got the money earnings in the race results?


Amy, your comment regarding Hamlin is off-base, as usual. The only way the three JGR drivers could have affected Hamlin is if they had finished BETWEEN Hamlin and Dillon. The whole POINT of POINTS racing is the differential between drivers, not the absolute finishing position. So, IF Kenseth, Edwards, and Busch had finished ahead of Hamlin, Denny would have finished 6th and Dillon would have finished 12th, leaving Hamlin with the EXACT same advantage he had over Dillon. If they had finished BETWEEN Hamlin and Dillon, that would have given Denny a bigger cushion than a tiebreaker. If they had pushed Hamlin to the win, Dillon would have had no chance to make it to the next round either.

Please tell us what scenario you envision would have helped Dillon if the JGR guys had been in the mix at the end.

Biff Baynehouse

1. Despite it’s concise wording, it CLEARLY is a violation of the 100% rule, whether it be the letter or intent of the rule. Points are rewarded based on final finish order. So, there is essentially no difference in the points between riding around at 1/2 throttle all day & or for the final 1/8 of a mile of the final lap. There is NO difference. The strategy has been excepted practice since before the inception of the “chase”, but I do not recall the strategy ever having major “chase” implications. They were staying out of trouble, as well as staying out of the #11’s way & making sure they don’t finish in front of him. This is a pristine example of ONE of MANY FLAWS in the feeble-minded gimmick know as the “chase” format. This will be a part of that as long as the “chase” is in existence. This was conceived of LONG before the “chase” every hit the road, yet they it did not stop them from implementing it. Now, that 3 competitors were CLEARLY at 95% all day, in their infinite wisdom, they FAILED to legislate against it. So, they essentially & absolutely PROMOTE, among many other forms of “cheating”, these sorts of ulterior motives. It is up to fans to vote with their commentary & their disposable income. As for me, I lost a lot of faith in Nascar when they first implemented the “chase” format. This is NO WAY to decide a motorsports championship. In my opinion, it has reduced what was formerly the epitome of motorsports championships, to a mockery of motorsport World. Then this season, with the inception of “caution clock” in the CWT & the expansion of the “chase” to the NXS & CWT, I have backed off my support of Nascar CONSIDERABLY more. Vito, would you like to borrow my foil hat? Why would a media professional issue a blanket statement that broadly insults Nascar fans? I am happy to hear your opinions about topics related to Nascar & the teams there-in. But it would be nice if you would leave Nascar’s patrons out of your negative & counter-intuitive mind-sets & conspiracy theories. Thanks in advance. Typical JGR fan, yeah?
2. As a mech engineer & CNC machinist I have advanced understanding of parts. I believe individual part in question is just one component of a jack-screw assembly. And the proper term is “counter-bored”, not hollow. My understanding is that this is an assembly that would be loosely similar to shock absorber, with respect to how the moving parts fit inside one & other, like a sleeve. That’s to say, the inside of the outer jack-bolt bolt is drilled or machined out to a tolerance’ed diameter & depth, to allow for another part to fit inside, which I believe are threaded to mate. Also, jack-bolt parts & assemblies of different lengths are used for different specifications to meet track handling parameters. I believe superspeedway suspension have LESS travel, so the overall jack-bolt assembly, as well as it’s individual parts are several inches shorter. Which would mean the counter-bore hole of the part in question would be shorter, or less deep. As I understand it, the #78 used a counter-bored jack-bolt that was specified for a different track that was too long for the Dega’s specification. This would mean the part was, overall, longer, as well as counter-bored (or “hollow”) beyond what was needed & what Nascar specified. But, it would seem the longer bolt would actually be HEAVIER, despite being bored out beyond what was required. So, [if this is all true] this definitely would seem to be an honest assembly “mistake”. But, I submit that how or why it got on the car is entirely irrelevant. A non-conforming part was presented by a competitor at the official pre-qualifying inspection. NO team should be afforded any leniency at that point, with regard to mechanical parts. As if a “chase” itself, & a “chase” craps-shoot, like Dega, does not delegitimize the championship, the season & their brand as a whole enough, allowing the #78, who was [intentionally or unintentionally] outside of specifications [aka: cheating], to sit on pole is the ultimate sin. Nascar is it’s own worst enemy! Attempting to get a non-conforming part thru inspection [intentional or not] puts you in a WORLD of **it in any major race series in the World, EXCEPT Nascar! Back of the field start, fines & suspensions galore …YES! All of the above! Failing to do so DELEGITIMIZES their brand. END OF STORY!
3. Charters are designed to change hands readily. As long as there is a taker, doing so, in itself, has little or NO relevance to the overall health of the brand. But, similar to the stock market, the price will indeed be indicatory of overall health. From a fan & supporter stand-point, I view the Charter system as making a very little difference in the on-track product, while making a very positive contribution to the overall sustainability of the sport, namely it’s participants. At the onset I thought it was a horrid notion, but I must say, other than Wood Brothers not getting an initial one, I rather like the way it has played out. Long story short, in order: replacing historic venues for population-mass centralized cookie-cutters, the post 911 downturn, the loss of the iconic Big E, the “chase” & not having a plan “B” …have ALL decimated Nascar’s fan base & resulted in the Charter system. Social, economic & the automotive industry’s conditions of the 80’s & 90’s are gone & will never be replicated & that lost fan base will never return. So, they are dealing with it as best they can. Some processes I like, others I despise. Good, bad or indifferent, one way or another, I will ride it out. I am a motorsports fan thru & thru. Formerly, I was fascinated with Nascar’s brand & followed them with near religions devotion. But more recently, namely because of the “chase” farce, I have gravitated towards other series, with integral championships, namely IMSA, bcuz of the Ford GT, & Aussie V8 Supercars bcuz it AWESOME racing.
4. #22 of Team Penske gets redemption!


You and Amy share the same logically-flawed thinking. How would 3 cars who ran in the back have affected Denny Hamlin if they had instead finished AHEAD of him? The points differential between Hamlin and Dillon would have remained the same and Hamlin would still advance to the Round of 8. The difference between 6th and 12th is EXACTLY the same as the difference between 3rd and 9th.

I guess “mech engineers” don’t need to understand basic arithmetic!

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