Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Is a NASCAR Upset Brewing at Talladega?

NASCAR made a controversial call Sunday by not penalizing Jimmie Johnson when his team secured a loose lugnut outside of Johnson’s pit box, citing previous incidents where they have allowed the same procedure.  Was it the right call, or did NASCAR blow it?

Christian Koelle: NASCAR made the right call on their end. When it comes to lug nuts that’s been a big issue facing NASCAR as of late and for the No. 48 team to get the opportunity to fix a mistake made on pit road it shows NASCAR is really concerned about the safety of lug nuts. NASCAR’s statement basically said that the team earned their penalty when they had a super slow stop and got passed by numerous other cars it made any other penalty really irrelevant and kind of overkill in an aspect.

Mark Howell: NASCAR’s rules have never been what we’d call etched in stone. Who you are, who pays your bills, and where you stand in any given event means more than what’s written in the regulations. Given recent attention to loose lug nuts and the dangers they present, I can understand why Johnson’s crew did what they did upon realizing their error. Given the fact that this correction occurred outside the team’s pit box, and that the No. 48 got away with this illegal fix…. here’s where old suspicions rise from the grave. What the Lowe’s team did was an obvious skirting of NASCAR’s rules. Saying that the team paid for their indiscretion because they made a lengthy stop doesn’t seem to justify the nature of what they did:  taking equipment outside their box to complete pit work. For years we’ve seen teams get busted for less. Maybe Furniture Row’s dominance is causing NASCAR to look the other way.

Bryan Gable: Somewhere along the line, NASCAR goofed.  I am not sure if the pit road monitoring system missed the No. 48’s pit stop, or if the team caught NASCAR officials off guard in some way, but NASCAR’s inaction, coupled with its lack of transparency, is problematic.  Yes, having a wheel come off on the race track is a safety issue, but so is servicing a car outside the pit box, which is what NASCAR allowed the No. 48 team to do.  Furthermore, if this kind of procedure had happened before, why did nobody on pit road know the rules?  Either NASCAR let Johnson and his team get away with one, or the sanctioning body failed to implement and clarify its rules.  Either way, NASCAR messed up and is too proud to admit it.  The statement about how Johnson losing spots on pit road served as enough of a penalty was a really lame excuse.

Vito Pugliese: Not the right call, and it’s pretty silly since hardly anybody was aware of it — assuming they were actually aware of it or had been party to it in the past. Unfortunately, what it does is add another item to the list people will cite as either a conspiracy trying to ensure Johnson gets an eighth Championship by making him part of Homestead, or the fans who say NASCAR is nothing but inconsistent on rules infractions and penalties. If you’re taking pit equipment out of the box (i.e., a pneumatic air wrench that if you drive over it, you get a penalty), that should be a penalty. If it’s such a safety concern, then why even bother backing the car up when doing a pit stop, or even having lines indicating where the pit box is? The excuse that they already served the penalty by backing up is nonsense. Dale Earnhardt’s team avoided any penalty after the rights sides fell off at Charlotte in 1990, and the Flying Aces were allowed to basically pit the car at pit exit. No penalty? No problem! He served enough penalty by losing a couple of laps. Wouldn’t you know it, he won the 1990 Championship by 26 points over Mark Martin — after a controversial penalty stemming from a protest by Richard Childress. But who’s counting.

NASCAR drew a few fan complaints that they missed the start of the Bank of America 500 after moving up the start of the Charlotte race by a little over an hour last weekend.  Was it the right move, and did the sanctioning body do enough to inform the fans?

Gable: Given the bleak weather outlook for most of the weekend, NASCAR made the right call.  The decision to start the race early was all over social media days in advance of the actual event.  If fans found themselves unaware of the decision, that is on them.

Pugliese: It was absolutely the right call. Anybody who says they didn’t know is playing plausible deniability, or didn’t remember to start the DVR a couple of hours earlier. It’s 2017 people…how can you just NOT know? Anybody can find Jayski.com, access Twitter, or Facebook and the umpteen million fan groups on there. Don’t “do the Facetweet thing” you say? Fair enough — you probably have 20 friends that do. If not, if you’re such a fan, you’d have known that weather was going to be an issue as it was all anybody talked about on any NASCAR show the entire week. At this point, those who complain the loudest just want something to be mad about. They’ll likely bring up Toyota owns NASCAR now and go off about how Danica doesn’t belong or didn’t live up to expectations. You have to take care of the fans first that come to the track (the precious few that still do most weeks), and this has ALWAYS been a NASCAR prerogative — moving up the start time in the event weather may affect getting to halfway. Pretending to not know this is just being obtuse for the sake of being difficult.

Amy Henderson: It was absolutely the right call, but you know what would be an even better call? Starting races at a not-stupid hour to begin with. No East Coast Sunday afternoon race should start later than 1 o’clock, ever.

Michael Massie:  I said this would happen when NASCAR announced this rule last year. NASCAR did everything it could do to inform people of the change, and it was the right call to make. The problem is the fans were too busy pounding down cold ones to pay any attention to the announcement. This was not NASCAR’s fault by any means and I hope they continue to do this when rain is in the forecast. People will catch on if you do it consistently. However, this race should not have been set to start at any time later than 1 p.m. to start with.

Landon Cassill is the latest driver to join the free agent ranks for 2018.  Is there a home for journeyman Cassill in one of NASCAR’s top series?

Henderson: There was a day that a talented driver could land a ride in the sport and an owner could find sponsorship for him based on that talent.  Now…not so much. Cassill is possibly one of the most underrated talents in the Cup garage, along with Michael McDowell and Matt DiBenedetto.  Unfortunately, if you can bring a sponsor to the table, talent takes a backseat. I’d love to see Cassill get a real, full-time shot back at JR Motorsports in the XFINITY Series, not in a test car.  He won rookie honors in a part time R&D ride, so imaging what he could do with the support to chase a title?

Koelle: It’s hard to say on whether or not Cassill will find a new home or not. He noted that he didn’t have a sponsorship at this time and that puts him at the back of the line and it’s a shame to see. Cassill may land in one of the lower series given someone gives him a chance to show his worth. He has 12 top-ten finishes in the XFINITY Series and one top-five but that may not be enough to appeal to possible owners especially with the list of free agents that faces the cup series.

Massie: Cassill seems like a decent guy, but I don’t really understand how he has lasted this long in NASCAR. He was given a top-tier ride at JR Motorsports while he was a Hendrick Motorsports developmental driver and he failed to do anything. Meanwhile, Brad Keselowski was winning races and contending for a title in the same equipment. This is, or it should be, a results-driven business. Cassill has not produced results so someone else should get an opportunity. He needs to go back to late models or another form or racing if he wants to continue his career.

Gable: Unfortunately for Cassill, he probably just joined the ranks of the drivers who should be racing somewhere in NASCAR, but do not have a clear path to an open ride.  Most seats in the Monster Energy Series are filled now, so his best bet is probably the XFINITY Series or Truck Series.  Yet even in those lower divisions, Cassill will face competition from and anyone and everyone who has a sponsor.  I appreciate Cassill’s work in building a social media following for himself and the sport.  But no financial backing, no developmental affiliation, and no major wins might be the three strikes that knock Cassill out of the driver’s seat.

Talladega Superspeedway looms on the horizon, and it’s a track where lots of unexpected drivers have a chance to win.  Who’s most likely to stay the playoff drivers’ thunder with a surprise victory?

Henderson: If winding up on the short end of somebody’s stick is a motivator, how about either Landon Cassill or Michael McDowell?  Both are excellent restrictor-plate racers with something to prove, and Cassill’s with a team who’s won at the track before.

Massie: Of course, Joey Logano is the non-playoff driver to watch, given his recent success at the track. Someone else who could steal a win is Trevor Bayne. The Roush Fenway Racing Fords have been fast at the restrictor plate tracks this year, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. winning the last two. Do not be surprised if Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 champion, makes a long-awaited return to Victory Lane.

Howell: You’ve got to like Logano and McDowell as dark horse favorites at Talladega. McDowell, if it happens, just might be the biggest surprise winner of the decade. I’ll also be watching Dale Earnhardt Jr. closely this weekend as he makes his final Cup appearance at the place his family has pretty much owned for the past three decades. If NASCAR wants to have (see? create?) a feel-good story for 2017, it’ll be if/when Junior rolls his Chevy into Victory Lane on Sunday. He seems to pull off big wins at big tracks at big times in his career.

Gable: The low-hanging fruit to pick here is Earnhardt Jr.  Logano falls into that category as well, having won the last two fall Talladega races.  But do not overlook Aric Almirola.  He finished fourth in the two restrictor plate races he ran earlier this year, and of course won at Daytona back in 2014.  If Almirola is going to get one more win with Richard Petty Motorsports, Talladega is his best chance.

Pugliese: Looking through the field, there’s two options. One is obviously Earnhardt, who, considering he’s making his final start here, is probably a bigger story than the playoff itself. The other would be anybody in the field driving a Ford. I wouldn’t go too deep within the Blue Oval bench to pick an upset winner either. Logano is probably my first choice, maybe Bayne. But every time I think Bayne’s turning the corner, the No. 6 is turning right into the wall.

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The 48 team ALWAYS has lengthy pit stops when there is a “itty bitty problem”, but always, always, always seem to retain a position on the lead lap, NEVER going a laps down! Who has not noticed that “sleight of hand” is forgiven, but they were not paying attention! More than once over the years watching his pit stops with the drama associated with that pit stop, maybe count on one hand how many times he has gone a lap down. Always super super suspicious, and we would laugh….of course when the 10 race BS started and now getting him to the HOMESTEAD CUP, this BS isn’t funny anymore, and hasn’t been for some time. NASCAR is a mess with their officiating and excuses depending on who the De jour is of the day. It is vital that Jimmie gets to the Homestead Cup, as he will be available if Brian goes for the 8 time story. The story to hit the newswires while Jimmie is backing his car up in a Victory whatever, or burning down his tires. See I passed inspection….CUP PLEASE!


“NASCAR messed up and is too proud to admit it.”

Really? You think? Looks like you’ve been watching Brian for the last thirteen years while anyone listening to him gets a headache.

As an aside, my son’s dog got hit by a skunk, so in tribute to Ben Colder I’m writing a song “Won’t Get Sprayed Again” to go along with “Six Guitars and a Purple Wall” and “Tunnel Vision.”


The evolution of this lug nut rule has been on the bizarre side. For a few months last year, safety didn’t matter until Smoke spoke up and NASCAR seized the opportunity to squeeze one last fine out of him. In what was surely coincidence a few days later, 5X4 on and if not, a prison sentence. I guess there was a study in those few days that concluded it was a safety issue.

How many times over the years has something come up in an inspection on the 48 car and most of the time, the NASCAR conclusion is no harm, no foul?

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