Consistency or Conspiracy with NASCAR No-Call?
Heading into Talladega this weekend, there are three big storylines: the last ride for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at his most successful track, can Ricky Stenhouse Jr. sweep Talladega and make it into the next round of the playoffs, and is there an underdog who can come from relative obscurity to win at the great equalizer – the 2.66-mile tri-oval in Alabama. Which will be nice, as most of the talk coming out of Charlotte was again what NASCAR did and hasn’t done.
When Jimmie Johnson didn’t get all of his lug nuts tightened, his team brought an air gun over to secure the lugs outside of his pit box. The air gun was also used outside of the box, which would typically be a penalty for removing equipment outside of the pit box. We’ve seen it with fuel cans and jacks, and even catch cans and wedge wrenches left in the car – but NASCAR gave the No. 48 a pass, stating it is a safety issue and they’d much rather have teams take care of it wherever they can (…….) and that having to stop to tighten the lug nuts is penalty enough.
If you were left scratching your head, you’re not alone. Fan and crew chief alike were not aware of the rule – which NASCAR states they’ve made that discretionary call in the past.
There’s two ways to interpret this. A. This truly is how they have been calling it, and leave it to Chad Knaus and the No. 48 team to know the rules and how to work with them to their advantage at all times, or B. Conspiracy fans rejoice! For everyone who says that Toyota has bought off NASCAR and has been cheating their way to race and stage wins all year long, here’s just what’s needed to add fuel to the fire of NASCAR wants Jimmie Johnson to win his 8th Championship so they can have a “what a time to be alive” moment to market.
As juicy of a nugget for everyone with an axe to ground is choice B., the reality is the answer is actually A. Now that it’s known and been explicitly stated, there shouldn’t be any more excuses for loose lug nuts, fines, suspensions and whatever else has been going on for the couple of years during the practice of changing tires six times a race.
That said, if Dale Earnhardt Jr. does win his seventh career Talladega race this weekend, the conspiracy talk of JJ’s pit pass will be long since forgotten among that segment of fans.
Junior Dominating at ‘Dega
Speaking of Dale Earnhardt Jr., is this the weekend the No. 88 finally gets things squared away and runs up front consistently?
One would hope so, being this is his final race here. Even during the (very) lean years of 2009 – 2011, he was still able to run up front and lead laps. In 34 stars here, he’s failed to lead a lap in only 5 races; unfortunately, two of which were his most recent starts here. From 2001 to 2004, he won four races in a row at Talladega, breaking the record of Buddy Baker, and adding a fifth win in 2005. His other finishes were a pair of runner up finishes to teammate Michael Waltrip and Jeff Gordon. The latter was a finish that prematurely halted due to a caution flag on the final lap. The result was a hail of Budweiser cans (full ones) that rained down on Gordon’s No. 24 as he did donuts…until he realized his car was being shelled by beer cans and anything not bolted down from three stories up.
If Junior is to get skunked running up front and leading laps this weekend, Junior Na88tion is guaranteed to see Earnhardt up front in two weeks at Martinsville. Kinda. His wife Amy will be driving the pace car in his final start there, leading the field to the green.
Obligatory “What Can we Do to Stop The Bleeding” Commentary
An article by NASCAR XFINITY Series Driver Tommy Joe Martins – whose family also owns teams within the Camping World Truck Series – appeared this week on Jeff Gluck’s website, Getting The Green: How NASCAR Can Help Race Teams Survive, by Tommy Joe Martins, outlining the current financial model for the series. His piece highlighted how woefully inadequate the sharing of money is within XFINITY and CWTS. The same could be said for Cup as well, given the current number of drivers without a ride next year.
While his piece did provide some potential solutions, it also brought to the surface the tenuous health of all three series.
We’re in mid-October with only a handful of races remaining, and there are two Cup Series champions – one of which won the Daytona 500 – the other who has won it twice and narrowly missed a third last season – are without rides.
The only female in the sport who brought more attention to the sport in the past five years than virtually any of her counterparts outside of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., has no ride or sponsor, and really only one potential decent ride that would make sense. The team car to the most dominant ride all season at Furniture Row Racing is without driver and sponsorship for next season, and will not be campaigned in 2018. Darrell Wallace Jr. has taken to making his own sponsor pitches is without a majority sponsor for next year (that we know of) in what is the most famous car in the history of motorsports.
The last one there to me should be the canary in the mineshaft for everyone.
One of the most talented young drivers in the series, who got his big break in The King’s car this year as a mid-season stand-in, who just happens to African-American, and about the most affable guy in the garage is having trouble getting sponsorship? How?
At a time when the DJIA is setting daily records, unemployment is at a record low, and GDP is growing, this would generally be a time when money should be flowing into the sport from all over corporate America – and it’s not.
Ratings continue to trend down, attendance drop off is kind of hard to ignore on TV each weekend, coupled with costs continually skyrocketing for teams is not a recipe for success. A lot of the issues such as these were supposed to be resolved by the Charter model that was introduced a couple of years ago, but instead appear to be growing.
Is the product on the track that bad? I don’t believe so; sure Truex wins a lot or stages and races, but Jeff Gordon won 13 races in 1998 and nobody cared. The cars are no less relatable now be it a Camry, Camaro, Fusion or Mustang than when Dale Earnhardt’s black number three was supposed to be the spiritual ancestor to my mom’s 135hp Lumina. I know these same questions have been perpetuating for a while, and many are quick to point to the economic downturn back in 2008 as the catalyst for it.
But that was nearly a decade ago. Things have turned around economically. We should be doing better – but we’re not.
Martins’ contribution and Denny Hamlin’s comments about how drivers (in the mid to back half) of the field aren’t compensated adequately should be taken to heart by those tasked with nurturing and growing the sport. There will come a time when it’s too expensive to compete to even warrant showing up. 40-car fields will become 30-car fields, perhaps worse. There is talk of more manufacturer’s wanting to enter the sport. That should be embraced by everyone, as that puts more eyes and dollars focused on the sport, and whatever can be done to lessen the expense and lower the barriers to entry should be enacted quickly.
If it seems like we’ve been writing about a lot of these issues for almost 10 years, it’s because we have. I’m not confident we have another five to keep rehashing what can we possibly do better – we just need to do it.
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.