Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Should NASCAR Clamp Down on Post-Race Car Contact?

Following his win Sunday (March 3) in the Pennzoil 400 Presented by Jiffy Lube, Kyle Larson invited his kids to celebrate the win with him during his frontstretch interview.

In the few short minutes he was out of the car, astute viewers noted that his son had jumped on the roof of the car, removed the side window, and was pulling on the corner of the spoiler. Sure, it was a charming moment (and what harm could a 50-pound kid cause?), but it did create some discussion social channels, and got us to thinking as well. Should NASCAR exercise some control over who’s crawling around the winning car prior to post-race inspection?

This week, Vito Pugliese and Amy Henderson tug at the implications and the heartstrings in 2-Headed Monster.

Make a Memory, Not a Big Deal out of Nothing

After Larson won his first race of 2024 last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he shared his finish line victory interview with two special guests: his son Owen and daughter Audrey, who ran out to celebrate their dad’s win. After Larson gave his interview, he piled the children into the car for a ride to victory lane.

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Some viewers were quick to point out that during the celebration, Owen was on the roof of the car and grabbed the spoiler as he rounded the car on his way to the celebration. Once the children were in the car, they removed the passenger side window (possibly at Larson’s suggestion), which is mandatory on intermediate tracks. What if the car didn’t pass inspection?

And, predictably, there were the ones who said the youngsters had been instructed to do it to hide something Larson’s team didn’t want NASCAR to see.

Insert eye roll here.

In any case, the car passed post-race inspection and that was that. But what if it hadn’t? Should NASCAR put a stop to kids in or on the car, or any kind of celebration which could alter the shape or ride height before it goes through inspection?

No. Just … no.

NASCAR curbed drivers jumping onto the roof several years ago after someone had an issue with inspection because of it. Victory lane officials even had a little stick with a bar on it they’d stick up to remind the driver not to get up there. Fans hated the curbing of the celebration. They might have understood it, but the rule wasn’t popular. And the stick was straight up silly.

There’s not much organic left in NASCAR these days. Races are manipulated with planned cautions, the championship race is manipulated with the playoffs. Nothing is allowed to play out to the end the way it should. 

Let the driver have their moment. Let them have their kids ride with them to celebrate — they grow up so fast and it won’t be long until they don’t want to do that anymore. 

Let something still be real.

If the car fails inspection, it fails inspection. It’s unlikely any driver is going to let his kids do anything that will damage the car enough to risk disqualification. If he does … that’s on him. Not on NASCAR, not on the other drivers who celebrate and don’t have issues.

But what if the car was cheated up and the driver/kid/wife/random guest just happens to fix the alteration? 

Again, it’s pretty unlikely they’d be able to do anything to make a difference. The Larson kids weren’t running with sledgehammers that slipped and hit a quarter panel. They were doing normal things that kids do when they’re excited. It’s far more likely that a driver would damage his car (or hide something) doing a burnout than by giving a teammate a ride to the pits or putting their toddler in the driver’s seat for a photo op.

Fans complain all the time that drivers have become too vanilla, too boring and devoid of any personality. Do we really want NASCAR to throttle them further by banning any celebration that goes beyond climbing out of the car and saying, ‘Woohoo. We won. I want to thank my team and sponsors and my family. It was awesome’?

I sure don’t. Let them be real for a few minutes. It’s all we get nowadays. – Amy Henderson

From Science Project to Jungle Gym in 400 Miles

Whenever we have these types of articles that weight the pros and cons of memorable or wholesome appearing moments, I usually end up being the fun police.

Well once again, I’m here to execute a warrant; this time, against tampering with the racecar prior to post race inspection.

Not that I’m accusing anyone of anything. Owen Larson is not guilty until proven innocent in my court of wild accusations. It’s simply the basic premise of avoiding the appearance of any perceived impropriety. Given the amount of time and effort spent measuring these things with frickin’ laser beams, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that we don’t treat the cars like playground equipment after a win.

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In July of 2022 at Pocono, Denny Hamlin had a win — and a pretty rad bald eagle trophy — rescinded over a piece of tape that was less thick than a credit card. Does it crush the victory lane experience if we aren’t jumping on the roof, tugging on spoilers, and removing side windows 100 yards away from any inspector? I mean, this is the same organization that saw Chad Knaus reminding Jimmie Johnson that if he wins, be sure to crack the back of the car up afterwards — while Johnson was discretely gesturing to the camera on the dashboard pointing at them.

Besides, this is the Larson family. Isn’t Katelyn supposed to be out there, Stone Cold-ing a couple of Steveweisers to the delight of the crowd?

Hey, I get it — it was a perfect, made-for-TV-moment to remind everyone that it’s still a fan-friendly sport. But shouldn’t we at least measure the spoiler on pit road or something before everyone starts climbing all over it or throwing stuff on it? I come from a day where they’d have to measure the car three or four times afterwards, waiting for things to cool off as they were that tight on tolerances. A car too low was always blamed to have ‘settled on the shocks’ or quarter panel heights skewed because another car hit the bumper too hard, and it bowed them up a little.

Of course, the nightmare scenario isn’t a potential rules infraction early in the season at Las Vegas; though, if something questionable did happen in Vegas, it would set the sporting world abuzz that there was a ‘Vegas Call’ made to skew the wagering results. But humor me for a minute, if this were to happen at the season finale in Phoenix and the second-place finisher protested – would that not cast a dark cloud over the results?

Is this whole thing much ado about nothing and little more than hypothetical pearl-clutching? Yeah, probably. But if we’re going to compare NASCAR to other forms of motorsport — most notably, the other one that’s really popular here lately due to Netflix exposure, where procedures and rules are treated with a religious fanaticism with no room for exceptions (but plenty of room on track due to 25-second intervals), it wouldn’t hurt to tighten up the post-race norms a bit.

I know, who can forget everyone on the Petty Enterprises team riding the No. 43 to Victory Lane in 1979? A different era with yachts made into racecars, and cars with actual metal bumpers and a foot of ground clearance, are a world apart from what we’re working with today. If only to prevent the opportunity for someone to claim an unfair advantage or plausible deniability of why something might be off in post-race inspection, it might be worth considering. Now, off to pop someone’s birthday balloons at Chuck E. Cheese. – Vito Pugliese

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.

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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Jonathan

First off! I don’t think it’s a cause for concern for crying out loud. 1. Owen was jumping on the car celebrating. 2. He was pulling on the spoiler because he noticed the car was moving even though it was in gear ( that’s because of the incline) he even geatured to his Dad during his interview. 3. He removed the window because he was told to and so he and his sister could have fresh air and celebrate waving the checkered flag. The only real concern I seen is that maybe he shouldn’t have jumped up and down on the roof, other than that let them enjoy the happiness with their father.

Jonathan

Again maybe Owen shouldn’t have jumped up and down on the roof. Anything else I saw NO issue with. Driver’s have done and still do some pretty significant damage just doing burnouts. I love NASCAR I haven’t missed a race in more than 25 years.

Jeremy

Make them beef up the cars so the hood and roof must each hold 300 lbs without deforming, and bolster the rear wheel wells/fenders to take the abuse of an exploding tire during burnouts. Problems solved. Or, do nothing and just accept these are gray areas that could be exploited to mask a creative advantage, but the benefit from increased fan enjoyment of jubilant celebrations after a win exceeds the risk of said rules exploitation. Recall, they still randomly inspect non-winning cars too, so the odds that only the winning car is purposely out of spec for only that particular race is slim – and repeat offenders will eventually get caught.

JimC

RE: Owen Larson is not guilty until proven innocent in my court of wild accusations
I believe the saying is, innocent til proven guilty LOL

Rev. Ernest Lee Sincere

These NASCAR cartel drivers know that underage children won’t be punished. A slap on the wrist would be considered child abuse.

Joshua

This is not even something an article should be written about. Paying attention to social media keyboard warriors is silly. Let the family have their fun. If a carbon fiber composite body can hit the wall at 120 mph and barely deform, a little kid on a roof isn’t going to damage it.

Bill B

I know. LOL… Isn’t there anything better to discuss. Apparently not.

Wildcats2016

Well said, Joshua. Another waste of words.

Wildcats2016

oh my goodness are people really making an issue of having Owen climb up on top of the car to celebrate with his dad? I agree with Jonathan’s points. Only NASCAR can take a fun celebration and turn it into a mess. Anyone remember the whole thing with Victory Lane and the Gatorade vs PowerAde mess with Johnson some years ago. You’d have thought they had committed high crimes rather than covering up the signage!

DoninAjax

How about Coke vs Pepsi in VL?

Abe Loughin

Let’s break this down a little. Owen jumping on the roof first. So in the past NASCAR stopped the practice of standing up on the roof because it was metal and it’s shape could be altered by doing so. Today’s cars have a composite body, so with minor impacts it will return to it’s original shape. Think Tupperware lids. Next, pulling on the spoiler, the spoilers are so rigidedly mounted you have to impact it pretty hard to change the angle. So in my opinion, no harm no foul. Let the driver and his family celebrate, these wins come few and far between for most.

DoninAjax

Maybe Mr. H doesn’t want anyone of any size pulling on the rear spoiler? Who’s taken over for Knaus?

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