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After an abysmal start to the season that includes a mechanical DNF at Daytona, a team mate spurred DNF (don’t even get me started) at Bristol and a couple of mediocre finishes in Phoenix and Vegas, it was AMAZING to see Jeff Gordon’s terrific run at AutoClub Speedway this weekend. After qualifying 21st for Sunday’s race, he quickly moved up the leader board finding himself firmly in the top 5 by the time the race reached its half-way mark. The Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet was strong and Jeff was able to take positions seemingly at will. It truly was AMAZING…amazing right up until it got messy!

With rain imminent and only green flag laps, cars were reaching their fuel window and had to pit. Jeff stayed out on track the longest leading a few laps before coming down pit road for his scheduled stop. This is where it got MESSY (to say the least). After receiving the GO signal from his crew, Jeff pulled away dragging the gas man and the still engaged gas can out of the stall with him, resulting in a pass through penalty that left him a lap down in P19. Even so, his car was fast and strong; he quickly passed some lap down cars and moved up to 16th. His lap times were equal to and at some times quicker than the dominant leader, Stewart. In fact, it looked as if Jeff had a decent shot of racing his way back to the lead lap until Mother Nature intervened and opened her skies over Turn 3, bringing out the Yellow.

Now had the 24 stayed on track and taken the wave around the bleeding could have at least stopped there, but oh no! A poor decision to pit under caution (did the team not have access to the same report we in the stands had? Once the rain started it wasn’t going to let up until Monday, so there was absolutely no chance the race would go back GREEN).

Another pit stop resulted in another penalty when the tire changer lost control of the front tire and went bouncing across pit road. I sat in the stands watching in horror! I could not believe this kind of epic fail from a team of this caliber.

Sure enough within a few laps the race went Red and was shortly called due to the torrential down pour, which everyone knew was coming! Jeff finished P26, and slid two more positions in the points to 25th! I hate to be Debbie Downer, but unless this team gets it together and quick they are not likely to recover from this atrocious start to the season and may just miss the Chase and that is more than enough reason for me to mess my unmentionables!

Hey all! I am heading for LAS VEGAS today- because of that posting will be light to non-existent over the next week.  Be sure to follow me on twitter (and Misty too) as we will be tweeting during the race weekend in Vegas.  You can also follow me on Facebook (and Misty too).

In the meantime, here are some fun #NASCAR related things to check out:

Stewart  Not Alone Trying To Figure Out EFI Mystery – Joe Menzer, NASCAR.COM

NASCAR: Darian Grubb Took The High Road To Victory Lane With Denny Hamlin - Jenna Fryer, AP/Autoweek

NASCAR.COM’s Race Predictor and Chase Predictor – A fun page I stumbled upon Tuesday – provides picks for the race and the chase- says it’s “updated throughout the week.” Check it out.

If you can’t laugh at your driver- then you are far too serious. Kevin Boots made this for our friends over at LOLRacePics:

Not only is this funny (it might not be if you don't get the 2001 reference).

I love the new Coca-Cola NASCAR commercial (featuring all your favorite coca-cola family drivers like Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Jamie McMurray):

 

And finally- your gratuitous Tony Stewart picture of the day comes from the official Tony Stewart Facebook page…I think this one is just begging for a caption don’t you?:

What is Tony thinking about?

And this one just because:

Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, jokes with Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage during Media Day at Texas Motor Speedway on March 6, 2012 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images North America)

#GoTonyGo #ImWithSmoke

The Subway Fresh Fit 500 was a welcome change from the season kickoff at Daytona earlier in the week- it wasn’t rained out and red flags didn’t keep us chained to our couches for hours on end, but at the same time after the drama of Daytona this race seemed ever so ho-hum. I would have to say that I really don’t even consider the season to really be in swing until race 2 – Daytona is such a wild card and the results of that race really don’t say much about the direction the season will go.

I didn’t find any truly amazing or messy moments in this race, but there were a few things that caught my attention that I will pay attention to as the season unfolds:

* Darian Grubb bringing Denny Hamlin to Victory Lane. This pairing could be one to watch out for.
* EFI troubles for Stewart- Let’s hope this issue doesn’t become a reoccuring problem
* Jimmie/ Chad trying to rebound from a dismal Daytona and potential pts deficit (pending appeal to NASCAR).

Daytona was so crazy, Phoenix didn’t really stand much of a chance of living up to that craziness, and this fan, for one, thinks it was just the tame race she needed to regroup and pull my belts tight for the rest of the ride this season.

On February 17th (seems like ages ago doesn’t it?) the 48 car entered in the Daytona 500 field failed it’s initial race entry inspection because of illegal C-posts.  The C-Posts were confiscated by NASCAR and the team was allowed to repair the 48 car and go back through inspection and then into practice.  First thought is where the heck is the C-Post…well I found and stole this graphic from an old article on NASCAR.com:

Click graphic to be taken to the story on NASCAR.com that it was borrowed from.

Anyway- today NASCAR announced the “punishment” for the illegal parts. They were found to be in violation of three sections of the NASCAR rulebook*:

Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing); 12-4J (any determination by NASCAR officials that race equipment used in the event does not conform to NASCAR rules detailed in Section 20 of the rule book or has not been approved by NASCAR prior to the event); and 20-2.1E (if in the judgment of NASCAR officials, any part or component of the car not previously approved by NASCAR that has been installed or modified to enhance aerodynamic performance will not be permitted – unapproved car body modifications)

Chad Knaus, crew chief of the 48, was fined $100,000 and suspended for 6 weeks. Car chief of the 48, Ron Malec, was also suspended for 6 weeks.  Jimmie Johnson was fined 25 driver points. Jeff Gordon was fined 25 owner points.

Wow…is it me or is that a little heavy handed? I posted a sentiment like that on my facebook and I guess it might just be me. But never the less I stand by my initial reaction that it’s a harsh penalty…too harsh.  I have several reasons why I think the fines are a bit much:

  1. It’s my understanding that this particular car had been used several times last season. If that is the case- why did it not fail any of those numerous inspections? (Initial inspection, post qualifying inspection, post race inspection). I mean sure I suppose the car could have been completely changed during the off season- but really?
  2. NASCAR needs to be more consistant with it’s fines.  What do I mean by this? Consider this- Clint Bowyer’s car failed post-qualifying inspection.  Yet NASCAR did not offer any fines whatsoever there- not even a mention of possible fines the whole week between qualifying and race day. Yet as soon as the 48 failed inspection on Friday- it was news and talk of heavy fines floated around the team ALL week long.  While the parts that failed inspection are apples and oranges- the end result is this- the cars were both non-standard and thus failed inspection. Yet one team was heavily penalized and the other was let go without even a slap on the wrist.  This is unfair and unequal treatment between teams. NASCAR needs to decide whether or not they are going to be heavy handed rulebook thumpers or the nice “give a team the benefit of the doubt” kind of sanctioning body. It can’t be both.
  3. Since it was the initial inspection and the team never practiced or qualified with the offending parts on the car, I don’t think it should be fined at all. Technically the team gained nothing from the offending parts because they did not USE said parts- the car never touched track.  They removed them and I assume that the car that Jimmie raced in the 500 this past Monday had no technical issues (with the exception of the big technical issue of being crashed in lap two). This, going back to the Clint Bowyer senario mentioned in 2, is really unfair because if there was something unstandard on Bowyer’s car he practiced and qualified the offending part- having gained some possible benefit from it.

Now I am sure some people will argue with “But Chad has done this before- remember when he was suspended and Darian Grubb took the helm as crew chief?” Yes, I have not forgotten this.  My thought in this- Chad and the 48 team have already paid for those mistakes…Chad was removed and fined for those issues. That issue is closed. This is a separate issue. To that arguement doesn’t make any sense. It’s like a tardy student getting expelled instead of suspended this year because they had an unexcused absence and and an additional unexcused absence five years ago, that they already served a detention for five years ago.

So there you have my three reasons I think NASCAR was heavy handed with the fines.  Misty, while agreeing with me in general that the NASCAR punishment is too harsh, also has some good albeit different points about the situation and I highly suggest that you read her post about it as well: The 48 Smackdown: Overkill.

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* I want a rulebook. Just because.

Pushing limits to be the best in any other field is called innovation and leads to better competition and tremendous advancements, but not in NASCAR. NASCAR says how much and how far and if the teams don’t heed there is hell to pay, or at least there is this time for the 48 team. Somehow throughout the years NASCAR has tightened its “rulebook” and standards to a point that no longer leaves room for anyone or any team to “push” the limits.

But, even worse that that, NASCAR does not seem to have consistent or predictable fines or penalties for infractions. The 48′s supposed rule violation before the Daytona 500 resulted in a dramatic penalty for the team that if not reversed through appeal by Hendrick Motorsports will make it virtually impossible for Jimmie Johnson to win a 6th championship in 2012.

Knaus’ last major violation was 5 years ago, so why issue such a steep penalty? Perhaps because of his comment last season to Jimmie at Talladega hinting at something? Well that car was inspected post race and passed. Perhaps past violations from Knaus? Did he not already serve his punishment for these? I say today’s extreme penalties were overkill by NASCAR. The car did not race – the problem with the c-post was found during pre-race inspection. Isn’t that what pre-race inspection is for?

So what should NASCAR have done? A probation for Knaus and Malec- sure, maybe even all season. Suspension for crew chief and car chief, too much for the first offense of season. Monetary fine- OK, heck double it even. Points penalty for driver and owner? Too much! Jimmie will go into Phoenix negative 23 points. As good as he can be, and like him or not, he can be good, that is a deep hole to dig out from especially without Knaus and Malec for six races.

Too often it seems NASCAR selects certain teams and incidents to use as “examples” and yet others skate by with hardly a slap.

I will say this for NASCAR’s decision, it has got some press and brought some attention to the sport (Chad Knaus was a trending topic on twitter today). So perhaps the only good that will come out of penalizing Five Time so steeply is some added attention to the sport from those that otherwise wouldn’t pay any attention at all.

Since the Shootout I had been dreading the 500. The truck race and the NW race did little to curb the knot in my tummy. The rain delay only served to further my anxiety levels and when the race finally commenced at 4 pm Pacific on Monday, I found myself at work. Now, I am blessed to work in a friendly family office that is not only cool with me watching the race but actually accommodates us by having flat screens in each office. I turn on the race and didn’t have to wait long for the inevitable to happen. Sure enough at lap 2 a big wreck erupted. Forgetting where I was, I leapt up and screeched- searching the field to see if my driver was caught up in the mayhem and then I had to go apologize and explain to my co-worker that should he hear any screams or cursing to ignore them as it was just me watching the 500.  While this was just the start of the crashes and calamities that made up the Daytona 500, it was the moment when my pent up dread burst out and after that initial wreck, I was actually able to settle in and watch the race without as much trepidation.

I am glad the tandem draft is over and the “pack is back” at the super speedways – I think, but I have a feeling I am not going to get much sleep the night before the Dega races or the next Daytona race this season.

Hands down the most amazing moment of the much anticipated and long delayed (thank you very much Mother Nature) Daytona 500 was the explosive collision between Juan Pablo Montoya and the jet dryer. While certainly not an amazingly good moment- it is a moment that will go down in NASCAR history and will forever make the replay reels. From the collision, to the fire, to the massive cleanup to get the last 40 laps in, this was a truly captivating moment of the 500, but the most amazing thing is that everyone involved was able to walk away.

Personally I was secretly hoping that the race would not conclude and Blaney would have been deemed the winner- that would almost match last year’s stunning win by Bayne, but amazingly the track surface survived and Kenseth took the checkers. Despite the delays, this is a 500 to remember.

I read LOTS of other people’s thoughts on what is going on not just with Tony Stewart and Stewart-Haas, but with other drivers and NASCAR in general. I thought it might be fun to share some of my favorites with you. I haven’t decided if I am going to do this on a regular basis yet and this list is a little long because I was collecting these for a while for your pleasure.  They will be presented as is without commentary- but know that does NOT mean that I necessarily agree with the article or have no comments about it!

Can Stewart-Haas Repeat? – Mike Hembree for NASCAR on SPEED

Stewart’s success has Gordon lighting new fire- Mark Aumann for NASCAR.COM

Top 20 Countdown: No. 5 Tony Stewart- Jay Busbee for Yahoo! Sports

NASCAR Chase Predictions 2012: Who Will Win The Sprint Cup Series Championship? – Jeff Gluck for sbnation.com

Tony Stewart on The Business Side of NASCAR, Danica, And Being The Champ-  Kurt Badenhausen for Forbes

Fans Rise Early To Meet Racing Champ Tony Stewart- Lacey McLaughlin for the Daytona Beach News Journal

Dale Earnhardt Jr Interview: No Crying In The Autograph Line- Jeff Gluck for sbnation.net

Commentary: Hendrick C-Post Debate Is Much Ado About Nothing- Dave Moody for Sirius-Speedway.com

Video:
(This is longish at nearly 16 minutes but totally worth it!- Amy)

Gratuitous Tony Stewart Picture from Speedweeks:

Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, looks on during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 18, 2012 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)

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* So do you like this feature? Do you want me to continue it? Also? If you want it to be a regular feature at BadGroove does anyone have any witty and/or catchy ideas for a post title?