Thursday, September 12, 2013

Now About Those Restarts...

Green should mean Go
When does green not mean go?  Apparently, only when in you’re in second place for the start or restart of a NASCAR race.

Mostly overlooked in the hubbub about the efforts of Michael Waltrip Racing to get Martin Truex, Jr., into the Chase, was the controversial finish to the Richmond 400.  Clint Bowyer’s slide may have cost Ryan Newman a victory, but Carl Edwards jumping the restart at the end of the race won it for him.

NASCAR says the leader on a restart must be the first to the start/finish line, unless officials sitting up in the command center judge that something else was in play.  There’s the rub.  Paul Menard, the leader on the restart at Richmond because he took only two tires, was judged by NASCAR to have spun his tires and that’s why it was okay for Edwards to be ahead at the line.  But drivers spin their tires all the time on restarts.  Was the difference this time because Menard took only two tires?

NASCAR doesn’t like making judgement calls any more than you and I do.

“Do not put us in that position where we have to make the call," Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition, pleaded with drivers in Richmond.  "Because more times than not, it isn’t going to be in your favor – and we don’t want to do that, OK?”
Jimmie Johnson, outspoken all year against the restart rule that cost him at least one race, maybe two, now says he wants NASCAR to throw a red flag and go a video replay to make key decisions, including restarts.  Bad idea.  Real bad.  The last thing we need is longer races, especially when there’s no racing going on and the cars are parked on the track.
But Newman, the center of media focus all week, got it right.
“If the second place guy beats the leader, then so be it,” he said.  “The leader has the opportunity to get going however he needs to get going.  If he has lesser tires, then he chose to have lesser tires. 
“There is no penalty for the fourth place guy to beat the third place guy.  There is no penalty for the eighth place guy to beat the seventh place guy.  Why should there be for the second place car to beat the leader?  It doesn't make any sense to me.
“So, to me, it's a dumb rule.  It just creates more confusion.  There is no need for it.”
That pretty much says it all.  Get rid of the rule. 
Green means go.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Did Andretti Draw Caution Long Before Bowyer?

Rick Mears (3) and Michael Andretti (10) in '91
It was the 1991 Indianapolis 500, one of the better races of the era, before the IRL/CART civil war ripped open-wheel racing apart.

Michael Andretti had led more than half the race, setting a furious pace that left him alone on the lead lap with Rick Mears.  A caution with less than 20 laps remaining allowed Andretti to pit for fuel and he lined up for the restart behind Mears, who had been saving fuel and didn't pit.  In a dramatic move that had 250,000 fans on their feet, Andretti went around Mears on the outside going into turn one.  But Mears returned the favor on the next lap and started to slowly pull away.  After dominating the race, Andretti seemed destined for another heartbreaking finish.

That’s when it happened.  Some fans and several reporters swear they heard Mario Andretti, Michael’s father and Newman/Haas Racing teammate, ask several times on his radio, “Does Michael need a yellow?  I can create one.”  Mario was running in the top five at the time, but several laps behind the leaders.

More than 20 years ago, fans were able to listen to crew/driver radio conversations, but the technology was crude and there was not the widespread use of scanners by fans and media that you see at the track today.  When NASCAR says it doesn’t have the capability to track all team conversations today, think what it must have been like in 1991.  There is no tape recording of the conversation. 

But it didn’t take a tape to set the conspiracy theorists off when Mario rolled to a stop at the entrance to pit road, bringing out a yellow flag with 10 laps left.  First the tow rope came loose.  Then Mario’s car wouldn’t move, forcing race officials to tell him to take his foot off the brake.  Michael needed a one or two lap finish, the conspiracy went, Mears was too strong over several laps.

Michael was able to close up on Mears for the restart.  But when the green flew with six laps remaining, Mears pulled away again for his record-tying fourth Indy 500 victory.

Afterwards Mario was adamant in his denials that he purposely drew a caution flag to help his son.

“All I did was warn Michael,” the elder Andretti said.  “I didn’t do anything that was in my control.  All I did was warn the team it was going to happen.

“Here’s exactly what happened.  I blew the engine just coming out of turn one.  When that happens, of course, you knock it out of gear.  On the backstretch, I wanted to double check whether it was the engine because there was no smoke, so I picked another gear and I saw it was the engine.  So that slowed me down quite a bit.

“When I’m between three and four, coasting, I called the team and said, ‘Warn Michael, whether he needs it or not, I’m going to be creating a yellow because I can’t make the pit.’

“So Michael knew I was coasting and it looked like I was going to be at the choke spot at the pit.  I wasn’t going to create a bottleneck in the pit, in case somebody had to come in fast, so that’s where I stopped.”

Andretti said those listening on scanners, “can make up anything they want, but that’s what I said.”

USAC, the race’s sanctioning body at the time, said it had not heard any of Andretti’s radio traffic and with no tape, would take no action.

Mears, always a class act, shrugged off the incident.

“I’ve never been against yellows,” he said.  “I always figure if you’re in first place, your car should be strong enough to hold it.”
With no wronged party, no tape recording and the fact it involved Mario Andretti, one of the most beloved drivers in auto racing, the controversy faded away.
Clint Bowyer won't be as fortunate.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Get Out of Jail Free Card for Bowyer

The spin that wasn't
So did Clint Bowyer do anything wrong Saturday night in the Richmond 400 for “allegedly” putting his car into a slide and causing a caution flag that changed not only the race’s final standings, but the list of drivers qualifying for the all-important Chase.

Apparently not.  At least not officially.

NASCAR spanked Bowyer’s team, Michael Waltrip Racing, with a wide range of penalties after reviewing the Richmond finish, citing MWR under the catchall “Actions detrimental to stock car racing,” clause.  Each of the team’s three cars (Nos. 15, 55 and 56) were docked 50 championship driver points and 50 championship owner points and all three crew chiefs were placed on probation until the end of the year.  MWR also was fined $300,000, the largest in NASCAR history and General Manager Ty Norris was suspended indefinitely.  Norris apologized via Twitter for his part and MWR said it had no plans to appeal the penalties.  Waltrip said he stood by Norris.

NASCAR assessed the penalties “following the season’s 26th regular season race and not after the seeding for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.”  As a result Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the MWR’s No. 56, who benefitted from Bowyer’s slide to sneak into the Chase, was knocked out.  Ryan Newman, who was leading at Richmond when Bowyer spun and eventually finished third, missing the Chase, was back in.  Joey Logano, who also benefitted from the late race caution, is still in the Chase and Jeff Gordon, who suffered, is still out.  NASCAR said it couldn't take into account the "ripple effect."

As result of that timing, Bowyer gets off pretty much scot-free.  He’ll have the same number of points starting off the Chase as he would have before things started happening Saturday night.

NASCAR was in a tough position.  With Bowyer continuing to claim he lost control of the car, the sanctioning body was faced with a choice of calling one of its tops drivers a liar and opening itself up to possible legal action, or penalizing the team in general.  It picked the team. 

“I'll have to leave it to you to decide if it's surprising or not, but our reaction was specifically geared toward reacting to Michael Waltrip Racing collectively,” said NASCAR President Mile Helton when asked why Bowyer hadn’t been singled out.  “Cars spin out.  We have cautions.  There's a lot of things that happen on the racetrack that people speculate about why it happened or how it happened.  Sometimes there's conclusive evidence.  More often than not, though, you don't know exactly what happened.  But the collection of all the information we collected from Saturday night led us to the team-wide reaction as opposed to an individual car.

“There's not conclusive evidence that the 15 spin was intentional.  There's a lot of chatter, there's the video that shows a car spinning, but we didn't see anything conclusive that that was intentional.

"The preponderance of things that happened by Michael Waltrip Racing Saturday night, the most clear was the direction that the 55 driver was given and the confusion around it, and then the conversation following that occurrence is the most clear part of that preponderance."

I’ve always liked Bowyer.  Who doesn’t (except possibly, Jeff Gordon).  Or rather, who didn’t.

"No rearview mirrors in life, just windshield ahead," said Bowyer via Twitter after the NASCAR announcement.  "It's been a great year and is going to be a great chase. Time to move on!!!"

Get ready for the boos Clint.  I also suspect he’s lost a great deal of respect in the garage area.  The whole MWR team has.  Newman indicated as much on a call about his ride with Richard Childress Racing next season before NASCAR's announcement.

"I'd say the potential is not good for us to be cordial to each other,"  Newman said of MWR.  "In the end, I was extremely disappointed to see and hear some of the things that went down."

That may be the harshest penalty of all.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Chevy SS: Mythical and Rare

Chevy SS: mythical and rare
It now appears the mythical Chevy SS also will be something of a rarity.  As previously noted (June 10, Mythical Chevy SS Moves Closer to Reality), the car carrying the General Motors corporate banner in NASCAR this year isn’t actually on sale yet.  It won’t go on sale until “late this year.” Now comes the surprising news the company plans to sell only 3,000 to 5,000 a year. 

Best case, that’s about 400 cars a month.  The Toyota Camry sold 45,000 cars – in August.  The Camry is the best-selling car in America and sales should top 400,000 this year.  The Ford Fusion isn’t far behind and with production ramping up at a second plant, Fusion hopes to challenge Camry next year for the No. 1 sales title.   

The Camry and Fusion have nothing to fear from the SS in the sales race.  Built in Australia, the SS won’t even be sold at all Chevrolet dealerships.  Instead, sales will be focused in areas where the Chevrolet Corvette and Camaro have done well, mainly Florida, California, Texas, Michigan, Illinois and the Northeast. 

Not sure any of this matters.  NASCAR race cars long ago lost any relationship to their production counterparts.  Just find it interesting GM would put its NASCAR marketing dollars behind the SS when it plans to sell so few of them.  Especially when the new Impala is getting rave reviews and the Malibu also is doing well.  Both previously represented Chevrolet in NASCAR.

Oh well, I’m sure the General knows what it’s doing.