Slowing Down on the Backstretch – March 8, 2010

Published On March 8, 2010 » 1369 Views» By admin » Blogs, Cup Series

“There’s an age-old saying in NASCAR: ‘If you ain’t rubbing, you ain’t racing. I think that’s what the NASCAR fan, the NASCAR stakeholders all bought into and all expect.” – NASCAR President Mike Helton, Jan. 21, 2010

“Boys, have at it, and have a good time.” – NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton, Jan. 21, 2010

NASCAR made a point during its preseason media tour in January to proclaim it was putting the racing back into the hands of its drivers after a few years of fan cries that rules were squeezing the life out of what should be a full-contact motorsport.

Bump-drafting? Fine and dandy. Tradin’ paint? Get it on. Using the chrome horn as a passing device? Go for it.

Deliberately dumping rivals at 195 mph, causing a driver to fly like Evel Knievel roof-first into the main grandstand wall like it was the fountain at Caesars Palace? Uh-oh.

As cans of worms go in motorsports, this one is pretty big.

The late-race incident between Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski during the Kobalt Tools 500 on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway sent Keselowski sailing into the fence at 190 mph and created plenty of conundrums for NASCAR as it considers possible punishment for Edwards besides parking him for the last five laps of the race.

For example:

•At what point does “Have at it!” become a “Death Wish” sequel minus Charles Bronson?

•Is rubbin’ racing when a driver who is 150 laps down takes out a rival who is running sixth? There was nothing accidental about this wreck. Carl Edwards admitted as much on his Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Carl-Edwards/171225220166?ref=search&sid=1588818685.3459852004..1

•How do Edwards’ past problems with road rage affect this incident? This isn’t the first time Carl has encountered anger management issues with a rival driver, including this famous incident in October 2007 at Martinsville with teammate Matt Kenseth: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4CBm_VugNYk . And don’t forget Edwards vs. Kyle Busch in August 2008 at Bristol: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KS5TS30o9rA

•And how will Keselowski’s Harvey Wallbanger tendencies affect NASCAR’s decision? Keselowski nudged Edwards into the catch fence like a heat-seeking missile last year on the final lap at Talladega, and Keselowski’s non-apologetic, full-contact antics in the Nationwide Series and this season in the Sprint Cup Series have made him few friends in the garage. A good source told me this morning that most of the sentiment around the Cup garage after the race Sunday was that Brad had what was coming to him.

•Every NASCAR fan in America is talking about this wreck today at the water cooler, in the garage and on Internet forums and social media. Isn’t this the kind of buzz NASCAR wants? Or would the looming last-lap battle royale between Kurt Busch and Juan Montoya – which Edwards ruined and turned into a multiple green-white-checkered sideshow – have been enough to create similar fan chatter?

Opinion among media and fans seems to be split, with some screaming for suspensions ranging from one race to consecutive life terms at a Federal Supermax prison and fines equal to the Gross National Product of Germany for Edwards, while others insist Edwards paid a proper lesson to Keselowski that caused The Intimidator to smile from the No. 3 Goodwrench Suite in Heaven.

The decision made by NASCAR could have as large of an effect on the racing as the removal of the rear wing from the COT starting March 28 at Martinsville.

If NASCAR suspends or strips triple-digits points from Edwards, does that send a message of “Have at it, boys, as long as no cars get airborne near the front grandstand,” which could strike up the band for single-file parades that NASCAR desperately wants to derail?

If NASCAR puts Edwards on probation and fines him $25,000 (the equivalent of about 75 cents to you and me), does that send a message that anything goes, that tactics from the short-track racing show “Mad House” on The History Channel can be applied at the top level of the sport, even if Automotive Darwinism makes some sponsors and fans uncomfortable?

As Elmer Fudd likes to say, this will be“VEWWWWWWY inta-westing.”

I think NASCAR will take the probation and big fine route, including a removal of points, for a variety of factors. One, this kind of retribution is deeply rooted in the red clay of NASCAR. It’s roots racing, something that happened on a regular basis before the sport went Broadway in the late 90s and early 2000s. Two, the object of Edwards’ bumper, Keselowski, will be a factor. He’s no altar boy and needed a trip to the Pushrod V8 Woodshed. It’s not like Edwards dumped Mark Martin or Jeff Burton. Three, you can’t buy buzz and a rivalry like this.

Oh, the next race is Bristol, the Roman Colosseum of motorsports. Full metal jacket automotive combat. How perfect! It’s too bad we have to wait until March 21 to see it.

Open wheel: The IZOD IndyCar Series and Formula One open their respective seasons this Sunday on opposite sides of the globe, as the Indy cars are on a street course in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the F1 chaps are on a road course in the middle of the Bahrain desert. It’s about damn time we see some open-wheel action after winter testing.

Predictions? Will Power will open his account as a full-time Penske driver with a victory in Brazil. The guy is more elusive than Al Cowlings in a white Bronco on road courses. Fernando Alonso also will deposit a victory for Ferrari in his first race for the Prancing Horse in Bahrain.

But my eyes will be elsewhere during both races.

I’m curious as hell to see how Takuma Sato drives in an Indy car. He won’t be bashful; he won’t be afraid of putting tire donuts on sidepods. In other words, he could become the Brad Keselowski of the IZOD IndyCar Series.

I’m also intrigued as hell – even more intrigued than I was about what Charlize Theron and Kate Winslet were wearing at the Oscars, and trust me, I was checking that out – about how seven-time Weltmeister Michael Schumacher will fare in his return to F1 after a three-season layoff. First, it will be weird to see Schuey in anything but a red Ferrari, as my memories of him in The Partridge Family bus, er, Benetton, are gone. I might need an extra Pabst Blue Ribbon or Labatt Blue Sunday to compensate for the vision adjustment of Schuey in silver.

Motorcycles: You’re probably already sick of me singing this tune, but the best-kept secret in worldwide motorsports – motorcycle road racing – put on another insane show this weekend.

Jake Zemke swept both AMA National Guard American Superbike Series races at the biggest event in U.S. motorcycle road racing, the Daytona 200 at Daytona International Speedway. Both races were thrill shows, but the final two laps of the second race, on Friday, were breathtaking.

Zemke roared past Tommy Hayden – yep, Nicky’s older brother – for the victory at the line by a ridiculous NINE-THOUSANDTHS of a second on his Michael Jordan Motorsports machine. Oh, by the way: Yes, THE Michael Jordan, the best friend of the immortal Mars Blackman, owns that team.

I was happy to see Zemke win because he has a bit of an Indianapolis Motor Speedway tie even though AMA never has raced at the Brickyard. A motorcycle compatibility test quietly took place on the IMS road course earlier this decade, and Zemke was one of the riders at the successful outing. If you’re a Red Bull Indianapolis GP fan, and if you’re not, why the hell not, then you can thank Jake Zemke a small bit.

World Rally: Sebastien Loeb won Rally Mexico to level the score at 1-1 with rival Mikko Hirvonen for season victories in 2010. Sadly, these two guys really have no rivals in the series, which was so exciting and so filled with driving talent and different manufacturers just 10 years ago.

We’ve gone from Subaru, Ford, Peugeot, Skoda, Hyundai, Mitsubishi and SEAT, with drivers like McRae, Makinen, Burns, Kankkunen, Sainz, Auriol, Delecour, Panizzi and Gronholm contending to victory, to just factory teams from Citroen and Ford, with Loeb, Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala really the only contenders for victory.

There is the carnival sideshow of 2007 F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen crashing regularly during his one-year sabbatical from Formula One. Trust me, Kimi will be back in F1 next season. And there’s finally an American in the series, Ken Block. He crashed out on the final day despite running competitive times in his Ford.

Despite low levels of competition, the WRC still is a hidden gem of motorsports for American fans. WRC events are televised on about a week’s delay in glorious high definition on the Discovery HD Theater in some of the most vivid visuals you’ll see in racing. Check it out: I think these guys are the best pure drivers in the world with – as SPEED’s F1 analyst David Hobbs would say – some of the largest attachments.

Song of the Week: Since I think NASCAR only will levy double-secret probation against Carl Edwards in true Dean Wormer fashion from “Animal House,” it’s only fitting that the AC/DC classic “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” is the song of the week. Here’s a great rendition from 1976 with the late, legendary Bon Scott on the mike: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IH8N4s3pat0

Until next time, keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel …


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