The late Casey Stengel's dictum, "Nice guys finish last," was disproved at Rockingham last Sunday.
Johnny Benson, probably the nicest guy in the Winston Cup garages, finally took his first victory in the series after 225
unsuccessful tries. Points leader Tony Stewart, driving a car he
characterized as "the worst piece of (bleep) I've ever driven," caught one break when he moved up several spots due to late-race fuel stops by other drivers. He caught another one after the race when NASCAR found a non-conforming left front spring on Mark Martin's Roush Ford in post-race inspection. With two races to go, Martin is now 112 points behind Stewart instead of 87, due to a 25-point penalty. In addition, Martin's crew chief
Ben Leslie had his wallet lightened by $5,000 for the offense.
Martin must be experiencing a sense of deja vu. In 1990 he was penalized 46 points for an illegal carburetor spacer and ended the season second to Dale Earnhardt by only 26 points. Officials cited Section 12-4-Q in the NASCAR Winston Cup rule book: "Any determination by NASCAR officials that parts and/or equipment used in the event do not conform to NASCAR rules," in penalizing Martin.
The team has been penalized twice earlier this season, once for the car being too low (resulting in a $50,000 fine for Leslie), and
once for an unapproved window strap, with a $1,000 citation issued.
It seems to me that either teams are figuring they won't get caught cheating or that NASCAR's rulebook (which is more a "guideline book" than a real rulebook) is too ambiguous. Indeed, car owners have in the past appealed decisions that seemed unfair, but when the court of appeals consists of employees of the same organization that levied the initial penalty, you know
what the outcome will be. NASCAR owns the ball, so they get to make up (and enforce) the rules. The fact that the rules are a little fuzzy in some areas matters not a whit.
Young Jamie McMurray has to be a subscriber to the old saying; "I'd rather be lucky than good." McMurray, who has had a charmed couple of months, lucked into another Busch Series win on Saturday when Jeff Green and Michael Waltrip took each other out two laps from the end of the Rockingham race. McMurray has stated publicly that his Winston Cup car owner Chip Ganassi downplays the role of luck in racing, but this latest win must have even old Chip wondering.
On the other side of the country, CART staged one of its finest races of the season, even if attrition whittled the field down to only 10 cars at the checkered flag. Jimmy Vasser edged Michael Andretti at the checker assisted by a late-race red flag for Dario Franchitti's blown engine (shades of NASCAR) that set up a two-lap shootout at the end.
Andretti was a sitting duck for a slingshot pass, a maneuver assisted by the "Handford Device" rear wing configuration which makes the leader on a restart susceptible to such a pass. Indeed, Andretti had done the same to Vasser on a restart with 15 laps to go after leader Christiano da Matta's engine expired in a cloud of smoke.
It was Vasser's first win in a couple of years, and he dominated most of the race. With no prospects for next season, the victory may have gone a long way toward getting him a ride for 2003. I've known Jimmy since he was a teenager driving Formula Fords, and it's good to see him back in the winner's circle."
Local racers will be honored at two awards banquets next weekend. The Outlaw Kart Association will toast their stars at the Station Grill in Carson City on Friday, November 15. The next night is the tribute to Champion Motor Speedway's winners at the Carson Valley Inn in Minden.
Speaking of Champion, the speedway announced last week that Robert Kline has been appointed Race Director for the 2003 season. Kline, who held the same position at the track in 1999-2000, has a lengthy motorsports resume.
Said General Manager Jeb Onweiler, "With Robert in charge of the racing operation on Saturday nights, I can concentrate on the show-biz side of the program."
Next week I'll fill you in on my trip to Daytona. As you read this I'll be announcing a race on the track PA there, then taking the red-eye home on Sunday night. It's fun going to places like Daytona, but I could do without those late-night airplane trips!
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist.