I spent last weekend in the Florida sunshine at Daytona International Speedway, announcing the American City Racing League doubleheader that was run with the Grand-Am series season finale. I understand it was a little wet and windy here. Sorry I missed it.
It's been a while since I've been to a 2 1/2 mile oval and I'd forgotten just how big a track like that is. It appears that you'll need two box lunches and a passport to get from turn one to turn three. And the banking! TV doesn't adequately convey its steepness. Up close, the cars look like they're running
on a near-vertical wall in the corners.
The only thing I didn't like about the track was the one-lane tunnel leading into the infield. I had to get from the announce booth outside the track, six stories up at the start-finish line, to victory circle after the race. The only way into the infield is through the tunnel and when I arrived there some idiot in a Porsche with the wrong credential was arguing with the security people and tying up traffic, and there was no way around him!
I finally made it to victory circle, but it was a hassle. Speaking of which, Daytona's victory circle area puts to shame any other I've ever worked, and I've worked a bunch. For a racing announcer, working Daytona is like a baseball announcer doing the World Series or a football guy doing the Super Bowl. I can die happy now.
By the end of today we will know who is the 2002 Winston Cup Champion -- maybe. Jack Roush has protested the 25-point penalty assessed against Mark Martin and his team for having an illegal left front spring at Richmond. Roush's contention, apparently well-documented, is that the spring came from a
NASCAR-approved vendor, was unmodified, and gave no performance advantage unlike two other spring-related penalties meted out to other teams earlier in the season. If Martin loses the championship by 25 points or less, it will be
the third time that Roush has been victimized by NASCAR's sometimes capricious rulings.
Martin lost the Winston Cup Championship by 26 points to Dale Earnhardt in 1990 after being penalized 46 points for an illegal carburetor spacer. Roush, in his usual meticulous fashion, documented the fact that the spacer had been inspected and passed on several previous occasions and that the rulebook had
some ambiguity in this area. Nevertheless NASCAR ruled the part illegal (after it had been alerted by Richard Childress, Earnhardt's car owner) and Earnhardt went on to win the title.
Again, in 1999, Roush Driver Greg Biffle lost the Craftsman Truck
championship due to another points penalty assessed because of an intake manifold. Never mind that the manifold had been raced seven times earlier in the season, including a win, and had been approved at the start of the season by NASCAR Craftsman Truck inspector Rich Burghdoff. Roush went to the extreme
of providing engineering drawings, logs, and polygraph test results for everyone who had touched the manifold, all to no avail.
In an interview Roush said of the current situation, "NASCAR's examination into the 'gravity of the violation and its effects on the fairness of competition' requires that it evaluate the presence or absence of two very significant facts: one, did the examination of the part reveal the offender's intention to violate a rule? [And] two, was the part's function altered in any way to attempt to improve performance? Both of those factors were conspicuously absent in our case, and both were present in the other two (illegal spring) cases. Fairness requires a different penalty result for us."
Later Roush issued an implied threat, saying, "So that was two; and this is three. And the number for me never gets higher than three."
Does this mean that Roush is finished with NASCAR if the penalty stands and he loses yet another championship to capricious and inequitable rule enforcement? Jack's a proud and stubborn guy, and I wouldn't be surprised if NASCAR came up short about four Ford Winston Cup teams for 2003.
Sincere condolences to new Champion Speedway General Manager Jeb Onweiler and his family. Onweiler lost his son in an automobile accident last week. Our thoughts and prayers are with you, Jeb.
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist.