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Junior needs to be wiser

Roger Diez

Remember a few years ago when Jimmy Spencer was suspected of throwing some roll bar padding out of his car to cause a yellow flag for debris so he could make a pit stop without losing a lap?

At least he was smart enough to deny it, and NASCAR had no solid proof. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. could take some lessons from Spencer after being penalized $10,000, 25 NEXTEL Cup points, and given probation for deliberately spinning his car at Bristol last Sunday to get a caution and keep from losing laps while replacing a loose wheel. Unfortunately, Junior admitted this stratagem in a post-race interview, leaving NASCAR no choice but to take disciplinary action. Those of you who were in the service will remember the old catchall Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, whereby they could nail you for just about anything.

Well, NASCAR has a similar article in its rulebook, Section 12-4-A, “actions detrimental to stock car racing.” In Earnhardt’s case, NASCAR also added section 12-4-N to the charges, that rule calling out punishment for “any driver who, in the judgment of NASCAR officials, intentionally causes or attempts to cause a caution condition by stopping or spinning out or any other action.” Earnhardt’s rationale, expressed in his post-race interview, was “What the hell else was I supposed to do? Go a lap down? Go two laps down?” No, Junior, just lose 25 points and 10 grand.

Jamie McMurray also drew a $10,000 fine and probation for spinning Matt Kenseth in the pit lane after the Bristol race. No points were deducted. McMurray had also tangled with rookie phenom Kasey Kahne early in the race, putting Kahne out of action. McMurray was also judged to be in violation of the infamous Section 12-4-A. Personally, I think NASCAR is way overdue in assessing penalties for some of the on-track and post-race activities that have escalated in recent years. The sanctioning body needs to do so to avoid comparisons with pro wrestling, which have become more frequent of late.

The deadline for entries for this year’s Indy 500 closed at midnight on March 31, so if you missed sending yours in, it’s too late. Twenty-five entries had been received from seven teams, led by Penske Racing, as of the filing date. Entries postmarked on the 31st will be accepted, so this will be a busy weekend for the mailroom at the Speedway.

The entries received so far include backup cars, with Andretti Green Racing filing a field-high eight entries. Penske Racing was close behind with six cars entered. As mentioned in this space previously, this may be the first year in memory that a full field of 33 cars may not take the green flag for the racing classic on May 30.

Those cars that do compete in this year’s 500 will do so for the last time on the current track surface. The Speedway will undergo a complete repaving, costing $2 million, beginning the day after the Brickyard 400 in August. The project is scheduled to take two months, and will use some $36,500 tons of asphalt. The U.S. Grand Prix Formula One race has been moved from September to June 20, both to accommodate the repaving project and to try and rebuild the event’s dwindling audience.

Local racing gets underway next Saturday with the season-opening points race for the Outlaw Karts at Thunder Bowl Speedway in Mound House. The following weekend will see the opening of the Champion Speedway season for 2004. A Saturday car show will kick off the festivities, followed by a Sunday afternoon racing program featuring Super Late Models, Late Model Sportsman, Street Stocks, Legends, Modifieds Hornets, Junior Hornets, Queen Beez, Bandoleros and Allstar Race Trucks.

The following weekend is also a Sunday afternoon show at Champion with the main event being the first in the Desert Rose Series of four open competition Super Late Model 100 lap races. Reno-Fernley Raceway kicks of its season Saturday evening, April 17, with IMCA Modifieds, Pro Stocks, Hobby Stocks, Modified Minis, Pure Stock Minis, and a wild Pit Party after the races. I have a feeling it’s going to be a busy weekend for yours truly.

Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist. Contact him at editor@nevadaappeal.com.