Motorsports Column for April 6, 2003
Let’s start off this week with a visit to the NASCAR Penalty Box. The most severely reprimanded miscreant was the No. 87 Joe Nemecheck Busch team, winner of last Saturday’s controversial Busch Grand National race (more on that race later). In an unusual move, NASCAR levied a $25,000 fine against team owner Andrea Nemechek, Joe’s wife and team owner of record. The violation was a front spring with unevenly-spaced coils.
In addition, crew chief Eric Phillips drew a $5000 fine and a two-race suspension, but the team was allowed to keep its points and the $63,700 purse. This is in contrast to the 25-point penalty that was assessed against Mark Martin for a similar “violation” last season, in addition to monetary fines. And compare it with the $1,500 fine and two-week suspension for John Monsam, crew chief of the No. 50 Craftsman Truck at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield for another spring discrepancy.
It seems that NASCAR is all over the lot with penalties for basically the same sort of violation. Again, we hark back to the old complaint that the NASCAR rulebook is not really a rulebook but a “guideline,” allowing officials to pretty much do what they want in the way of penalties.
The capricious nature of NASCAR’s rule enforcement became blatantly obvious in the course of the Busch race at Texas when leader Brian Vickers committed the unpardonable sin of “passing on the left” on a restart. This rule was instituted to make restarts safer, but when the car in front of you bogs down because of a missed shift or engine miss, or whatever, you need to do something to adjust for the situation. Vickers did just that. In trying to be safe, he fell afoul of NASCAR’s inflexibly flexible rulebook. Never mind that he hadn’t completed the pass by the start/finish line. Vickers’ team, other teams, fans both in the stands and home in front of their TVs, even the Fox broadcast team, were all perplexed at the black flag call. Well, the term “perplexed” may suffice for some; other reactions ranged from concerned to outraged to livid.
Another curious call by NASCAR took place in the Winston Cup race on Sunday when Jeff Gordon passed leader Matt Kenseth while racing back to the yellow, only to be told he was relegated to second on the restart. Several cars got laps back by passing Kenseth before the start/finish line, but not passing Gordon, the actual leader at the time. Even the NASCAR-praising FOX announce team of Darrell Waltrip, Mike Joy, and Larry McReynolds was hard-pressed not to comment on just how stupid that ruling was!
The final spin from NASCAR was that the car in the lead when the caution is displayed may choose to allow other cars to get their lap back, but a car on the same lap isn’t supposed to pass. This is allegedly due to an unwritten “gentlemen’s agreement” that Gordon violated, so NASCAR decided to enforce it. It kind of reminds me of Dean Wormer’s “double secret probation” of the Delta fraternity in the movie “Animal House.”
Team Penske IRL driver Gil de Ferran continues his recovery from a nasty crash at Phoenix International Raceway and hopes to be fit in time for the Indy 500 in May. De Ferran credited the HANS device with lessening the severity of his injuries when he backed into the wall in the first turn at Phoenix after colliding with Michael Andretti’s car.
There’s good news and bad news on the local racing front. The bad news is that the season-opening “Soapy Sunday” enduro and demo derby have been reluctantly scrubbed due to lack of entries.
“We regret any inconvenience this may cause, but we have no other choice. We just haven’t generated the amount of interest needed to ensure a strong field of racers,” said CMS General Manager Jeb Onweiler.
The good news is that special online CMS “Racer Profile Pages” will be available for all 2003 racers and teams on the Champion Motor Speedway website. This is a terrific marketing opportunity for local teams to either showcase or solicit sponsors. The profile pages will present racer, team, racecar, and sponsor information, as well as photos.
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist.