NASCAR sticks to its specs |

NASCAR sticks to its specs

Roger Diez
Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist

If there was ever any doubt about NASCAR’s determination to make Nextel Cup a spec series, it was dispelled in the aftermath of last weekend’s race at Sonoma.

Apparently the Hendrick Racing teams of Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson felt that there was some leeway in massaging body contours on the Car of Tomorrow, just as there has been on the old car design forever. Sure enough, the car met the template points, but in between those points there had been some metal sculpturing that NASCAR didn’t like.

So the message was delivered loud and clear that there will be NO messing with the Car of Tomorrow, whether it fits the templates or not. Johnson and Gordon each received a 100 point penalty, as did the car owners (Hendrick and Gordon). Crew chiefs Steve Letarte and Chad Knaus will sit out the next six races and eat a $100,000 fine each. Not only that, but both cars were banned from Friday practice and qualifying, and had to start at the back of the pack.

NASCAR has been moving in the direction of spec cars for the past several years, but the Car of Tomorrow gives it the opportunity to police and enforce conformity as never before. What’s next, NASCAR building all the cars and issuing them to the teams for so many dollars per race? That’s what NASCAR does with the restrictor plates at Talladega and Daytona, so why not carry the idea to its logical extreme?

Anyway, the Infineon race turned out to be a good one. Juan Pablo Montoya won his first Cup event with a nail-biting fuel economy run in the closing laps. Montoya has now won in both Busch and Cup on road courses, but has yet to make his mark on an oval. But his win proved that the Hendrick teams aren’t the only ones that have a handle on the Car of Tomorrow, at least on road courses.

All in all, last weekend had some of the most interesting races of the season so far. The Milwaukee Busch race was especially entertaining, with Denny Hamlin arriving late and missing the start, then taking over from pole qualifier Aric Almirola and coming from two laps back to win.

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Personally, I think the team should have let Almirola run the entire race, but apparently the change was made for sponsorship considerations, since the team is trying to renew Rockwell Automation as primary sponsor for 2008. According to NASCAR rules Almirola will get credit for the win, since he started the car, but the sponsor got lots of air time with Hamlin’s charge through the pack for the win.

The Champ Car race at Cleveland was also one of those jaw-dropping deals, as Paul Tracy was involved in not one, but two accidents in the early laps and had to replace the nose on the car twice. Topping off the fuel tank while making the two stops for nose repair put Tracy on an alternative fuel strategy, which turned out to be the winning combination. Graham Rahal had to pit for a splash of fuel in the closing laps, and Tracy was able to hold off a charging Robert Doornbos for the win. It was Tracy’s 31st Champ Car victory and his first in two years.

Note to all you Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans who have the No. 8 tattooed prominently on your anatomy. You may be in for some painful needle work. Rick Hendrick has approached the DEI organization about purchasing the No. 8 for the cars that Junior’s will be racing for the Hendrick organization next season.

However, according to a report last week in the Charlotte Observer, NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said that NASCAR owns and issues car numbers, and that teams can’t sell them. A team can allow another team to use one of its assigned numbers, but only with NASCAR approval on a season-by-season basis. So if you have one of those tattoos, pray that Hendrick goes with 68, or 78, or 98, or 89, or something like that. Having a number added is probably a lot less painful than getting that 8 removed.