NASCAR tempers needed off week
March 31, 2002
It’s a good thing NASCAR has Easter weekend off — it will give tempers time to cool after the contentious Bristol race last Sunday.
In case you haven’t heard, three drivers drew fines for post-race extracurricular activity. Dale Earnhardt Jr. got the lightest fine ($5000) for punting Robbie Gordon after the checker. Gordon drew a $10,000 fine and was put on five months’ probation
for retaliating in the pit lane. I can understand that — a pit lane collision endangers crews, reporters, and other innocent bystanders far more than an on-track hit.
The penalties were assessed for “actions deemed by NASCAR
officials as detrimental to stock car racing.”
The biggest fine of the weekend went to Kevin Harvick for mugging Greg Biffle after the Bristol Busch Grand National race. Harvick’s wallet is $15,000 lighter as a result, and he is on probation until August 28.
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Personally, I think a suspension might be in order, considering the apparent premeditation involved. Harvick announced his intent to a FOX pit reporter and Biffle’s crew chief while the race was still going on, and then told a NASCAR official he was OK. With NASCAR officials thinking things were cool, Harvick dived
over Biffle’s car in the pit lane and grabbed Biffle by his driver’s suit before anyone could react. Crew members and officials quickly broke up the melee before any punches were thrown. NASCAR did not make clear in its announcement if Harvick’s probation also applies to the Winston Cup series. The probation doesn’t mean much if it only applies to the Busch series, since Harvick is only running a limited Busch schedule this year.
A number of things trouble me about these situations. First, will NASCAR racing begin to emulate hockey, with random fights breaking out in the pits and garage area? Or will it become more like pro wrestling, with drivers screaming trash talk, faces six inches from the camera lens — then throwing chairs at each other in the press room? Or maybe boxing — no, it’s too hard to
bite somebody’s ear off when he’s wearing a helmet.
Second, I’m disturbed by the disparity of fines levied. When a car is found to be out of specification at the end of a race, no matter what the reason, the crew chief is slapped with a hefty fine: $30,000, $50,000 or more.
Drivers, who can much more easily afford fines, get $5000 or $10,000 for actions that are downright dangerous. I think it’s time that NASCAR took a hard look at these things — but I’m afraid it’s going to take another event like Dale Earnhardt’s death to get them to do anything at all.
I recently mentioned the rule change that modified the measuring line for the Chevy Monte Carlo, which will go into effect at Texas Motor Speedway next weekend. Well, NASCAR dropped another bombshell on Thursday, reversing the spoiler height reduction it gave the Ford teams.
Fords had a quarter-inch added to their rear spoiler for Talladega, bringing the measurement back up to 6 inches tall by 57 inches wide. With the new rule, the Ford spoiler is still a quarter-inch shorter than that of the Dodges and Chevrolets, and a half-inch shorter than the Pontiac’s rear appendage.
Ford teams were, predictably, less than thrilled with the change. For one thing, it means a lot of work for the crews, not only changing the spoilers but also readjusting other body surfaces to rebalance the car for the higher spoiler.
With the first Talladega race just three weeks off, the guys in the Ford shops will be scrambling.
Another race team has fallen victim to corporate financial problems. After struggling through the first few races of the season following the bankruptcy of its major sponsor, Kmart, the Haas-Carter Team has finally thrown in the towel. Down to just the Joe Nemechek No. 26 car for the past three races, the
team has released its drivers and crew members to seek other racing employment, following failure to secure a replacement sponsor for the ailing Kmart.
Finally, don’t forget to call your Supervisor or Mayor Ray Masayko to voice your support for Champion Speedway. An appeal hearing filed by race track opponents is on the agenda for the April 4 Supervisor’s meeting.
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist.
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