Roger Diez: France scandal just one of NASCAR’s problems
Taking a short break from political scandals, there’s a big one brewing in NASCAR. Last Sunday after Chase Elliot’s first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup win at Watkins Glen, his first in the series (more on that later), NASCAR CEO Brian France was arrested for DUI and drug possession on Long Island. France allegedly drove through a stop sign and was pulled over, booked for DUI, and found to have oxycodone in the car after a vehicle search. France was released Monday morning on his own recognizance and has taken a leave of absence. His duties will be assumed by his brother Jim. The whole episode makes one wonder how drivers like A.J. Allmendinger, who was suspended and required to go through NASCAR’s “Road to Recovery” feel about this situation. Just another sign the empire founded by “Big Bill” France Sr. is showing signs of weakness.
Other signs, of course, are empty grandstand seats, lower TV ratings, and declining car counts. Only 37 cars of a possible 40 took the green flag at Watkins Glen last Sunday. The bright side of the race was the winner. Chase Elliott took the first checkered flag of his Cup career, holding off Martin Truex Jr. in the final laps to break the “Big Three” stranglehold on the season. Elliott had the calm voice of his father Bill, who was spotting for him, which I’m sure helped him keep his composure under heavy pressure from Truex. Kyle Busch looked to be the driver to beat until a pit stop miscue put him at the back of the pack. He still managed to finish third, showing just how strong his Joe Gibbs Toyota was at the Glen.
Elliot’s win was even better news for the Chevy teams, since it indicates the new Camaro body may finally be competitive. It’s the first points race since the Daytona season opener to see a Chevy in victory circle. And with Elliott now qualified for the playoffs, half the field for the 10 postseason championship races is locked in. Eight of the 16 have at least one win, and unless we have another new winner in the next four weeks, the remaining eight will qualify on points alone.
This weekend the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series races at Michigan for the second time this season along with the Camping World Truck series, while the Xfinity series takes on the Mid-Ohio road course. Handicapping the Cup event, the winner of this year’s first Michigan round was Clint Bowyer in a Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. Kyle Larson won the three previous Michigan races, but that was with the old body style. However, Larson is overdue for a win this season, and the fast two-mile oval may be his best chance. Other recent Michigan winners include Joey Logano (twice), Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, and Jimmie Johnson. Two of the “Big Three” have won there, but not for a while. Kyle Busch won in 2011, and Kevin Harvick in 2010. Martin Truex Jr. is winless at Michigan (so far).
Finally, Chase Elliott’s father, 62-year-old Bill Elliott, is coming out of retirement to race in the Xfinity series at Road America on Aug. 25. It will be fun to watch the old master at work on a road course, considering his first NASCAR Cup victory was on the former Riverside circuit. The elder Elliott will wheel the No. 23 Camaro A.J. Allmendinger drove to second place last Saturday at the Glen. Chase has also driven the GMS Racing Camaro in selected races this season.