Tuesday, August 3, 2010

On the fallacy that Sadler would have been killed if not for the COT

Having known quite a few racecar drivers in my days, I am pleased that the modern racecar is as safe as it is. No one wants to see racecar drivers, or crew members or anyone else involved in the sport, injured or worse.

But there is a huge fallacy that is being perpetuated by the racing media, one that overlooks years and years of history and even logic.

The belief that drivers involved in crashes in the COT would have been injured, or even killed, in the old car is rubbish. Was Elliott Sadler's wreck at Pocono nasty? Sure it was. Would it have had a much worse outcome in the old car? It's obviously impossible to tell because he didn't have an exact duplicate of the accident in the old car. However, logic and history says he probably would have climbed out, just like he did on Sunday.

There were hundreds of big crashes with the older car throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Granted, there were injuries and yes, there were fatalities - crashes claimed the lives of J.D. McDuffie, John Nemechek, Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, Tony Roper, and Dale Earnhardt. However, those were all before head and neck restraints were implemented. Once the HANS device and the Hutchens device were mandated, savage crashes were still commonplace but the injuries that proved fatal for the above drivers were (for the most part) eradicated.

That's not to say that Sadler would have been injured without a HANS device. Journeyman driver Rick Mast had a savage crash at Watkins Glen in 1993, a crash that saw his car smash into the Armco barrier and launch into the air, and he climbed out under his own power moments later. This was in the day before containment seats that ensured the driver's head didn't snap from side to side, before the HANS device, before all of the modern safety enhancements that we constantly hear are the only reason drivers are able to survive these wrecks.

Here is Mast's crash from the 1993 Bud at the Glen via YouTube.

There are hundreds of other videos on YouTube that prove the point.

Is the COT a good thing? Underneath it's ugly and overly aero-dependent skin, yes it is. The safety enhancements of the COT are a welcome addition, no one would argue that. But the evidence is there if those interested enough to look for it chose to find it. The old car, while not perfect, was pretty darn good.

And despite the COT's safety enhancements, the HANS device, and SAFER barriers, it's just a matter of time before we're reading these journalists' reactions to a fatal accident. It could be a week, a month, a year, or a decade, but it will happen. No one wants it to happen, but it's a part of the sport that can never be erased. The human body simply is not meant to travel at 200 miles per hour, no matter how tightly its encased in a seat, wrapped in energy-absorbing materials and then placed in a cocoon of welded steel tubing.

NASCAR's safety record is amazing over its entire history, but virtually all of the improvements that have been made over the years are reactionary in nature. Why? Because no one can predict what is yet to come. It's easy to look back and say 'we should wear full-face helmets' or even 'wouldn't a fireproof uniform make more sense than short sleeved shirts'. Despite all of the research and development going on to prevent it, no one knows what the cause of the next fatal accident will be.

Here is hoping NASCAR doesn't ever give up on that research. But here's also to hoping that the media and the blogosphere that covers this sport comes to grips with reality on this subject.

Monday, August 2, 2010

On the secret penalties and fixing phantom cautions

It’s been almost a week since NASCAR’s “secret” fines to Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman were announced. In that time, I’ve spent quite a few hours formulating my thoughts so I could coherently express myself. I hope I am able to do that in this posting.

First, I still love NASCAR. Despite disagreeing with the sanctioning body on numerous points, they overall do a good job of running the sport and keeping it moving in the right direction. I also believe that they truly do think the decisions they make are for the betterment of the sport, even if the reality of their decisions don’t make anything markedly better.

Second, I hope the recent flap started by these fines leads somewhere. It could simply be that the NASCAR Foundation has an influx of cash and that’s the end of it. Or, NASCAR could take the comments made by both drivers to heart and make some concrete changes that actually do make the sport better.

Newman has had several major accidents throughout his career, any one of which could have had a seriously negative outcome. Should he be opinionated about restrictor plate racing? Yes. Should he air his dirty laundry in public? Probably not, but drivers have been complaining vociferously about restrictor plate racing since at least 1988 (the year the plates were implemented; coincidence?). Not once in over 20 years of racing in a huge pack has NASCAR shown any real initiative to do away with them and make the racing at Daytona and Talladega less crazy. So can Newman be faulted for speaking out to the media?

Hamlin touched on a subject that thousands of fans – if not millions – have grown weary of in recent years. It’s long been suggested that NASCAR will call a caution when it needs to tighten up the competition for entertainment’s sake. They will poll their spotters around the track and see if anyone can spot any debris. Now, they may actually have good intentions – no one will argue that there should be debris on the track, and no one will say they love to see racecars spread out at one second intervals with no racing throughout the field.

However, perception is reality and NASCAR’s audience perceives these cautions to be bogus, and Hamlin called them on it.

So what can NASCAR do?

When they make the inevitable move to fuel injection they can ensure the drivers have enough throttle response at Daytona and Talladega that they can actually let off the throttle in traffic instead of riding the brakes as they do now. There are other changes, aero changes, that would really help but that is a good first step.

And NASCAR can also do away with the phony debris cautions and still liven up the show. All they need to do is institute, in the rule book so it is there for everyone to see, competition cautions at regular intervals specified at each track. For instance, at superspeedways it could be 100 miles. At short tracks it could be 100 laps. At road courses it could be one-third distance. For example, a competition caution at Bristol would come out only after 100 consecutive green flag laps. The window for a competition caution closes with 50 laps/miles to go. Therefore, if the field goes back to green after a crash with 125 miles left to run at Daytona, there will not be another competition caution since it would come out with 10 laps to go.

All of the possibilities would have to be considered and worked through to make it fair while keeping the race itself entertaining. Old school fans would hate to see the possibility for a caution-free race to go away, but has that come close to happening recently?

At least this way, the teams and fans would both know that if they haven’t seen a caution after a certain number of laps one will be coming out. There will be no conspiracy theories to postulate since the timing of the caution would be mandated by rule. And it might just urge those spotters around the track to only call debris when it is actually seen.

Monday, July 19, 2010

On Carl v. Brad, Part 2

It's two days after the fact and people are still buzzing about the latest Carl Edwards-Brad Keselowski incident at Gateway. Just like the Atlanta incident, people are digging in to support their driver with Edwards' fans saying Brad had it coming and of course Brad's fans saying Carl over-reacted.

Is there a middle ground?

Possibly. But who cares? This brewing rivalry - or is it a festering rivalry - is by far the most entertaining thing to happen on the track in NASCAR racing in years. The fact that these two drivers genuinely dislike each other is fine by me.

That's not to say there isn't blame to go around for what happened on the final lap at Gateway.

Brad's dad, former ARCA champion and NCWTS winner Bob Keselowski, had it pegged on ESPN: Carl flipped out. Now, we had the benefit to replays to see what happened with the nudge in turn one and it's fairly plain to see that Brad's car had a wiggle before banging into Carl. That's what happens when you're racing hard, and Carl has done that more times than one could count. I recall him bouncing off the curb in the Truck race at Martinsville so many times in the fall of 2003 that he had to apologize to virtually the entire field after the race. So while Carl was the "victim" in one sense on Saturday night he's not completely innocent; he's moved his fair share of people out of the way either on purpose or just by driving in over his head.

There's no way being moved up the track calls for hooking someone in the right rear down the straightaway. It is a huge over-reaction, and the crash that it caused destroyed not only Brad's car but several others as well including another Roush Fenway car driven by Colin Braun. Now chances are Braun won't go after his pound of flesh, but Shelby Howard sure should. And, undoubtedly, Brad Keselowski should too.

After the Atlanta race when Brad ended up on his roof, the talk of the NASCAR Nation was how the little punk kid had it coming and afterwards the two drivers settled their differences and patched things up. I never bought it. Sure the two smiled and played nice, but there is some genuine angst between the two and how could there not be? They've scraped fenders several times, and while the incidents at Talladega in 2009 and Atlanta in 2010 that left Edwards with a wrecked racecar were as much his fault as Brad's, it's understandable when he wants to exact his payback. But Carl has gone well past the line of paying another driver back.

Brad has raced Carl hard, which is what he was hired to do. If there is contact, make it an eye-for-an-eye. Carl has over-reacted twice now, crashing Brad at Atlanta at the point on the track where the speeds are at their highest. Remember, even if Brad was 100-percent at fault for that Atlanta crash, the contact was made in the center of the corner where speeds are 50 to 60 miles per hour slower. Sure, Carl went up and over at Talladega but that was his fault - he chose to block Brad who at that point as as far down as he could go and already partially alongside Carl. Brad owes Carl for Atlanta, and now he owes him for Gateway.

While Carl is in victory lane celebrating and talking about how that pesky Keselowski needs to learn his lesson once and for all, Brad isn't saying anything other than what he needs to. But somewhere down the line, that debt that Carl has racked up with two huge crashes will come due. It could come as Carl is trying to solidify his position in the Chase. It could come as Carl is trying to take over the Nationwide points lead. It could be both. It could be somewhere farther off into the future, no one except Brad knows.

The chances of Carl just taking it and moving on are slim to none. And that's okay too, because that means this rivalry will carry on well into the future. Just like Richard Petty and Bobby Allison. And Allison and Darrell Waltrip. And Dale Earnhardt and Geoff Bodine. The sport has gone without a major rivalry for the better part of this decade and maybe even longer, despite every beat writer trying to force a rivalry upon us every time two drivers scrape the paint of each others' fender somewhere.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

On how to fix the Nationwide Series

The talk centering around the Nationwide Series race at Daytona last week focused mainly on one subject: the new-generation racecar and how it helps the struggling second-tier series build its own identity.

There are myriad reasons why the Nationwide Series needs its own identity and just as many ways to make it happen. It needs its own racecars, drivers, and tracks and it needs to be separated from the weekly second-fiddle status at Sprint Cup events.

One only needs to look back to the end of the 1990s to see what a healthy Nationwide Series can be. In 1998, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s first championship season, there were 11 stand-alone races on the 31-race schedule. Tracks like the Nashville Fairgrounds Raceway, Hickory Speedway, Nazareth Speedway, Pikes Peak International Raceway, the Milwaukee Mile, Myrtle Beach Speedway, South Boston Speedway and Gateway International Raceway held stand-alone races. Other tracks like New Hampshire and Watkins Glen that also held Cup races had stand-alone Nationwide races.

Fields were full of drivers that gave the series its own personality. Earnhardt was on his way to Cup superstardom, as was Matt Kenseth. But a strong contingent of full-time Nationwide-only drivers could run with the Cup Series invaders. Jeff Purvis, Buckshot Jones, Randy LaJoie, Phil Parsons, Hermie and Elliott Sadler, David, Jeff, and Mark Green, Jason Keller, Mike McLaughlin, Tim Fedewa, Dick Trickle, Andy Santerre, Elton Sawyer, Shane Hall, Glenn Allen, Jr., Stevie Reeves, and Joe Bessey were just some of the drivers that gave the series its identity with race fans.

Of the 43 drivers that started in the series opener at Daytona in 1998, just seven would run in the Daytona 500 the following day as a full-time Cup driver. Two of those drivers were in cars they owned themselves, including race winner Joe Nemechek. Just five cars were owned by Cup owners: two by Jack Roush, one by Joe Gibbs, one Bill Davis, and one by Dale Earnhardt. Fast forward to 2010: twenty of the 43 cars were owned by current or former Cup team owners or drivers. Thirteen drivers would also run in the Daytona 500. Just 18 of the 43 starters had less than a full season’s worth of Cup experience.

So how can NASCAR rebuild the Nationwide Series’ identity?

It starts with the cars, although the move to the Cup chassis makes this a lot more difficult. Different body styles are essential, although the talk from Daytona is that Ford and Dodge would consider running the new Mustang and Challenger in the Cup Series if allowed. If there is little to no cross-over from Cup to Nationwide, then there is less reason for those Cup drivers to use Nationwide races as test sessions. Preferably the cars wouldn’t look “similar” to their street counterparts but “identical,” but that is another column for another time.

The second component is the schedule. It’s a fallacy that Nationwide races can only succeed if the field is full of Cup drivers. It is essential to separate the two series on a frequent basis. Tracks that don’t host Cup races need to be on the schedule much more frequently. It might be impossible to add the Hickorys and South Bostons of the world back to the schedule, and NASCAR’s France family bought and then shut down places like Nazareth and Pikes Peak. But there are tracks out there that fit the bill, some ovals and some road courses. The recent success at Montreal and Road America prove that road course racing can be a profitable and exciting component to the schedule and there are plenty of short tracks that could be added in exchange for a combo race somewhere. NASCAR also needs to make these stand-alone races geographically distant from the Cup races so much so that it’s difficult enough that no Cup driver would decide to fly in to race.

Cost containment is also essential. There is no reason why it should cost $7-8 million to run a Nationwide season. The participation by Cup owners has inflated the costs dramatically and chased out long-time Nationwide owners like Bill Baumgartner, Clarence Brewer, Frank Cicci, Gary Bechtel, Doug Taylor, and Bill Papke. One of the things that made the series affordable in the late 1990s was the 9.5:1 compression ratio V-8 engines that replaced the V-6 engines that dominated the early part of the decade. These engines were durable and relatively inexpensive to maintain. NASCAR made the change to 12:1 to bring the Nationwide Series engines more in line with the Cup engines and it drove the cost up dramatically. A return to the 9.5:1 engines and a commitment to stay with them would lower the costs and could eventually bring in new ownership to the sport.

In the absence of the above, NASCAR has other options. Limiting the participation by Cup drivers would help. Cup drivers have always ran Nationwide races, but only recently have they decided they would run for both championships simultaneously. That isn’t a healthy thing for the long-term viability of the series. So what NASCAR should do (and they can do this in addition to the above ideas as well) is limit the number of races a Cup-licensed driver can run in a season through new licensing requirements.

Starting in 2011, a Gold license holder (Cup Series) should be able to enter a total of 55 NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series or Camping World Truck Series events. That gives them the entire 36-race Cup schedule plus 19 other races in either the Nationwide Series and/or the Camping World Truck Series. A Silver license holder (Nationwide) could run a total of 35 races – which oddly enough is the exact same number of races on the Nationwide schedule. The Bronze license (Truck) would be good for, you guessed it, 25 races – also the exact same number of races on the Truck schedule. If a Truck driver would like to also run some Nationwide races or a Nationwide driver would like to jump up and run some Cup races, he or she can buy upgrades for one, five, or 10 races but at no time could a Gold license holder buy more starts in a lesser division.

Crew member limits could also be imposed. NASCAR could eliminate the need for specially-trained over the wall crews by a hard limit on the number of team members at a race. Once you have reached your limit, you can’t sign in anyone else to work on your car or go over the wall. No team should need more than 12 people at the track working on a racecar, and that also gives you plenty of people to go over the wall and service it on pit stops.

It is important that NASCAR’s developmental series succeed. Soon, within the next five to ten years, the drivers and even the owners we see racing on Sundays today are going to be at the end of their competitive careers. Where will the drivers that replace them come from? Right now, there isn’t a place for them to race because the Nationwide Series is crowded by Cup drivers and owners. When Jack Roush, Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress, Roger Penske and Joe Gibbs decide they are done with NASCAR and retire, who will replace them? When Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Burton call it a career, who is waiting in the wings ready to take over? The owners that have raided the Nationwide Series for race wins and championships have sacrificed the long-term health of the sport as a whole for short term gain.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

On Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin's knee, and start-and-parkers

It's amazing to me how quickly the tides can turn in motorsports. Not all that long ago, Jeff Gordon was the dominant force in the NASCAR - so dominant that people hated him for it. Things certainly have changed. Now it's Gordon's protege Jimmie Johnson dominating the sport. Johnson's dominance has gone unchecked for so long that people who had once considered Gordon their sworn foe for life were cheering for him to win Monday at Texas.

Is Gordon going through that transition from the driver able to win 6-8 races a year to the driver able to win 1-2 a year the way other former champions like Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt did? It's tough to say for sure, but after Earnhardt won his final championship in 1994 his victory production didn't totally stop but certainly slowed. After 15 wins from 1993 through 1995, he won another eight races before his final race at Daytona in 2001. Gordon hasn't forgotten how to win, after it was just 2007 when he racked up six wins and scored more points on the track than any other driver (although he finished second in the Chase to, who else?, Jimmie Johnson).

Gordon has been in position to win at least two races this season, but hasn't been able to close the deal. Back in the day when Gordon was winning 10 or 13 races a year and running away with the championship, his luck would have held for the final 20 or 25 laps and get him to victory lane. That certainly isn't the case now.

Color me impressed with Denny Hamlin's performance since his knee surgery. It can't be comfortable driving a racecar at high speeds with intense forces pushing and pulling on your body under the best conditions, but to do it with your knee throbbing in pain has to be miserable. I've been burned out on the news of Hamlin's surgery (the Twitter updates and non-stop coverage of the operation was almost laughable) but give credit where it's due: Hamlin definitely gutted it out on Monday and his victory was all the more impressive as a result.

Eddie Gossage may be right. I've never heard of someone calling the start-and-park phenomenon outright theft before, but he makes a very strong case for it. There are no loopholes anyone is jumping through to make it possible though. The rules regarding what happens once you make the race don't say you have to run a certain portion of the event before you're eligible for purse money, and they never have. So it was a matter of time before someone decided they could make a full-time living off qualifying for the races and then pulling off after a few laps and taking home last place money. Gossage said on Sirius NASCAR Radio the other day that this is a new phenomenon, but it's really not. Start-and-parkers have been around for a long time, but they've never been out there to make a profit. Sometimes it was an independent team who needed to pay off a few bills before they could get back to the track and really race for it, but since the purses were a small fraction of what they are now no one really said anything about it. Taking in $4,000 or so isn't such a big deal, but taking in $80,000 raises eyebrows. I wouldn't have a problem with cutting the starting field to 36 in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series if it eliminates the start-and-park phenomenon. But the economy will do that too once it turns the corner. But the sport will also need to continue to right-size itself before sponsors flock back the way they did in the 1990s. What was once a bargain at $4-5 million (and even at $10 million) is obnoxiously overpriced at $26 million. Bring the cost of competition in line to the real-world return on investment and the start-and-park teams would go away on their own because there would be 50 or more teams legitimately trying to race into the field every week.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

On winning despite a bad call, the spoiler, manufacturerd rivalries, and April Fools jokes

A few random thoughts following the Martinsville NCTWS-NSCS doubleheader...

- I've read a lot of headlines in recent days that give kudos to Mike Ford for the "gutsy" call to bring Denny Hamlin down pit road with 10 laps to go in Monday's Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500. Sure, the end result was that Hamlin won the race, but that was mainly due to luck, not due to Ford's call. In the end, no harm no foul, but I've yet to see anyone come up with the right analysis: Hamlin wins despite being called to pit road with 10 laps to go.

- The Sprint Cup cars do look a lot better with the spoiler back on the rear decklid. Too bad the rest of the car is still hideously ugly. I'm still patiently waiting for the day when the NASCAR brass come to the realization that stock car racing with cars that don't just vaguely resemble something we might see on the street but are identical to what we see on the street is what we want to see.

- Some in the media are desperate to have something interesting to write about. With the 24-hour news cycle and the Internet requiring constant information updates, some crank out words the way some kids in school just to hear themselves speak. Some of these writers constantly write about the latest "rivalry" whenever two drivers have a coming together on the track. Yes the Gordon/Kenseth incident and the Sauter/Hornaday incident added excitement and interest to the sport (just like the Edwards/Keselowski incident at Atlanta did). Now, Gordon and Kenseth have a past (Bristol and Chicago, 2006) so calling their on-track relationship a rivalry isn't too much of a stretch, even if they haven't had a cross word in the past three and a half years. The Sauter/Hornaday situation could brew into a rivalry, but as of now it was just a one-time thing. Rivalries last for years, not a matter of weeks. Richard Petty vs. Bobby Allison in the early 1970s was a rivalry. Allison vs. Darrell Waltrip in the early 1980s was a rivalry. Dale Earnhardt vs. Geoff Bodine was a rivalry. These rivalries were because they were fighting for wins and occasionally ruffling each others fenders and tempers. Denny Hamlin vs. Brad Keselowski has the makings of a rivalry, but it's still too early to tell. If they both become consistent winners, and the signs point to that happening, it will be a good thing for those writers hoping for a real on-track rivalry.

- If you think I overused the word "rivalry" in the above bullet point, well, you can only imagine how many times we've read the words "have at it boys" in the past three weeks. Some have managed to turn this off-the-cuff phrase into an official NASCAR policy! That's how crazy the regulation of the sport has become; actually letting the drivers race and take care of their own interests on the track is now referred to by some as an official policy! What would these people have done when Richard Petty and Bobby Allison knocked the fire out of each other fighting for the win at North Wilkesboro back in 1971. That was the race that they drove each other into the wall about twice a lap for the final ten laps, with Petty winning with a steady stream of smoke pouring off his tires due to body damage and Allison's radiator was punctured and fenders were literally hanging off the car. That wasn't "have at it boys," that was just racing.

- So some in the media feel burned by Texas Motor Speedway's little April Fool's Day prank. All I can say is, well, duh! All one needed to do was look at the calendar and consider the source. Sure, it was technically a day early, but you know when it's the end of March you need to be on guard for these types of things. And it's not like Eddie Gossage and staff haven't done something like this in the past. It's not like this was a typical run-of-the-mill press release either. You see these things in your inbox every day. But once in a while you see something a little odd. I suggest to some in the media not to run with everything they are sent without asking questions. I've seen some press releases in the past that made little sense, so I picked up the phone and gave the sender a ring to ask a couple questions. I think the people who got burned need to lighten up and laugh it off. Enough of the "we'll never run another story from Texas Motor Speedway" and get on with life. Maybe they should ammend that policy to "we'll never run another story from Texas Motor Speedway sent within three days of April Fool's Day."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

On media reaction to the Brad K/Carl E incident at Atlanta

One of the long-lasting memories of the Brad Keselowski/Carl Edwards fandango at Atlanta, in addition to Brad's car flying through the air, will be the media's coverage of the incident.

The accident itself was sensational, and the coverage of the wreck was no less sensational. Highlights were shown on national newscasts and carried on websites that normally cover political intrigue not the ins-and-outs of NASCAR drivers and their raging tempers.

I've tried to read as many of the opinion pieces as possible, many from respected journalists and some from unknown bloggers.

Almost all of them have the same content. Although he didn't deserve to end up upside down, Brad did deserve to be wrecked because of his rough nature on the racetrack and the fact that he's pissed off virtually the entire garage area.

Okay, it's one thing to make that statement when you have facts to back it up. But not one single writer has gone into detail to list the drivers Brad has intentionally crashed over the past two years. Not one writer has gone into detail to list any drivers that are mad at Brad for anything that's gone on over the course of the past two years. But trust them, the entire garage area was cheering as the 12 car sailed through the air into turn one at Atlanta.

I want to know: who feels they've been raced unfairly by Brad Keselowski? Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards might have cause to think so, but if they look at their previous incidents with Keselowski objectively they'd see they are as much at fault (if not more so) than Keselowski.

Too often the writers in the media center parrot what each other are saying. If someone on the other side of the room is saying the entire garage area is upset at Brad Keselowski, it's okay for me to use it in my story - regardless of whether or not there has been any fact checking done to verify that even one driver is upset with Brad.

Hamlin's feud with Keselowski is well documented. Brad hasn't done anything to Hamlin, with the exception of dumping him at Phoenix last November. All he has done is not cut him any slack on the track. That has forced Hamlin into driving over his head and making mistakes, and has resulted in wrecked racecars. Keselowski's past with Edwards is well known too: Carl tried to block Brad at Talladega on the last lap and went for a wild ride as a result. Of course, Brad admits to rough-housing at Memphis last year, where Carl was taken out of a chance for the win, and then they had their run in on lap 40 at Atlanta.

So where are all of the references to other incidents with other drivers? Where did Brad rough up Juan Montoya, who used the Atlanta accident to speak out on the number of drivers waiting to offer up their paybacks to Brad for previous run-ins on the track?

I am not from Missouri, but let's pretend I am for the sake of this argument. I challenge the writers who've written about the supposed long line of drivers waiting to exact their revenge on Brad Keselowski to "show me" the names and offer up details of the incidents.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

More on Edwards vs. Keselowski

I have been scouring the various motorsports web pages for two days trying to find as much info as I can on the entirety of the Carl Edwards-Brad Keselowski rumble at Atlanta on Sunday. Most of what's out there simply rehashes what we already have seen and know: Carl and Brad got into it on lap 40, and then Carl came back out and sent Brad on a wild ride with three laps to go. Carl, initially contrite after seeing replays of the first incident, apparently got to thinking about things and decided immediate payback was necessary.

There are a lot of things going on here, both throughout the sport as a whole and in my mind. On one hand, I am a big believer in letting drivers police themselves. I think NASCAR has done a good job getting this back into the drivers hands, but I also think there is way more they can do to let the drivers control what goes on on the racetrack. I am also a believer in paybacks in racing; you wreck me, I wreck you. There's nothing wrong with that philosophy - as long as it's applied correctly.

I wrote about two previous instances of retaliation - Scott Speed vs. Ricky Stenhouse at the ARCA race at Toledo in 2008, and Patrick Sheltra vs. Paul Menard at the ARCA race at Toledo in 2009. Speed's takeout of Stenhouse was textbook; Sheltra's attempt at Menard was the textbook definition of how *not* to exact your on-track revenge.

I've never been a racecar driver, so it's hard for me to get inside of Carl's mind on this. His statement is that he's come together with Brad now four times, and in two of those races Brad has gone to victory lane (Talladega, 2009 and Memphis, 2009). Okay, I can see where Carl has a bone to pick after Memphis. But the Talladega incident that sent Carl up and over and into the catch fence and the initial incident at Atlanta were both Carl's fault, at least from from my point of view tucked safely on the couch in the comfort of my family room. Carl blocked Brad at Talladega, and due to NASCAR's rules mandating where the drivers can and can't race, Brad couldn't go lower. At Atlanta, Brad was down on the yellow line in the middle of the corner and Carl came down. It doesn't matter if it was an inch or a foot - that lane was occupied.

So what exactly is the message Carl wants to get across? Don't race me? If you see me anywhere near you, let me have the lane I want and don't try to pass me?

Brad is doing his job, and to this point, has done it pretty well. His job is to drive that racecar to the best of his abilities. Has he ruffled some feathers? Yep, but I think some of that is because he doesn't take the crap that others have dished to him. The deal with Denny Hamlin is one of Hamlin's making. Had Denny not sideswiped Brad in the Nationwide race at Charlotte in 2008, I doubt we'd ever look twice when those two are near each other on the track. But Brad was wronged - again, merely for racing someone hard, not for any meaningful contact between the two - and he set out to let Hamlin and the rest of the NASCAR drivers know he wouldn't be pushed around. Many of the incidents between Keselowski and Hamlin that have resulted in Denny taking a ride were initiated either by Hamlin himself or by Keselowski simply being in Hamlin's head.

The question this leads me to ask is this: does Carl actually think this is over now?

If I was in Keselowski's shoes the answer would be no. Sure, Carl flipped off Brad's front bumper and now Brad flipped off Carl's front bumper. But the two incidents are no where near similar. The Talladega incident was a product of hard racing for the win and an ill-timed block. The Atlanta incident was a product of an ill-tempered driver making a bad decision to payback an incident that was his fault to begin with. From where I sit, Carl didn't have a reason to spin Brad, much less turn him over.

Don't get me wrong...as a race fan, I like Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, and Brad Keselowski. I've had the pleasure of working with Denny during his initial foray into the Truck Series in 2004. I've been around the Keselowski family since I was 10 years old going to the races with my grandparents. And when I was with TruckSeries.com, I had the pleasure of working with Carl when he drove for the Mittler Bros. and then eventually with Roush - and I even have one of his "If you're looking for a driver you're looking for me" business cards as a momento of those days.

I don't want Carl to change his style on the track. He's a hard charger, one of only a handful of drivers that I would put that title on in today's NASCAR. Sometimes I wish Carl would calm himself down with the extra-cirricular stuff that goes on around him...the door-to-door congrats he offered Dale Earnhardt, Jr. at Michigan a few years back and the fake punch at teammate Matt Kenseth are just a couple of examples. I want to see the Carl that drives in on the outside and squeezes past Jimmie Johnson to win at Atlanta in 2005 or drives in in 20 car lengths too deep at Kansas and rides the wall to try to win, not the Carl that loses his temper and then loses control. The first Carl is exciting and a joy to watch on the track. The second, well, not so much.

I've been surprised at the criticism I've seen about Brad's driving style on message boards and in article comments. He's aggressive and doesn't take any crap. That's a bad thing? Yet people seem to think he wantonly and maliciously goes and crashes people. He's not perfect by any means, but I've yet to see him purposely take someone out without that person first doing something to get on his payback list. Sure, he's made mistakes. But name one driver that hasn't. Even Mr. Four-time Champion Jimmie Johnson has left his share of competitors with crumpled fenders in his wake. Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Mark Martin all have too. So have Harvick, the Busch brothers, Kasey Kahne, and everyone else who straps in to race on Sunday. It's just part of the game, a big part that provides us all a tremendous amount of excitement.

Where does this lead us? Hopefully NASCAR's lack of a penalty is something that doesn't change if and when this incident flares up again. I can guarantee you that the 12 and the 99 will find each other on the track again sometime soon. Brad never really spoke about the situation with Hamlin, he did all of his talking on the track. I doubt we'll hear him do a lot of talking about this dust-up either. And I don't expect him to go blatantly send Carl on a ride into the wall somewhere either. But, I can say with confidence that the 12 won't be giving the 99 any slack - whether it's in the draft at Talladega or if Carl is trying to squeeze into the bottom groove at Martinsville and Brad is there to fill the hole.

I originally opined that Edwards should be slapped with a heavy points fine. After some deliberation, I think I am okay with what NASCAR did (although, really, what is probation?). That is if, and it's a big if, NASCAR reacts the same way if and when the shoe is on the other foot. It wasn't Edwards' intent to put Keselowski on his roof. There is no way he could have known that would have been the outcome. The severity of the outcome isn't the issue. It's the intent that caused it. All Carl wanted to do was send a message - regardless of whether that message was warranted or not. The message was sent and received, now let's see how NASCAR reacts when that message is returned to sender.

Monday, March 8, 2010

On the finer points of retaliation

For as long as there has been racing with automobiles, there has been one driver upset with another driver. Usually, it's because one has beaten the other, which is as it should be. Sometimes, it's because one driver caused another driver to crash. While there are myriad reasons for what causes a wreck, some crashes are just part of the sport, the result of hard racing for position where an inch is asked for but not given.

That's what happened yesterday at Atlanta on lap 40 when Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski got together in turn one. Keselowski was racing to the inside of Edwards, trying to gain positions on a restart. Edwards, in the middle groove, tried to shut the door on Keselowski's advance. Edwards cut into the low groove that was already occupied by Keselowski's car, washed up the track and slapped into Joey Logano and then the outside wall.

Where does blame lie?

With Keselowski? Brad would have had to dip onto the apron to go any lower. He held his line and didn't slide up the track at all to initiate contact. It's hard to point the finger at Brad for this one.

It's easy to see where Carl is coming from. He unded up on his head at Talladega last year racing against Keselowski. Due to the rules of restrictor-plate racing, Keselowski had to hold his line and not dip below the so-called out-of-bounds line. That's exactly what Brad did, and Carl attempted to throw a block and ended up crashing himself as a result. Edwards also came up on the short end of the stick racing against Keselowski for the win in a Nationwide Series race at Memphis last year. Hard racing for the win sometimes results in bent sheet metal. And, if memory serves, Carl left a trail of bent sheet metal along the way early in his career too.

Retaliation is part of the sport, just as crashing is. It's hard to say you can be crashed and not have the desire to get even. But that relatiation has to be done the proper way. Intentionally crashing someone at the point on the racetrack where the speeds are the highest is a recipe for disaster - although to Carl's credit he did try very hard to crash Keselowski coming out of turn four the lap before. Had Carl made contact coming out of the corner Brad likely would have taken a long slide through the grass, the point made and everyone moves on. As it was, Brad came a few feet from flying into the catchfence roof-first, a situation which is likely to have had dire consequences for the driver and those seated nearby in the grandstands.

So what should the consequences be?

Some, including Brad, have called for a suspension. I initially thought the same way, but as I thought about it, I've changed my mind. Sitting Carl out a week won't change his aggressive ways on the track, and it shouldn't. That's what makes Carl Edwards one of the elite drivers in NASCAR - and truthfully, that's what makes Brad Keselowski a special driver too. Sometimes, when two aggressive drivers come together, sparks fly. Those sparks are a benefit to the race fans.

A monetary fine won't mean a thing to Carl. Today's NASCAR drivers can absorb a million-dollar hit and not feel it. It's a drop in the bucket.

Points should be deducted. More than Carl earned at Atlanta. Not because of his intent - retaliation, after all, is a part of the sport that will never disappear no matter how vanilla the personalities of the sport become. The points should be deducted simply because of the outcome. Sending Brad spinning through the grass off turn four is one thing. Sending him into the catchfence entering turn one (again, the highest speed segment of the track) is another. Taking away points - enough points that his chances to make the Chase are adversely affected - seem to be the only thing that will make any difference in today's points-racing, Championship-heavy environment.

I hope NASCAR doesn't start to go back on the "let 'em race" philosphy due to one on-track incident. Boys will be boys, and only when they cross so far over the line that the line is a faded point off in the horizon should the sanctioning body step in. Otherwise, let them have at it.

Friday, February 26, 2010

On the numerology of going from No. 88 to No. 22

It's funny how things seem to come full-circle in racing and in life. And it's funny that things that happened over 30 years ago can happen again.
In racing, car numbers often don't really seem to matter much unless of course you happen to be one of the superstar drivers that have become identified by that numeral on your door.

But for virtually every driver out there, they started their racing career with a number of choice. It could have been a number used by their father or grandfather, or it could be a number that just seemed to fit with their personality.

I know as a kid, whenever I dreamed of climbing aboard a racecar at Toledo Speedway, it always was a No. 16 car. That number is my birthday, so it just seemed to be a perfect fit. Plus it seems to be a pretty good choice as it's won a lot of races in the Camping World Truck Series and four championships with Ron Hornaday, Mike Bliss, and Travis Kvapil. Oh, and Greg Biffle seems to do pretty good with it in the Sprint Cup division too.

Way back in the 1970s, a family from up in my neck of the woods fielded a car in USAC and NASCAR stock car competition with the No. 88 on the door. Ron Keselowski didn't have much success in the NASCAR side of things, but he did win a 500-mile USAC race at Pocono with that number on the door. But the No. 88 was a desirable number, and someone eventually came to Keselowski and offered him a tidy sum to buy the right to use the number.

Eventually the No. 88 went to the DiGard team - first Donnie Allison, then Darrell Waltrip and then finally Bobby Allison - and the Keselowskis went short track racing with great success with the No. 29. Ron retired from the drivers seat and took over crew chief duties for his brother Bob. They climbed up from the weekly short tracks of the Midwest to an ARCA championship and eventually back to the NASCAR ranks in the Truck Series. Their No. 29 went to victory lane at Richmond in 1997 with Bob at the wheel and then again in 1998 with Dennis Setzer at Mesa Marin in 1998. After a sponsor-requested change to the No. 1, the No. 29 reappeared with Terry Cook behind the wheel in 2001. Cook scored four wins for them in 2002, and Bob's oldest son Brian won a track championship at Toledo with the No. 29 in 2003.

After 30+ years, a Keselowski again ran a No. 88 car when Brian's younger brother Brad was hired to drive the JR Motorsports Nationwide Series car in 2007. Brad had some great success with that number, winning a handful of races and contendending for a championship in both of the full-time seasons he used the number.

Now, it's time to go back in time to 1982. After ten successful years with the No. 88, the DiGard team had acquired a new sponsor. This was just before the era when a team would simply add another team, so their previous sponsor Gatorade was free to move to another team. The DiGard team had a good relationship with the Gatorade executives and when the company requested to take the No. 88 along with them to a new team, DiGard said goodbye to the number and chose another, this time going with the No. 22 to use on it's newly sponsored Miller High Life cars.

In the first season using the No. 22, Bobby Allison won six races and scored his only NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship.

I think you can see where I am going with this...

After departing JR Motorsports at the end of the 2009 season, Brad Keselowski joined Penske Racing for a double-duty season in 2010. He's driving the team's No. 12 car in the Cup Series and...the No. 22 car in the Nationwide Series.

Some people might not believe in the numerology, and I'm not quite sure I buy into it completely either. But Darrell Waltrip surely did when he won the Daytona 500 in his 17th try on February 17, 1989 while driving the No. 17 car. The numbers surely are aligned for Brad Keselowski to drive to his first Nationwide Series championship in 2010.

Monday, February 22, 2010

On McMurray's return to Earth, Jr.'s continued over-exposure, Danica's finish, and overbearning on-screen graphics

- Jamie McMurray continued to light up the NASCAR world when he earned the pole on Friday at Auto Club Speedway, just five days after winning the Daytona 500. Many in the media were loving it and proclaiming McMurray the breakout star of the season based on his season-opening performances. As big as winning at Daytona is (even in today's world of spec racecars and cruise control point-and-steer racing), it doesn't really convert to a successful rest of the season. Sure, McMurray followed it up with a pole, but what does a pole really mean any more? Being fast for two miles doesn't mean you can be fast for 500 miles. McMurray's teammate, and fellow front row starter Juan Montoya was just as fast but didn't last the full 500 miles, bowing out early due to engine failure. McMurray came home 17th and despite looking all over the Web all morning, not much can be found on his performance in the race from many of those writers who were touting him after qualifying.

- While McMurray's 17th-place finish was largely overlooked, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s 32nd-place result generated more coverage than the drivers that rounded out the top-five. Earnhardt's result is noteworthy, but is it feature-worthy? The media has relied on Earnhardt for page views and click-thrus for too long, and his the over-exposure has turned off many of the sport's faithful followers. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying the media needs to overlook Earnhardt, but how about giving him coverage commensurate with his performance?

- Has any 31st-place finish been received with more ballyhoo than Danica Patrick's run at Fontana? All of the media who proclaimed her to be a stock car success after finishing sixth in the ARCA race at Daytona are now having to backtrack, although I am not so sure that Patrick isn't right where she should be right now. Her goals aren't to go out and lead laps and win races; no, they are to learn how to drive stock cars. She's still learning that, although she's not competitive just yet. Once she learns how to drive the racecar, she can learn how to race the racecar. Anyone who thinks she will show up in Las Vegas and magically become a top-five finisher is kidding themselves. Although she has considerable experience in racing, she has exactly three races in a stock car. Let her learn, and then let's see what she can do. It's like Ricky Carmichael's transition from bikes to stock cars. He obviously knows how to race, and so does Danica, but he has to learn how to drive these vehicles before he can learn how to race them. Once both of them get their sea legs under them in stock cars, both will make a solid addition to the driver corps, although a big part of me wishes Danica would stay in the Indy Car Series.

- Anyone else find the Fox "White Flag" graphics and the headshots of the top-ten across the top of the screen to be too much? I wish the networks would minimize all the on-screen bells and whistles during the race broadcasts. I've never liked the ticker across the top because it obscures too much of the screen and only shows you three positions at a time. I would much rather favor a system that showed the entire rundown, statically, on both sides of the screen. The top-20 on the left side, the second 20 on the right, displayed as the position and then the car number. As positions changed, car numbers would move up or down; those going towards the front highlighted in green and those moving backwards highlighted in red. Occasionally other information could be inserted, such as interval (behind the leader and behind the next position) and average speed. That way, the entire field could be updated continually and without obscuring too much of the screen.

Monday, February 15, 2010

On Mr. Afterthought, passing below the yellow line, the first female(s) since 2008, good things happening to good guys, and may the luckiest guy win

A few thoughts and questions following Hershey's Milk and Milkshakes SpeedWeeks in Daytona...

-Bobby Gerhart has to feel like Mr. Afterthought following his win in the ARCA race at DIS. Gerhardt took the checkered for the sixth time - an ARCA record - but ask most of the media in attendance who won and they couldn't tell you. Of course, they were all there to watch Danica. There's nothing wrong with that, I guess, but I wish more media would cover the event instead of that one particular angle. Of course, I feel the same frustration every June when many members of the motorsports media proclaim themselves dirt track fans for a night when many of them have never been to a dirt track race at a track other than Eldora Speedway.

- I wonder why Scott Speed wasn't penalized for passing below the yellow line on the final lap of his Duel race? We were only given one angle of his pass (for some reason the camera angle entering turn three, which catches everything that happens on the backstretch wasn't used), and although it was from a distance it was clear that his left side tires we well over the double yellow line. The simple fact that a pass below the yellow line could be missed - or ignored - like this is the perfect example for why that rule should be abolished.

- It's a real shame that the Truck Series race was rain delayed on Friday, but it made for a perfect day-night double header on Saturday. The Nationwide Series race was a thrill-a-minute, with numerous crashes spicing the event from start to finish. The most spectacular was, of course, Dale Earnhardt, Jr,'s wild flip down the backstretch. It was humorous to note that the "Danica Ticker" on the bottom of the ESPN2 telecast proclaimed Danica as the first woman to start a Nationwide Series race since 2008. Technically this may be correct because she took the green flag first, but Chrissy Wallace was also in the starting line-up. I do believe this was fixed before the end of the race, but it was funny nonetheless.

The Truck was was, for me, the highlight of the week. The race was as it is billed, the best of SpeedWeeks. Although the were a lot of accidents and too many trucks behind the wall at the end, the actual racing was as good as it gets at Daytona. It's a shame that the opening lap accident took out as many quality trucks as it did, and it's a shame the mid-race crash that took out Ron Hornaday, et. al happened too. But that's all part of what makes racing at Daytona racing at Daytona.

- Congrats to Timothy Peters on his win in the Truck race at Daytona. It wasn't that long ago that Tim was rideless and then driving for a shoe-string operation out of a two-bay garage behind his house. Sometimes good things happen to good people.

- The Daytona 500 was a pretty decent race. No real "big" big ones, although the delay for the recurring potholes was a real downer. The real shame of the race, at least to me, was that the final 38 laps weren't all run under green. That is a perfect distance to let the field thin out at the front and let the best car and driver get to the front. As it was, the multiple green-white-checkered finish worked perfectly (although I don't like that it's been limited to three attempts - do it how many times it takes!). It's just a shame that the winner of the race wasn't the best car and driver, but the driver who chose the right lane for a two-lap dash to the finish. Such as it is, Jamie McMurray did a great job over those final laps. It was great to see and hear the emotion from him immediately following the race. However, it wasn't so great to see him cut short his interview with Fox "to go be with (his) team." I understand the desire to go be with the team, but the people at home (and the people who pay the freight - the sponsors) want to hear from you too.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

On the start of SpeedWeeks, underdogs, fixing the green-white-checkered, and not learning a darn thing in Daytona

SpeedWeeks is underway, and it's great to have the rumble of V-8 engines in the air again...even if they are choked by those still-dreaded restrictor plates. Through Wednesday's Sprint Cup practice, nearly 20 cars have been damaged so far, with the promise of more to come on Thursday and the rest of the week. As fun as it can be to watch this style of plate racing, there is a part of me (a big part, actually) that would like to go back to the way it was. Sure, waiting for the big one is nerve wracking fun and not knowing who will luck out in the draft on the final lap can be exciting too, but the way the racing was "back when" with the small spoilers laid back as flat as the driver could bear it was exciting too. There's nothing like wondering if someone barrelling into turn one at 200 mph will make it out the other end of turn two - not because someone else took him out, but because he just couldn't handle the car. That certainly isn't a problem in this era of excessive downforce and minimal horsepower.

- I am a big fan of the underdog story. When I worked for TruckSeries.com, I took pride in interviewing not only the guys racing for wins and championships but also the guys struggling to make it into the field as well. There are numerous underdog stories heading into the 500 this year, and with Joe Nemechek scoring a starting spot based on his qualifying speed at least one will make it in the Great American Race. But the one near and dear to my heart is Terry Cook's No. 46 Whitney Motorsports team. Cook is a long-time Truck Series veteran and multiple-time winner in that series. He's making his first attempt at the Cup Series in the sport's biggest event. While Hendrick, Penske, and Gibbs all have hundreds of employees working on building their cars from the ground up, Cook has nine people on the payroll - counting himself (and he's serving as the team general manager in addition to driving). It might seem like a futile exercise to some, but don't begrudge a man chasing after his dream. After 14 years in the Trucks it may have seemed like that dream was out of reach but just six weeks ago Dusty Whitney decided he was going to go Cup racing and Cook got the call. It might not be as far fetched as some believe either; Cook has always raced well at Daytona (he has three top-fives there in the NCWTS) and the car got better throughout the day on Wednesday. He was 34th on the speed chart at the end of the day, not bad for David when he's up against the other Goliaths in the Cup garage. (**Full disclosure - I am doing some PR for Terry and the team so I ought to think it's a great underdog story...but regardless of my obvious bias it is a neat thing to see.)

- So NASCAR is looking at changing it's green-white-checkered rule? That's a wonderful thing. But from what I can gather, they are doing what they do best and taking a simple concept and making it overly complex. How about this: if the caution flag comes out any time in the course of a g-w-c attempt, whether the white flag has been waved or not, you do it over. With the freeze the field rule, the paying customers and the television audience still aren't guaranteed a green-flag finish unless it's done that way. Or, NASCAR could say once the white flag is waved the next flag that is waved is the checkered and let them race back. A change is definitely due, but let's hope it's the right change and not something that doesn't necessarily give a green-flag finish. And for those who want to argue that it took the Truck Series four attempts in that final multiple g-w-c race at Gateway in 2004, I was there that night and I challenge anyone to find someone who watched that race in the stands who didn't feel they got 10 times their money's worth that night.

- I've seen several "what have we learned so far" headlines from some writers postulating on what we've seen so far at Daytona will mean for the rest of the season. They may spend 1000 words theorizing but the simple answer is this: nothing we've seen at Daytona means anything when it comes to the rest of the year. Yes, Danica did well in the ARCA race. Yes, Harvick put his stamp on the Bud Shootout for the second year in a row. Yes, Mark Martin looks strong again and Jr. is back on the front row at Daytona. But this style of racing is so different than what we every week that whatever happens in Daytona is happening in a bubble. Just ask the last three Daytona 500 winners, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, and Matt Kenseth if their success at Daytona carried over to the rest of the season.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

On the most wonderful time of the year, adding laps, and the passing of Mike Addington

Generally when people think about "the most wonderful time of the year," they recall the classic Christmas carol. Not me. While I love the holidays, even more so now there are little ones to watch tear into their mound of presents on Christmas morning, the most wonderful time of the year is now - when the racing season is starting to kick into gear. It starts this weekend with the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, then continues next week with the Toyota All-Star Showdown in Irwindale, and then we really get a head of steam going with the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the kickoff of SpeedWeeks 2010.

A note to David Newton and any other media member who is critical of Phoenix International Raceway's decision to lengthen the Spring race at the 1-mile oval in the desert: not everyone things long races are boring. Some people actually think extra laps and miles is a good thing, particularly if you're a fan that only has one chance to see a race each season. Can 600 miles at Charlotte drag on too long? Sure. Can 400 miles at Michigan seem long? Sure. But you know what? That's okay. Not every race is a barn burner. Experienced media people should know that. They are entitled to their opinion just like everyone else, but I often wonder to myself why some of these media members chose to follow the sport? Was it just because that's the assignment they drew when they were hired in? Because many of them rarely have anything good to say about the sport. Maybe 375 miles is too many at Phoenix. Why not wait and see before condemning the decision? It's possible that all it will do is add to the laps led total of the winner, as Newton theorizes. It's also possible that someone will dominate the first 312 laps of the race (the traditional race distance at PIR) and then have engine problems or crash out in the final 63 laps. How many times has someone won the Coca-Cola 500, but not been around to see the checkered flag in the race that is the Coca-Cola 600?

Sad news from the Camping World Truck Series world as former team owner Mike Addington passed away last week. Addington's team was always solid on the track, scoring a win with Andy Houston during his rookie season in 1998 and several more the next three years. He also put Travis Kvapil in victory lane a few times before Kvapil left the team to become a champion with Xpress Motorsports. Addington Racing is where Rick Ren came to the forefront as one of the best crew chiefs in the garage, always having trucks that were top-five material and if they were involved in any kind of smash-up on the track Ren and crew got them back out and in contention. Mike Addington was just 50 years old.

Friday, January 8, 2010

On simplification of the rules

I was in the car the other day listening to Sirius NASCAR Radio, as I often do when getting household chores and errands done. Heading back from Best Buy after buying some computer components I popped on the radio just as Sirius Speedway's Dave Moody was conversing with a listener about some change the listener was proposing to the championship format. The conversation quickly evolved into what the listener would do to change the sport and how the sport could use an "independent sanctioning body."

For the most part, the caller was a little misguided. I think I understand what it is he was trying to say - that the France family has their fingers in every aspect of the sport and that he didn't like it that way - but that doesn't change the fact that NASCAR is an independent sanctioning body. Like the caller, I am sure everyone who has watched the sport has disagreed with one call or another made by NASCAR officials. But that doesn't mean there is another sanctioning body out there that can effectively manage the sport.

Lost in the conversation with the caller is something Moody repeatedly told the caller: "I don't think you understand the rules." It started when the caller was confused on when a driver uses a backup car after a crash in practice or qualifying; apparently he couldn't keep it straight when that driver must start at the tail of the field or when he/she gets to keep the position earned in qualifying. That's neither here nor there in my mind; what I'd like to see is a streamlining of the rules to make the entire sport much easier for everyone to understand.

A race is one of the easiest things in the world to officiate. Even as kids, it simply is the first person to get from point A to point B. Sure, in NASCAR it's slightly more complex since there are 43 teams running and the race can last upwards of four hours. But there are so many rules now that the simplicity that made the sport so beautiful when I was a youngster is gone.

It starts in qualifying with a certain number of cars locked in the field. Once the race starts, there are many proceedures that can confuse fans - like the free pass, no passing to the left on a restart, the commitment line for making pit stops, freezing the field when the caution comes out, and on restrictor plate tracks the dreaded yellow line rule. And on and on.

That's not even getting into the rules governing the construction of the cars and trucks used in the races.

There are many reasons why NASCAR today is better than NASCAR of yesterday. The visibility and ease of access is second-to-none in professional sports. There are still many issues NASCAR has to deal with before the train is pointed back up the hill to the peak it reached in the mid-2000s - the generic car, some bland personalities, and the confusion over race proceedures are just a few of those issues.

Racing is inherently simple. If NASCAR hopes to regain some of the audience it has lost in the past five years, a return to that simplicity will help immensely.