Upon Further Review: Auto Club Speedway

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What are the consequences of exercising freedom of speech under NASCAR’s new guidelines for behavior?

NASCAR further will define those parameters by how it reacts to what was said and tweeted this past weekend by competitors.

About a month after NASCAR specified behavioral punishment for any competitor, a crew chief and the reigning Sprint Cup champion acted in ways that could lead to NASCAR penalties this week.

Upset with NASCAR for not throwing a caution on the last lap of Saturday’s Xfinity race when his right-front tire blew as he led, Kyle Busch let his feelings be known on the team radio.

Fox Sports 1 aired Busch’s rant on his radio after the race:  “Debris all over the race track and they don’t throw a yellow. I’m just so pleased with you NASCAR. Thanks. You all are awesome. Fixing races.’’

That’s his right to say that, but NASCAR could say it’s not Busch’s right to say that in a forum — on the radio — where fans and others can hear it.

NASCAR officials have said they understand when competitors disagree with a call. Where series officials get upset is when a competitor attacks the sport’s credibility. Busch’s comment of “fixing races’’ could lead to a fine.

Section 12.8.1.b of the Sprint Cup Rule Book states that a competitor could be fined between $10,000 – $50,000 and/or placed on probation for: “Disparaging the sport and/or NASCAR’s leadership.’’

Section 12.8.1.f states that the factors NASCAR may consider when reviewing a matter might include:

  • When and where the incident occurred
  • The perceivable or potential ramifications to others and/or to the sport
  • Member’s past history
  • Any extenuating circumstances

Another test could come with a tweet Cole Pearn sent after Sunday’s Sprint Cup race. He and Martin Truex Jr. were not happy with the how Joey Logano raced Truex with about 50 laps to go. Logano’s actions led to Truex hitting the wall.

Logano radioed his spotter and took the blame, telling him to pass it along to Truex. Logano and Truex met briefly after the race and Logano again took responsibility in interviews afterward.

Even so, Truex saw a top-five finish turn into a season-worst 32nd-place finish. Truex told Motor Racing Network afterward he would “race (Logano) differently from now on.’’

Pearn tweeted his displeasure. A few hours later, Pearn issued an apology for “being over the line’’ with the comment.

Section 12.8.d in the Sprint Cup Rule Book states that “NASCAR expects Members to police their own behavior, attempt to resolve disputes with other Members, and generally act as a role model representing the sport. … a Member’s action or omission may give rise for the need for NASCAR to step in, review the matter, and if necessary take action to maintain the fairness of Competition and/or the integrity of the sport.’’

Section 12.8.e in the Sprint Cup Rule Book states that “NASCAR Members shall not make or cause to be made a public statement and/or communication that criticizes, ridicules, or otherwise disparages another person based upon that person’s race, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, age, or handicapping condition.’’

Is Pearn a role model as a crew chief for a team that won a race last year and nearly won this year’s Daytona 500? Was his tweet offensive enough to lead to a NASCAR penalty? Also consider that Pearn is on probation through Dec. 31 for a roof-flap violation at Daytona and served a one-race suspension for a different roof-flap issue at Atlanta.

— Several drivers scored their best finishes of the season Sunday at Auto Club. They included:

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (fifth), Chase Elliott (sixth), A.J. Allmendinger (eighth), Jamie McMurray (10th), Brian Scott (12th), Brian Vickers (13th), Paul Menard (15th, ties best finish), Landon Cassill (16th), Casey Mears (17th) and Clint Bowyer (18th).

Jimmie Johnson’s victory Sunday was his second of the season. It’s the earliest in a year that he’s won two races since 2010 when he won twice in the first three races. Johnson now has 15 multi-win seasons, passing Jeff Gordon for No. 2 on the all-time list. Richard Petty holds the record with 18 multi-win seasons.

Kevin Harvick placed second on Sunday and is the only Cup driver to score a top-10 finish in each of the first five races of the season. Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch each had done it the first four races. Kyle Busch finished 25th after a tire went down two laps from the scheduled end while he was running second. Kurt Busch struggled throughout the weekend and finished 30th in a backup car.

— Chase Elliott’s three top-10 finishes in the first five races already rank in the best seasons among recent rookie-of-the-year winners. Only one rookie of the year since 2007 had more than three top-10 finishes in their first Cup season (Kyle Larson had eight top-10s when he won the award in 2014).

My Home Tracks: New Mexico’s the Land of Enchantment and home of Cardinal Speedway

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The state of New Mexico is known more for IndyCar racing, with the Unser family being the state’s favorite sons.

Al Unser won four Indianapolis 500s, brother Bobby three and Al’s son Al Jr. a two-time winner (this weekend’s 500 marks the 25th anniversary of Little Al’s second 500 triumph).

But there’s a strong grassroots racing scene in the Land of Enchantment, particularly in the far southeast corner of the state at Cardinal Speedway, a half-mile dirt track in the little town of Eunice.

NASCAR America continues its My Home Track series of 50 states in 50 shows.

Wednesday, we visit New York state.

2018 NASCAR schedule changes: EVP Steve O’Donnell breaks it down (video)

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On Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell joined us to discuss the NASCAR Cup schedule changes in 2018, including running a road race at Charlotte and having Indianapolis be the final race before the playoffs.

“I’m real excited about these changes,” said O’Donnell, who cited unprecedented cooperation between NASCAR, its teams, drivers and sponsors to reach agreement on the schedule changes.

Among the key changes: Las Vegas will kick off the 10-race playoffs in 2018 (Chicagoland Speedway, which will have hosted the last seven playoff openers, will return to its more traditional race date in early July/late June and serve as a run-up to the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona.

Several other changes include:

  • The fall playoff race at Charlotte will move up a couple weeks in the schedule and also incorporate competition on both the infield road course and part of the speedway itself.
  • After 14 years as the deciding race to qualify for the NASCAR Cup playoffs, Richmond International Raceway will now become the second race of the playoffs.
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway will see it’s Brickyard 400 go from late July to become the final qualifying race for the playoffs in early September.

Catch up on all the changes in the above video.

Tony Stewart pulled over by state trooper, but it’s not for speeding

Photo courtesy Damein Cunningham Twitter account
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Retired NASCAR Cup driver and team co-owner Tony Stewart was stopped by an Illinois State Trooper over the weekend near DeKalb, Ill., about 90 minutes west of Chicago.

But before you think Stewart was stopped for speeding by Trooper Damein Cunningham, he wasn’t.

Rather, Cunningham pulled Stewart over for improper lane usage, although exactly what the infraction was is unclear.

After getting a verbal warning, Stewart gladly posed with Cunningham for a selfie, which the trooper promptly tweeted out.

“Just pulled over NASCAR LEGEND Tony Stewart on I-88 in DeKalb, IL, what you think I got him for? #NASCAR #ISP”

But according to the Chicago Tribune, Cunningham’s bosses apparently didn’t have a sense of humor about the incident or realize the good PR it meant for the Illinois State Police.

That, or they’re not Stewart or NASCAR fans. They ordered Cunningham to delete the tweet, which he did.

It’s unclear what Stewart, who was stopped on his 46th birthday, was doing in the Land of Lincoln.

But his luck went from bad to worse a few hours later. According to USA Today, Stewart and others were stuck in an elevator in a Madison, Wisconsin hotel for about 20 minutes before being rescued by firefighters.

We can just imagine what the elevator riders talked about while trapped.

How much do you want to bet Stewart said, “Man, do I have a story about a cop that I have to tell you.”

Cunningham then posted another tweet on Sunday after attending church services.

 

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All-Star Race will remain at Charlotte in 2018

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
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NASCAR confirmed that the All-Star Race will be held again at Charlotte Motor Speedway despite more of a push from competitors and others to move the event.

Criticism was raised after last weekend’s 70-lap event featured only three lead changes. Kyle Busch took the lead on the restart to begin the final 10-lap stage and went on to win. It marked the fourth time in the last five years the All-Star winner led every lap in the final stage. In 12 All-Star Races at Charlotte since the track was repaved, there have been two lead changes in the final five laps.

Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations, was clear in a call with reporters Tuesday that the All-Star Race is set for Charlotte.

“We’ve finished our discussions for ’18,” he said. ” We’ll begin looking at ’19 and beyond in the near future.”

The All-Star Race debuted at Charlotte in 1985, moved to Atlanta in 1986 and returned to Charlotte the following year. It has been held at Charlotte ever since.

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