CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The joy and excitement is real. And so is the conniving.
Look at how some NASCAR races end. The winner does a burnout and blows a rear tire or both rear tires. Or the winner hits the wall. Either way they damage their car.
These aren’t always accidents.
“Sometimes when you’re doing a burnout, and the smoke, you can’t see where you’re at,’’ Kyle Busch said.
Then he winked.
Kevin Harvick is the most recent to face questions about what has become an accepted practice in the sport.
NASCAR’s rules allow post-race celebrations and drivers take advantage, knowing that a smoke-filled burnout with the rear tires exploding or the driver tapping the wall provides a visceral visual.
By doing so, one can argue, a driver can damage his car enough that it’s difficult – if not impossible – for NASCAR to uncover any advantages the winning car might have had.
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, doesn’t see it that way.
“I think the good news on that front is that you go back to all the pre-race work that was done and all the inspection that is done,’’ he said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio earlier this week.
As Harvick did a doughnut Sunday after winning at Dover International Speedway, his car appeared to hit the inside wall while smoke rose from his tires.
“I didn’t even know,’’ Harvick said.
Told of the social media buzz that he had purposely damaged his car to hide any advantage he had, Harvick said sarcastically; “I knew how to knock my car back into compliance by rubbing up into the wall.’’
Harvick then added: “I don’t even remember actually hitting the wall. I remember the tires blowing out, but I don’t know if I actually hit the wall.’’
O’Donnell said earlier this week that he didn’t see an issue with Harvick’s celebration.
“I don’t blame him,’’ O’Donnell said. “That was a huge win to move on. That’s something we’ll certainly look at. I chalk that up to some real enthusiasm and the guy is just happy to move on.’’
NASCAR stated Tuesday that Harvick’s car passed inspection at the R&D Center. Crew chief Rodney Childers defended his team on social media, noting the “18 or 19 times we have been to tear down and not had a burn out” and been legal.
This wasn’t the first time Harvick has blown tires on burnouts. He blew a right rear tire during his burnout after winning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He blew both the left and right rear tires after winning at Phoenix International Raceway. His car passed post-race inspection both times.
“Back in 2003 was the first time that the rear tires blew off the car at Indianapolis down the frontstretch,’’ Harvick said of his win there. “It’s not something new. These things are hard to win. I enjoy celebrating and I’m going to burn the tires off, for sure.’’
Harvick isn’t the only one to have spectacular celebrations.
“I’ve definitely blown tires out,’’ Brad Keselowski said. “I think every driver has done something to do some kind of damage to their car.’’
Denny Hamlin agrees with Keselowski’s assertion.
“The winner is the only one that’s able to damage his car after the race without it being too obvious,’’ Hamlin said.
Crew chief Chad Knaus was caught on an in-car camera telling Jimmie Johnson to “crack the back” of the car if Johnson won the 2011 Chase race at Talladega Superspeedway.
As for purposely blowing tires, Hamlin said: “Nothing we do is without merit. We all know what we’re doing. It’s a tough balance because NASCAR wants you to celebrate, but as drivers we know when a tire is about to blow and sometimes we continue to put the throttle to it.’’
Hamlin did a quarter-mile burnout after winning at Martinsville Speedway earlier this year, blowing his left rear tire and doing some damage to the left rear of the car.
Even so, Hamlin said he would like NASCAR to enforce a more rigid policy on post-race burnouts.
“I’d like to see in the future some kind of way of saying, ‘Hey guys make sure it comes into Victory Lane the same way it was on the race track.’ ‘’
Until then, drivers will celebrate with burnouts, doughnuts and wall taps that, in some cases, could be more than what they appear to be.