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).

NASCAR America: Assessing Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus’ historic tenure

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After 17 years, seven Cup championships and 81 wins, the checkered flag will wave on Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus this weekend.

Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway will mark the final time Johnson and Knaus will work together as driver and crew chief.

In 2019, Johnson will be paired with Kevin Meendering while Knaus will work with William Byron on the No. 24 team.

On NASCAR America, three-time Cup champion and Hall of Fame crew chief Ray Evernham and Kyle Petty discussed the legacy of the Johnson-Knaus pairing and how it compares to what was accomplished by Richard Petty and crew chief Dale Inman and Jeff Gordon and Evernham.

“The most underrated record in this sport is five (championships) in a row,” Petty said, referring to the No. 48 team’s title run from 2006-10. “Nobody gives them enough credit, I just don’t think so. … The crew chief job that Ray did is a completely different job than what Chad does. The crew chief job that Chad does, Dale Inman wouldn’t even recognize it in 1967, ’68.”

Said Evernham: “Jimmie and Chad are right there with those guys. Without a doubt it’s Petty-Inman, Johnson-Knaus. What Jeff I did together was great, but we weren’t together that long. … To me it’s incredible to win that many championships, not just mechanically, but what it takes emotionally to do that. To hold those teams together and be that good for that many years is to me incredible. That’s longer than most marriages.”

Watch the above video for more.

 

NASCAR penalty report from Phoenix

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NASCAR has fined two crew chiefs for unsecured lug nuts last weekend at ISM Raceway.

In the Cup Series, Luke Lambert was fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut on Ryan Newman‘s No. 31 Chevrolet.

In the Xfinity Series, David Elenz was fined $5,000 for one unsecured lug nut on Tyler Reddick‘s No. 9 Chevrolet.

There were no other penalties announced.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Miami preview, Richard Petty and Dale Inman

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and continues to set up the final race weekend of the year in Miami.

Marty Snider hosts with Kyle Petty and Ray Evernham from Charlotte.

On today’s show:

  • We’ll discuss the final race together for Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus, and their lasting impact on NASCAR. Another legendary driver/crew chief combo, Richard Petty and Dale Inman, give their take on the success of their fellow seven-time champions.

  • It’s the final NASCAR race for Elliott Sadler. The panel, including Sadler’s former boss Ray Evernham, share their fondest memories of the 24-year NASCAR veteran.

  • Plus, we’ll reveal the final three members of this season’s Pit Crew All-Stars.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

‘A lot of tears shed’ as Furniture Row Racing departs for last Cup race

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The final chapter in Furniture Row Racing’s history began overnight as the team’s hauler embarked on its journey from Denver, Colorado, to Miami for Sunday’s Cup season finale (3 p.m ET on NBC).

The race, where Martin Truex Jr. will compete in the Championship 4, will mark the 451st and final Cup race for the team that owner Barney Visser started in 2005. The team announced Sept. 4 that it would cease operations at the end of the year due to a lack of sponsorship.

Truex will try to deliver the team’s second consecutive Cup title.

The team’s farewell at the Denver shop was marked by a large gathering of team members.

“I don’t think any of us were prepared for how emotional it was (Tuesday) night when we loaded up,” crew chief Cole Pearn said Wednesday in a teleconference. “I think we’ve just been head down, kind of pushing super hard, trying to do everything we can to get ready for this weekend, and once it was in the truck and saw the lift gate up, there was a lot of tears shed and a lot of sad faces, and I think all of us really realized that that was the last time we were going to do it together as a group.  … A lot of relationships have been built from that shop, and it’s a weird feeling for sure.”

Pearn said the occasion was marked with team members sharing “a few beverages” while they “told old stories and kind of reminisced.”

Visser said Furniture Row Racing “remained a team” in the months since the announcement of its impending closure.

“I am proud of the way they handled this difficult and emotional situation,” Visser said in a media release. “I think everybody who has had an opportunity to work in our shop is probably better for it. I believe they’re better craftsmen and have known or have learned what it takes to be a winner. On the flip side, I do feel a responsibility for moving the guys out here and want to see them get placed. That is very important to me.”

Visser said it will be “hard to give up” a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity.

“It’s so rare to get a group of people you like being with, and who accomplish things that other people can’t seem to do,” Visser said. “Pretty special to find that chemistry and the success that comes with it. It’s hard to give it up, but sometimes it’s taken away from you without having any recourse. I just couldn’t keep borrowing money over here to feed it over there. Just had to give it up.”

When it comes to how involved Visser will be in NASCAR going forward, the 69-year-old Vietnam veteran said he hopes to attend some races next season.

“I am a huge racing fan,” Visser said. “I love the cars, love the smell, love the sound and love the people. I will be coming as a guest and fan next year and hope to sit in the stands for a few races. Never did that. My wife and I are looking forward to taking weekend trips to races next year.”