Will the latest “controversy” over a brawl in the pits have more than a half-life of a few days, and is there anything truly trenchant left to say about it?
From this corner, the bets are on the answers being “no” and “no.”
The only way this story truly gets legs is if NASCAR chooses stern punishment for Busch or any team members, which would be profoundly silly for several reasons (executive vice president Steve O’Donnell hinted Monday that NASCAR likely won’t issue severe penalties).
Sunday’s kinetic scene was a reminder of the raw drama upon which stock-car racing was built.
The 1979 Daytona 500, the most famous race in NASCAR history, ended with a fracas very similar to Sunday (though we don’t have the benefit of knowing the literal blow by blow thanks to an intrepid reporter with a smartphone).
There were $6,000 fines handed out to the Allison brothers and Cale Yarborough, but the joke always has been that the trio should have been earning residuals from NASCAR ever since an episode that became among the most indelible in racing history.
Perhaps there will be some wrist slaps for Busch and a few of Logano’s team members, but it should end there.
Unlike the Jeff Gordon–Brad Keselowski brouhaha that resulted in four suspensions, this wasn’t an unruly melee that put others at risk in the pits. It mostly was triggered by Busch acting alone rather than a mob’s roiling angst.
Yes, Jimmy Spencer once was suspended for sucker-punching Kurt Busch after an Aug. 17, 2003 race at Michigan International Speedway.
But that wasn’t captured on video (if it had, the reaction might have been much different), and it happened during the heavily image-conscious era several years before NASCAR christened the “Boys, Have At It” policy that effectively permits frontier justice as Busch attempted to administer.
While NASCAR must be careful about tacitly celebrating such displays of violence, attempting to legislate postrace emotion would be foolhardy and run counter to everything preached about why stock-car racing stands alone as a sport that showcases passion.
The only area that perhaps needs to be addressed by NASCAR is the scene that left Busch with a bloody forehead. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver put himself in that position to great degree, but the postrace brawls might need better ground rules that put some limitations on how many burly and physically sculpted pit crew members enter the fray.
A few other leftovers from Las Vegas:
–An announcement last Friday by Las Vegas Motor Speedway underscored what a sweetheart deal Speedway Motorsports Inc. received by moving its annual fall race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to Sin City.
As part of the deal, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority agreed to spend $2.5 million annually — $1 million to the track for each race as the title sponsor and another $500,000 on marketing and promotion – for a guaranteed $17 million over seven years.
But the contract also permits the track to sell title sponsorships for each of its races, which is why the Pennzoil 400 was announced as the new name for the March 2018 race.
Las Vegas still will fork over $1 million for the March 2018 race because the city’s name remains “prominently displayed” in the event’s logo.
How “prominently?” Well, you can look here and decide for yourself.
The market value of Cup race title sponsorships can vary greatly depending on the track and race, but it’s safe to say Pennzoil is paying well into the six figures – and possibly much more – to brand the race. Though the company had an existing relationship with SMI, a track spokesman confirmed the race sponsorship was a new deal with the track.
It’s another lucrative layer to why realigning the New Hampshire race makes fiscal sense for SMI.
—The rumblings about a new manufacturer entering Cup haven’t quieted since Dodge’s multiple meetings in the offseason with NASCAR. This past weekend, there was garage buzz that 1) Dodge might be moving down the road with a team; and 2) there could be another manufacturer interested.
Is the debut of a new automaker in Cup imminent?
It would seem unlikely given the lead time required and the approvals needed by NASCAR. As a guest on this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast (Wednesday’s episode will focus on the 2018 Camry), Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson said the NASCAR OEM council, which meets quarterly, regularly discusses the sport’s next manufacturer.
But Wilson, who would “love another manufacturer to join the sport,” said it would likely be 2019 at the earliest that it could be possible.
“There are requirements and things to do to get your car approved that suggest it’s not on the doorstep,” Wilson said at Daytona for the upcoming episode of the podcast. “I don’t think we’ll be seeing any 2018 announcements.”
—Kevin Harvick didn’t mince words in evaluating one of his first experiences with NASCAR’s new traveling safety team.
Based off the Fox broadcast, it took at least 90 seconds for safety workers to reach Harvick after his No. 4 Ford blew a tire and slammed the wall in a heavy impact. It’s understandable why Harvick’s ire would have been stoked by that response time, though it’s unclear if the new policy would have had an impact.
NASCAR’s new American Medical Response-sponsored crew features a rotating crew of emergency trauma physicians who are in a chase vehicle to attend to each crash. Each track’s safety staff still handles the primary response to an incident.
Regardless, NASCAR surely will be reviewing the Harvick crash to improve on best practices and procedures for helping a driver in need.