LOUDON, New Hampshire — Strip away the debate, peel away the nuances and look not at NASCAR but yourself.
Can you enjoy watching someone smoke the tires after winning a race, or must you see tires blow, thus damage the car and possibly hinder officials in inspecting the vehicle afterward?
Denny Hamlin knows how many of you will vote. He’s seen your reaction when he’s done burnouts down the frontstretch like he did in July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway — site of Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN). He blew a left rear tire in that celebration.
“The moment that the tires pop … that’s the moment the fans get excited,’’ Hamlin told NBC Sports after qualifying Friday.
Is that what it comes down to for you? After half a day at the track and three hours of racing, one of the key moments of your trip is seeing someone blow a tire in their victory burnout?
If it’s that important to see those tires blow, then are you OK that it could allow a car to skate the rules?
Dale Earnhardt Jr. says NASCAR should regulate those celebrations because they’re as nefarious as they are exhilarating.
“I’ve been kind of waiting all this time for NASCAR to say, “Look we’d just rather you guys not blow the tires out,’ ‘’ Earnhardt said Friday. “They talk about not being the fun police. Being the fun police is not on the radar of their damn problems. I don’t think they need to worry about it. That’s a cop-out in my opinion.’’
“I just feel like that they should step up,’’ Earnhardt said. “They’re the governing body. It’s obvious (blowing tires) is done intentionally.’’
Earnhardt said that the penalty to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott and Elliott’s team for modifying components to affect aerodynamic properties was too severe compared to drivers who are not penalized for damaging their cars in victory celebrations.
“(Elliott’s team) is going to get a suspended crew chief and car chief for this tape mess and the winner of the race (Martin Truex Jr.) was riding into victory lane with a damn rear tore all to hell,’’ Earnhardt said of last weekend’s race at Chicagoland Speedway “Can’t even tech it. I love Martin. It ain’t about Martin. Every guy out there has done it.’’
Truex says he did nothing wrong when he blew a rear tire in his celebration at Chicagoland. He was overjoyed after coming back from a speeding penalty and having to pit a second time under caution for loose lug nuts to win. So, yes he had a robust celebration.
“It was definitely not something that was on purpose or somebody told me to do it,’’ Truex told NBC Sports. “It was just caught up in the moment. The burnout was pretty nice. Maybe it went on a little longer than it should have. In that case, there’s no rules against it. Nobody said you can’t do it. If there was obviously a rule against it, then we would probably not do it anymore.
“People are just reaching for unicorns at this point and trying to figure out why we’re so fast. They can say what they want. We’ve not had any inspection issues (after a race). We’ve been to the R&D Center probably more than everybody this year.’’
Section 126.96.36.199.c of the Cup Rule Book allows burnouts, stating: “The first place vehicle may engage in appropriate celebratory activity (such as a victory lap, burn-out(s) or donuts) prior to reporting to victory lane.’’
The key word in that rule is “appropriate.”
This isn’t the first time victory celebrations have been debated. It has become as regular as shorter days and birds flying south in autumn.
Excessive victory celebrations was a topic during the playoffs in Oct. 2015 after Kevin Harvick’s car appeared to hit the inside wall while he did a donut after winning at Dover. His car passed inspection after the race.
Last year, Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, hinted on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that officials could address victory celebrations. His comments came two days after Hamlin had to walk to victory lane at Watkins Glen after his celebration. Hamlin’s car passed inspection.
“We hear the same thing from them all the time,’’ Hamlin said, recalling the last time NASCAR commented publicly on the issue. “Until they really do something, people are going to do the same things.’’
Still, shouldn’t there be a line on what is allowed and what isn’t? Why give drivers the chance to damage their car before going through inspection after the race?
NASCAR has docked teams practice time for swerving after a race to ensure they make it through inspection. Those weren’t winning cars. So, should the benefit of winning be that as long as the driver gives fans one last thrill show, they’re given more leeway in possibly damaging or resetting their car?
If NASCAR penalizes teams for celebrations, it likely will take away some of the emotion the sport wants to display, particularly at the end of the race. Few want to see a winner treat a victory nonchalantly. Such achievements are difficult and are worth reveling in.
“The hard part of judging that is that sometimes, when it’s a big enough win and you’re celebrating the heck out of it, it’s hard to make that call between a celebration and trying to get through tech after the race,’’ Austin Dillon told NBC Sports.
Dillon, who scored his first Cup win this year, isn’t sure he likes the idea of NASCAR constraining a celebration.
“I’ve been really excited and blew the tires off it when I won my first couple of races,’’ he said. “When you win more than that, the issue with me is I want to take that clean car and race it again.
“Blowing the wheel tubs out of it, I’m probably going to do it if everybody else is doing it, if it helps getting through tech. The bad part about it is it kind of looks bad on the money side of things when you’re tearing cars up and they’re crying we don’t have any money.’’
By not doing anything, is NASCAR inhibiting its ability to properly inspect cars afterward, assuring a level playing field among competitors?
“It’s not like ‘Oh, my bad, blew my tire.’ I mean it’s deliberate,’’ Earnhardt said. “So, it tells me there’s some purpose behind it. It just upset me with what happened to Chase and how they sort of got zeroed-in on when all this is sort of going on right under everybody’s nose. It doesn’t make sense.”