Ryan: Challenging NASCAR is last-lap lesson from Roval

4 Comments

CONCORD, N.C. – Dissect and relish every tantalizing aspect in that beguiling finish Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, because – hopefully — it’s likely the last time we’ll see the race unfold that way.

Oh, we again will see the last-lap wildness that is guaranteed by myriad zones of mayhem in a hybridized layout perfectly cast as a playoff cutoff race, which was as much an ingenious masterstroke as turning the 1.5-mile oval into a quasi-street course.

With any luck, we will see another delightfully punch-drunk circuit as memorable as the final one completed by the comically wounded car of Kyle Larson, who passed muster for playoff advancement but would have failed any driver’s ed road test for a license.

And surely Sunday will be the first of many times that we see world-class talents such as Larson, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch cook their tires beyond the limits of even their sublime ability in trying to navigate the intractably narrow path through Turn 1. (Runoff area? Please. It’s perfect! Don’t change a thing!)

No, the reason the Roval’s debut will be unique is it should be the last time that we see drivers being so observant of NASCAR’s Byzantine rules with a last-lap victory at stake.

It might have been hard to recognize in the clouds of tire smoke enveloping the frontstretch in chaos, but Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. – two champions revered for their morally upstanding character and generally clean styles – both tried to be extraordinarily good citizens during and after their memorable battle for the lead.

Johnson penalized himself for spinning on entry to the final chicane. And by dutifully adhering to NASCAR’s chicane policy, Truex essentially left himself in the vulnerable position of being clipped by Johnson’s spin, which took him out of the win.

This is easy to say absent the heat of the moment and the necessary split-second decisions made while decelerating at more than 100 mph, but Johnson and Truex might have chosen differently if given another chance.

Both could have demonstrated chicane disobedience that would have benefited themselves and forced NASCAR into facing difficult judgment calls.

As soon as Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet lost traction entering the penultimate turn, Truex could have skipped the final left-hand turn and run his No. 78 Toyota directly through the grass – avoiding the contact with Johnson, capturing the checkered flag and challenging the stewards to disqualify him.

He would have had an outstanding case to keep the win.

In the prerace drivers meeting, Cup director Richard Buck said if a driver was judged to have missed the chicane because of an accident, “NASCAR may, in its discretion, forgo the penalties and adjust the lineup based on the running position prior to the avoidance maneuver.”

If NASCAR still had stripped Truex of a precious victory – worth five extra points through the next two rounds – for trying to miss a wreck, the defending series champion would have been well within his rights to raise holy hell about it.

Johnson’s option is a little more nuanced but still worth taking the risk for the rewards.

By self-policing and stopping in the penalty box a hundred feet before the finish line, Johnson gave up the exact number of spots that would have secured his playoff advancement. If he would have floored it instead, he would have retained the necessary points – but NASCAR claims Johnson still would have been hit with a 30-second penalty for a last-lap violation and eliminated from the playoffs.

Oh, really.

It would have been that simple, huh?

After a seven-time champion made one of the most indelible and swashbuckling moves in his illustrious career, NASCAR would have shamed him a la Gargamel stomping down the mountain to smash the newest beautiful creation in Smurf Village to pieces?

In win-at-all-costs modern-day NASCAR, which has spent the better part of a decade (justifiably) restructuring its championship to emphasize victories while mostly declining to punish drivers who intentionally wreck leaders to get them (see: the 2018 Daytona 500), what message would that have sent?

Mostly, that the scoring tower sometimes feels haunted by the ghosts of busybody Bill Lumberghs who are more obsessed with making sure an obnoxiously thick rulebook is being followed without regard for the ways in which it potentially can disincentivize and hamper the delivery of maximum entertainment.

Though Johnson was kicking himself postrace Sunday for being “so focused on a race win,” NASCAR should at the least be sending him a fruit basket for self-imposing the penalty after throwing caution to the wind despite the circumstances, which lest we need reminding, can be hazy at best.

Why did Busch get away with intentionally straight-lining the Turn 1 corner on an earlier restart? Because he didn’t gain any positions. Why were all the chicane penalties in races Saturday and Sunday administered to drivers who didn’t gain any positions after losing control of their cars without any apparent intent?

Uhhh …

There are good reasons for officiating chicanes, which are designed to slow down cars and need to be respected within reason. But Sunday also exposed there is plenty of wiggle room in interpreting how to apply the policies and what precisely constitutes a violation.

A perfect example is Truex’s race. Though he also spun through the chicane with Johnson, NASCAR officials said Truex wasn’t made to stop because his four tires didn’t fully cross the red-and-white curbs. But curiously, Truex was required to stop in Stage 2 when he missed Turn 17 … because he was knocked off course by Keselowski’s spinning Ford.

In neither instance did he gain an advantage by purposefully trying to short-cut the chicane, which should be the only justification for issuing a penalty. There is a clear distinction between spinning through a chicane and straight-lining or avoiding it entirely.

Surely in such a future instance of a win or playoff spot at stake, drivers should try to put the onus on NASCAR in making those determinations.

The repercussions could make the next Roval finish even more entertaining — or controversial — than Sunday’s.

Tony Stewart: Clint Bowyer ‘has got to take his helmet off’ for a fight

Leave a comment

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tony Stewart was in a “virtual black hole of cell signal” in Waverly, Ohio, last Saturday when Clint Bowyer ran to Ryan Newman‘s car after the All-Star Race and threw punches in his driver-side window.

Stewart, who was competing in and won a sprint car race at Atomic Speedway, was ignorant of this fact until he was miles away from the track and had a better cell signal.

“I got five miles down the road and all of a sudden I’m getting all these texts,” Stewart said Wednesday after being elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “I’m going, ‘How do all these people know we won that fast?’ It wasn’t about us, it was about Clint’s deal. Finally got another five miles down the road, had a real signal. Somebody goes ‘Look at Twitter.”

That’s when the co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing saw the video of Bowyer, still wearing his helmet, furiously throwing both fists at Newman, who still sat in his car.

Bowyer was angry with Newman after contact between them on the cool-down lap after the race had sent Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford nose-first into the wall.

“That kid has got to take his helmet off if he’s going to fight,” Stewart said. “Kids leave their helmets on to fight. Men take their helmets off and they fight. If you’re going to fight, fight.”

While still on the highway Saturday night, Stewart let Bowyer know his thoughts on his fighting form.

“Listen, take your helmet off if you’re going to get into a fight,” Stewart texted Bowyer.

Bowyer responded by saying “I didn’t have time.”

Stewart, who has a long history of driver altercations and arguments, then offered his driver more encouraging wisdom.

“Don’t lose that passion to fight for what you believe in,” Stewart said.

Social media salutes NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2020

Leave a comment

Social media quickly rose to congratulate the five men named Wednesday to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2020: Tony Stewart, Buddy Baker, Joe Gibbs, Bobby Labonte and Waddell Wilson.

Here are some of the more noteworthy posts from Twitter:

 

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Nate Ryan’s ballot for the 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame class

3 Comments

Nate Ryan cast a ballot Wednesday for the NASCAR Hall of Fame as NBC Sports’ digital representative.

It’s the 11th consecutive year of voting for Ryan, who is one of 59 members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting panel (including one online vote determined by fans; two voters, Ricky Rudd and Waddell Wilson, recused themselves because they were on the ballot).

A maximum of five votes may be cast from a list of 20 nominees (this was the first year in which Ryan voted for fewer than five)

His ballot for the 11th class (followed by his ballot for each of the preceding 10 years, which included six at USA TODAY Sports):

  1. Tony Stewart: Three Cup championships, 49 victories and two Brickyard 400s (plus an IndyCar championship) are a testament to his boundless talent, but “Smoke” also has left a mark as an alluring and highly quotable superstar and a respected team owner. His irascible personality and tenacious grit provided some of NASCAR’s best moments of the past two decades.
  2. Buddy Baker: The winner of the 1980 Daytona 500 and 1970 Southern 500 was one of NASCAR’s home run hitters, counting several major wins among his 19 career victories on the premier circuit. One of NASCAR’s greatest ambassadors Baker also became a beloved broadcaster on TV and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
  3. Waddell Wilson: Perhaps the greatest across-the-board garage resume on this year’s ballot with three championships and 109 victories as an engine builder and 19 wins (including three Daytona 500s) as a crew chief.
  4. Joe Gibbs: Nine NASCAR titles (four in Cup; five in Xfinity) and his four-car team remains the class of the premier circuit. Deserves to be elected in the wake of contemporaries Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress, Jack Roush and Roger Penske being elected the last few years.

2020 Landmark Award: Ralph Seagraves

Ryan’s previous NASCAR Hall of Fame ballots:

2010: Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, David Pearson, Bill France Jr.

2011: Pearson, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Lee Petty

2012: Waltrip, Yarborough, Dale Inman, Raymond Parks, Curtis Turner

2013: Fireball Roberts, Turner, Fred Lorenzen, Herb Thomas, Tim Flock

2014: Roberts, Turner, Lorenzen, Flock, Joe Weatherly

2015: Lorenzen, Turner, Weatherly, O. Bruton Smith, Rick Hendrick

2016: Turner, Smith, Hendrick, Ray Evernham, Bobby Isaac

2017: Hendrick, Evernham, Benny Parsons, Parks, Red Byron

2018: Evernham, Byron, Robert Yates, Alan Kulwicki, Buddy Baker

2019: Jeff Gordon, Kulwicki, Baker, Davey Allison, Jack Roush

2020: Tony Stewart, Baker, Waddell Wilson, Joe Gibbs

LANDMARK

2015: Raymond Parks

2016: Raymond Parks

2017: Raymond Parks

2018: Ralph Seagraves

2019: Jim Hunter

Tony Stewart leads 2020 Hall of Fame Class

Leave a comment

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tony Stewart, the three-time Cup champion who took NASCAR by storm after transitioning from open-wheel racing, was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020 on Wednesday.

Stewart’s election comes two days after his 48th birthday.

Joining Stewart in the Class of 2020 are: Joe Gibbs, Waddell Wilson, Buddy Baker and Bobby Labonte.

The class, the eleventh elected to the Hall of Fame, will be inducted on Jan. 31, 2020.

Edsel Ford won the Landmark Award.

Stewart was selected on 88% of the 57 ballots cast. Gibbs and Wilson were selected on 72%, Baker was on 70% and Labonte was on 67%.

The next three top vote-getters were Mike Stefanik, Ray Fox and Hershel McGriff.

Results for the NASCAR.com Fan Vote, in alphabetical order, were Baker, Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant, Labonte and Stewart.

MORE: Nate Ryan reveals his Hall of Fame ballot.

“It’s very humbling, to be honest,” Stewart said on NASCAR America presents MotorMouths. “There are so many great people in this sport. … to be part of it and have all the great names that are in and the people that were going to be in in the future we’re going to be with, it’s an unbelievable feeling. But it is extremely humbling.

“A lot of it is really mixed emotions because I’m still in race car driver mode and car owner mode. I’m not even thinking about hall of fames. To be inducted earlier this year into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America and now going into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, it’s just a very humbling experience.”

When asked what he would say to voters who didn’t select him, Stewart gave a typical Stewart answer.

“I don’t know but when I find out, I’m going to throw eggs at their front door tonight,” Stewart joked.

A native of Columbus, Indiana, Stewart’s election comes in his first year on the ballot. He retired from NASCAR competition at the end of 2016 with 49 Cup Series wins and three titles as a driver (2002, ’05 and ’11).

In 2014 he earned a fourth title in his role as co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing.

After being crowned the 1997 Indy Racing League champion, Stewart split time in 1998 between the IRL and the Xfinity Series, competing for Joe Gibbs Racing. He moved up to Cup in 1999 and claimed the Rookie of the Year title after earning three wins. He was the first rookie to win a race since Davey Allison in 1987.

Stewart won two Brickyard 400s, four July Daytona races and eight road course races, including his final Cup win in June 2016 at Sonoma Raceway.

Stewart is one of the most prolific Cup drivers to never win the Daytona 500, joining fellow Hall of Famer Mark Martin in that category.

Nicknamed “Smoke,” Stewart is also one of four drivers to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. He did it twice, in 1999 and 2001.

Stewart’s election also comes 27 years after he attended his first NASCAR race, the 1992 Cup finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway, as a 21-year-old wearing a $2,000 suit and trying to “impress people.”

“I thought like I was wasting my time being down there,” Stewart said in 2016. “I thought there was no way I was going to get an opportunity to come do this.”

Stewart will be joined in the Hall of Fame by Gibbs. Stewart raced for Gibbs in Cup from 1999-2009, and Labonte, his teammate at JGR until 2005.

“I couldn’t think of a better day than my boss, Joe Gibbs, or my teammate, Bobby Labonte, that was the one responsible to get me in to Joe Gibbs Racing to go in with those guys,” Stewart said on MotorMouths. “And Waddell Wilson, who was part of Ranier-Walsh Racing, who I drove for in ’96 before I drove for Joe. It really is a cool day, a cool day to be in with these guys.”

Gibbs, a NFL Hall of Fame head coach, entered NASCAR as an owner in 1992. Since then he has accumulated four Cup titles, five Xfinity titles and 157 wins. He was elected in his third year on the ballot.

Labonte was also elected in his third year on the ballot. The younger brother of Hall of Famer Terry Labonte, Bobby is a Cup (2000) and Xfinity champion (1991). He earned 21 Cup wins, including two Brickyard 400s and one Southern 500. His first win came in the 1995 Coca-Cola 600.

Wilson was three-time championship engine builder. He crafted the engines that won titles in 1968, ’69 and ’73. He also won the Daytona 500 three times as a crew chief winning with Baker in 1980 and Cale Yarborough in 1983-84.

Baker, known as the “Gentle Giant,” was elected in his sixth year on the ballot. Baker made 699 starts from 1959-92 and claimed 19 Cup wins, including one Southern 500 and two Coke 600s. After retiring he transitioned into TV, where he worked for TNN and CBS and later SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Baker died in 2015 at the age of 74 after a battle with cancer.