Jerry Markland/Getty Images

Ryan: It’s good NASCAR has the hammer, but now the hard part begins

4 Comments

NASCAR has picked up the hammer this season. Now comes the hard part.

Swinging it … and with a judicious understanding of everything that will entail.

Monday’s watershed news — that postrace Cup inspections will be confined to a 90-minute period immediately after the checkered flag and result in disqualifications for any infraction above a few missing lugnuts – was met with universal acclaim from all corners of NASCAR Nation.

And rightfully so.

This should help regain control of the narrative that NASCAR lost so often the past few years in the recurrent quagmire of announcing midweek penalties that effectively invalidated race results long after the fact.

And by finally deciding to strip wins, there will be much less confusion about how a driver and team can be guilty enough to incur points deductions, heavy fines and suspensions but still not have the punishment adequately reflected in the record book.

But as haulers roll into Daytona International Speedway to signal the symbolic opening of Speedweeks and the 2019 season, some extremely heavy lifting still remains ahead for NASCAR officials.

Before the year’s first green flag, they have guaranteed themselves of facing a major controversy – and probably several – with this admirable attempt at reasserting its authority over rulebook enforcement.

There were two instances last year (Kevin Harvick at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway) and two in 2017 (Denny Hamlin at Darlington, Joey Logano at Richmond) of a winner being busted, and there were nine cars that finished fourth or better that received penalties. The top two finishers (Harvick and Ryan Blaney) at Texas last November would have been disqualified under this new policy, which would have handed an unprecedented win to a third-place finisher.

That could happen this year.

Again, that is mostly a good thing because the tradeoff is a storyline with a much more finite existence. NASCAR should be permanently out of the business of overshadowing races by tripping all over itself with news three or four days later.

But its new disqualification and inspection policies will be accompanied by immense responsibility, compromise and probably a lot of pain in landing on the best way for accomplishing that.

This is what Harvick means in suggesting that how prerace inspections are handled will be more important than postrace. There will be much buy-in required in getting crew chiefs on the same page as officials, and it also will necessitate some give on the part of NASCAR in understanding that policing rules is best served by the absence of zealotry.

Despite all the recent attention on disqualifications, an overarching theme of 2019 needs to be less focus on rules and much more focus on racing – particularly if it’s as good as NASCAR is advertising (or hoping).

That won’t happen if disqualifications become the dominant storyline of the new season, and with a bevy of new guidelines to digest that will lower horsepower while theoretically tightening the competition, the climate seems ripe for that being possible.

Teams inherently are tasked with bending the rules and exploiting loopholes to their advantage – and that should be celebrated to a certain degree.

Though no one wants the taint of criminality, there also is an appeal to the outlaw culture that spawned NASCAR from bootleggers outrunning the law in the hills of North Carolina.

It’s been told so many times the story is probably apocryphal, but after once being cleared in a vigorous postrace inspection, Smokey Yunick reputedly drove away in a race car lacking a fuel tank. The NASCAR Hall of Fame opened nine years ago with a working still, courtesy of former moonshiner and inaugural HOF inductee Junior Johnson, who plainly informed everyone that it would work if you “put fire to the mash” correctly. Some of the richest stories of NASCAR’s glory days told by Richard Petty are about “one of those cheating deals”

There always has been a fine line between innovation and illegality in stock-car racing.

The problem in recent years is there was too much lingering haze surrounding what constituted the latter.

NASCAR is doing the right thing in correcting that, but it needs to be careful in how it categorizes what ultimately is wrong and how it doles out those punishments.

Having the hammer is useful.

So long as it doesn’t shatter something good into a million tiny pieces.

Here are four more things to watch as NASCAR enters the brave new world of the postrace death penalty:

Social media: There undoubtedly will be a small army of NASCAR inspectors on call for the weekly postrace teardowns of the winning car.

But should there also be an inspector solely watching social media?

Given developments in the Reddit era – whether the tape on Chase Elliott’s Chevrolet after the 2017 playoff opener, or the indent in the rear window of Kevin Harvick’s Ford last year – undoubtedly yes.

The PGA might have outlawed the practice of allowing fans to call in penalties, but these aren’t ticky-tack infractions when it involves the most aerodynamic parts of the car. If something goes viral during or immediately after the race, NASCAR should be aware in its inspections.

Stick around for fun: In case the winner fails, many have wondered how many members of the second- and third-place teams will linger at the track (would there be a makeshift second victory lane ceremony?).

But maybe there will be incentive

NASCAR confirmed Friday to NBC Sports that after some deliberation, the postrace garage inspections will be open. That means anyone from any team can observe them.

How many would be inclined to stay to “help” NASCAR with that process, or at least be able to watch their opponents’ cars be dissected in greater detail?

Public shaming: Under the previous policy, winning teams always had enough wiggle room to conjure at least some plausible deniability about failing inspection. That came in part from the victory remaining intact – how serious could it be if that were the case?

That now is gone with disqualifications. It will be much harder to wash out the stain, and that might be harder to square with sponsors. And that leads to …

… pushing it:  While it won’t be tantamount to floggings in the public square, will the backlash from being disqualified help disincentivize going beyond the limits?

There always has been debate about whether teams with at least one legal win (and a berth in the playoffs) would be more or less inclined to push the limits in the regular season. Will that change under the new policy? The potential reputational hit could outweigh any competitive benefits.

Austin Hill wins Truck Series opener at Daytona in overtime finish

Getty Images
1 Comment

Austin Hill won Friday’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series season opener at Daytona in an overtime finish, claiming his first career Truck Series win.

The win comes in Hill’s 52nd series start and his first with Hattori Racing Enterprises. Hill, a former member of the NASCAR Next driver program, took over for defending champion Brett Moffitt in the No. 16 Toyota.

Hill, 24, beat Grant Enfinger, Ross Chastain, Spencer Boyd and Matt Crafton in the second attempt at an overtime finish.

Hill, who is from Winston, Georgia, led 39 laps and survived a race that saw 11 cautions and 26 of 32 trucks involved in accidents.

“Man, this truck was fast,” Hill told Fox Sports 1. “I knew we had a truck that could compete. Got a little scared there at the end. I thought (Enfinger) was going to get me, he got a big run. We were able to protect it. I can’t believe my first win came at Daytona. It’s so surreal, I can’t wait to party with these guys.”

Hill’s win is the third in a row for Hattori after Moffitt won the last two races of 2018.

The overtime period was created by a wreck with two laps left in the scheduled 100-lap distance that involved 10 trucks and nearly every remaining frontrunner. The final restart was setup by a two-car incident on the first overtime attempt.

Only nine of the field’s 32 trucks took the final green flag.

“It was a crazy night … carnage everywhere,” Enfinger said. “We tore up a lot of crap tonight.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

STAGE 2 WINNER: Johnny Sauter

Click here for the race results.

Click here for the point standings.

NOTABLE: Billy Rock, the jackman on the No. 28 of Bryan Dauzat, was awake and alert after he was hit on pit road early in the race by Dauzat, who had lost his brakes. Rock was transported to a local hospital … Angela Ruch, the niece of Derrike Cope, placed eighth in NEMCO Motorsports No. 8 truck. She is just the second woman to earn a top 10 in the Truck Series. Jennifer Jo Cobb placed sixth at Daytona in 2011.

NEXT: Active Pest Control 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway at 4:30 p.m. ET on Feb. 23 on Fox Sports 1

Christian Eckes wins Truck Series pole at Daytona

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Christian Eckes won the pole for tonight’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series season opener at Daytona.

Driving the No. 51 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports, Eckes posted a top speed of 182.604 mph.

It is the first career pole for 18-year-old Eckes in his fifth career start.

“I felt way more confident in our car in the draft yesterday,” Eckes told Fox Sports 1. “I really wasn’t sure where we would qualify but here we are on the pole.”

He will be joined on the front row by David Gilliland (182.556 mph).

The top five is completed by Todd Gilliland (181.686), Harrison Burton (181.357) and Grant Enfinger (181.349).

Burton will start from the rear after an engine change was made on his No. 18 Toyota on Thursday.

The race is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.

Click here for the starting lineup.

Meet the ‘Gen 7 for NASCAR’ that could include shorter races and capped costs

3 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Are shorter races better? That’s a discussion taking place in NASCAR, along with the length of the season and other key topics.

“We have to keep (fans) engaged,” car owner Jack Roush said Friday at Daytona International Speedway. “We have to think about their attention spans. The races may need to get shorter.  That could be cost savings all the way around. Probably need to get shorter. 

“People say we need to race fewer times. I’m not sure that’s true. I used to tell (NASCAR Vice Chairman) Mike Helton, if he had three or four races a week, I’d be there for him. I don’t know if I’d say that today.”

Already this week, Kevin Harvick has advocated eliminating the Clash, and Denny Hamlin has noted one of the most popular events in the Olympics is the 100-meter dash instead of the marathon, a hint to shorter races

These comments have been made as the sport looks to cut costs for teams and energize fans who can become weary over a 38-race season that goes from February to November. NASCAR President Steve Phelps said last year that various ideas would be considered for the 2020 schedule and beyond. 

Car owner Roger Penske, whose organization is coming off Joey Logano’s Cup championship season, likens the sport’s look at race lengths to its focus on the next car, which is targeted to debut in 2021.

“I think we’re really talking about Gen 7 for NASCAR,” Penske said, using the term for the next car. “It’s not just the car or the engine. I think it’s the show, it’s the length of the races, it’s where we’re going to run, are we going to run more at night, short tracks. Let’s call it Gen 7 for NASCAR, not just the car.”

A shorter season could limit how many weekends NASCAR goes head-to-head against the NFL in the fall. Shorter races could provide the opportunity for midweek races. The belief from those advocating shorter races is that it would create a better show for fans.

“I think it’s an exciting time for us really in the sport,” car owner Joe Gibbs said. “You know, there’s times that you struggle, and I think we have struggled some, but I honestly think (NASCAR Chairman) Jim France is on board and after it.  I think we, having constant meetings with everybody has kind of put everything on the table. 

“We’ve got a great fan base, but I think everything is really out there, scheduling, everything that you’re talking about, cost savings, everything is on the table. And so sometimes when you go through a tough time, those wind up being the best times because it causes you to really think your way through things.”

Just as important to teams are the costs, which NASCAR continues to look to cut. There’s also been talk of some type of spending limitation for teams.

“You’re going to see other things happen with the cars, engine packages, that’s going to reduce the cost,” car owner Rick Hendrick said. “So NASCAR is really on it. When you look at it, we talk about a spending cap. I don’t know how you regulate that with all we have going on. I mean, everything is on the table.”

Bob Jenkins, car owner for Front Row Motorsports, said cost containment can make an impact for his three-car organization.

“The ultimate goal has always got to be how can we do more with less with any team,” he said. “I think some of the larger teams have felt the financial pinch maybe more so than we have. When you’re in a constant evolution mode, it’s hard for us to keep up. We can make suspension changes a few times a year. Like Roger said, we can’t change cars every week.

“In previous years, we were always a generation or two behind and it shows on our performance. I think now when they come with these common parts that are produced by a third-party manufacturer that can’t be tweaked or re-engineered it only helps a team like us.”

Menard, McMurray, Stenhouse fastest in second Cup practice at Daytona

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Paul Menard (200.758 mph) was fastest in Friday’s second Cup practice session at Daytona International Speedway.

Jamie McMurray in his Chevrolet Camaro was second-fastest (200.696 mph) and the only driver not in a Ford in the first 13 positions.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (200.664) was third-fastest, followed by Ryan Newman (200.638) and Clint Bowyer (200.588).

Sixth through 10th were Aric Almirola (200.571), Daniel Suarez (200.535), defending Cup champion Joey Logano (200.450), Ryan Blaney (200.428) and Brad Keselowski (200.428).

Only 29 of the 40 cars entered in Sunday’s Daytona 500 took part in the second practice. There is one final practice scheduled for Saturday.

Click here for the full second practice speed chart.

In the first practice session earlier in the afternoon, Kyle Busch led a Joe Gibbs Racing juggernaut.

Busch paced the 40-car field with a top speed of 200.285 mph, followed by JGR teammates Martin Truex Jr. (200.200) in second, Erik Jones in fourth (200.156) and Denny Hamlin was seventh-fastest (200.044). Ryan Preece was third-fastest in a Chevrolet at 200.169 mph, while Ryan Newman rounded out the top five at 200.093 mph.

Click here for the full first practice speed chart.

Follow @JerryBonkowski