Wednesday, April 1, 2015
You've Been Warned
We'd been hearing and reading speculation about teams manipulating tire pressures by drilling tiny holes in their tires to "bleed" them for several weeks. NASCAR took tires back to the R&D Center from several teams after the race at Auto Club Speedway, including the cars of Ryan Newman, Paul Menard, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch. They were then sent for a further independent study.
NASCAR warned crew chiefs about messing with tires, saying tire offenses were some of the most serious in the NASCAR rule book and violators would be dealt with harshly.
And I guess they meant it. Ryan Newman's 31 car was nailed for tire alteration with NASCAR fining his crew chief, Luke Lambert, $125,000, suspending him for 6 races and putting him on probation until the end of the year. A tire technician and an engineer on the 31 were suspended and put on probation as well. Both Ryan Newman and Richard Childress were docked 75 points each. That knocked Newman from 6th in the point standings to 27th. It doesn't necessarily end Ryan Newman's Chase hopes but it is a real deficit to crawl out of, not to mention, a morale blow to the team.
RCR has announced that they will appeal the penalties so it is still possible they will be overturned.
What I wonder is whether this was really a more common practice than just Richard Childress Racing and my guess would be that it was. You might have suspected that it would be Kevin Harvick or Joey Logano, two of the cars that appeared to be consistently faster than anyone else at the track, that were getting a boost from tire pressure manipulation. Did some of the other teams just dodge a bullet as they watched Newman's team get burned? Could be. Kevin Harvick still did okay, coming in 8th, but the race ended a long stretch of top 2 finishes. Joey Logano came to the checkered flag in third. So, neither were far off their usual performance.
I'm not trying to impugn anyone's honor here but I can't help being curious if this was a shot across the bow by NASCAR to warn all the teams to knock it off.
As for the race itself, it was action-packed as Martinsville always is. There were lots of hard-fought battles going on throughout the field and quite a few lead changes as teams came and went. The ending was intense with Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski chasing each other at the end. It might be that Denny was lucky that Brad already had a race win in his pocket. If he hadn't, it likely would have turned out differently. Would Brad have turned Denny if it had meant a ticket to the Chase?
My drivers all went down one by one for various reasons. Jimmie finished laps down; Junior finished laps down; Chase Elliott finished laps down. Jeff was leading until he got a speeding penalty on pit road but, although he raced through the field like a maniac afterward, there wasn't enough time to make it up. He ended up finishing 9th. The bright spot for me was Danica coming in 7th, highest of the Stewart-Haas cars....not that it will make any difference to her haters but it made me happy.
And my other editorial comment about the weekend is: "damn, when there is no Xfinity race, Joey Logano comes down and steals the truck race".