Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The pace car pandemonium shall pass

I get asked all the time why NASCAR won't sell its Sprint Cup rulebook to anybody who wants a copy.

I think part of the reason is that NASCAR knows its fans would sit there with the rulebook every Sunday and try to read every line on every page and find someway to claim that somebody is getting unfair treatment or an unfair advantage. Golf fans do that to the point of nausea - some poor guy kneels under a tree to hit a shot and puts a towel down to keep from ruining his pants and 200 nerds call the USGA to say he's "building a stance!"

This is relevant today because of what happened near the end of Sunday's LifeLock 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Dale Earnhardt Jr., trying to save fuel in his Chevrolet, was hitting the accelerator to build up a little speed and then cutting off his engine to coast as far as he could.

In doing that, he surged ahead of the pace car that had the field in tow behind it. And people lost their minds.

I do not know the specific language in the rulebook about passing the pace car because, to be brutally honest, I have somehow managed to misplace the rulebook I got at the start of the season. It's here somewhere, but you know how that goes.

But I do know there's a rule that says you can't pass the pace car. I also know, though, why that rule is there. It's to keep somebody from making up a lap he doesn't deserve. Let's say a guy comes off pit road just a little bit late and is pretty much alongside the pace car. He could speed up and pass the pace car to try to stay on the lead lap.

That's why the rule is there. It's not there to set some imaginary force field through which no car shall pass.

If Earnhardt Jr. had been running ninth and doing the same thing to try to save fuel, he would have pulled to the apron and done the same thing. He might have passed two or three cars in front of him momentarily, and there's a rule against that, too, at least technically. But if he goes right back to his spot when he's done coasting, there's no advantage gained.

I've been known to be a stickler for rules and someone who believes penalties for violations should be clear and, to some, harsh. For the most part, that's true.

But if you read carefully what I've said on the topic, you'll realize that in almost all cases I've talked about NASCAR dropping the hammer only after a violation has been called.

NASCAR officiates the sport. Where they get in trouble with me is how they penalize people after finding violations. I've never said NASCAR doesn't have the job of calling the violation, and part of that is deciding how certain things are called.

In baseball, a shortstop doesn't always have the ball in his hand when he tags second on a double play. Heck, sometimes he doesn't even tag the base. But consistently that "phantom tag" is called as an out. If umpires one day just started calling that the other way with no explanation or warning, that'd be wrong.

Last year at Kansas, Greg Biffle was fighting fuel issues while leading the race late and some fans didn't like how NASCAR officiated that. They freaked out then, too, to be honest.

But NASCAR reacted the same way there as they did Sunday. NASCAR did not determine the winner of a race based on some literal, overly technical reading of a rule, and I still think that was the right no-call. I feel the same way about what happened Sunday at Michigan.

24 comments:

Gump said...

I'm not really a Jr. fan but NASCAR did right. They warned him. He wasn't pushing the envelope too far as to be disrespectful. Most of the time he was on the apron, even with the pace car. Maybe we could say that he was just waving at Todd...

clay said...

I agree with you to a point, that being if it had been Robby Gordon, Vickers, Reutiman, etc., they would have got sent to the end of the longest line.
More importantly, how can the official "stats say that the seating capacity is 110,000+/-, claim that 153,000 wee ther, yet the stands looked 1/2 empty on TV? I predicted a snoozer and it was. I could go outside, take a dip and not worry about missing a challenge for the lead.

marc said...

Clay - "I agree with you to a point, that being if it had been Robby Gordon, Vickers, Reutiman, etc., they would have got sent to the end of the longest line."

And you know this how?

Clay - "More importantly, how can the official "stats say that the seating capacity is 110,000+/-, claim that 153,000 wee ther, yet the stands looked 1/2 empty on TV?"

Who's "official stats?"

The speedway/ISC stats say seating is 135,000 plus another 25-30,0000 in the infield.

Best media estimates (from multiple sources) for last weekend gave the crowd size at about 125,000 including the infield.

If you think that's a poor showing in a state whose unemployment rate is 50% higher than the rest of the nation so be it.

You're also "allowed" to bloviate about the seats being 1/2 empty but you'd be wrong on that account also.

Texan-American said...

Hey, the race was Sunday and Jr was declared the winner. Today is Tuesday and he is still the winner, If he can hold on through Wednesday, "Hump Day", he will be the winner for all the years to come.

Anonymous said...

There wan't going to be any more racing. Jr. had the lead for the GWC. The caution came out, out, race over, Jr. won.

clay said...

Hey Marc, Iwas wrong about the figures, While the track list 137,000+/-, they also listed 158,000+/- in attendance. SO that means all seats were filled, plus 21,000 in infield. Go look at a replay, Stands were not nearly full, with one seection, Turn 4 , nearly empty. Don't blame economics, You dont get much poorer than my neighboring state of Alabama, but we pack it 250,000 full twice a year. Face it, the racing at Michigan is almost as boring as Pocono and California. And all u gotta do is look at previous punishments handed out to see that poor Robby gets twice the punishment for "infractions' that other big name (Hendrick) gets.

Anonymous said...

the official race report I have in my hands right here says the attendance was 115,000 -- and I that that was about right. -- David Poole

okla21fan said...

Clay,
If you are inferring that Dega doesn't have empty seats, you are kidding yourself. I have been going to the fall Dega race since '96 and I can't remember the last race that did not have empty sections in turns 1 and 4. It was probably around 2000 or 2001 that even Dega could claim a 'sell out'.

Having some empty seats has little to do with the quality of racing, if that were true, we would still be seeing CUP races at the Rock.

Anonymous said...

Does the track use the turnstyle count for attendance or the tickets sold? The event could be a complete sellout of 158,000 but have a smaller number of folks in the seats due to a number of factors.

don said...

What's your idea of "boring" racing? To me nothing is more boring than restrictor plate racing. Cars can run at the top or bottom at Michigan; there was lots of passing, and strategy is always key. I found the race to be very exciting. I don't think Michigan needs to apologize for attendance at all. It has been sold out every year until the last couple of years.

Justin said...

What a BS opinion/column. The guy got an advantage by breaking a rule, an advantage that helped him win a race. Thats the bottom line. But Jr's win is "good for the sport" as Mr. Poole usually puts it.

marc said...

Clay - "Don't blame economics, You dont get much poorer than my neighboring state of Alabama,"

Once again you no not what you speak.

You go ahead and believe that the economy isn't a factor, you can disregard every track owner from Cup down to the lowest level and shortest dirt track and they will all say the same thing. attendance is hurting them.

You use Alabama as your example of something, who knows what, because the example is crap.

As of April 2008

Unemployment rate in Alabama was 4.0 (ranked 17th) in Michigan it was 6.9 the highest of all 50 states.

Go ahead Clay, spin that away, it will be interesting what type of garbage you dream up this time.

controlboy said...

Everybody complaining about Jr. getting preferential treatment should look at what happened to Brian Vickers. NASCAR admitted they "Made a mistake" by placing him behind the 8 car. Will he be comensated for the points he may have lost due to NASSCAR's mistake? Jr. passing the pace car is just not a big deal, but big-time racing that can't line the cars up after a caution in the right order? That does reek.

NASCARTruth said...

"If umpires one day just started calling that the other way with no explanation or warning, that'd be wrong."

No, David, they'd be right. Accepting the practice is what's wrong.

Anonymous said...

If there was nothing wrong at all with what Dale Jr did then why warn him to remain behind the pace car. The fact they had to do that shows you it was wrong. Period.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Poole:
I'd be interested in hearing from you and some of the NASCAR officials as to the exact taste of Dale Jr's bunghole, since you all seem to have your tongue's inserted in it so often.

Clance' McClannahan ~ The Church of The Great Oval said...

Eeeek!
*Note to self:
People who say the nastiest things are always anonymous.
Tsk...Tsk.

NA$CAR was right in not penalizing Jr.

Anonymous said...

"In baseball, a shortstop doesn't always have the ball in his hand when he tags second on a double play. Heck, sometimes he doesn't even tag the base. But consistently that "phantom tag" is called as an out."


That is LAME! What is the point in having bases or rules? They should have to tag the bag or the player, that is the GAME. I guess this is why I don't watch sports anymore, its all lame.

As for Dale speeding up or slowing down and going infront of the pace car? How about making a rule saying you have to mantain a constant speed and not alter your position. If you run out of gas, tough luck, try again next week.

Anonymous said...

"During Sunday morning's driver meeting, NASCAR race director David Hoots reminded the drivers that passing the pace car is illegal." That's all you need to know, that and Dale Jr wasn't penalized for it.

nh_nascarfan said...

Clance' McClannahan ~ The Church of The Great Oval said...
Eeeek!
*Note to self:
People who say the nastiest things are always anonymous.
Tsk...Tsk.

Soooo... how is your 'name' any different than anonymous? And does anyone out here have a real identity? Whats the differenc if you write 'Marc' or 'Monkeesfan' or 'Clay' or whatever? Just curious...

http://jetdryer.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

"But if he goes right back to his spot when he's done coasting, there's no advantage gained."

Wow - You were sure making some good points until you displayed your complete and total ignorance with this comment.

There was an advantage gained - That is why he was doing it.

Based on your comment, I assume you would not have had a problem if he took it up to 150 mph and then coasted for 2 laps while the pace car caught up?

I mean - as long as he gets back into his correct position there is no advantage gained - right?

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