The Penalty That Shouldn't Have BeenEdit
I was unable to make the trip to Sonoma this weekend, but it was great fun to watch the West Series race as it happened on Racing West (check out their weekend photos by the way). But it ended awfully - Patrick Long and Joey Logano made contact coming out of Turn 11. Logano spun, Long was penalized, and Jason Bowles was declared the winner.
I am constantly amazed at the amount of similiar finishes we see in the Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series. I have felt, considering the road course races in the last three years in the series, that bump-and-runs and chrome horns are more common on road courses than on today's short tracks. While it does add another level of unpredictability in races where we literally see just about everything, the idea of finesse we see in other road racing circuits seems lost when one can just beat his or her way to the front.
Despite my feelings this way, I can not support NASCAR's decision to penalize Long. Perhaps, if they had legitimately spent a few minutes in the hauler reviewing the tape and asking both drivers for their tale of the story, I would support Long's penalty. After all (as I will detail in a few moments), conflicting precedents have been set in this area.
But before Long had even reached the esses, Camping World West officials had told Bowles' team that they had won the event. That is my main complaint - assessing a rough driving penalty less than a minute after the race has ended when you have plenty of time to play the tape over again is inexcusable. You owe it to Long - whether you supported his bump-and-run or not - to see if it was truly just good hard racing. I also take offense when Bowles, as good as a road racer he was, did not lead a single lap in the event and still manages to be awarded the victory. I love races (like last Sunday's Michigan Cup race) when the 3rd place racer takes advantages of troubles for the top-two. But if you truly feel Logano was taken away the victory wrongfully, award him the victory. Simply swap Long's finish with Logano's.
The whole reason anyone who covers the West Series is going to talk about this is because this is a judgement call. And like any judgement, such decisions depend on the judge's personal opinions. As a result, just in the last year we have conflicting precedents:
Examples of a harsh rough driving policy:
- Logano himself is disqualified for a rough-driving bonzai move headed into Turn 4 of the 2008 Toyota All-Star Showdown.
- Ryan Foster is parked during the the April Phoenix race for late-race contact.
- While not necessarily rough driving, NASCAR has maintained a strict technical penalty policy in the Camping World Series, often DQing drivings for technical infractions that would only normally precipitate 25 or 50 point penalties in the national series.
Examples of a lax rough driving policy:
- The afore-mentioned "anything goes" policy in the Cup and Nationwide Series road course events and a number of hard-racing skirmishes during today's event.
- Ryan Truex makes a bonzai move of his own on Long to win the last East Series race at Watkins Glen.
In short, this list just says NASCAR needs to do a much better job defining in the rulebook exactly what is rough driving. I even support the idea of making these penalties harsher in the Touring series, since a little extra discipline will help drivers looking to enter the National level. While I still feel Long was unfairly taken away the victory, I'm not going to say that he was "robbed".
The Penalty That Should Instead BeEdit
Now, if you're looking about someone to rant about something else from this race, here you are: Joey Logano. Logano, understandably steamed from the incident, hunted down Long on pit road. He instead hit (luckily not severely) one of Long's crew members. This is completely inexcusable and this is what truly has myself steamed. NASCAR is so focused on explaining this whole penalty incident that they failed to address the fact that someone endangered a crew member's life on pit road.
If you're looking for precedent on that, look no farther than Ryan Moore, who was handed a one-race suspension from NASCAR in 2004 for doing a similar thing in the Busch North Series season finale. Endangerment has also landed Kevin Harvick a one-race suspension. Joey Logano should not be allowed to compete in the Cup race tomorrow. Final. But we all know he will be. Not to jump on the "NASCAR's golden boy" bandwagon a lot of Logano haters ride, but NASCAR will never so harshly discipline the face of their future or the spokesperson for The Home Depot, who is one of NASCAR's biggest official sponsors.
- I admire NASCAR's effort to improve fans' accessibility to the Touring Series this year. Their website is great and the introduction of lap-by-lap coverage has helped quite a few fans I've talked to stay more engaged with these series than they normally would had they still have to wait until the next day to get the results. But NASCAR's site has had many technical woes with such coverage - Today, the lap-by-lap page was completely inaccessible and race results were still not up as of 8:00 PM EST. Server woes has slowed coverage for previous Touring races. If NASCAR's going to truly try to turn these series into widely-followed affairs, they have to make sure they follow through.
- 81-year-old Hershel McGriff failed to qualify for this race, which truly broke my heart. Working with Racing-Reference.info and NASCAR's staff, I have been able to enter in the statistics behind his amazing career. For one of the best road-course racers in NASCAR history, to be able to not qualify for this race really shows how one may be slowed with age. To his defense, however, he did have carburetor issues in practice. Regardless, he will make two more shots at making a West road course race next month, and with car counts probably going to be much lower for those shows, one can only expect McGriff to break the records then. Heck, he'll be an even half-year past his 81st when he gets to the race at Miller Motorsports Park.
- I was impressed by the runs of a number of drivers today. Multiple drivers made their first series starts with quite a few hanging on the lead lap until day's end. My atta-boy, however, goes to Ross Strmiska, Jr., who finished just outside of the top-ten. Strmiska, making just his third series start, had never been in a NASCAR road course race. He had not even made more than three laps in his first start of 2009. But he kept quiet all day, avoided the late big incidents and will travel home with his best West Series finish yet.