It’s been a little over 48 hours since Jeremy Mayfield’s final NASCAR chapter — filled with drugs, guns, allegedly stolen equipment — and the stench of an ugly lie has been revealed. It’s the last bit of content for what will be a 500-page, tell-all book someday, but now with the wounds still fresh I can only summarize two years of Mayfield mayhem in just one word:
I’m sorry for fans, hundreds of thousands who put this athlete on a pedestal he never deserved. Competing in the number one racing series in America, Mayfield drove for some of the sport’s best car owners (Roger Penske, Ray Evernham) while racking up five wins and making the Chase for the Championship twice. You don’t accomplish that without inheriting the role model tag, as kids sitting at home watched this Kentuckian muscle his way to the front and labeled him a hero. When you move Dale Earnhardt, of all people, out of the way to earn a trip to Victory Lane (see: Pocono, 2000) you’re going to earn a degree of admiration and respect. When vaulting from promising youngster to public figure, living up to lofty expectations becomes a necessity.
Instead, it’s all too often the first chapter that hooks you through admiration while the athlete starts a tragic play. Fans attached to that quirky, aggressive personality, tricked by the hallmark of Mayfield’s career on the circuit to the point they never thought it would bring him down. Yes, speaking out led to pink slips along the way for Mayfield, but to those who loved him they were battle scars for brutal honesty in an age of political correctness.
Perhaps the greatest example is his departure from Evernham’s car in 2006; as a parting shot, he blew the car owner’s cover concerning a romantic relationship with another driver within the organization, Erin Crocker. For months, the media had kept it quiet, as fear of retribution (Evernham was divorcing, Crocker was half his age) drove their silence. But Mayfield, pushed by poor performance and alleged mistreatment, had no problem blazing his own trail without fear.
So it was no wonder, then, on the heels of a positive test for methamphetamine so many bent over backwards to believe him. Since that fateful May day in 2009 when one failed urine sample led to an indefinite suspension by NASCAR, Mayfield has been trumpeting his innocence loud and clear. “It was a setup,” he claimed, accusing NASCAR chairman Brian France of being out to get him while alleging the sport’s drug handling methods were so sloppy, kindergarteners could do a better job. Claiming a combination of over-the-counter mediation, Claritin-D and an ADHD drug, Adderall, caused the mix-up, Mayfield came up with a plausible story that Joe Fan on the street could believe. It was the classic tale of the blue-collar worker trying to start his own business, but being railroaded by the big, bad, greedy white-collar men in suits.
Even when his own stepmother backed up NASCAR’s claims, Mayfield was able to turn the public court of opinion in his favor. He was the double-jeopardy victim, haunted by an unwanted family member. Hanging on every word, fans’ hearts were broken and a select few even turned their back on the sport over a punishment many felt was simply unwarranted.
How do all those people feel now? Sick to their stomach, as their loyalty was repaid by lies. It’s hard enough to handle mistrust when it happens within your day-to-day life. But when a role model breaks the code? It’s somehow harder to handle, your version of a perfect example turning forever flawed.
I’m sorry for Jeremy’s wife, Shana, who may be facing a reality check she can’t turn away from, although it’s uncertain whether she was an accomplice or unknowing victim. Even on her Twitter feed this week, Shana Mayfield was alleging a set up. But 50 guns, 1.5 grams of meth and a potential $100,000 in stolen items — all found on Mayfield’s property — don’t just magically appear. Call me crazy, but if the big, bad NASCAR men tried to haul gigantic pieces of metal onto the property and plant drugs in the house, I don’t think she and Jeremy would sleep through it.
Let’s hope the wife, of all people, wakes up before it’s too late. Sometimes, for drug users it’s the main enabler screaming, “Stop!” that makes the difference between abuse and recovery.
I’m sorry for many of the media, including myself, along with several garage insiders who read of Mayfield’s arrest and wondered what, if anything, we could have done differently. Journalists are taught to report without bias, but the degree of 50/50 reporting, in hindsight, showcases how many of us were sucked into this mythical web. From May 2009, when Mayfield filed a lawsuit to try and get his indefinite suspension lifted, to early July, when Judge Graham Mullen granted a temporary injunction, many in NASCAR’s garage area came out in support of the driver. Even the judge appeared sold in his initial ruling, concluding the possibility of a false positive “was quite substantial” based on the way NASCAR’s drug lab, Aegis Laboratories, handled the sample. How could you not have seeds of doubt in your head, to the point you’re asking people if the sport is ready to change their drug policy in light of a possible mistake?
Weeks later, a second positive test for meth caused Mullen to quickly reverse that ruling, but the Mayfield damage had already been done. For some, no amount of positive testing would alter his innocence, as the driver became a symbol of the one man that stepped up to fight the establishment.
And that’s where I’m sorry for NASCAR. In a two-year span, its drug policy — instituted with the best of intentions — was publicly dragged through the mud. David Black, the head of Aegis for a time, was made out to be an arrogant fool, mishandling samples while accused of ignoring others to persecute the NASCAR-selected guilty. The sport’s CEO got it worst of all; Mayfield tried to out anything and everything about France, from his divorce to financial issues to insinuating he had his own past history of drug use. As the mainstream media caught on to the madness, it was nothing less than a black eye during a time when attendance, TV ratings and a sport’s reputation were already taking punches from other sources.
It took two years for closure to come, but the knockout punch landed squarely on Mayfield himself. But who can trump victory here? Ugly wars don’t come with squeaky-clean finishes. Instead, it’s the victims who are left to clean up the mess and move forward. And while you’re sorry and I’m sorry, the only person not apologizing is the one who stirred up all these feelings in the first place.
“Mr. Mayfield has no knowledge of either stolen property or methamphetamine being present on his property,” says Daniel Marino, the latest attorney for the driver (some of his predecessors still haven’t been paid, yet another sign ignored through the strength of Mayfield’s lies). “He denies the accusation that he was in possession of methamphetamine or any illegal drug, and he denies any suggestion that he knowingly received or possessed stolen property.”
Here we go again. In the face of certain disaster, Mayfield goes back to the one tried-and-true method he feels has kept him afloat these past two years: lying, straight-faced to the public.
The problem is no one believes him anymore. That means Mayfield can no longer win … and neither can anyone else.
Agree with Tom? Disagree? Post a comment below and tell him how you feel. You can also follow Tom on Twitter@NASCARBowles
From the Spotter's Stand
It was a Ford-type of evening at Texas in April. Jack Roush's Fusions took four of the top seven positions, led by Matt Kenseth, who led a race-high 169 of 334 laps to break a 76-race winless skid.
Tony Stewart put himself in position to take the checkered flag late, but was busted for speeding on pit road, relegating him to a 12th-place finish. Kenseth took it from there, leading 32 of the final 58 laps en route to his second career win at TMS.
After perfecting the Texas two-step, Denny Hamlin joined Carl Edwards (2008) as the only drivers to sweep at Texas since the track became a biannual stop in 2005. Kenseth (2), Cousin Carl (3) and Jeff Burton (2) are the other multi-win drivers in the 21-race history of TMS.
In April 2010, Hamlin beat runner-up Jimmie Johnson to the line (.152 seconds) after pole-sitter Tony Stewart (74 laps led) lost control and started a nine-car pileup that also wrecked Jeff Gordon (124 laps led).
The other boot dropped in November, when Hamlin earned his second spurred trophy and series-best eighth win of the year — leaving Ft. Worth in first in the Chase, 33 points ahead of JJ with two races to go.
Crew Chief’s Take
“Texas is all about downforce, and generating it in race conditions — with cars all over the track — is tricky, yet paramount. Speed at Texas is important, but so is a good shock and suspension package that allows the car to handle the bumps that have formed in Turns 1, 2 and 3. The exit of two and the entrance of three are the trouble spots, both from a driver’s and a mechanic’s perspective. It’s one of those places where, in my mind, strange things happen. I’m always extra wary when we go there.”
Fantasy Stall Looking at Checkers: It’s hard not to like the way Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth have performed on the big intermediates — particularly Texas — throughout their careers. Pretty Solid Pick: Denny Hamlin’s track record in Texas is good and the team is looking to finish 2011 strong. Good Sleeper Pick: Jeff Burton has two wins and nine top 10s here in 21 starts. Yippee ki-yay, cowboy! Runs on Seven Cylinders: Brian Vickers has yet to record a top-10 finish at Texas in 13 starts. Insider Tip: Sticking with Hamlin, Kenseth or Edwards is smart, but keep an eye on a surging Tony Stewart.
Classic Moments at Texas
Texas Motor Speedway’s first two Cup dates are brutal affairs. The 1997 Interstate Batteries 500 and ’98 Texas 500 are plagued by savage wrecks — one that nearly ends Greg Sacks’ career and another that sidelines Mike Skinner for weeks — and weepers that cancel practice and qualifying sessions. The mayhem even leads to whispers, though not verified, that Texas would have its single date stripped.
Therefore, following the ’98 race, track owner Bruton Smith purchases a share of North Wilkesboro Speedway to move one if its two dates to his track in Texas. He has the track repaved and reconfigured and installs a new drainage system. The results are immediate, as TMS stands as one of the great facilities on the circuit.
No article that mentions Martinsville is complete without this bad boy. (ASP, Inc.)
by Matt Taliaferro
1. Carl Edwards
Talladega and Martinsville were the wild card tracks, and the two Edwards and crew were most apprehensive about. They went into ’Dega with a five-point lead and left Martinsville up eight.
2. Tony Stewart
There is something to be said for a driver winning the championship by going out and actually winning races. That’s what Stewart is doing, with three victories in seven Chase events.
3. Kevin Harvick
Harvick gained five points on Edwards in the standings at Martinsville, but he’ll need to do better than that over the final three races to catch the 99, much less pass it.
4. Matt Kenseth
Kenseth was the points leader with 40 laps to go in Martinsville. Then it all went south, as a spin bashed his Ford to the point where he’s now 36 back and basically out of title contention.
5. Jimmie Johnson
Credit Johnson for a fine run at Martinsville — only Brian Vickers’ aggression kept him out of Victory Lane — but even sweeping the last three races may not be enough at this point.
6. Brad Keselowski
Like Kenseth, BK’s late spin was costly. The Deuce may have lost up to 12 points in the standings after a solid top 10 went up in tire smoke. The difference between -15 an -27 is massive.
7. Denny Hamlin
Comparable to Edwards’ late-season performance improvement in 2010, Hamlin and the boys have strung together consecutive runs of ninth, eighth and fifth. Another win may be around the corner.
Ed Hardy comes to NASCAR. (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
8. Jeff Gordon
It’s been a disappointing Chase for Gordon and the gang thus far. In fact, his third-place run at Martinsville was the best showing he’s had since a fourth in Loudon, five weeks ago.
9. Clint Bowyer
Will Bowyer’s hiring at Michael Waltrip Racing come at the expense of David Reutimann’s full-season effort? It just might ...
10. Kyle Busch
Has been wholly unspectacular throughout the Chase, which begs the question, “Why is he rated so high on this list?” Answer: Because he still has the ability to win on any given weekend.
11. Kasey Kahne
A strong six-race run comes to an end in Martinsville, which has never been a great “Kasey track.”
12. Kurt Busch
Sliding the wrong way since the win at Dover five weeks ago.
13. Jeff Burton
Follows runner-up showing at Talladega with a sixth at Martinsville.
14. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
In lieu of a top-5 finish, it was at least good to hear Junior having fun in Martinsville.
15. Greg Biffle
Averaging a rather pedestrian 13th-place run over the last month.
Just off the lead pack: AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr.
Prior to NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship, Tony Stewart stated that his inclusion in the playoffs may simply be wasting a spot in lieu of another, more worthy contender. Three victories later, the two-time Cup champion finds himself in the thick of the title hunt after a win in the Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
“I felt like there were some things that were missing,” Stewart said of his No. 14 team’s regular season performance. “I think our Chase run here — obviously Dover (25th) was not what we were looking for — but every race since then, we have been a contender. The result hasn’t always shown at some of these races. But we’ve been pretty solid in this Chase.
“I don’t know what changed. The guy beside me (crew chief Darian Grubb) is the guy to ask that. He’s the guy that’s orchestrating it, organizing the people to do the job. It doesn’t matter what it is that’s changed — the good thing is that it has and it changed at the right time when we need it. That’s all you can ask for.”
Stewart, winless in the 26-race regular season, snuck into the Chase seeded ninth, but swept the first two races at Chicagoland and Dover. His victory in Martinsville was the 42nd of his Cup career, placing him 16th on NASCAR’s all-time wins list, two ahead of Mark Martin and two shy of Bill Elliott in 15th.
Stewart had to beat Jimmie Johnson to get to Victory Lane — an uneasy task considering Johnson is a six-time Martinsville race-winner who had led the previous 60 laps.
Stewart lined up to Johnson’s outside on the front row on a restart with three laps remaining and was able to make the line work, nosing ahead of Johnson coming off Turn 2 and clearing him in Turns 3 and 4.
“When I was inside of Tony, I went down in the corner (Turn 1) and thought that eight tires would be a lot better than four,”?Johnson said of the final restart. “I changed my mind. With where he is in the points, what’s going on, the fact we raced throughout the day today (and) he never touched me, I had a hard time doing that (getting physical).”
Johnson finished one car length back in second. Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top 5.
The most notable finish of the afternoon — aside from Stewart’s win — was points leader Carl Edwards’ ninth-place showing.
On two occasions Edwards fell off the lead lap, the victim of an ill-handling car. However, he was able to make up both laps thanks to well-timed cautions that allowed him to get back on the lead lap over the event’s final 100 circuits. The result was Edwards maintaining the Chase lead by eight over Stewart.
Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski, who entered the event 14 and 18 points behind Edwards, had late-race spins while running in the top 10 that damaged their playoff hopes. Keselowski now sits 27 points back in fourth, while Kenseth’s title bid took a damaging hit, as he is now 36 markers off Edwards’ pace.
Harvick’s fourth-place run allowed him to gain five points on Edwards, vaulting him from fifth to third in the standings.
But Stewart, who started the afternoon 19 points shy of Edwards’ points lead, was the undisputed benefactor of what was a chaotic race. He dodged and weaved his way through 18 caution periods, and applied verbal pressure — as well as the physical heat the point standings now profess — to the ultra-consistent Edwards:
“Carl Edwards better be real worried,” Stewart said with a sly grin in Victory Lane. “That’s all I’ve got to say. He’s not going to sleep for the next three weeks.”
There’s a reason why Talladega continues to endure and endear itself to NASCAR Nation. Vito Pugliese provides a first-hand account of this past weekend’s racing from the 2.66-mile behemoth.
While some experiments and initiatives in NASCAR have not performed as expected, there are some constants that continue to produce. One of them has been producing for over 40 years: Talladega.
As I have written here and elsewhere quite often, everyone loves nostalgia — going retro is all the rage. From the newest versions of the Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger and Ford Mustang, to the endless ’70s and ’80s remakes that are cranked out of Hollywood like P-51s during WWII, the past is always in style, and for those who fancy old-school NASCAR, it’s hard to beat Talladega — and last weekend’s Good Sam Club 500 was no exception.
Well, at least for the last 25 laps. Even Tony Stewart suggested cutting it down to 40 if most drivers were just going to cruise for the majority of the afternoon. But I digress.
One of the facets of NASCAR that permeated from the 1950s to the 1970s, was that of manufacturer loyalty among fans and racers alike. That aspect became relevant once again on Sunday, as team (and manufacturer) orders were apparently delivered — both internally and externally.
Ford’s Trevor Bayne was in position to help his childhood hero and racing idol, Chevy’s Jeff Gordon, to the finish in the final laps. Gordon’s teammate and BFF drafter, Mark Martin, got mangled with eight laps to go when Gordon, Martin, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano stacked up coming off Turn 2. Bayne committed to Gordon over the radio under caution, but then the partnership dissolved halfway down the backstretch, with Bayne betraying his bumpership, and falling in line with the Ford of quasi-teammate Matt Kenseth.
In this era of two-car tandems that have dictated that a driver work with whomever and whatever goes fastest, it is refreshing to see the element of manufacturer loyalty return. That’s not to say that I was happy to see Gordon get smoked on the white flag lap on what more or less was a lie on Bayne’s part (told to Gordon, who went out of his way to help the youngster during Speedweeks in Daytona). But when I first started following NASCAR intently, a Chevrolet driver working with a Ford driver was something just short of heresy.
Back in the heyday of manufacturer involvement, it was the superspeedways at Daytona and Talladega that inspired competition between brands — so much so that Dodge and Ford developed wildly-successful models named after each respective track. In 1969, Dodge released two models specifically to better compete on the fast tracks: the flush-grilled fastback Charger 500, and later the Charger Daytona and Ford’s Torino Talladega.
During the 1990s, the same philosophy was echoed throughout the field. You wouldn’t see Dale Earnhardt drafting with Geoff Bodine in a Ford (OK, bad example), or Bill Elliott’s Ford partnering with Rusty Wallace’s Pontiac. As much cross-pollination as you could expect would be an Oldsmobile or Pontiac working with a Chevy Lumina. The Ford teams were islands unto themselves for the most part — which wasn’t a bad thing a couple of years later when it seemed everyone ran a Ford Thunderbird.
There were also orders of another kind at Talladega, namely Chad Knaus instructing Jimmie Johnson to ding up the rear of his car if he won to avoid any post-race template troubles. Considering the suspensions that were levied to the Michael Waltrip Racing teams for unapproved windshields last weekend, it’s probably for the best that ol’ Five-Time got drilled in the door by Andy Lally late in the going. A bit coincidental, considering the winner was Clint Bowyer, whose title hopes were dashed a year ago after having 150 points docked following a win at New Hampshire for what was alleged to be damage suffered by getting a push from a wrecker that caused his car to be out of tolerance.
One couldn’t help but be reminded of the 1985 Winston, when Darrell Waltrip just happened to blow the engine (some would claim the over-sized engine) in his Junior Johnson-prepared Monte Carlo SS immediately after taking the checkered flag.
The racing itself on Sunday was a bit 1980s-ish, as well. Speeds hovering consistently around 200 mph meant that the track, which was the first to honor the stock-car mark, was once again being used for what it was designed. We saw packs break away and catch up, as well as single-file racing, not unlike the days when cars had to lift through the corner as drivers sawed on the wheel — not so much driving as they were keeping their cars from lifting off and trying to feel where the front tires were pointed. Racing at speeds which most aircraft go wheels-up, that big blade on the back has to be a bit comforting, particularly when getting shot head-on into a wall at these speeds.
Reagan Smith’s impact in his black Chevrolet was both sobering and eerily reminiscent of Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s fatal crash at Daytona in 2001. It was a testament to how far the sport has come safety-wise, as SAFER Barriers, HANS devices and any other acronym that has prevented the unthinkable from happening the last decade is one area where waxing poetic about open-faced helmets, smock dipped in some sort of concoction which was allegedly fire retardant (though most likely just Epsom salt) falls flat on its exposed face. It is nothing but dumb luck or divine intervention that prevented more drivers from dying during the 210-plus mph era of the late ’70s and mid- ’80s.
What is unique about Talladega is that it was conceived during an era when all of the tracks were different; each with its own idiosyncrasies. It’s kind of like NASCAR itself. What other track was said to have been built on a Native American burial ground, is allegedly cursed, had a driver boycott before its first race and, even though cars nearly ended up in the stands twice in virtually the same spot, routinely witnesses fans buying tickets to sit up front, right where said cars tore into fencing?
More than that, the track is as big a part of the racing story as the title bout it was hosting.
The wildcard of the Chase pulled a fast one on the front-runners and their title hopes. Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick all took huge hits, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon all but had their Wonka tickets punched. In the end, it wasn’t about fuel mileage or a 30-car junkyard — it came down to two teammates with no championship implications whatsoever. And no one seemed to care one way or another that no Chasers were contending for the win.
We’ve since grown accustomed to seeing wide swathes of open seating, some tracks going so far as to widen the seats to help fill up the empty spaces where fans used to shoehorn in, or going so far as to remove entire sections of grandstands. Not so in Eastaboga, Alabama.
This go ’round I took to the seats rather than the media center. Sure, I had my Garage Pass in hand but decided to watch the race with the fans. And by “the fans,” I mean fans that still have a rabid appreciation for the sport, as every single seat that was available in the Birmingham Tower was filled.
What economic downturn? Those Occupy Wall Street miscreants couldn’t hold down much more than a wet fart if their lives depended on it in comparison. They’ve got nothing on my people (particularly in the hygiene department).
There were more bodies seated, on time and ready to go than there are at my church on most Sundays. Couple that with a flyover by a pair of F-22 Raptors (including a super slo-mo pass over the backstretch that looked like it was going about 100 mph courtesy of thrust vectoring) and a Kenworth pulling a massive American flag. There was a bit of relief amongst the chaos that is Talladega that at least here, things still make sense.
It’s not often you see and feel what racing was like 15 or 20 years ago — literally. A fat, sweaty stranger mere inches from you is gross, but once the race starts and everybody is standing, there actually is a bit more room. And if you knock back a few pops, your own breath and BAC trumps anyone else’s BO. Sure, those seats might be metal and some are a bit rusty, but every one of them was filled, and it was elbow-to-elbow. And no one seemed to mind. (A side note: Talladega is in the process of redoing the seating, expanding each seat to 22” so feel free to go nuts this holiday season and embrace your inner Adam Richman.)
There is a reason why even in the midst of yet another recession, where people are careful where and how they spend what little discretionary income they have right before Thanksgiving and Christmas, that many still make time for Talladega. With all of the talk of fuel-mileage races dictating a championship and conspiring to ruin racing, Sunday was an old-fashioned superspeedway race, where two of the fastest cars ran up front all day, pulled away from the pack at the end and settled it amongst themselves.
It’s not that hard to see why people keep showing up to Talladega in droves as they always have and why its two dates continue to be the most popular of the year:
Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the draft. (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
by Mike Neff
On Wednesday, SBNation.com’s Jeff Gluck reported that prior to the Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega on Sunday, crew chief Chad Knaus was overheard on NASCAR.com’s RaceBuddy telling Jimmie Johnson that, should he win the race, he needed to inflict some damage on the car’s rear end during his victory celebration. While there wasn’t a post-race celebration for Johnson, this conversation has certainly stirred the pot that always seems to swirl around Knaus and his history of pushing the envelope of NASCAR’s rule book. Johnson’s car passed three different inspections last weekend, so it was certainly within the parameters set by the sanctioning body — but hearing dialogue between crew chief and driver is going to cause people to, once again, point the “cheater finger” at Knaus.
There is definitely a history of Knaus pushing the limits in NASCAR’s infamous gray area (and some of the black and white areas, as well), so it is certainly justified for people to question what might have been going on with the 48 car’s rear end. Remember that Knaus was told to leave the track days before Johnson won the 2006 Daytona 500 thanks to a design on the car that allowed the rear window to be changed when it appeared a wedge adjustment was being made to the car. While it might have appeared to fall within the gray area of the rule book, NASCAR felt it was altering a piece of the car that was not supposed to be touched, thus an expulsion and suspension.
Knaus found himself in hot water at Infineon Raceway shortly after the Car of Tomorrow was introduced in 2007 when his team massaged the fenders of the car between the points where NASCAR’s inspection “claw” touched the body. While the car passed the requirements of touching the template at all of the required points, it was different from other cars in the areas between the points, and therefore, was deemed to provide an unfair advantage. It must be noted that there is room for debate as to whether this instance was actually cheating or simply working within the gray area, but Knaus was fined $100,000 and suspended for six races, an example of NASCAR sending a message to the garage area to be mindful of it’s hard-line CoT specs.
There was also “Shockgate” at Dover in 2005, when the shock absorbers on Johnson’s car actually raised up after use rather than sank, as shocks normally do. The shocks were perfectly legal within the rules as far as parts and compression rates, but the way they were assembled and how that ultimately made them function was not in the spirit of the rules. NASCAR quickly issued a rule change to prevent that from ever happening again, but it was a classic gray-area play by Knaus.
These are but a few examples of Knaus’s ingenuity — he’s had at least seven violations with at least four being technical in nature that have resulted in no less than $190,000 in fines. Interestingly enough, he has not been fined since 2007.
No one but Knaus and his team know if there were any shenanigans going on with the No. 48 last weekend. Knaus explained that his pre-race “request” to Johnson was based on the fact that there is a tremendous amount of bumping that takes place during tandem racing at plate tracks. With the tight tolerances that NASCAR imposes on restrictor plate tracks, it would be very easy for a car to get knocked outside of those measurements simply through the aggressive bump drafting that occurs at 200 mph.
While that certainly seems like a plausible enough explanation, it would seem as though NASCAR’s technical inspectors would take that kind of contact into account and allow for some leeway. Then again, Richard Childress Racing claimed that Clint Bowyer’s car was knocked out of alignment by a tow truck at New Hampshire last season but NASCAR didn’t buy that explanation — so better safe than sorry, right?
Of course, it’s also very possible that Knaus was just trying to cover his bases, reasoning that it would be better, should his car win the race, to make an on-track modification that would prevent any post-race scrutiny rather than have to deal with the inspection nuances over the position of the rear bumper.
It is sad that the current “spec” environment in NASCAR has come to the point that teams will consider damaging their racecars rather than have them probed, measured and dissected so closely after winning a race. Fortunately, that does mean that the playing field is as level as it can possibly be — and that ensures that the racing is as fair as NASCAR can make it.
In the end, even if the No. 48 was legal from tip to tail, it might have been in Knaus’s best interest to keep his mouth shut and let the chips fall where they may. Because as another rule-breaker once said, “Sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand.”
From the Spotter's Stand
Kevin Harvick rained on Junior Nation's parade at Martinsville in April, when he slid by Dale Earnhardt Jr. wqith four laps remaining to earn his first Martinsville Grandfather clock.
Kyle Busch led a race-high 151 laps before Earnhardt brought back images of his legendary father, executing a textbook “bump 'n' run” to get by his arch-rival. However, 17 laps later Harvick made the race-winning pass — his first of two over Earnhardt this year for the win with less than five to go.
Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon have combined to win 14 of the last 17 races at the shortest track on the Cup circuit — with only Kevin Harvick (2011), Tony Stewart (April 2006) and Rusty Wallace (April 2004) breaking the trio’s impressive streak.
Last year, Hamlin was the Mayor of Martinsville, leading 172 laps in March, but needing a late charge on a green-white-checkered restart to beat runner-up Joey Logano and seven-time winner Gordon (92 laps led).
Hamlin won his third straight and fourth in six runs at Martinsville during the return trip in October, edging out runner-up and two-time winner Mark Martin and taking the first of his two checkers in the Chase.
Crew Chief’s Take
“Brakes, brakes, brakes. Being able to get good forward bite off the corner allows for passing and plenty of speed in the straightaways, then braking hard twice a lap at the entrance to Turns 1 and 3 takes its toll. It’s not nearly as fast as Bristol, but we have as much contact at Martinsville as we do at Bristol. There aren’t as many incidents because the pace is slower. The faster you run, the more you’re on the edge of grip. When you lose grip, you make more contact. It’s inevitable, but a driver has to keep cool. The ones who don’t like to be touched don’t do well here.”
Fantasy Stall Looking at Checkers: Prior to a 12th in April, Denny Hamlin had averaged a 2.4-place finish in his last nine Martinsville starts. Pretty Solid Pick: Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are the other two you have to keep an eye on. Good Sleeper Pick: This is one of Junior’s favorites, made evident by his 12 top 10s in 23 starts. Runs on Seven Cylinders: Quite a few, led by Greg Biffle and David Reutimann. Insider Tip: It’s best to stay with the Big Three of Hamlin, Johnson and Gordon.
Classic Moments at Martinsville Speedway
The media in attendance for the 1960 Virginia 500 are treated to a luxury unheard of in the formative years of stock car racing: An air-conditioned press box — a NASCAR first.
It’s another NASCAR first as well, as Richard Petty wins his first of a series-best 15 races at Martinsville Speedway.
Petty leads laps 316 through 333, but relinquishes the lead to Bobby Johns, who takes over for the next 48 laps until he suffers a rear-end failure.
Jimmy Massey assumes the lead but is overtaken by Petty one lap later. The King leads the final 116 circuits to capture his second career Grand National win. Petty wins three races in the 1960 campaign and finishes second in the standings. It is another four years until he breaks through for his first title.
"Chad, at this rate I won't need to back into any walls if I win." (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
by Matt Taliaferro
1. Carl Edwards No one driver wins the Chase at Talladega, but many lose it. Edwards did neither, which is a good thing for him. Expect top-10 runs from here on out.
2. Matt Kenseth Edwards’ teammate and the 2003 champ, Kenseth, sits just 14 points back in second. Both are good (Texas, Homestead) and weak (Martinsville) at the same tracks.
3. Kevin Harvick At 26 points out, is Harvick done? Probably not, but his chances are on life support. The car his team is bringing to Martinsville this weekend has two wins in six starts — including at Martinsville in April.
4. Brad Keselowski Survives big, bad Talladega, notching the best finish (fourth) among all Chase drivers. At 18 points back in the title hunt, you have to like the kid’s chances.
5. Jimmie Johnson Food for thought: The last time Johnson had two straight finishes outside of the top 20 during the Chase, he won the next three races.
6. Tony Stewart Has elbowed his way back into title contention with consecutive runs of eighth and seventh. At fourth in the standings and 19 points out, Smoke may be that final driver with a good look at a title.
7. Kyle Busch Making up 40 points in the standings with four races remaining is unrealistic, and that’s where Kyle and the boys find themselves. Don’t be surprised if the lifted weight propels Busch to a win or two.
"Negative Kyle, we can't find that golden horseshoe back here."
8. Clint Bowyer Four of his six Chase races have resulted in finishes of eighth or better, including, of course, the big win at ’Dega. It may be the last one he sees for a while since MWR isn’t known as a big-win operation.
9. Jeff Gordon Gordon’s 27th at Talladega and the events that conspired to contribute to it may have been frustrating, but say this about him: He seemed to be the only Hendrick car that wanted to go to the front and race.
10. Kasey Kahne Kahne’s average finish in the last six races is 7.1, including four straight runs of sixth or better. It’s a shame everything is coming together for this bunch as the season winds down.
11. Denny Hamlin Back-to-back solid finishes with his favorite stop — Martinsville — up next.
12. Paul Menard Leads all drivers on the circuit with a 10.2-place average finish on the plate tracks in 2011.
13. Greg Biffle Winless thus far in 2011. That’s only happened once to the Biff in eight full-time Cup seasons.
14. Dale Earnhardt Jr. It ain’t getting any prettier, but I get hate mail if he’s not at least ranked in the top 15.
15. Joey Logano The final results (24th) don’t back up the great run Logano had at ’Dega with a torn up car.
Just off the lead pack: AJ Allmendinger, Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr.
And then, there were five. So it seems. Maybe. The one thing that is beyond debate is Clint Bowyer’s continued strength on NASCAR’s plate tracks. Bowyer made a last-lap pass of teammate Jeff Burton in the Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday to earn his first win of the 2011.
So what would you do with $13 million? In this economy, that’s a dollar amount that makes most middle-class Americans drool. It’ll certainly make major athletes jealous, too, after all, that’s more than the highest-paid NHL, NBA and major league baseball players earn, and fairly competitive with sport’s “holy grail” these days, the NFL.