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To penalize Junior or not to penalize Junior

By admin | February 17, 2009

By Richard Allen


Conspiracy theorists who happen to be NASCAR fans as well often argue that certain drivers are favored by the sanctioning body while others are dealt with harshly for the same infraction.

I have never been one to take it easy on NASCAR but in the case of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his bump of Brian Vickers in the Daytona 500 there could at least be an argument made that the conspiracy theorists are over stating their case. Granted, NASCAR’s policy of consistent inconsistency in matters such as this makes it very difficult to side with them.

Before discussing the bump in question I would like to point to another instance that occurred earlier in the race. Junior had all sorts of pit road issues throughout the week. He slid through his pits and had to back up during the Gatorade Duel race on Thursday. Then, he just drove right past his pit stall during an early race caution period in the 500 itself and had to circle back around and come to pit road a second time.

Junior’s pit troubles got even worse during pit stops after a lap 118 caution. On that stop the right front tire of the #88 car was deemed over the line, and thus, outside the pit box. The crew went ahead with the stop anyway despite the gesturing of a NASCAR official. Pitting a car outside its pit box calls for a one lap penalty.

The argument by Junior and his crew was a very weak one. They insisted the car was no more than an inch outside the pit box and a one lap penalty for such an infraction was excessive.

In this instance, NASCAR showed it was not afraid to levy a penalty against the most popular driver in the sport. They stuck to the rule book and put Junior one lap down. An inch, a foot or a yard does not matter. The rule is the rule and the appropriate action was taken.

Some may want to argue that a one lap penalty on a restrictor plate track with the ‘lucky dog’ rule is not a severe punishment. Just like Junior’s one inch argument, that is weak.

The one lap penalty in this case basically assured that Earnhardt had no chance to win the Daytona 500. Drivers were already reporting rain drops on their windshields and radar showed the weather to be very close.

If NASCAR truly wanted to show favoritism to the star driver they would have told the official assigned to his pit to ignore instances of his car being marginally over the line. Most likely, no one would have ever noticed the infraction if the penalty had not been called.

Instead, he was penalized, as he should have been.

Now, to the infamous bump.

On lap 123, the cars were racing down the back stretch just after a restart. Junior trailed Vickers. Both of the drivers had restarted on the inside line, as lapped machines are permitted to do.

The #88 had tremendous momentum and moved low to pass Vickers’ Toyota. Vickers aggressively moved to block. Earnhardt aggressively stayed in the gas. The two cars bumped, and bumped again.

Junior sped by as Vickers went spinning in front of a pack of cars. Numerous cars were damaged and several drivers were eliminated from the race.

The problem most people have in regard to this situation goes back to the previous day’s Nationwide Series race. In that event, driver Jason Leffler was penalized five laps for overly aggressive driving when he tagged the car of Steve Wallace in virtually the same way and at virtually the same spot on the track as the Earnhardt-Vickers incident occurred.

There is one key difference between the two crashes. Leffler and Wallace had bumped each other prior to the final blow. There was at least reason to believe there was intent to take Wallace out on the part of Leffler.

Earnhardt and Vickers had not had any such previous run ins during the 500.

In the end, I believe the incident in the Daytona 500 was dumb and should have been avoided. All Junior had to do was lift a bit and nothing would have happened. For that matter, Vickers did not have to throw such an aggressive block. In my mind the fault lies more with Earnhardt because he was the driver who hit another driver from behind.

For however dumb and avoidable the incident was, I do not believe it was intentional. It was just two drivers going as hard as they could trying to win the most important race in NASCAR. It is a shame that so many others who had nothing to do with the initial contact were taken out, but that type thing has been happening since racing began.

NASCAR never makes it easy because there are so many instances in which they seem to go out of their way to make the call that will make them look as bad as possible, but in this case, I actually agree with both the calls they made in regard to Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.

Topics: Articles |

8 Responses to “To penalize Junior or not to penalize Junior”

  1. Callaway Says:
    February 18th, 2009 at 10:33 am

    If you were to penalize every boneheaded move drivers make at those ridicules plate races you would end up with 3 cars running at the end. The cars are stacked on top of one another, the ability to pull away using the current generic soccer mom mobile gone, the visibility from one car to the car in front gone thanks to the tuner style spoiler. I’ve almost stopped watching the races from both Daytona and Talladega

  2. cliff radtke Says:
    February 18th, 2009 at 10:47 am

    love the article i say too my fellow NASCAR buddies that think JR should have been punished for 5 laps you hit the nail on the head was going into a turn not down the backstretch like leffler did..looking forward too next week race did fare too well in the fantasy part for the 500 love ur articles looking foward too reading more from you..

  3. mike Says:
    February 18th, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    blocking is when you actually have the room to get in front of someone wich vickers didn’t A pennalty would have been given for retribution wich would be hard to prove on jr’s part sinse it all went down in a split second,unlike lefflers deal where he did it after the initial incident

  4. Jerry Says:
    February 18th, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    first, nascar in no more or what does it stand for now because they are not running anything remotely close to a stock car. Next, all during the race they were showing the incident between Allison and Yarborough. Yep, when racing was racing. And wait a minute, they were faster than the cars were sunday. I said all of that just to say I really enjoyed NASCAR must better than I am enjoying nascar or whatever it is? thanks for letting me whatever!

  5. midasmicah Says:
    February 18th, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    I’m not stating that Jr spun Vickers intentionaly. It was just a dumb move. All he had to do was fall back in line and make another attempt. I think the pit lane follies caused frustration to set in and it all kind of boiled to the top at that point. The real bad thing he did was make lame excuses and then call out Vickers for speaking his mind. Time to grow up, Jr. Dreate your own legacy and stop living on your dads.

  6. MiK Watson Says:
    February 18th, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    Jr.shoulda stayed up on the track and punted vickers from there. you realize that, if Jr had held that hook just a little longer, Brain wouldn’t have had time to correct and woulda slid harmlessly down to the infield. I’m sure his muscle-memory had that figured out before his brain kicked in and ruined it. I just feel that Leffler’s “aggressive driving” was more “Racing deal” than Jr’s was. It wasn’t intentional, but it was inevitable.

  7. Charlie Hyde Says:
    February 18th, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Jr. obviously wanted to take Vickers out, there is no doubt about it. He should have been penalized for aggressive driving or Leffler should get an apology!

  8. Tom Shick Says:
    February 20th, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    It should not be call racing.It has not been racing for years.
    It is a NASCAR show, not NASCAR racing
    NASCAR means:
    A-association (of)