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, NASCARâ€™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.
Juniorâ€™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 â€˜lucky dogâ€™ rule is not a severe punishment. Just like Juniorâ€™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 Vickersâ€™ 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 dayâ€™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.
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