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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Little guys get hit harder by NASCAR penalties

Earlier this week, Front Row Motorsports, which has three cars but is still a small operation that is far behind the big teams in budget and success, was hit with huge monetary and points penalties after the discovery of illegal valve stem caps.

Apparently, NASCAR discovered valve stem caps on the tires of Travis Kvapil’s car had been altered to allow air to gradually leak out, which would help the car with its speed during a long run. Crew chief Steve Lane was fined $100,000 and suspended for 12 weeks, along with car chief Richard Bourgeois and tire specialist Michael Harrold. Kvapil and car owner Doug Yates 150 points each after the infractions were discovered at Pocono, bumping Kvapil out of the top-35 and a guaranteed start at Michigan.

Team co-owner Bob Jenkins took responsibility for the "unintentional" mistake and plans to appeal the penalty, which he properly calls “excessive”.
I understand the need to fine them for cheating, but why does it seem to be that it’s always the little teams that get hit the hardest? Remember Carl Long … whose engine was a fraction out of whack at the All-Star Shootout, a race that doesn’t even count for points?

He got a massive $200,000 fine that he could never afford to pay, so they basically ended his career as a car owner. He didn’t race much, but it’s the principle that bothers me … why be so harsh on the guy? It’s not like he benefitted from the engine.

It’s not as severe a blow for Front Row, but it’s still a big one. This team may not be marching to the front of the field each week, but at least their cars stick around and run the whole race, unlike the start-and-park teams that quit after 20 laps or less.

"For a team like ours, that's a pretty devastating blow," said owner Jenkins, who also fields cars for David Gilliland and Kevin Conway "I understand there should be a fine, but I felt that 12-week suspensions and that level of points are pretty high."

When is the last time a Hendrick team had 150 points taken away from it? Well, they haven’t. Crew chiefs like Ray Evernham and Chad Knaus at Hendrick teams have been caught playing with things on the car they shouldn’t have done (they call it “gray areas”), but never got hit as hard as the #38 team was hit. Points are especially important under the current rules, and it’s not like the Front Row team was in a great points spot to start with, so I don’t see what makes this worse than the Hendrick violations.

Maybe it’s just me, but it looks like NASCAR protects the big guys and dumps on the little guys when it comes to penalties for car irregularities.

Braun team turning into experts at wrecking
If the Braun Racing team wants to have any real success with their 4-car team in the Nationwide series, they’re going to have to stop wrecking. Every week they are tearing up cars, and the Kentucky race Saturday nightw was especially brutal, as three of their cars ended up catching the wall. One incident ended up causing damage to two of the cars. They have some talented drivers like Jason Leffler and Brian Scott, but I think the team needs to have a meeting to let its drivers know they won’t be hanging around much longer if they keep tearing up equipment on a weekly basis.

Good sign for Ford?
Seven Fords (All 4 Roush drivers, 2 Richard Petty Motorsports drivers, and Bill Elliot in the Wood Brothers car) were listed in the top 13 in final practice. With the disappointing year Ford drivers have had so far this season, you can bet they’re hoping that this good fortune will continue in today’s race.
One big factor in this possible resurgence: The new FR9 engine, which is in all the Ford cars for the first time here at Michigan.

Martin not talking about 2012
On Friday, Mark Martin was asked about his plans for 2012, and did not respond to the rumor that he will go over to the #09 car owned by James Finch in 2012, buying the team so he can be an owner-driver, and that Kasey Kahne will fill the seat in that #09 ride in 2011. Finch has said he wants to sell the team, so the timeline makes sense, and I’m sure Rick Hendrick could persuade him to leave his name on as team owner for one more year if it means he has a chance to compete every week.

With the news that Stewart-Haas Racing has no plans for a third team in 2011, the #09 is the most logical spot for Kahne, so I see this deal happening, possibly very soon if they can work out any sponsorship issues (I don’t see Kasey Kahne driving around in a sponsorless ride, like the #09 has been for much of this year.).

Great runs by Almirola, Logano
Aric Almirola, Kyle Busch, Todd Bodine, Ron Hornaday and young Austin Dillon put on a great show for the fans at Michigan Speedway. A big and wide track like MIS is built for these Trucks, which like to make it 3- and 4-wide whenever possible. I was very impressed by Dillon, who is Richard Childress’ grandson and Mike Dillon’s son, and no doubt picked up the racing talent in that family.

Almirola, whose career has seen quite a few setbacks due to events beyond his control, is making the most of 2010. He is competing for the Truck series title, and should win a bunch more race this year. His three-wide pass to take the lead at Michigan was a great one that will be remembered for a while.

And for those of you who don’t like Kyle Busch, It should be fun to see Almirola win in that truck after Kyle Busch couldn’t do it in the past four years – finishing 2nd three times.

Almirola will also serve as possible backup in the #48 car when Jimmie Johnson’s wife gives birth, in case it conflicts with his duties at the track. By winning races in lower series and getting his name out there in the Cup series still, he is doing right things if he wants a ride back in Cup in the future.

Meanwhile, Joey Logano flew to Kentucky and dominated the race. Amazing stat … three straight wins there, all from the pole. Never done before. Pretty amazing, though I doubt Kevin Harvick will congratulate him.

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