HARRY HOGGE: Alright, while we’re still under a caution, I want you to go back out on that track and hit the pace car.
COLE TRICKLE: Hit the pace car?
HOGGE: Hit the pace car!
The 1990 Tom Cruse blockbuster, Days of Thunder, isn’t my favorite racing movie, but above, are lines from my favorite scene in the movie. Wondering why I’m quoting movie scripts today? There’s a reason for the madness. I promise.
In case you missed it, last week’s AAA 400 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway was an elimination race in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup, and six-time champion and 2015 four-race winner Jimmie Johnson was among the four eliminated. There was somewhat of a cry from some fans that the Chase needed to be changed to prevent such a travesty (note sarcasm, here) or that the Chase format was flawed because such a thing could happen. But that’s another topic for another day.
It seems the biggest news of the week was Kevin Harvick’s victory celebration after his dominating 355-laps-led performance at Dover. But don’t drivers generally put on a smoke show after race wins? And sometimes aren’t cars damaged during said victory celebrations? Tires sometimes blowout, resulting in sheet metal damage. Sometimes drivers will misjudge where thy’re at within their self-created plume of smoke and accidentally scrape the wall. Hey, it happens.
Harvick’s car sustained some damage in his victory celebreation at Dover, and that’s what all the uproar is about. Was it intentional? Was it accidental? Harvick contends it was accidental, while others are crying foul. I’m not going to make an assumptioin either way. It is what it is, and I wasn’t in the car, and I’m definitely not in Harvick’s head, so I’m not going to cast stones, here.
But Harvick’s victory celebration and the outcry that followed did bring up an interesting subject of intentioinal damage to conceal things that aren’t exactly kosher, if you know what I mean, from NASCAR officials during post-race inspection.
It happens. Heck, Johnson’s longtime crew chief Chad Knaus admitted to it several years ago. He was pretty much backed into a corner in 2011 and admitted to giving Johnson instructions to intentionally damage the rear end of his race car at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in 2011, in case Johnson won, resulting in a more thorough post-race inspection. In a recording of the in-race radio communication, Knaus made the request to “cover our bases.” For the recrod, he car fit all inspection templates after the race. But was the passage of inspection because something was hidden by damage?
In the days after Harvick’s victory celebration at Dover, a few drivers spoke up, admitting that some damage from victory celebratioins is attentional. Of course, none would go so far as to admit to such tactics themselves. And, really, would we expect them to?
There is something I’ve been wondering about this past week, though. Why, all of a sudden, did this topic come up with Harvick’s celebration at Dover? Yeah, I guess this has been discussed before, but not with the fever of the discussion post-Dover? Is there just something about Harvick? Did someone here something that he/she isn’t coming forward about, instead opting to plant the seeds of doubt?
Maybe it was because Harvick was so dominant at Dover. After all, he did lead 355 laps of a 400-lap race. But isn’t that one of the gripes about the 2015 aero package, that one car gets out front and nobody else can pass it? Couldn’t Harvick’s dominance last weekend been a shining example of that?
Harvick’s innocence or guilt aside — and again, I’m not taking one side or the other on that — this sort of thing happens, what should be done about it? And how are we to always know intent when damage is done? After all, most in the garage probably aren’t bold enough to have such discussions on the radio with “Big Brother,” a.k.a. NASCAR, listening. I’m guessing Knaus learned his lesson. And I’m guessing Clint Bowyer’s arm has stopped itching since Richmond 2013.
Maybe this will just go down is one of those great mysteries, right up there with the age old question of how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll pop. Best I can remember, that owl in those old commercials said, “Three.” But really, I guess we’ll never know.
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