News & Media

Track Smack: Stewart, Vickers have at it, NASCAR does not

June 30, 2011, ,

Topics: The non-response; Busch vs. Johnson; Daytona shocker II?

1. Brian Vickers took Tony Stewart out in an obvious retaliation move Sunday at Infineon Raceway. Should NASCAR have intervened in any way?

Joe Menzer: No. NASCAR did the right thing by letting the boys have at it. Stewart was impatient and wrong to wreck Vickers in the first place, and Vickers later settled the score. End of story. The right call by NASCAR was no call.

David Caraviello: First of all, let me say that was some impressive frontier justice dispensed there by the Sheriff. Vickers hit Stewart so hard, he not only hung up Tony in the Turn 11 tire barrier, he spun himself out, too. The defining image of the race was the No. 14 dangling up there helpless. All that said, regardless of what we think, NASCAR is allowing guys to settle stuff like this on the race track, for better or worse.

Bill Kimm: While it was clear Brian Vickers blatantly took out Tony Stewart, there is no way NASCAR should have intervened. This is what NASCAR wants -- you handle it on the track, no one else was involved, and both Vickers and Stewart admitted they did things on purpose. This is what "boys, have at it" is supposed to be.

David Caraviello: Yeah, this clearly fits into that edict, Bill, despite how outrageously obvious it was. But that doesn't mean deep down, I don't have conflicted issues over something like this. Again, I get it, NASCAR allows them to do it, it's not going to intervene. But a hard foul in basketball or a plunked batter in baseball draws some kind of result from officials, however relatively minor, and I don't really like the fact that drivers can go out and hammer one another without any official recourse.

Bill Kimm: Vickers did help NASCAR in its non-decision by heading to the garage due to all the damage. If the No. 83 stayed on track, would NASCAR have black-flagged him?

Joe Menzer: I don't think so, Bill. Or at least I would hope not. Let's make this very clear: Tony started it by deliberately taking out Vickers in the first place. He thought Brian was blocking him -- Brian denies this -- and despite it being very early in the race, a cooler head did not prevail. Tony was impatient and stupid -- the very things he's been railing on other drivers about. So if you decide to penalize Vickers for retaliation, you also would have had to come back and penalize Stewart for starting it in the first place. Then you could be back to the seemingly never-ending cycle of penalizing guys for all sorts of stuff.

Bill Kimm: The best thing about this ... Vickers slowed down to let Stewart by, who eagerly accepted. What was Smoke thinking? Did he not think Vickers was gonna get payback? Vickers slowed down going into Turn 11, where all the carnage was taking place. I was really surprised Smoke fell into the trap.

David Caraviello: I will say, Joe, for a guy fighting for a Chase spot, perhaps that wasn't the smartest of decisions. And you're right .. just a few days earlier, Tony mentioned to the media about how somebody was going to do something stupid. Somebody with that much at stake doesn't need to get caught up in petty on-track stuff, regardless of what message he wants to send. It's a long season. And Bill, was Tony just supposed to screech to a stop on the race track? After you, sir. No, please, after you.

Hung up

The defining image at Sonoma was the No. 14 dangling on the Turn 11 tire barrier.

Bill Kimm: If you know you are probably going to get spun ... yeah. Why else would Vickers basically stop on the track?

Joe Menzer: Well, what Smoke said after the race was that he believed Vickers was blocking him. He thought that was stupid. And he said that he doesn't care who blocks him in the future, he's going to punt 'em. If anything, that's what NASCAR needs to look at. If this becomes a pattern with Tony, then it might have to step in and look at doing something to settle him down. I'm talking about the first incident, of course.

David Caraviello: Vickers didn't basically stop. He slowed down enough to let Tony get by him. Big difference. All this stuff happens so quickly, I'm not sure Tony could have reacted even if he knew what Brian was up to. But it was a heck of a trap Vickers set, I'll give you that. Of course, I'm running on only seven hours of sleep, so perhaps my memory is fuzzy.

Joe Menzer: Try a neck pillow. I'm about to get mine out right now!

David Caraviello: No thanks. They're a little goofy-looking for me. And a little birdie told me they don't work!

Bill Kimm: To me, the bigger issue is the racing at Infineon. While it is highly entertaining, this is two years in a row where its been more like bumper cars at Six Flags over Georgia than stock-car racing. I'm not sure I like the direction Infineon racing is going.

David Caraviello: Don't know how you change that, Bill. More turns equals more chances for craziness. It's why road courses rule. Let's add Montreal to the Chase!

Joe Menzer: Speaking of goofy, I find that a goofy statement, Bill. I love the racing at Infineon. You do know that this is a contact sport, right?

Bill Kimm: I don't remember this much bumper cars at Watkins Glen. And no, Joe, NASCAR is not a contact sport, but for a couple of times a year.

Joe Menzer: Um, I guess you haven't received the repeated memos from Brian France then. It most certainly is, and always has been to at least some degree, a contact sport. As is Track Smack on days Bill is involved!

David Caraviello: Watkins Glen is a completely different layout. It's faster and doesn't provide as much opportunity for the kind of stuff we saw Sunday, though it produces plenty of action in its own right. Joe, I think I understand why Bill doesn't like road courses. He gets beat up and banged on so much in Track Smack, they bring back bad memories.

2. A few weeks ago this would have seemed a ridiculous question, but now their statistics are almost identical. So who is the bigger championship threat -- Jimmie Johnson or Kurt Busch?

Bill Kimm: As impressive as Kurt Busch has been recently, and despite the fact he is a former Cup champ, I still have to give the edge to Jimmie Johnson. Five-Time has been so dominant in the fall the past five years, he will continue to be the favorite until he is mathematically eliminated.

David Caraviello: Wow, whoever comes up with these questions really did a good job this week. A few weeks ago, when Kurt was piling up back-to-back-to-back season-worst finishes, I would have laughed at this. Now? That 22 is scary. The big unknown is whether they can sustain it for the rest of the year, something they haven't yet been able to do at Penske Racing. We know the 48 team can. We know they'll be there at the end. As good as Kurt is right now, showing longevity is a different matter.

Driver comparison

Season results
Las Vegas1697
Avg. Fin.

Joe Menzer: Aw, come on. That's still a ridiculous question. Jimmie still rules on the 1.5-mile tracks that are so important in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Kurt still seems to go in and out on those -- and as talented a wheelman as he is, I need to see more consistency in the way he interacts with his team and the results they produce.

David Caraviello: Yes, Joe, Jimmie is so good on the mile-and-a-halfs that he was 16th at Las Vegas and eighth at Texas and 28th at Charlotte. I'm not saying they won't flip the switch going forward, but they haven't shown the same prowess on those layouts to this point that they historically have.

Bill Kimm: So seven strong races automatically makes you a championship contender? Very interesting concept, David.

Joe Menzer: Well, listen, at some point Five-Time's reign will come to an end. It very well may be in progress now. But if you're asking me -- as I believe we were all asked -- who the bigger championship threat is right now, no doubt it's Jimmie. He's ahead in points, more consistent, and knows how to keep a cool head and be consistent in the Chase. Kurt struggles with much of that, as talented as he is.

David Caraviello: As for Bill's misguided comment, I think guys like Kurt and Denny Hamlin, who have reversed things in such a stunning manner, can be very dangerous. Kurt gets another win or two -- and he'll be a favorite this weekend at Daytona, given how strong he was during all of Speedweeks -- and suddenly you go from a borderline Chase contender to a high Chase seed. And once you're there, anything can happen. Again, they have to sustain it, and that's yet to be seen, but right now? You have watched the races the past few weeks, right, Bill?

Bill Kimm: Absolutely, David, it's my job. But like Joe said (and man that was hard to type), Kurt struggles with many traits it takes to win the championship. Things are going well, so all is good in the No. 22 shop. Back-to-back 20th or worse though, and look out. It's been a great couple of months for Busch, but will it continue? I'm not so sure. Of course, I'm misguided so what do I know?

Joe Menzer: We tend to have a knee-jerk reaction sometimes when a guy wins one race. Listen, Kurt drove a terrific mistake-free race and won for the first time on a road course Sunday at Sonoma. It was impressive. But the top threats in my mind right now to supplant Jimmie remain Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick, with Jeff Gordon coming up strong on the outside to make it a three-wide race. And don't ever discount the younger Busch, although he and Harvick might eventually eliminate each other.

David Caraviello: I mean, if you want to get right down to it, look at the stats -- Jimmie's only had six or seven really great weeks, his have just been spread out throughout the season. So it's not at all a ridiculous statement to say they're a bit even right now. Again, the 48 has shown the ability to stretch it over 10 weeks, and the 22 hasn't, and that will ultimately be the decider here.

Joe Menzer: I also would rate Denny Hamlin a stronger contender to knock off Jimmie than I would Kurt. He's been there in the heat of the hunt and seemingly has learned from it -- and despite tough luck last Sunday, he had been showing some signs of pulling it all together recently. He'll be back in the mix, and soon.

Bill Kimm: Denny is running out of time, Joe. He's not even top-10 in points right now. The win helps in the wild card, but he's got to turn things around now.

Joe Menzer: Bill, are you even watching this season? Denny has been coming hard, running well and consistently for several weeks, until A.J. Allmendinger ran into him and caused a mechanical problem that wrecked his day at Sonoma. That hardly means he's now out of it. This is why, Bill, you are struggling to keep up with me in Fantasy Showdown, the fabulous NASCAR.COM Fantasy Live racing game.

David Caraviello: Guys, easy on Bill. We all know he spends his Sundays catching up on Men of a Certain Age on DVR. Probably makes him a little emotional. So let's not be too harsh.

Bill Kimm: Running well and finishing are two completely different things, Joe. In the past six races, Hamlin has as many top-10 finishes as he does outside the top 10. That does not make a champion. You two crack me up. Of the three of us, there is only one who works every weekend, and his name ain't David or Joe.

Joe Menzer: Hamlin won the race before this last one! And just because we're not at a race doesn't mean we aren't paying attention to what's going on!

David Caraviello: Actually, I'm usually out gardening. You should see my hibiscus!

Joe Menzer: I'm not even sure what that is ... and not sure I want to know.

3. On to Daytona, and another round of tandem drafting. Is another shocker in store like we saw in the Daytona 500 with Trevor Bayne?

Joe Menzer: I don't think so. It could happen, of course. It always can happen in a restrictor-plate race. But I sense that one of the big names, the true contenders, will rise to the occasion in this race. Of the others, the off-beat guy I might pick would be Regan Smith -- and he wouldn't be that much of a surprise now, given what else he's already done this season.

Bill Kimm: At Daytona, you can't rule it out. But, a look at the most recent 400-milers at Daytona shows a more dominant list of drivers who have won: Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch. The July race doesn't seem to have as many surprises.

David Caraviello: Well, you look at who was up front in the Daytona 500, and you'd have to say the potential is certainly there. Guys like David Gilliland, Dave Blaney, Bobby Labonte and Regan Smith were all in the mix toward the end, and who knows who is going to shuffle out of that pack. Nothing will be as emotional and as significant as Bayne and the Wood Brothers winning, of course, but everybody's going to need a partner, and at the end nobody is picky, and we could absolutely see a few dark horses in the mix at the finish.

Joe Menzer: Um, Jamie McMurray won the Coke Zero 400 -- well, then the Pepsi 400 -- in 2007 when that was considered a bit of a shocker. But overall, and it pains me to say this, Bill is right. It seems the bigger upsets occur in the longer Daytona 500.

David Caraviello: See, never taking a day off allows Bill to do his homework, and he's right (in this case) -- the shorter race typically cuts down on the unpredictability. But then again, we've never seen a 400 under this drafting format, so it's going to be all new.

Bill Kimm: Yeah, McMurray is the one exception since 2003. Other than that, it's a pretty strong list of names that are in Victory Lane. So while none of us are expecting a major upset, in the case one happens, who do we like?

Joe Menzer: Then again, who was the last real surprise winner of the Daytona 500 prior to Trevor Bayne? Ward Burton in 2002? So let's not give Bill a big head here.

David Caraviello: So if there's less unpredictability, and the heavy hitters typically control and win this race, then it all goes back to the last question -- Mr. No. 22. Maybe if Kurt Busch wins Saturday night, you guys will finally be a believer. Lot of space on the Kurt bandwagon right now, trust me.

Bill Kimm: Joe, with you around, there's no room for my head to get large. And it will take more than a Daytona win to get me on the Kurt bandwagon.

Joe Menzer: I could tell you, Bill, who I'm putting on my fantasy team. But then I would have to ... well, you know. That's got to be top-secret stuff right now as I continue to pummel the rest of you stiffs in Fantasy Showdown.

David Caraviello: Joe, I would guess you could call Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth unlikely (but not surprise) Daytona 500 winners, given their relative lack of success there. And let's not forget Mark Martin came a fraction of a second away from winning the thing. So unexpected events can happen.

Joe Menzer: But those are not shockers. Those are guys who have won their share of Cup races. So I'm not buying that one, Caraviello. As for one of the guys I like in this race, I will give you a hint: One particular driver who is extremely popular and hasn't won in like three years is going to be there toward the end this time. He's one to watch.

David Caraviello: And don't forget, the Daytona 400-miler produced Greg Biffle's first career win, back when nobody knew who he was. That was a stunner. I believe fuel mileage entered the equation that night. So it's not always the favorites who win this thing.

Joe Menzer: Carl Edwards will be bad fast and won't settle for finishing second this time, if he's in the hunt at the end. He's another one to watch -- although I have no comment on whether he's on my fantasy roster or not this week.

David Caraviello: Hey, Joe -- very tempted here to write "where you going with that gun in your hand" -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran strong in most of the Daytona 500 before a cut tire sent him back in the field and a wreck took him out. He seems to always be better in the 400 than the 500 anyway. I know people like to think every week is "the" week with him, but this one could really be.

Bill Kimm: Dale Earnhardt Jr. might be a good fantasy pick, but I don't see him in Victory Lane this weekend. I do like the Hendrick stable this weekend, though. Jimmie and Jeff have to be heavy favorites. And how great would it be to see Jeff get that 85th career victory at Daytona!

David Caraviello: Man, you guys are completely dismissing Kurt, aren't you? Did you watch Speedweeks?

Bill Kimm: February was a long time ago, David.

Joe Menzer: The Hendrick guys will be tough, no doubt. But finally, you make a good point, Mr. Caraviello. Kurt was dominant at times during Speedweeks and now he's got a teammate who is running much better in Brad Keselowski. Those two could be formidable working together. Although Kurt didn't discriminate in who he worked with during Speedweeks.

David Caraviello: Kurt and Regan Smith worked very well together in the 500, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them do it again. Finally, one of you guys sees the light. Must be all that sleep you got on the airplane thanks to your neck pillow, Joe.

Joe Menzer: Uh ... what? I must have dozed off again after taking that red-eye home from San Francisco. Or maybe it was after reading Bill's latest ridiculous comment. Pass the neck pillow, please.

Bill Kimm: Bottom line, there are probably 30 drivers who could win this weekend. All I hope is we have a great race. And that Joe actually stays awake for it.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the participants.