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Track Smack: Let the drivers wreck or keep them all in check?

November 03, 2011, ,

After tempers flare at Martinsville, debate shifts to holding drivers accountable

1. Tony Stewart said after winning a wreck-filled Martinsville event that NASCAR needs to hold drivers responsible for their actions on the track. Is he right?

Joe Menzer: Reign in the "boys, have at it" era? Well, I think he and Jimmie Johnson were talking mostly about Brian Vickers' eventful day at Martinsville. There are times when you can let the boys have at it -- and times like with Vickers last Sunday when NASCAR should have stepped in and parked him.

David Caraviello: I'm not sure that issue is as black-and-white as Tony made it out to be. What is NASCAR supposed to do -- dole out penalties left and right for guys wrecking one another or racing too recklessly? And where is the line on that? I know they've parked a few people in history, but even before the "boys, have at it " edict, they often let things on the track stay on the track. This would be a stark reversal, and I'm not sure a welcome one.

Bill Kimm: Come on, haven't we been through all this enough the past few years? NASCAR wields an iron fist, drivers are upset because they want to just take care of it themselves. So NASCAR says, all right boys, have at it, and they do, and now drivers are upset that too much wreckin' is going on. Can't have it both ways, guys.

Joe Menzer: It's a real fine line, to be sure. But I think to err here is not on the side of caution. In other words, you don't want to take the aggressive tendencies out of the drivers' hands. But at the same time, you have to be smart. Brian Vickers was bouncing off everyone and even spun himself out once while trying to retaliate against Matt Kenseth. It got ridiculous, and that was one case where I do believe NASCAR should have stepped in and black-flagged him.

Bill Kimm: I completely disagree with parking Brian Vickers at Martinsville. Yes, he was in quite a few cautions, but he was also in the wrong place at the wrong time for some of them as well.

Joe Menzer: So there you go, Bill. Our first disagreement of the day! You should be parked!

Bill Kimm: Joe, you're getting old. You can't keep up with the young guys anymore so you want them parked!

David Caraviello: Listen, Sunday was at times embarrassing for the series. You had some drivers acting childish, and Denny Hamlin's spotter saying over the radio that the conduct in the Truck Series race the day before was more professional. But I'm not sure if you want to get into the realm of the "No Fun League" -- which I hear Menzer used to cover -- and start fining guys for everything. Nobody likes that. NASCAR has always held up its entertainment angle, and it's hard for guys to be entertaining when they're worried about losing large chunks of cash.

Video: Vickers vs. McMurray | Vs. Kenseth | Johnson reacts | Stewart: Let them get their butt kicked

Joe Menzer: So what do you say as the tiebreaker, David? Should Vickers should have been parked last Sunday?

David Caraviello: Yeah, I don't know about parking Brian either. What has to happen is exactly what happened -- Jimmie Johnson chides a guy who is his friend during his post-race comments, and then speaks to the guy on the phone later. Jimmie is the boss of the garage area, and that's completely within his purview, to step out and try to set somebody straight on something like this. That doesn't help anybody during the race, but it's what we have right now.

Bill Kimm: Jimmie's upset because that last caution ruined his easy victory. If Johnson finishes fifth that day and doesn't have the lead when the 18th caution comes out, Johnson doesn't say a word. Let's keep things in perspective here.

Joe Menzer: Here's the bigger issue: you had Vickers, a decidedly non-Chaser this season, messing all day with Kenseth, who was in the thick of the championship battle going in. I'm not saying the non-Chasers should be getting out of the way of the Chasers, but I do think they should think about the bigger picture more often. And I can't believe the two of you are defending the way Vickers drove on Sunday. He caused, like, at least four or five cautions.

David Caraviello: Now Joe, that's when NASCAR race control needs to step in and say -- 83, you're messing with a guy in the championship picture, we need you to back off. And given that Johnson was asked about Vickers and the rough driving in his post-race availability, and knowing that Jimmie is a stand-up guy who believes in doing things and racing guys a certain way, I absolutely believe his answer would have been the same had he won the race or not.

Bill Kimm: Joe, what race were you watching? Kenseth got aggressive with Vickers first. Kenseth should have known better.

Joe Menzer: He got aggressive with Vickers after Vickers was banging him door-to-door and wouldn't let the faster car go by. That's what I saw. Brian Vickers had a bad day. At what point should he have just accepted that was the case and concentrated mostly on just staying out of the way of everyone else? Are you saying never? I just don't think he used his head -- or his hands, or any other body parts -- wisely. Bill, when a faster car comes up on you and it becomes clear that it's faster and you cannot hold your position forever -- and it's fairly early in the race -- you let the faster car go. That's called being smart. Now if it's late in the race, maybe it's a different story.

David Caraviello: Honestly, I don't think this is a NASCAR issue. I think Tony hit it on the head -- it's a driver issue. The garage area is younger, and the drivers aren't all in their late 30s or 40s like they were when Dale Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt were setting a standard in terms of conduct. Now we have younger, more aggressive guys who believe they have as much right to that position as the next guy, regardless of the circumstances. That's not going to change, not even if NASCAR gets all heavy-handed and starts fining guys for everything. The culture is just different now, and sometimes it breeds races like Sunday's.

Bill Kimm: I can't believe we are once again having this discussion about the role non-Chasers have in Chase races. It feels like we have it every single year. Vickers has just as much right to that position as Kenseth does, faster or not. And you want him to just give it up because Kenseth is in the Chase? Vickers is racing for his career! Why every year does this have to come up?

Joe Menzer: Bill, take your argument to the garage!

David Caraviello: Bill Kimm has been parked for the duration of this segment of Track Smack.

Joe Menzer: Ha-ha. Now we're doling out some discipline and having some fun. I don't know about how they run NASCAR, but I'm starting to like how Caraviello runs Smack!

David Caraviello: Joe, that's a $5,000 fine for taunting, payable directly to me.

Joe Menzer: What's the old saying? You can't get blood from a stone? Good luck collecting.

Watch all the highlights from Martinsville:

2. For the second time this Chase, championship leader Carl Edwards salvaged a good finish out of a struggling race car. Is that a sign of strength or weakness for the No. 99 team?

Bill Kimm: No question, a sign of strength. It's inevitable, people are trying to find kinks in the No. 99's armor, but the fact is they worked Talladega perfectly, getting exactly what they wanted and they adjusted all race and grabbed a top 10 at Martinsville. That, my friends, is how you win championships.

David Caraviello: It is absolutely, absolutely, a sign of strength. No question, Edwards took advantage of circumstances to get back up there, and no way was that car good enough to finish ninth, but to win championships, that's what you have to do sometimes -- have a half-decent day out of what seems a terrible one. Now, they need to get their setups straight and can't have this happen every week, but right now it shows just a lot of resolve and perseverance on Edwards' part.

Joe Menzer: I truly think it's essentially down to a two-man Chase now between Carl and Tony Stewart, and I give the edge to Stewart. Tony says he's more confident than he's been since he won his last championship in 2005, and the No. 99 team, good as they've been, seem just a little vulnerable to me. Having said that, I think these last three races will be great -- because both guys are good at all three tracks. And hey, who left the door open for Bill Kimm to come back in? I guess it's back to a three-man Smack now!

Bill Kimm: Joe is so afraid of me. Watch out Menzer, I'm coming back out to put you in the wall!

Step right up!

Now that Tony Stewart tried to get under Carl Edwards' skin, David Caraviello notes the Chase is headed to the big top at Texas, where track promoter and 'ringmaster' Eddie Gossage is making preparations to turn the big cats loose.

Joe Menzer: You're just all worried about battling me head-to-head in NASCAR.COM Fantasy Live Showdown, but my private investigation shows that I'll beat you like a drum there, too.

Bill Kimm: I do agree with Joe on one thing, Smoke has a swagger we haven't seen from him in a long time. Wasn't it two months ago he was saying his team didn't even belong in the Chase? Three wins later, he is singing a different tune ... it's fun to watch.

David Caraviello: Carl's Chase reminds me of Johnson's last year -- there are a lot of times when other cars are faster, but the driver is just hoisting the program on his shoulders and getting the job done when it counts. That's what happened at Kansas, and that's what happened Sunday at Martinsville for the No. 99 car. Edwards could have finished 20th both times, and Stewart could be running away with this. But Carl found a way to get it done. Both finishes left the competition shaking their heads, but both also contributed mightily to keeping him in the points lead with three to go.

Bill Kimm: I love when Caraviello agrees with me, it makes Smack so much easier. Joe, wrong again, my friend!

Joe Menzer: Bottom line: Smoke has won three of the seven Chase races thus far and is the hottest driver/team out there. Crew chief Darian Grubb, normally so unassuming and modest, even has a hint of a swagger. The only reason Carl's even still out front is because of the one -- and only -- race he won like seven months ago. Those bonus points earned because it was a pre-Chase race sure are coming in handy, but Smoke is coming hard.

David Caraviello: I'm sorry, but I don't know how anyone can bet against the guy who's been the best driver all year. Confidence and swagger can do only so much. Race wins matter only as much as consistency. Carl hasn't finished worse than 11th since August, and I don't expect this program to suddenly fall off the rails with three to go. I picked Carl to win this title after last season, and I'm sticking with him now. There's a reason he's been in the points lead for 21 of 33 weeks this year.

Joe Menzer: I think Edwards and the No. 99 team have had a terrific season. But Stewart and the No. 14 team are showing speed right now that has eluded the 99 guys for much of the year. And they've got only three races left to find whatever's missing. I will say this: Stewart better gain an advantage over the next two races at Texas and Phoenix, because Carl's awful hard to beat at Homestead any year.

Bill Kimm: I will say momentum is a very interesting thing. Imagine if the roles were reversed. If Smoke was consistent all year and it was Edwards who rolled off three out of seven, would your thoughts be any different?

Joe Menzer: I'm so old I can't remember who I picked to win the title at the beginning of this season! But I will say this in response to your question, Bill: no, I don't think I would think differently. I think with it being only an eight-point gap, and with Stewart's confidence coupled with the fact that Darian Grubb has figured out how to make the 14 go super fast on 1.5-mile tracks, they've got the momentum they need to overtake Edwards and the 99. Simple as that.

David Caraviello: Oh goodness. Joe has spiked his café robusto again. Stewart is showing speed that's eluded Carl all year? You're talking about the guy whose 16 top-fives and 23 top-10s lead the Cup Series? As opposed to just six and 16, respectively, for Stewart? And have we forgotten that the week before the Chase cut-off race, Tony was 10th in points? I realize Stewart is on a roll now, but if you want to talk about which of these guys had shown the most speed this year ... get real, man.

Joe Menzer: I will concede that perhaps I worded that wrong. Carl has shown speed, for sure. He has shown "consistent" speed. But he has been fast enough to win precisely one race and now, over the course of the Chase, Stewart has been running faster and shows no signs of slowing over the final three.

Bill Kimm: Wow, David does my dirty work and puts Menzer in the wall. I knew I wanted him as my teammate!

Joe Menzer: Not sure if you realize this or not, guys, but let me repeat that Edwards has won precisely one race all season -- and it came in early March. Then you've got a guy who has won three of the past seven. How can you not realize the guy who has won three of the past seven is the one on the better roll right now? I agree no one saw it coming, even Tony. Heck, a lot of folks, myself included, thought Grubb's job might be in trouble. But facts are facts and they have put it together somehow at precisely the right time of the season.

David Caraviello: I'm not sure if you realize it or not, Menzer, but all that Does. Not. Matter. Points determine this championship. Always have, always will, unless NASCAR changes things to that effect. The truth is, Carl played it safe at Talladega to get through it, and Martinsville was his worst track. He's over the hump, boys. Now, we go to Texas, where he leads all active drivers with three wins. You want to see some speed, Menzer? Get ready to see some speed.

Bill Kimm: Into the wall hard, might I add ... Menzer, you might not make it out the rest of Track Smack!

David Caraviello: Stewart has been running so much faster, he still trails in the standings. Menzer to the garage! And make that a $10,000 fine!

3. Five races ago, Ron Hornaday was 47 points out of the Truck Series lead. Now he's 15 back with two events left. Can the 53-year-old win title No. 5?

Joe Menzer: Absolutely. Are you kidding me? With Hornaday and the Truck Series, anything is possible. But I will say this, both Austin Dillon and James Buescher have shown some remarkable resiliency in a couple of these recent races when they've had to battle through some adversity to pull decent finishes out of awful days. Kudos to them for that.

Bill Kimm: What Hornaday has done has been remarkable and he should be commended for it. But 15 points in two races is going to be tough, especially with how strong Austin Dillon and James Buescher have been all season. It would be a great story for both Hornaday and Kevin Harvick to win it all as the team disappears, but I don't think it's going to happen.

Ron Hornaday has two races left to make up a 15-point deficit on Austin Dillon.

Truck Series

Standings (through M'ville)
2.--J. Buescher800-11
3.+1R. Hornaday796-15
4.-1J. Sauter796-15
5.--T. Peters763-48

David Caraviello: You know, before Sunday at Martinsville, the best points race in NASCAR's national division was shaping up as the Truck Series, with Austin Dillon, James Buescher and Hornaday all in the thick of it. Of course Ron can win this title, but I don't know if he has enough time. It doesn't seem like much, but 15 is a lot of points to cleave off in two races, unless somebody up front has a problem. Right now, you have to think Dillon is the favorite here.

Bill Kimm: You guys, we have to give some serious props to Buescher. The dude is second in points despite missing one race in Phoenix. He's there despite having one less race than everyone else ... that's truly remarkable.

Joe Menzer: Dillon is the favorite, for sure. But like with our earlier argument, Hornaday is the hottest. And you have to wonder if his experience might play a role, too. But the fact is that I think Dillon already has shown the poise of a champion by turning what could have been disastrous days into decent ones recently.

David Caraviello: Bill is right. Without that one absence, who knows where James might be in the points. Despite that, he's more than in the thick of this thing. And Texas this week will be a homecoming for the native of nearby Plano, who is the only member of the three top championship contenders who hasn't won a race on the circuit this season.

Joe Menzer: Buescher has indeed been impressive in what obviously is the lesser equipment of the three contenders. But he hasn't won a single race yet and I have to admit the idea of a champion with zero race wins is not appealing to me at all. I wouldn't want to see it happen, frankly. Of course he has two races to change that, too.

David Caraviello: This is turning into Carl vs. Tony all over again. Among the series regulars, Hornaday leads the Truck Series in wins and top-fives. He had a tough stretch in the summer that cost him. But ... let's not forget that he's the defending race winner at Texas, claiming the spring race where Johnny Sauter crossed the finish line first, but was black-flagged for jumping the restart. That event gave us out most memorable post-race quote of the season, Sauter's "God bless America."

Bill Kimm: I do agree with you Joe, that something wrong with the system if the champion is winless. That being said, I don't think Buescher will win -- it will either be Austin or Hornaday.

Joe Menzer: Wow! Bill agrees with me! Lemme check on some other things ... are pigs flying? Hell frozen over? Kyle Busch getting more cheers than boos?

Bill Kimm: When you're saying something smart Joe, I'll agree. It just doesn't happen very often.

Joe Menzer: Thank you for that backhanded compliment. I will take anything I can get -- just like Ron Hornaday, another old guy who just may be up for this latest challenge. Problem is, he'll need Austin Dillon and his team to screw up a little, too. Not sure that's going to happen.

Bill Kimm: The interesting thing with that is Kevin Harvick, owner of Hornaday's truck, will be in the field. He can really make a difference, for himself.

David Caraviello: Yeah, Bill, I just checked the entry list, and it appears Harvick and Kyle Busch will both be in this race, so chances are the win will come down to one of those two guys. And I understand those big names bring sponsors to the series and put fans in the grandstands. But right now, with so much at stake -- I'd like to see Austin and Hornaday running wheel-to-wheel for the checkered. Who knows, maybe that will still happen.

Joe Menzer: Lemme ask this related question: if Hornaday captures a fifth Truck title, does that make him a future lock for the NASCAR Hall of Fame?

Bill Kimm: I think Ron Hornaday is already a lock for the Hall. I'm just not sure when he gets in.

David Caraviello: I'm not sure about this lock-for-the-Hall talk, boys. Yes, Richie Evans got in, but one thing the King of the Modifieds had going for him is, he never made a Cup start. These guys who excelled in other series who did make Cup starts, and like Hornaday struggled at that level, are going to suffer by comparison. Now take that to your garage.

Joe Menzer: You still talking? Kimm and I already are wheel-to-wheel headed for the door.

David Caraviello: Don't talk back to me, Menzer. I'll hit you with a $25,000 fine for Rule 25-b, Actions Detrimental to Track Smack!

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writers.

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