Idle Thoughts: Focus Off Track
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on April 17, 2013 | 9:14 A.M. EST
NASCAR officials confiscated the rear end housing units of both Penske Racing entries at Texas.
The eyes of the NASCAR nation aren’t focused on what’s happening on the track in recent days.
There was a lot of news and even some controversy coming out of the past weekend of racing. But for the most part, not much had to do with the on-track product produced at either Texas or Rockingham.
The Texas weekend was in the spotlight before the green flag even flew with all the discussion over the NRA’s sponsorship of Saturday night’s Sprint Cup Series race. Once it started, things did quiet somewhat on that front. But there’s no telling what the aftermath might be in either good or bad publicity for the sport. Television ratings were about flat from what FOX generated last year, so that’s at least one criteria that says the meter didn’t move much.
However, that wasn’t the case after the race ended when a flurry of stories broke. Brad Keselowski went on a tirade after NASCAR officials confiscated the rear end housing units of both Penske Racing entries, telling the world he felt targeted ... comments most felt would earn a healthy withdrawal from his bank account.
But to the surprise of many, NASCAR CEO Brian France confirmed Monday that the defending champ was within his rights to voice his opinion and that there would not be any ramifications from the sanctioning body.
That decision surely doesn’t sit well with the Denny Hamlin camp after the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was thrust into the middle of a firestorm when he was fined $25,000 for what was deemed to be detrimental comments about the new Gen-6 racecar after February’s Phoenix race.
The way NASCAR apparently sees the two situations differs wildly from what appears to be the majority view. But the waters now seem muddier than ever about exactly what drivers can and cannot say, which may cause more to throttle back on any comments that may seem remotely controversial.
Sunday’s Camping World Truck Series race at Rockingham Speedway also was not free of controversy. Despite a yeoman’s effort by track officials, led by hard-working president Andy Hillenburg, the crowd appeared to be down from last year’s inaugural event. On a picture-perfect weather day with some of the most reasonable ticket prices in professional sports, it’s unfathomable to think more people didn’t come out to support the event.
Since Rockingham fell off the Sprint Cup schedule, the outcry to bring NASCAR back to the storied track has been loud. Hillenburg literally brought the track back to life, poured his heart and soul into the project and landed a Truck Series race, which was one of last year’s most anticipated events across all three of NASCAR’s top divisions.
I pray there will be a third year at “The Rock” but if not, some NASCAR fans should have a hard time looking at themselves in the mirror.
While phenom Kyle Larson was scoring his first career win in by far the best race of the weekend, veteran Ron Hornaday and Darrell Wallace Jr. were making headlines. Hornaday turned Wallace under caution and although remorseful, now faces the wrath of NASCAR.
Hornaday was, of course, on the receiving end of a somewhat similar move by Kyle Busch at Texas two years ago, an incident that ended with NASCAR parking Busch for the next day’s Sprint Cup Series race. Some see Rockingham as an exact replica and are calling for NASCAR to sit Hornaday for this Saturday's Truck Series race at Kansas Speedway. Should NASCAR not see it the same way, many will make the allegation of inconsistency.
It’s made for an interesting week, to say the least. But at some point, it would be nice to go back to focusing on actual great racing - as was the case in Bristol and Fontana, a couple of races that seem like eons ago.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.