Monday, September 30, 2019

COMMENTARY: Wallace Faces The Wrath of a Kinder, Gentler NASCAR Nation

Bubba Wallace was not happy with Alex Bowman at the conclusion of Sunday’s Bank Of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The two clashed at least twice during Sunday’s race, including an opening-lap scuffle where Bowman appeared to push Wallace through the backstretch chicane, earning Wallace a penalty. Wallace responded with what Bowman alleged were a series of single-digit salutes, and on Lap 42, Bowman issued a response of his own, turning Wallace at the end of the backstretch chicane and sending his Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet into the outside retaining wall.
Wallace confronted an overheated and dehydrated Bowman as he sat next to his car after the race. The two exchanged angry words, before Wallace threw water in Bowman’s face.
The conflict drew an immediate and animated response on social media, where a number of horrified fans chastised an “unsportsmanlike” Wallace for attacking Bowman while he was receiving medical treatment. There were no IVs administered on pit road, no cold compresses applied, nothing more dramatic than a concerned EMT kneeling next to Bowman asking, “Hey man, how are you doing?”  

If “how are you doing” qualifies as receiving medical treatment, I have received medical treatment from virtually every fan who has called my Sirius XM NASCAR Radio show in the last 16 years.

“Hey Dave, how ya doin’? Long-time listener, First time caller...”

Bowman had enough energy to exchange verbal pleasantries with Wallace, and at one point even attempted to swipe the Gatorade bottle out of his hand. I’m not a doctor — and I didn’t stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night – but to my admittedly untrained eye, Bowman appeared to be suffering from a condition that thousands of racers over the years have traditionally cured… by dumping cold water on their heads.
Wallace is almost certainly too quick on the trigger finger. (Actually, the finger adjacent to the trigger finger.) It has earned him the ire of a fellow competitor or two in the past, and it probably will again. But if “flipping someone off” somehow justifies getting turned into the wall at 100+ mph, NASCAR has changed a lot in the last 30 years. And not for the better.

This used to be a sport where intentionally wrecking someone earned you a post-race knuckle sandwich, if not a jack handle to the ribs. Nowadays, though, our definition of fighting is waiting for 10 or 15 crewmembers to get between you and your adversary before yelling, “let me at him!”

Standing up for yourself used to be the right thing to do. Now, it is somehow seen as boorish, Neanderthal and terribly, terribly inappropriate. Apparently, NASCAR drivers are supposed to settle their differences like the illustrious leaders of our nation do, by lobbing empty insults at each other from opposite sides of the aisle, playing “Billy Badass” from beneath the convenient cover of Robert’s Rules Of Order, only to smile politely for the cameras as if nothing happened when standing shoulder to shoulder with their opponent, just a few moments later.

The phrase “talk is cheap” clearly doesn’t apply anymore. In the year 2019, it has become downright worthless.

Bobby Allison punched Cale Yarborough square in the nose following the conclusion of the 1979 Daytona 500. Nobody considered it “unsportsmanlike” of Bobby to involuntarily rearrange Cale’s proboscis, and nobody complained about the terrible impression he was making on America’s youth by doing so. Back then, that’s how grown men with a severe difference of opinion handled their business.

“Wreck my race car, and we’re gonna have a talk.”

In 1995, Rusty Wallace got dumped by the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr. at Bristol Motor Speedway, After the race, he expressed his displeasure by drilling The Intimidator right between the eyes with a full bottle of water. Not just the water, but the bottle, as well. 

NASCAR fans loved it back then, but today, Bubba Wallace is somehow seen as a bad actor and a poor sport. In less than a quarter century, a simple splash of water has somehow become an act of violence; a concept that I honestly struggle to understand. Which has the potential to do more damage? Getting spritzed with water, or getting turned — driver’s door first — into the SAFER barrier?

To me, expressing unhappiness with six ounces of high-quality H2O seems infinitely more prudent than doing so with 3400 pounds of steaming steel. But apparently, a significant portion of NASCAR’s modern day fan base sees it exactly the other way.

They’re angry at Wallace for “setting a bad example” by delivering spontaneous liquid refreshment to Bowman in the aftermath of Sunday’s race. They decry his lack of sportsmanship and bemoan the terrible example he sets for the children of America.

My friends, if you’re counting on Wallace and Bowman to instill values in your children, you’re a lousy parent. Bubba and Alex absolutely had a job to do Sunday on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, but teaching your six-year-old right from wrong wasn’t it.

Instilling proper standards of personal conduct is your job as a parent, and no one else’s. If you were as serious about that responsibility as you seemed on social media Sunday night, you would have used the time you spent lambasting Wallace and NASCAR (in shockingly salty terms for a group so pious) to teach a valuable life lesson to your impressionable youngsters, instead. 
“I don’t know if he was mad about the first lap or what,” said Bowman afterward. “But obviously, that was just a mistake. Then I got flipped (the bird) for every single straightaway for three laps. I got flipped off by him for three or four laps in Richmond, too, so I was just over it. I’ve got to stand up for myself at some point, right? He probably wouldn’t have gotten wrecked if he had his finger back in the car.”
“I get it, I’d be mad, too,” he added. “But he put himself in that spot.”
“He doesn’t like to race,” countered Wallace to “He just runs over everybody. He gets to Lap One and runs over me and (Austin Dillon) in the back chicane. We’re back there in the trunk, man. Just take it easy for a lap. He had a fast car and he just ran over us. Every time he gets to me, he just runs over me.”
Wallace also accused Bowman of “playing the sick card so I couldn’t bust him in his mouth,” a comment that did little to soothe the already ruffled feathers of NASCAR Nation.

Bowman and Wallace did no damage to each other Sunday night that couldn’t be repaired with a paper towel. No lives were lost, no blood was shed and no innocent moppets were led astray to lives of debauchery.

If you have never extended your middle finger to some clodhopper who changed lanes in front of you on the highway, God bless you.

If you have never uttered an obscenity after smashing your thumb with a hammer, you’ll have a much easier path to heaven than I.

If you have never wished death (or at least a sudden bout of explosive diarrhea) on the lady who stole your parking spot at the Piggly Wiggly, feel free to continue casting sanctimonious judgment on Bobby Allison, Bubba Wallace and any other NASCAR driver who fails to uphold your wonderfully lofty standards of conduct.

With any luck, they’ll keep you busy for many more years to come.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go outside and yell at some kids to get off my lawn.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

CONFIRMED: Bell To Leavine Family Racing In 2020

It's official.

Christopher Bell will drive for Leavine Family Racing in the 2020 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, wheeling the No. 95 Toyota Camry with sponsorship from Rheem and Procore.

In addition, the technical alliance between LFR, Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota Racing Development will also be enhanced. TRD will continue to build the team’s engines and provide technology, data and technical assistance.

Bell’s NASCAR Xfinity Series crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, will join him in the transition to LFR. Ratcliff is no stranger to NASCAR’s premier series, after spending six full seasons serving as a crew chief at JGR with drivers Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth.

Mike Wheeler will remain with LFR and transition to the role of Competition Director, working alongside Ratcliff.  Wheeler currently serves as crew chief of the No. 95 and driver Matt  DiBenedetto. With Wheeler’s promotion, current Competition Director Michael Leavine will become Vice President of Racing Operations for the organization.  

“I’ve said from the start, I want this team to be competitive,” said Bob Leavine, founding owner of LFR. “Christopher is one of the most talented drivers we’ve seen come up through NASCAR’s ranks and together, with JGR and Toyota’s support, I’m confident our team will continue to grow, just as it has this past year. We’re certainly happy to continue to progress our relationship with both JGR and TRD as the technical partnership takes the next step forward.”

Bell is currently competing in his second full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series season for JGR, where he has amassed 15 career victories. Last year, he set a record for most wins (seven) by a rookie in the series. With seven victories already in 2019, Bell currently ranks first in the championship point standings.

“Since I was young, I wanted to make a career out of racing,” said Bell. “To take this next step and race in the NASCAR Cup Series with the support of LFR, JGR and Toyota is just a dream come true. It also means a lot to me to have Rheem make the move to Cup racing with me. I wouldn’t be in the position I am today without their support and I’m also excited to have the opportunity to represent Procore now.

“Having been under the JGR banner these past seasons in the Xfinity Series and with TRD for as long as I can remember, having their continued support as I transition to LFR is extremely comforting and will be a tremendous benefit to me. I can’t wait to close out this season in the Xfinity Series with a strong run, and I’m looking forward to the challenge that awaits in 2020.”

A native of Norman, Oklahoma, Bell began his career racing on local dirt tracks around the Midwest. He then moved on to compete in USAC Racing’s National Midget Series where he joined TRD’s driver development program and won the 2013 title.

Bell’s NASCAR career started in 2015 racing a Toyota Tundra in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. Just two years later, he won the 2017 Truck Series championship, and that same year he captured the first of three-consecutive Chili Bowl titles (2017, 2018, 2019) driving a TRD-powered Midget for Keith Kunz Motorsports.

“TRD and Toyota have worked with Bell since his early dirt track career and we’ve been proud to see him work his way to NASCAR’s highest level,” said David Wilson, president of TRD. “Christopher is a special talent and we’re happy to have him winning races and championships in a Toyota. We look forward to seeing his continued growth and success at Leavine Family Racing in 2020. We’re also pleased with how the relationship between JGR and LFR has progressed during their first season working together. We’re confident this enhanced alliance for 2020 will continue to make them a threat for race wins, week in and week out.”

Monday, September 23, 2019

Newman On The Cusp Of Playoff Advancement

Ryan Newman continues to do more with less.

Just two weeks after sliding into the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs on points, the Roush Fenway Racing veteran now appears ready to advance to the postseason Round of 12.

A season best fifth-place finish in Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond boosted Newman above the cutline for advancement, heading into Sunday’s first elimination race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. Newman qualified 19th, drove immediately into the Top-10 at the drop of the green flag and ran as high as third in the race’s middle stages. He spent the entire evening racing strongly among the Top-8, displaying a degree of speed that RFR has often struggled to attain this season.  

He now ranks ninth in the postseason standings -- 14 ahead bubble man Alex Bowman – and likely needs nothing more than another Top-10 showing on the ROVAL to advance to the second round.

It’s been a long time since Newman has ranked among NASCAR’s title contenders. He fell just one spot short of a championship at Homestead Miami Speedway in 2014 – despite not winning a race – but has ranked between 11th and 18th in each of the last four seasons. A lackluster 17th-place effort preceded his move from Richard Childress Racing to Roush Fenway Racing this season, giving Jack Roush’s organization a much-needed infusion of veteran experience.

It has taken a while to turn things around, and Newman readily admits that there is much more work to do. But his analytical, “steady as she goes” approach has proven to be just what the doctor ordered for an RFR team that is struggling to regain its once-lofty perch among NASCAR’s elite organizations.

“There are a lot of teams that would like to be in our situation,” said Newman late in the regular season. “There are a lot of teams better than (us) that would love to be fighting for a playoff berth. We will do what we can to be the best we can and enjoy the race. There is a lot going on, but I definitely enjoy it.”

Saturday night, after raising the RFR bar yet again, a characteristically low-key Newman analyzed a performance that brought him – perhaps unexpectedly – to the brink of the Round of 12.

“It was a good team effort, (with) good pit stops,” he said. “There wasn’t a whole lot to (our strategy); just put four tires on. But we had a good short-run car. At one time, we had a good long-run car, but we could never get both. If we would have had both, we could have ran with those (Joe Gibbs Racing) guys, but who would have known there were going to be that many green flag runs?

Newman called Richmond, “Our best team performance all-around, throughout the entire weekend. We failed at qualifying. We got the car too tight, but overall, it was a great team effort to get the Roush Performance Ford a good run.

“What meant the most to me was being better than we were the first race (in the spring),” he added. “We ran ninth in the first race and qualified 30th or something like that. We came back and showed that we are learning, and we’ll keep learning.”

With 36 points added to his playoff total, the Indiana native now owns a 14-point edge over Alex Bowman; the first driver below the cutoff line.

“I don’t know that I’m looking forward to the ROVAL,” he admitted. “I don’t really know anybody that is, except for maybe Truex. Our team is so new. It is newer than I have ever experienced,” he admitted. “The changes we had in the offseason, I think were underestimated by me. (It was) a huge change to tackle.

“I feel like we have done a good job,” he said. “We just need to continue to progress and make our cars go faster. Good things need to turn into great things. Those experiences will hopefully build a notebook… and help us be more successful.”

Monday, September 09, 2019

Now That It's Over, 100 Words On Jimmie Johnson

No blaming the rules.

No complaining that the cars are too easy (or hard) to drive. 

No bitching that it’s too tough to pass

No blaming his manufacturer, team or problems on pit road. 

No whining that William Byron and Kurt Busch were “racing too hard.” 

No snapping at reporters.

No pouting, sulking, or one-word answers. 

No air of entitlement.

No insistence that it was a bad race because he didn’t win. 

Not every king wears a crown.

Not every champion wins a trophy. 

Today more than ever, Jimmie Johnson is a champion, in every sense of the word.