In the meantime, don't forget to keep the mailbag full with your questions and comments. As always, I'm taking your emails at firstname.lastname@example.org and your tweets on NASCARBowles.
We'll start the week with a football analogy, reaction to the story of a NASCAR underdog who was tackled for a tragic loss before the games even begin. My story on Carl Long's shattered dreams created quite a stir, with fans seeming to fall in two camps:
This just goes to show you that NASCAR is a sham. I find it funny that when Jimmie Johnson was caught cheating that nothing happened but a slap on the wrist. Then, when the independent gets caught, they throw the book at him. It is for this reason I will never watch NASCAR again. They have forgotten where they came from and money is all that matters to them. Thanks for listening.-- Jeff Segars, Little Rock, AR
I hear this gripe a lot. In NASCAR's defense, JJ really hasn't gotten off "scot free:" Crew chief Chad Knaus has been suspended twice for 10 races, including on the eve of the 2006 Daytona 500, for major rules violations. He's also never had a problem with an engine being outsized -- perhaps the biggest, most blatant violation you could have on a race car. (In theory, the larger the motor, the bigger the horsepower and speed advantage over your competition.) Note that Johnson's car was taken to the R&D Center for multiple races during last year's Chase; in each instance, they tore the car to shreds and he came out clean.
But I also see where fans are coming from, too. Four years ago in a Chase race, Johnson and Kyle Busch finished 1-2 for Hendrick Motorsports, only to have their shocks confiscated in post-race inspection. NASCAR never penalized the teams despite irregularities in the confiscated parts. In comparison, Long's violation occurred for an underdog operation that would be lucky to get a top 30 finish on a good day; Johnson's issues occur with cars that finish in the top 5 or wind up in Victory Lane.
There's that old philosophy that everyone is created equal, with standard punishments across the board for repeat offenses. But for a CoT template violation in the summer of 2007, Knaus was given a six-race suspension and $100,000 fine. (Jeff Gordon's crew chief, Steve LeTarte, received similar punishment for the same offense.) So you had a major violation from the two teams that were dominating the championship standings at the time. That set a precedent for future punishment -- but double that penalty for a part-time, underdog team that ran three laps in an exhibition race with an oversized engine? That's where it stops making sense.
But not everyone is completely on the Long bandwagon:
Sounds like Carl is his own worst enemy. At a time when every penny counts for every team, Carl must put his driving days on hold ... really on hold ... and give 110% to whatever job he can get. I don't even have a race team and I would not be able to hire him. We can't afford an employee who gives us 40 or 60 percent of the time we pay for while he uses the rest glued to a cell phone or thinking about the drama in his life. My heart goes out to Carl. But he has to heal himself before he can hope to find someone who will help him again. If someone hires him to sweep floors, he has to be the best damn floor sweeper in the business to keep that job. It's the same for anybody. Carl isn't the first to lose his job in the past couple years ... even in NASCAR ... and competition for even the lowest jobs is now many times greater than it was.
He can still field a car and drive when he's 60 ... if he can get out of the pity pot and regain his balance. NASCAR may have given him a bad break. But that's life. We all get some bad "unfair" breaks. Winners get past them. Others don't.-- John Hildebrand, Eatonton, GA
Good points, John. But what would you do if your dream was shattered and your life savings destroyed all in one fell swoop? It's not so easy to give up when your future hangs in the balance. To a certain extent, you've got to understand Carl's push to keep his dream afloat even during work hours; it's a major problem that would require most people to take a leave of absence.
But Carl didn't do that. In fact, he still performed at a high level at his regular job. So it all boils down to what type of boss you want to be at the end of the day. Do you want to penalize someone who gets their work done, yet talks on the phone for four hours in between? Or keep someone who's not as good, but puts in 40 hours a week?
I think nowadays, it's all about getting the job done -- something that, by all accounts, Carl was doing. But that's just my opinion.
How about considering an article on the number of underfunded teams in NASCAR that may have to miss races or shut down in 2010. Tidbits of info make me think that about 25 or 30 teams are fully funded. No Haiti-style relief seems in store. Of course, NASCAR blames the economy. Baloney. Sure, that's part of it, but NASCAR has been the biggest culprit. It's not so much the racing that has American fans leaving in droves. Hell, ask your readers why tracks are shuttering grandstand sections. Yes, hard times have taken their toll, but the France family has $ signs for eyes and money slots for ears. -- Ray Miller, Lenexa, KS
The France family isn't rolling in the dough as much as you think, Ray. A 10 percent cut in purses to the Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Trucks (announced Friday) wasn't so much an economic adjustment as it was a reaction to empty seats: only 80 percent of ISC race tickets available were sold compared to 90-95 percent in previous years. The reason is a combination of the economy and the quality of the racing, and everyone agrees those things must improve before fans start spending money in 2010.
But your estimate of 25-30 fully funded teams is a little low, as the Cup garage is back on the upswing this year. It looks like we've got about 40 factory-backed teams in 2010, leaving room for two-to-three start-and-parkers who run a few laps only to collect the cash.
But the Nationwide Series, NASCAR's equivalent of AAA baseball, is cause for concern. A handful of teams still try to run off purse money, and the tighter squeeze without reductions in tire and engine costs might encourage more start-and-parkers or cars to leave the sport altogether. Someone predicted last week that there will be a race where half the field (21-22 cars) in a Nationwide race this spring will pull off within the first 50 laps. That's not a healthy series, and NASCAR's got to find a way to cap costs and close the gap between rich and poor.
Is NASCAR trying to keep the points race close by limiting the number for wins and giving points for leading a lap under caution? Wins should be worth a LOT of points, and I would limit points for leading at least 10 laps under green. Thoughts?-- Ken, Flatonia, TX
Ken, the five-point bonus for leading a lap has been around since the Latford point system debuted in 1975. That's not a gimmick that came with the Chase, and it leads to different strategies on race day. If you're choosing to lead a lap under caution, it means you're staying off pit road while all the other cars in front of you make your stop. The consequences are spending the next green flag run on older tires than everyone else, or making a late pit stop under yellow that costs you track position and puts you toward the back of the lead lap.
That's a wrinkle worth keeping. But I do agree that winning should be worth more. Right now, if you finish second and lead the most laps, there's just a 10-point difference between you and the winner. Is that really enough to go the extra mile when a wreck could lead to a DNF that costs you a playoff spot?
So, I'm in favor of a 50-point bonus for wins and a bigger difference between second, third, fourth and fifth. There should be a way to push drivers into being more aggressive at the end instead of just settling for finishes, and if we're keeping the Chase, that's the best way to do it.
Tweet Of The Week: "Guy just pulled into Shell station out of gas wanting $3 to get home. So I gave him a full tank sent him home - hope it helps him." -- @KevinHarvick, showing that while he's one of the sport's bad boys on the race track, he's a Good Samaritan off it ...
Have a nominee for Tweet of the Week? Email Tom at email@example.com or tweet him yourself -- his handle is NASCARBowles.