As Americans prepare to sit around their—or a relative's—dining room table, gobble down some turkey and talk about what they're thankful for, I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on the trials, tribulations and controversies the NASCAR sanctioning body are probably not thankful for this year.
So, without further delay let's look back on some of the most controversial stories on 2008...
1. Tires Cause Problems at Atlanta, Indianapolis
Sure, Kyle Busch winning Toyota's first race was a big deal. And even though drivers experienced no tire failures, many said "I ain't going to put up with this" or "I'm going home and taking everything that has Goodyears off and put Firestones on and feel a lot safer."
"I felt like I was going to crash every single lap," fifth place Jeff Gordon said. "I'm exhausted right now. I feel like I've run a thousand miles here. There is just no reason for this. This car, this tire, at this racetrack, was just horrible."
Goodyear and NASCAR, however, disagreed with the "120 different opinions" and classified the day as a success.
"Getting into attacks in the media is not the right place," Justin Fantozzi, marketing manager for Goodyear Motorsports, said. "We are tremendously proud of the wear rates we saw here today. As always, we bring the safest tire we know how to build. It's up to the race teams to go as fast as they can."
If drivers thought the tires at Atlanta were bad, they were definitely in for some sour grapes at Indianapolis a few months later, when tires that would only wear to twelve or thirteen laps turned the famed Brickyard 400 into a series of "heat races."
Only three drivers- Kurt Busch, Earnhardt, Jr. and Brian Vickers- were at the April tire test at IMS, something car owner Rick Hendrick wasn't happy with. The test had Tony Eury, Jr. concerned and he reported to Goodyear that tires were only lasting 15 laps, which the tire company pushed aside because the track surface "historically" gained grip throughout the weekend and race.
Yeah, that didn't happen...
"At least at Atlanta we could run more than 10 laps," said Jamie McMurray. "I'm shocked they did a tire test and this is what they ended up with.
"That wasn't a race," Ryan Newman said. "It's ridiculous."
Several were held to blame, including Indianapolis and owner Tony George, who have experienced tire debacleswith Formula One, NASCAR and of course Goodyear.
"It's nobody's fault," said Goodyear spokesman Greg Stucker said. "It's the package, and that's what we need to understand.
"We need to know why the racetrack didn't take rubber like last year."
Three letters will answer that: COT.
2. Rowdy Busch finds gold, rivalries but fails in Chase
Buddy Baker said it best. "Every once in a while the devil jumps out of Kyle Busch."
Busch won an impressive twenty one races this past season in the Cup, Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series, including tying the great Sam Ard's most wins in a Nationwide season (ten) and winning four Cup races in a row. He even attempted three races in three states at the beginning of June, competing in Texas, Nashville, and Pocono.
It was also Busch's on track antics that got him in trouble with fellow drivers and, of course, the fans, starting with that fateful Richmond night when Rowdy wrecked NASCAR's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
"Kyle has his style of driving, but I would have been a little more…I don't know." Earnhardt, Jr. said after the race.
“I wreck somebody (intentionally), I ain't going to leave him in good enough shape to come back and get me in the same race, so that wasn't my intentional,” he added.
Later in the year, it seemed like his bad boy antics had come back to bite him, with another incident involving Dale Jr., a sparring of words with everyone's cousin, and an near brawl with the defending truck series champion.
"Let's make it real clear, I'm not apologizing," a frustrated Carl Edwards said in his post race press conference, after winning the Sharpie 500.
Edwards put the bump and run on Busch en route to winning the race, leading the two to tangle after the checkered flag fell. Busch ran into the side of the No. 99 Office Depot Ford, and Edwards retaliated by spinning the JGR Toyota out.
Cousin Carl stated that he did what he thought Busch would do to him in the situation, in which Busch responded:
"Hmmm. Well, being as though I'm not in that position, then I would say that I wouldn't have touched him.
"But you don't try to hit somebody, and you know, even so, driving in the back of him getting into the corner. But I had been getting into the corner light all day, and I don't know, maybe I over braked and rove myself right back into his nose; who knows.”
After several run ins together, Edwards was asked if he thought he and Shrub were even.
"I don't know. I feel like we're pretty even on my side. You know, that's how I feel about it. I don't know; I'm sure it will be exciting. It's NASCAR and we all want to win really bad, that's for sure."
Busch also got into an incident during a truck race with Ron Hornaday, with which Hornaday said "I'm going to have to teach him a lesson and I hope I don't hurt him."
“I was going down the frontstretch, trying to look high and he stayed up against the wall so I stayed down to look underneath him and then he turned down,” Busch said. “I wasn’t expecting him to come across my nose like that. I got into him, spun him out.
“He didn’t have any damage to his truck fortunately. We had our incident to our Charlotte where I had a lot of damage done and wrecked a perfectly good truck. [Today] wasn’t payback or anything like that. I just got into him. I’m sorry about that.”
Yeah, okay Kyle. I bet Hornaday, Edwards and many others feel karma got to Busch once he reached the final ten races, where he finished outside the top twenty four times and only had two finishes in the top five.
You know what they say about karma, Kyle...
3. California Seeping; Drivers Complainin'
The second race of the NASCARseason seemed more like a marathon after it took nearly five hours to run the first 87 laps due to rain, and the race was pushed back to that Monday. Sure, Carl Edwards might'vestarted his impressive winning streak there, but the bigger story of the weekend was a seeping problem that led to several drivers crying foul.
Denny Hamlin crashed on lap 15, and was obviously furious with NASCAR for starting the race in such poor conditions.
"I think we can get (the car) back out there, but I think there are 42 other drivers that would agree that we should not be racing on that racetrack right now," Hamlin said. "I hit a slick spot and my car took off. You can see it on television—right at the seams, it's seeping a lot of water. I hit a wet spot and I'm not going to be the last one."
Casey Mears and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. also wrecked thanks to the wet track.
"We got a little bit loose getting down into [Turn] one," Mears said. "A couple of times, I hit the water there that's at the seam there seeping through. I hit it quite a bit down in three and four, it's a little bit worse down there.
"And there's a little bit down in one and two—and right as I got to the bottom, I got loose. And I don't know if it was right about the time I crossed that seam. I don't know if that was the reason or not but I hadn't been real loose, and that time I was. We about had it saved. It just kind of brushed the wall and unfortunately, it had to come back across the track and all the cars were coming by."
"We were just sitting there trying to chill," Earnhardt, Jr. said. "The track's real dirty and everybody's sliding around. The track ain't ready today. The track's dirty, and this was a bad move."
It looks like California has even more problems than just having a track that simply doesn't sell tickets.
4. Your Discriminating Heart
When you have something as successful as NASCAR, there's bound to be people that want a little piece of the pie. And why not a disgruntled former employee trying to get fifteen minutes?
Mauricia Grant, the African American former official, is currently suing NASCAR for $225 million for racial discrimination and sexual harassment.
While two officials were reprimanded after the lawsuit became public, NASCAR responded to Grant's public comments—including claims that Nationwide Director of Competition ignored her, and that after she made "several" complaints to Human Resources she was fired.
NASCAR claims she was fired due to her past record—including having a restraining order filed by an ex-boyfriend and arrests for DUI while she was an official—and repeated tardiness.
Dean Duckeet is another former official, who is also African American, and is currently suing NASCAR for his job back, and lashed out at Grant for claiming he sexual harassedher saying "she lied about that part" but claims she's telling the truth about everything else.
Both cases are still pending.
5. Tony Stewart Crosses Line Second, Wins Race
It had fans far and near up in arms with confusion after the fall Talladegarace that saw Regan Smith cross the finish line first, but sent Tony Stewart to Victory Lane.
However, why people were confused had me confused after reading stories that Smithwas the rightful winner. Smith clearly passed Smoke under the yellow line at the AMP Energy 500, a clear violation of NASCAR rules. Under no circumstances can you pass under the yellow line, even on the last lap.
"During the last lap of yesterday's race at Talladega Superspeedwaythe driver of the No. 01 (Smith) violated NASCARpolicy by driving under the yellow line to improve his position," NASCAR President Mike Helton said. "In NASCAR's opinion he was not forced below the yellow line. NASCAR correctly took immediate action to enforce the policy by penalizing the No. 01 and scoring the No. 20 (Stewart) as the race winner."
Smith, who was sent back to 18th for the rule violation, sees it much differently.
“We just watched the tape. They can argue about it for five years, they’re not going to change the decision. That’s not how NASCARworks,” Smithsaid. “I totally disagree with them 110 percent. I clearly moved to the outside, moved back to the inside. Tony made a move to the high side and made a move to the bottom side."
NASCAR's ruling stood, and Stewart was awarded his first Cup win at Talladega, and his last win with Joe Gibbs Racing.
6. Your Cheatin' Heart
Carl Edwards was on a hot streak in the beginning of the 2008 Cup season, and even held the points lead... for about five seconds. NASCAR inspectors after the UAW Dodge 400 in Las Vegas sent the Office Depot Ford back to Charlotte after the oil tank lid off.
The penalty would cost Edwards 100 driver and owner points, along with losing crew chief Bob Osbourne for six weeks.
Toyota claimed they had tested a car without the oil tank lid in a wind tunnel, and said it gave the car a distinct advantage. This set off a war of words between Roush, who raised questions on why Toyota was testing cars like that, and the Japanese auto maker.
Joe Gibbs Racing was also caught doing something naughty this year. Just weeks after NASCAR a modified "restrictor place" on all Toyota engines in the Craftsman Truck and Nationwide Series, JGR cars of Tony Stewart and Joey Loganowere caught with magnets under the gas pedals, which would cause the speed of the cars to look a lot slower on their upcoming dyno tests.
Very, very bad. NASCAR was furious with the finding, and suspended several crew members indefinitely, including crew chiefs Jason Ratcliff and Dave Rodgers, and fined Stewart and Logano and docked them 150 points. Their probation was eventually lifted.
"We want to apologize to NASCAR, all of our partners, all of our families at JGR, and all of our fans for the unfortunate incident that took place this past weekend in Michigan withour two Nationwide teams," team owner Joe Gibbs said in a statement after the penalties came out. "A poor decision was made by some key members of our organization, and 100 percent of the blame rests with us."
The last major penalty came via Red Bull Racing and Brian Vickers, whose team allegedly dipped their sheet metal in acid to make it thinner. Whether this was truly how they did it or not, the team was docked 150 driver and owner points, and crew chief Kevin Hamlin was fined $100,000 for the infraction.
Those were just some of the major storylines of 2008. And if this was the craziness we saw this past season...what will 2009 bring?
Thanks to Jayski, The Seattle Times, NASCAR.com, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Pantagraph, The Guardian (UK), USA Today, RUWT Sports, and the Orlando Sentinel for the quotes and information used in this piece.
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