Should asking lapped cars to move out of the way be an accepted practice in NASCAR?
As Ryan Newman was battling to stay on the lead lap — and potentially stay in the playoffs — he was wanting the lapped cars ahead of him to get out of the way. Having lapped cars move over would not only give Newman a clear track, it would put more cars between him and then-race leader Chase Elliott.
Ryan Newman: "Get the 43 out of the way."
Spotter: "10-4, I'll walk down to (his spotter)."
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) October 1, 2017
We don’t blame Newman at all for wanting lapped cars out of his way. His best shot to make the second round of the playoffs was to stay on the lead lap, get a caution and hope he could make up a bunch of spots or something bad would happen to drivers like Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jamie McMurray.
But it’s important to consider Newman’s request in the wake of NASCAR’s “100 percent” rule, instituted after Michael Waltrip Racing had Clint Bowyer cause an intentional caution at Richmond in 2013 to help then-teammate Martin Truex Jr. make it into the playoffs. Is asking drivers to move over a violation of the 100 percent rule?
“NASCAR requires its competitors to race at 100 percent of their ability with the goal of achieving their best possible finishing position in an event,” NASCAR president Mike Helton said, quoting the new rule. “Any competitor who takes action with the intent to artificially alter the finishing positions of the event or encourages, persuades or induces others to artificially alter the finishing position of the event shall be subject to a penalty from NASCAR.
“Artificially altered shall be defined as actions by any competitor that show or suggest that the competitor did not race at 100 percent of their ability for the purpose of changing finishing positions in the event at NASCAR’s sole discretion.”
Newman’s request ultimately didn’t matter. He got lapped right before the end of the race and finished 13th because there was no late caution. He failed to make the next round of the playoffs.
And let’s be clear: we’re not equivocating asking a lapped car to move over with intentionally causing a caution. But asking drivers to move over to help you have a better race “encourages, persuades or induces others to artificially alter the finishing position of the event,” does it not?
The problem with NASCAR’s 100 percent rule is that it’s nearly impossible to enforce. While Newman’s level of request is reasonable and understandable, it violates the same clause that spinning to help a teammate does. In this case, NASCAR can say Newman’s punishment is that he didn’t make it to the next round of the playoffs. But what if he had?
• Are you OK with Jeff Gordon sitting atop Chase Elliott’s pit box and rooting for Elliott to get a win?
Gordon is, of course, is listed as the owner of the 48 car. We totally get why he’s at the race, on top of the pit box of the car he used to drive and wanting Elliott to win. But Gordon is an in-race analyst for Fox. Should he be openly cheering for Elliott?
Conflicts of interest among NASCAR analysts are nothing new. Hell, they seem like a job requirement. Michael Waltrip was hired at Fox as he owned a team. Former ESPN NASCAR analyst Brad Daugherty did so while he was (and still is) a co-owner of JTG-Daugherty Racing. Fox hired Gordon knowing full well that he was heavily invested in Hendrick Motorsports.
Gordon has previously admitted that he’s biased in the booth. Anyone with knowledge of his role with Hendrick understands that. But he should also be a bit more cognizant of the perception he can create with scenes like this. Especially when he’s saying things to Newman after the race.
• Denny Hamlin finished 35th Sunday because of an axle issue and Kevin Harvick was 17th after making an unscheduled pit stop. Harvick finished outside the top 30 last week after spinning at New Hampshire.
Under the old playoff format, two of the best drivers in the regular season could be out of the playoffs because of Sunday’s results. But thanks to NASCAR’s new format that rewards regular season excellence, both are moving on. Yeah, the formula is complicated and not easy to explain. But it’s far fairer than the randomness the previous playoff format created even if that randomness makes the relative straightforwardness of this format out to be a bore.
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