Michigan….More Than Met the Eye

Michigan is one of the fastest tracks on the circuit. It’s wide enough to accommodate 4 wide racing. It’s forgiving because of that width. Yet Sunday’s race didn’t show that.

[media-credit name=”CIA Stock Photo” align=”alignright” width=”245″][/media-credit]Michigan announced on Friday that the track will be repaved after the August race. The track is looking to avoid surface issues by repaving before they occur. It’s very responsible but one hopes that the reason they are resurfacing has nothing to do with the quality of racing that we have seen there over the last few years. Because if it is, it is a product of the Car of Today and the changes made to it and not the track itself.

Michigan is notorious for being a fuel mileage race. Fans as a rule do not like fuel mileage races. The strategy and the pit calls are lost on the long drawn out green flags. However, as was the case this past weekend, the racing at the track was quite exciting. The racing shown on TV was not. It seems impossible for the track to control both the actual event and the broadcast of the event to be sure that its facility is being shown in the best light.

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The race itself was not without controversy. On Friday the oil pans of all three JGR teams were confiscated and tagged by NASCAR. The confiscated pans weighed in the neighborhood of 35 lbs a piece rather than the 5 of a normal oil pan. The added belly weight would have lowered the center of gravity of the car and improved it’s handling characteristics.

Although NASCAR’s statement only stated that the pans were removed and further penalties would be discussed early this week, it does bring to question the problem experienced by Kyle Busch’s JGR team last week. Could the added weight have caused the spring to fail? One of the pans did appear to have been used previously although there is no way to tell which team it belonged to. NASCAR did not further address this issue other than to say the pans were removed and it would be discussed early this week.

Many drivers however, did discuss the issue. The most notable was Jeff Gordon who stated that his team had been penalized a 100 points in the past for a fender flare that never even went on the race track. Other drivers cited similar incidents as well. It will be interesting to see what the end result of this controversy is as it will effect all three teams, drivers and crew chiefs.

The other controversy actually seemed minor at the time. In fact TV viewers never saw the actual incident only the after math. It occurred when the 5 of Mark Martin, got tight in the middle of the corner and drifted up into the 88 of teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr and put him in the wall cutting down a right front tire in the process. The incident occurred as Earnhardt was attempting to pass Martin for the 10th position on the track. Instead of having another consistent finish Earnhardt would be relegated to 21st position at the end of the race.

In post race Earnhardt was angry and disappointed stating, “I perceived that he didn’t know I was on the outside [of him],” Earnhardt said. “He knew I was up there, but he was just running hard. If the tables were turned, I would have been smarter and given him plenty of room, [more] than he did me.

“He is older than me, been racing forever and knows a lot more than I’ll ever get, or he has forgotten more stuff than I’ll never know. Still, I take better care of people than that.”

Shortly after making his statement, Mark Martin arrived at the 88 hauler and went inside to discuss the incident with Earnhardt and crew chief Steve Letarte. After the brief discussion Earnhardt had calmed significantly, stating, “I want to finish where I’m supposed to finish, and that really didn’t happen today, so I was real PO’d about it,” Earnhardt said. “Mark came and gave me a good explanation and I believe it and it’s the end of it. … I got the air screwed up around him and he got real tight off of [Turn] 2 and pushed into the wall.

“He was off the gas when we got together. There was nothing he could do.”

Martin accepted the blame for not realizing Earnhardt was that close.

“I would have given him room if I’d known he was there,” Martin said. “It was too late. I had my front wheels cut and I let off the gas and that’s all I could do at that point. My mistake. My mistake.

“I don’t have a history of having problems. I don’t think I have one now. … I feel like I give everybody on the race track respect. I made a mistake.”

Although Earnhardt Jr accepted the apology and the explanation, Social Media and fan based websites showed that Jr. Nation was not nearly so forgiving. “I lost a ton of respect for him when he pulled the Brett Favre act a few years ago with Roush and again with HMS in regards to retirement and what little respect I had left the building today with that explanation he gave. And where the heck was his spotter to tell him he was NOT clear to slide up on in there. Like Jr said he was careless and he cost Jr big time today. I will never look at MM the same way again or trust him as a teammate.” Another response was, “It was not the first time he has tried to that to Jr in the race, only the last time he really did knock him into the wall. In my opinion he had it out for him from the very beginning of the race, he’s a jealous old prune. He knew he was there, I do not buy his excuse.”

Martin’s on track mistake wasn’t the only one of the race. The televised broad cast was well in a word boring. The progress of the top 10 cars were the entire broadcast. Although, according to fans that were actually at the track the side by side racing was fierce from 10th back. The broadcast was basically a commercial break interrupted by the race. The fans at home were subjected to an 11 commercial average break every 5 minutes of racing. The race was the shortest points race thus far being just over 2 hours. I am sure that TNT was more than a little upset at the number of commercials they didn’t get to run during the shortened length of the race.

More and more fans are leaving the sport. The stands at Michigan were vastly empty. In a town that stands home to the big 4, between unemployment and a lack of competitive racing they choose to spend their dollars elsewhere. Sadly, it’s at most every track on the circuit. But with the broadcast media being the point of exposure for most fans one must question NASCAR’s attention to it. Surely someone watches the TV broadcast? Don’t they? Surely someone reads the print media sites. Surely someone heard Carl Edwards plea of fix the car so we can race other cars and drivers and not down force. Surely someone heard him say track position should not be the deciding factor in a race. Is it that they don’t care or is that truly an echo that we hear across the sport?

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Congratulations to Denny Hamlin and his Fed Ex Toyota Team on their victory at Michigan in the Sprint Cup Series.

Congratulations to Carl Edwards and his Fastenal Mustang team on their victory in Michigan in the Nationwide Series.

That said, to all the competitors in all the series thanks for giving us everything you have to give, you are our heroes. Most importantly, thanks to all the families who shared their loved ones with us so we could cheer our favorite driver and favorite teams. You are the true heroes of the sport and we are forever in your debt.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

5 COMMENTS

  1. As always, well-written and informative. I’m particularly taken by the last paragraph, the questions you raise.

    Now you have me wondering too. I would love to read a piece in conversation with some of the behind the scene Powers-That-Be…asking those questions and the more their answers might lead to.

  2. Another great article as usual. Explains the advantage the larger oil pans would give. Also does make a person wonder if that was the reason for the height difference the week before. As for the differences between Dale Jr. and Mark Martin that is behind us and we will look forward to the races ahead. Keep the articles coming.

  3. Well as usual I love your article. I never heard exactly what was wrong with the oil pans but now I know. Seems to me that the difference in weight is alittle more than just a mistake. As far as the Jr and Mark Martin incident, yes I was very upset but if Jr is willing to accept the explanation then I will also. I agree we saw more commercials than the race and the race was over way earlier than usual or at least it seemed like it to me.

    Keep up the good work and I always know that I will hear the truth about what ever happens at the track.

  4. “More and more fans are leaving the sport. The stands at Michigan were vastly empty. In a town that stands home to the big 4, between unemployment and a lack of competitive racing they choose to spend their dollars elsewhere. Sadly, it’s at most every track on the circuit.”

    Roberta, compared to the last two years – after the huge economic downturn a few years back – Sunday’s race at Michigan was fairly well attended.

    The last two years were brutal on attendance at MIS. I believe with their “Children 12 and under are free with a paid adult,” and then “17 and under 1/2 of with paid adult” promotions were good ideas for this year.

    True, attendance at many tracks is way off (Dover was particularly wincing – as was the annual low attendance at California) – but others were surprisingly well attended (Pocono, Charlotte and Kansas come to mind).

    What is the answer? Why are the 18-34 leaving/not tuning into NASCAR? I am afraid this 50 year old cannot give the best answers.

    Perhaps one: I still love the sport – but when you have ticket prices for races like Kentucky which is coming up – ($75 dollars for row one!?) – me and my five kids will stay at home.

  5. Not sure what to think of the race sunday other then it was boring. I watched it though Race Buddy, so not sure how many commericals tv had this week. Where as what happended between Dale Jr and Mark Martin. I never saw the accident so I have no idea whose fault if any it was. But, really now for me to comment would be wrong. The only two people that really know what happened on the track was Dale Jr and Mark Martin. So I am looking at it, as it was just racing and let Dale Jr and Mark Marin worry about it. What done is done so I am just moving on to the next race and hoping they both have a better race. Would be nice of others would as well.

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