Monday, August 20, 2012

Michigan Moaning

Legit complaint or gamesmanship
There seemed to be more moaning going on after Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 than there was celebrating.

Winner Greg Biffle was about the only one celebrating.  His second victory of the year moved him into first place in the Sprint Cup standings.   But even Biffle wasn’t entirely happy.  His team isn’t getting the respect he thinks it deserves.

“I know that a lot of people don't expect us to win the championship, don't expect us to compete for the title,” Biffle said.  “I don’t care what they say or who they want to talk about or what they talk about. We will be a factor when it comes down to Homestead, I promise you that. 

Second place finisher Brad Keselowski wasn’t happy with his runner-up finish at his home track, even though it was better than he deserved.  Or perhaps because it was better than he deserved. He was embarrassed by the way Jimmie Johnson dusted him near the end of the race.  

“I didn't know how much Jimmie had been holding back,” he said.  “When he pushed the trigger, when he passed me, it was clear he had been holding back a lot.  It's hard to know those things. You never know how hard a driver is pushing. Obviously he wasn't going a hundred percent. When he did, he was clearly the class of the field." 

Then Keselowski upped the ante.  He pointed a finger at the Hendrick team, especially the No. 48 car, for pushing the technology envelope into a gray area, something the team has been penalized for in the past.  

“I just think there's big discrepancies in the cars now. There's certain parts and pieces on the cars that are making them quite a bit different to where we're seeing different paces throughout the field. I think there's probably half a dozen to a dozen cars that are drastically faster than the rest of the field. That's disrupted the parity, created a lot of side-by-side action that is maybe good, maybe bad, depends on who you are.

"But I think right now in the sport the cars are probably the most separated we've ever seen. You've seen qualifying, the pace difference between 20th and pole was over a second. We haven't seen that in over 10 years in this sport. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, but it's an observation to your note. It creates more side-by-side racing which opens up the possibility for issues like you described.

"There's parts and pieces on the car that are moving after inspection that make the car more competitive. Some guys have it, some don't. There's a question to the interpretation of the rule. Penske Racing errs on the safe side because we don't want to be the guys that get the big penalty.

"Obviously there's a question to the interpretation that as of right now it's legal. But I'm sure that Roger doesn't want to be the one caught red-handed. As a group at Penske Racing, we have not felt comfortable enough to risk that name and reputation that Roger has over those parts and pieces. Others have, which is their prerogative. I'm not going to slam them for it.

"But it's living in a gray area. Roger doesn't do that. There's certainly some performance there that we've lost. I shouldn't say lost, but haven't gained, because we choose not to do that. That's something that we have to continue to evaluate every week that goes by, that those components are permitted to be run. We have to make a reevaluation of that internally to decide if that's the right way to go."

Gamesmanship in advance of the The Chase or a legitimate complaint? 

Surprisingly, Jack Roush came to the Chevy team’s defense.  He acknowledged his team was aware of the Hendrick moves and, after checking with NASCAR, was instituting some changes of its own.

“We've been working at it, got assurance from NASCAR that it's okay, it's within the rules,” Roush said.  “It's not the reason we were able to win today, but it certainly is hard to win if you don't have a competitive aero package and chassis, mechanical grip package.”

So if the Hendrick moves are okay with NASCAR and apparently okay with Roush, what is Bad Brad complaining about?  His real target is Roger Penske.  With The Chase approaching, he’s trying to push Penske to keep pace with Hendrick and Roush.  With all the commotion surrounding the team’s switch to Ford next year, the pullout by Dodge, the suspension and subsequent release of A. J. Allmendinger and search for a replacement, Keselowski may be concerned the team has lost its focus.  

It’s another brilliant move on his part to re-focus those efforts.  Now we’ll see if it works. 


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