Sunday, February 15, 2009

Did NASCAR Show Favoritism To Junior After Wreck With Vickers?

By Jerry Bonkowski
The Sports Xchange

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Ah, there's nothing like a little controversy to start the 2009 Sprint Cup season.

First, the back story.

It's no secret that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is NASCAR's favorite son. He's the face of the sport, has been its most popular driver the last six years running and, of course, is the offspring of one of the sport's greatest drivers.

Because of all that Junior means to the sport, some wonder whether NASCAR sometimes turns a blind eye when he does something wrong.

That will be a question asked around countless water coolers and lunchrooms on Monday as folks replay Sunday's 51st running of the Daytona 500.

Did NASCAR look the other way and fail to penalize Junior for what seemed like intentionally spinning Brian Vickers, triggering a 10-car wreck?

Or was Junior's action simply a judgment call that could have gone either way -- but probably went his way because of who he is?

Let's set the scene: Vickers and Earnhardt are both racing hard to get back on the lead lap. Vickers intentionally blocks Earnhardt from getting a run on him -- a perfectly legal move by NASCAR rules -- forcing Junior below the double yellow no-passing lines.

Not wanting to be penalized for advancing his position while under the yellow lines, Earnhardt hurriedly works his way back up the track. In the process, he catches the rear of Vickers' Toyota, sending Vickers spinning and triggering a 10-car pileup that knocked Vickers and teammate Scott Speed, among others, out of the race.

Afterward, while Vickers tried to be diplomatic about the event that ended his day prematurely -- even before rain ended the race itself prematurely, as well -- Earnhardt was not so tactful.

Even though it was Earnhardt who hit Vickers' car from behind, starting the "big one" of the day, he refused to accept blame.

And much to the chagrin of many Vickers fans, Earnhardt got away scot-free without even being penalized -- although NASCAR probably should have whistled him for rough driving.

Who was at fault? We'll let you decide, giving Earnhardt the opportunity to plead his case first:

"I got a run on Vickers and the guy he was beside," Earnhardt said. "I went to the bottom (and) Vickers drove me below the line. He ran into me and sent me below the line. I was just trying not to run into him (and) drive into the grass. (I wanted to) get my car under control and try to get above the line so I (wouldn't) get penalized for being down there, (but then) I ran into his quarter panel and spun him out.

"He shouldn't have started that (blocking -- it wouldn't have happened. If he had held his ground, who knows? He would have probably got the (lap) back or got the position back eventually, but at that point in the race, that was pretty reckless."

Still, that's only Earnhardt's opinion. That gray area -- who was more culpable in the incident -- likely caused NASCAR to err on the side of caution.

Or in this case, err on the side of Earnhardt and choose not to penalize him.

"Penalize me? For what?" Earnhardt said. "I got ran into and sent below the line. What the hell? I don't want to go down there. I didn't aim to go down there. I got sent down there. What the hell am I supposed to do? Then what am I supposed to do? Stay down there? No. I got to get back up on the race track.

"It was unfortunate, man. If (Vickers) wasn't so damn reckless, we would have never had that problem; that would never happen. As far as I'm concerned, it is all his responsibility."

For his part, Vickers felt he did nothing wrong. He was fighting Earnhardt for the lucky dog, went down low to block Earnhardt (forcing him below the double yellow line) and then moved back up the track -- only to be spun out.

Ironically, Earnhardt suffered minimal damage and escaped most of the spinning cars that were caught up in the wreck, including the guy who had dominated most of the race up to that point, Kyle Busch.

"It's unfortunate that a guy that's messed up his whole day on pit road (Earnhardt) and screwed up ... that he has to make our day worse," Busch said. "It wasn't our problem that he was a lap down and fighting with another lapped car.

"I don't know what they were fighting for because the outside line was coming. Those cars just should have sat there and waited and got back in line when they could."

Did NASCAR turn a blind eye? Vickers sure thought so.

"We're all racing for the lucky dog there and my goal was to keep (Junior) behind me and I went to block him," Vickers said. "I beat him to the yellow line and then he just turned us.

"He hit me the first time on the way down (toward the yellow lines), which is fine. We all do that. Then when he came back up, he just hooked me in the left rear and, typically, NASCAR penalizes."

But NASCAR didn't penalize in this case.

"I think (Jason Leffler) was penalized five laps (in Saturday's Nationwide Series race) for doing the same thing," Vickers said. "I guess they're not going to penalize him (Earnhardt) for it. It's kind of sad. To wreck somebody intentionally like that in front of the entire field is really kind of dangerous.

"That's my biggest problem with it, but apparently he wanted a caution pretty bad."

The tangle with Vickers wasn't Earnhardt's only issue Sunday. He was held for a lap earlier in the race for pitting, as he put it, "one inch out of the pit box" -- although he protested that his right front tire was on the pit box line, which he felt was within the rules.

Who knows? Maybe NASCAR felt that because Junior had already been penalized once in the race, it wouldn't add insult to injury by nailing him again after the run-in with Vickers.

I can see both sides of the argument. But I have to wonder if it was someone other than Earnhardt that wrecked Vickers, maybe the outcome would have been much different.

It sure makes one wonder, doesn't it?


  1. I keep losing respect for Dale Jr. He continues to show that if it wasn't for his last name he would be in a much different position. And i hate how Darrell Waltrip finds every opportunity to defend him. Great to see you started this site. Your articles and trading paint were always my favorite parts of Yahoo sports.

  2. I agree, Lets stop coddling this moron and make him earn his way, Its not as much NASCAR as it is the fans, Lets stop buying his junk and instead of cheering turn our back when he takes the lead.
    When he first started he was grateful now hes conceded, He thinks the sport owes him, there are alot of great new drivers and old, Mayfield, R. Gordon, A.J. Dinger, etc....

    These guys could use our support way more then the CRY BABY Jr.

    Hes in the right camp for all his actions!!!!

  3. i find it hilarious how you could feel the air come out of good old dw's sail as joonyer sat on pit road for that penalty. i guess after numerous articles calling out the junior mess, dw will have have his focus group think of a great explanation for his ramblings this week.

  4. If it had been ANYONE else, there would have been a penalty. A lap down driver wrecks someone from below the double yellow "out of bounds" line and wrecks the leaders in the process. All weekend NASCAR stressed that there would be NO exceptions to the yellow line rule. But I guess it should have been understood that the rule did not apply to Little E. The sad thing is Jr. is beginning to expect the preferential treatment. His reaction to his pitting out of the box penelty? "Maybe Nascar should revisit that rule." In fact, I bet the whole deal is somehow Teresa Earnhardt's fault. I understand Jr's frustration. Daytona and Talladega are the only tracks he really has a chance to win, and he saw this race getting away from him. But his move certainly deserved a penalty. Especially if the actions of Jason Leffler on Saturday resulted in being held 5 laps. But again, wonderboy could only muster a 27th place finish with the best equipment, the highest funded team and rules tilted in his favor. Wow, what a wheelman!

  5. All right: Before anyone starts screaming at me, let me say that I am not a big fan of Junior's. I think he's an OK guy, but I dislike all the hype around him, so I don't root for him - to me he's just like a number of other drivers that I could take or leave. The same thing goes for Vickers. That being said, I agree with you, Jerry, that this call could have gone either way. But here's my point: I believe that blatant "blocking" of someone who's obviously got a good run on you is simply asking for trouble. I was downright disgusted with how many times the Shrub did this while leading (at least 20 times). If a car is going substantially faster than another car, and he gets "blocked" like that, he should expect to get punted. What happens if the guy with the good run doesn't get to the brakes quick enough? Answer: the "blocker" gets hit. Kenny Wallace said it best on the SPEED post-race show: WAY TOO MUCH BLOCKING GOING ON! If someone intentionally blocks an obviously faster car, and especially sends them across the "out-of-bounds" line, then they deserve to get punted. Now, I'm not blaming Vickers either, because as you stated, it is a legal move. I just believe it should not be such a legal, easy-to-use move. Think Tony Stewart and Regan Smith at Talladega: Smith SHOULD have had the right to punt Tony to Kingdom-come for shoving him across that line. This incident was only slightly different in that Junior actually did hit Vickers. Was it on purpose or did he misjudge the distance? In my opinion, it shouldn't matter. The blocker deserves to be punted by the obviously faster car. End of story.

  6. It looked like Vickers nicked JR when he came down on him. That said, JR should have not charged back up on Vickers they way he did. I think they were both to blame. Bad judgement by 2 cars that were not going to win anyway. The only thing that I "enjoyed" about the whole thing was that KyleB went byby. I don't like him. Great run by the Petty cars and Mikey. Yesterday was a very different top 10. I liked it

  7. There's no need to wonder -- just look at Saturday.

    Leffler bumped Stephen Wallace in a much more equivocal incident and gets 5 laps.

    Jr. hooked Vickers in front of the pack and not only gets no penalty but has people defending him because "he was frustrated".

    Jr. had a run. So what? Lots of drivers get runs on other drivers at various points in the race. They get blocked and they settle back to try again instead of wrecking the field in a fit of temper.

    Its not like Jr. has never thrown that EXACT type of block on another driver.

    Not only should Jr. have been penalized for rough driving but after that weasely interview his mom should have come out with a wooden spoon and applied it where it would have done Jr. some good.

  8. NASCAR is kidding, right? This was the big event, the "Super Bowl"? The "Great American Race"?

    Rain shortened. Why? Because the race started so late, even later than the 3:30 green flag time posted on the DIS website. With the threat of rain, NASCAR couldn't possibly move up the start time, could they?

    The star of NASCAR made three (four if you count the Jeff Burton incident) rookie mistakes.

    Meanwhile, the rookie in the race, Joey Logano, in his post wreck interview claimed he "learned a lot" today. Which is exactly what "the most prestigious race" is for, right? It's a learning experience. At least he only took himself out.

    The economy is the reason race fans are tuning out on NASCAR. Right?

  9. Howdy fellow Monday morning drivers!
    The fact is, watching the replay at full speed there are mere seconds that pass during this entire incident. Running near the front of the field in the Daytona 500 with 40 odd cars behind you that you don't want to check up and cause the big one, in a split second I can't say I wouldn't have made the same move at 180 mph. All drivers can't be perfect all the time. Let's face it, if this were Kyle Petty making the same move and not getting penalized, none of us would be as adamant to talk about it?

  10. I think that if they hadn't penalized Leffler for a very similar incident in the Nationwide Race, the day before, then this probably wouldn't be too big of a deal. Wrecks like this happen all the time in restrictor plate races. But very rarely does NASCAR think that they're intentional. But again, when NASCAR penalized a guy for the very same thing the day before, it does give the impression that they have a double standard especially when the guy that isn't penalized is Dale Earnhardt Jr.

    My personal opinion is that neither Leffler nor Jr. should have been penalized. I know that Steven Wallace got into Leffler the turn before but I think Leffler was just trying to get back in line behind Steven and misjudged. I could be wrong but I don't know for sure that it was intentional or not so I can't make that call against him. The same thing for Jr. I don't know if he meant to wreck Vickers or not. It would be very stupid and immature if he did but I don't think he did. But that said, if NASCAR is going to penalize one guy and say that they think it was intentional then they have to be consistent and penalize Jr. too.

  11. I guess Vickers seems to forget the Talladega race he won spinning Jr and Johnson. Guess what? They are even now!

  12. There has been an Earnhardt rule in NASCAR for years and years. when Sr. took someone out it was just "one of them racin deals". Drivers were always backing into Sr. but thats how he got his famous name. "The Intimidator" NASCAR looked the other way no matter what. Is there any doubt NASCAR was afraid of a riot had they parked the annointed one? NASCAR rules have always been FLEXIBLE. Oh well just think of all the beer can that stayed in the stands......

  13. I don’t watch a NASCAR race to see who best follows the rules. I want to see a bunch of guys trying to kick each others butts, do whatever it takes, cut ‘em off, cuss their mother, bump and bang. Not corporate and polished guys, but like us. Then, after the race, call his rival a no talent, whiney looser. NASCAR isn’t about racing. It’s about big personalities who are like us, scrapping in public in the heat of competition. All this moaning over rules infractions and efforts to tame NASCARS stars will do nothing more than give you a slower, more boring version of IRL.

  14. If Dale was alive, he would kick Kelly Earnhardt (Elledge's-I understand she is divorced now to look after pee wee) brother's rear.

  15. I know I spoke this morning but... Isn't JR getting just a little too old and too experienced for this stuff now. He needs to deliver this year. No more excuses. He did at least 3 things yesterday that a champion does not do. Missed his pit, parked on the line, got and mixed it up with Vickers. Each one seemed to be someone else's fault.

  16. Like Tony Stewart has said so many times, a little give and take would have made a whole lot of difference.
    Consistency isn't in Nascar's vocabulary. Just watch Saturday's race.

  17. IF you want yo know who was at fault , just look at where the contact took place at and how they both ended up accross the line

  18. Hey all, I'm late getting started in this discussion. Finally found Bonk after he left Yahoo.
    Seems to me that it's just one of those racin' deals, until you compare it to Leffler's penalty of Saturday. It must make NASCAR cringe when Jr screws up like that. they probably have a little powwow to see what official reaction will bring the fewest beer cans onto the track. Poor saps.
    The easiest solution would be to get rid of the double yellow line rule. The fans don't need a line (as suggested by expert Teevee analysis), and the drivers know what happens to fools that venture on the apron at the wrong place... Let 'em race!

  19. I think if Dale Jr's name was 'John Smith' (and not Earnhardt), the most overrated driver would be stuck in Nationwide and not on the track with GREAT drivers. His Dumba88 move took out Carl Edwards and Jamie McMurray (Yes, I'm an Edwards fan! and JamieMac is a good driver) along with that crybaby Kyle Busch (I hate him - and all Toyota drivers! that is the only good thing Jr did right - take Kyle out!!).
    heck I think David Ragan has more talent then Jr.

  20. Looks like Jr needs to pull a rabbit out of his hat quick otherwise he is going to tank like Casey Mears in year two at Hendrick Motorsports !

  21. i hate the below the yellow line rule. Let the drivers use the track and if they want to try the grass go for it. If some one wants to block another driver they better be ready to get hooked if they don't get down there in time. If the block is performed properly the worst that can happen is the get pushed. But the move someone below the yellow line then you derserve what you get. Look at what happen at Talledegga last year. I don't remember who it was but Stewart pushed a potential first time winner below the line and won the race. It that was me getting pushed I would have bumped and moved him out of the way.

    Good to see you again Jerry

  22. Vickers hit Dale, Jr. when he tried to block him. If he hadn't, there would have been no wreck in all likelihood. It was just on of those racing deals- at 180 miles an hour stuff happens.

  23. I seem to recall Vickers taking both Junior and Johnson out a few years ago. I can't recall the situation entirely, but it looked like a pretty blatant, "this is my last ride with Hendrick, screw it I am going to win" move.

    Looking at the incident in all the replays it could have been a simple miss judgement of the distance between the bumpers when he moved back up the track. It was a racing incident, nothing more and nothing less. Vickers is whining and needs to get the pacifier back in his mouth.

    Lets be realistic they stood very little chance of winning the race, or probably even a top 10. This was evident by the remaining laps and the weather that was moving in. Vickers was an idiot for blocking, and Junior was an idiot for not tapping the brake to make sure that he was clear. They took out a lot of cars that were contenders. I don't like Busch (man he is a goofy looking kid, and a whiner when someone does something to him he has done to someone else), but he is right. You race that way for the lead, but not for the first car lap down. NASCAR needs to dump the lucky dog, along with the whole chase format. Wait, they won't do that, since they can somehow milk some money for it now. I can see it now, the "The Alpo Lucky Dog was Driver X." That will be $100k.


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