With 50 some odd laps to go in the AAA 400 at Dover, Jimmie Johnson broke something in his transmission or driveline or missed a shift on a restart and all heck broke lose. When all the spinning stopped, 18 cars were involved, including a bunch of the cars that had run up front all day.
Then, as is wont to happen, many of those teams went to work and got their cars put back together and came back out on the track to turn some laps, gain some positions and earn some points.
It’s a story as old as auto racing. In 1973, Benny Parsons won a championship after a wreck at Rockingham ripped the right side sheet metal clean off his Chevrolet. Parsons’ team and several other teams in the garage went to work to get his car patched up and back on the track. He finished 28th and beat Cale Yarborough for the Winston Cup Grand National championship. Had he not gotten back out on the track, there is a chance he loses his only championship on the season’s final day.
But after yesterday’s Dover melee, there are a lot of NASCAR media and industry types (and a very popular parody Twitter account) who believe the sanctioning body needs to implement a rule to prevent cars from coming back on the track once they go into the garage. The rationale is that the cars out making laps can affect the outcome of the race by getting in contenders’ way or by causing cautions by crashing again or littering the track with racecar parts that may become disconnected from the racecar.
I have read a few plans to disincentivize cars returning to track without going so far as NASCAR saying they can’t go back after going to the garage. Most revolve around a notion of flattening points from finishing positions 30 to 40. So if you are team that wrecks out and if you get the car fixed you can’t get higher than 30th place in the running, there is no point in going back on track.
I get it, but I do not like it.
If you finish in front of someone, you should get more points than they do. I mean, this is not Formula 1 (which also had some interest storylines on Sunday).
And I just don’t like saying to a team, tough $#!+, your day is done, pack up and go home. These guys are good and they can get a car back on track. Sure sometimes they drop more stuff on the ground than my 2-year old, but sometimes they can earn some spots and gain some valuable points. NASCAR does have a minimum speed that drivers have to maintain to stay on the track. If they have a dinged up car, there is already a mechanism in place to park them, but at least the teams have a chance to get the car right.
Sure, some of the guys who went back out Sunday after the crash did not have a whole lot to gain. Kevin Harvick has a win. Jimmie Johnson has two. They are in the Chase regardless of whether they finished 30th or 25th at Dover in May. But think about this in race 26 in Richmond in September. Those three or four spots by turning an additional 50 laps could be the difference between going to the Chase or running 10 meaningless races to finish the season. That’s a whole different story and a guy getting in the Chase because his crew busted butt to get him back out there is a darn good story.
Not quite like Benny in ’73, but a story I would like to be able to tell.
Andy Cagle writes a weekly column during the NASCAR season. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.