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NASCAR: Post-Gateway fodder

by Dave Grayson
Thursday, July 22, 2010

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Coming to the checkered flag, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski tangle as the battle for the victory during the Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images for NASCAR
We all watched the conclusion of Saturday night's NASCAR Nationwide Series event at the Gateway International Raceway. We all shook our heads in wonder and anger after watching Carl Edwards turn season long rival Brad Keselowski just a few feet from the checkered flag. We were apprehensive as we watched Keselowski's Dodge bounce off both front stretch walls and then slide into the path of oncoming traffic.

We have seen the danger of this particular rivalry before. That would be the Atlanta race last March when an angry Edwards tagged Keselowski and sent him on his roof. Edwards received a three race probation period for that incident that many observers felt didn't come close to measuring up to a slap on the hand.

We were all wondering what NASCAR was going to do regarding this latest incident with Edwards following the Gateway race. We wondered if they really could do anything other than another short probation period. That was because of the "have at it boys" announcement this past January. That's when NASCAR informed their drivers that they wanted to return to old school bumper banging racing. They told the drivers to police themselves.

The results of this experiment has been quite fascinating to watch. The most tangible return was some exciting, often green-white-checker, finishes that the fans has been treated to this year. There were plenty of examples of drivers getting upset with each other but the anticipated feuds never really materialized. The lone exception seemed to be Edwards versus Keselowski.

NASCAR officials were reported to have spent the better part of three days deliberating over how to handle what happened at the Gateway race. When they emerged with an announcement it was clearly evident that they also had enough of Edwards' dangerous antics.

Edwards was fined $25,000, docked 60 Nationwide Series championship points and placed on probation until December 31st of this year. Additionally, team owner Jack Roush was docked 60 Nationwide Series owner's points.

On the anticipation that Keselowski might be contemplating some future payback, NASCAR also put him on probation until the end of the year. Because each driver is competing full time in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR made it very clear that the probation period applies to both series.

The obligatory, positive themed, press releases from the two racing teams quickly followed NASCAR's Wednesday morning announcement. From a prepared statement from Penske Racing, Keselowski said "the incident at the end of Saturday night's race at Gateway was unfortunate not just for Penske Racing and the #22 Discount Tire Dodge team, but for all of the teams who were caught up in the aftermath. There was unnecessary damage done to a lot of race cars as a result of the incident, including one of our best cars. We support NASCAR's decision and we look forward to putting this behind us. Our focus continues to be working hard to get Discount Tire, Ruby Tuesday, Dodge, Mr. Penske and Penske Racing a championship this season."

Geoff Smith, President of Roush Fenway Racing, said "we have received notification of NASCAR's penalties against Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski and Roush Fenway Racing related to Saturday night's race at Gateway International Raceway. As with all NASCAR actions of this nature, we will internally evaluate the penalties, and the underlying explanations, prior to making any decision about next steps. We look forward to watching Carl and Brad as they continue to compete on a weekly basis for the championship in the Nationwide Series."

Edwards himself has yet to make a formal comment but there were reports on Wednesday afternoon that indicated he plans to meet with the media on Friday morning in Indianapolis.

The final question regarding the latest Edwards versus Keselowski feud centered around NASCAR's new "have at it boys" policy and whether or not the Gateway incident would impact that policy. We were all delighted to hear that the answer was a resounding no according to Robin Pemberton, NASCAR Vice President of Competition. During a Wednesday morning press conference, Pemberton said "we think it works well. We think the vast majority of competitors throughout our series have handled themselves accordingly and measured their actions and reactions accordingly. We fell they've done an outstanding job. We're not changing the policy. We just have two competitors who have gone over the edge."

After three days of waiting to determine the fallout from last Saturday night, it was apparent that NASCAR stepped up and handled the situation in a highly appropriate manner and they should be applauded for their decision.

Truck Series

If circumstances from a busy schedule only allows you to watch just one NASCAR Camping World Series Truck Series during the remainder of this year, then pick Friday night's race at the O'Reilly Raceway Park. It's going to be 36 full sized racing trucks on a tightly wound bullring of a racing oval. This is the racing environment that helped make this series famous back in 1995. This event is going to be 200 laps of action that will totally redefine the term tailgate party.

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

The real story lines behind the AAA Insurance 200, presented by J D Byrider, are associated with the numbers that determine the various championship categories within the NASCARĂ‚ Camping World Truck Series.

The first, and most important, set of numbers are of course the series championship where Todd Bodine holds a 101 point advantage over Aric Almirola. That lead may appear to be extremely comfortable but it's not insurmountable and the tail gate atmosphere associated with a race at the ORP could alter the points deficit very quickly and easily.

Bodine is expected to be in top form for Friday night despite having to deal with treatments for second degree burns on his lower back and buttock areas. That injury came from an extremely warm racing seat, on a very hot day, last Saturday during the series race at the Gateway International Raceway where he finished fourth. Bodine did a live television after the race while sitting on the floor of the speedway medical center because the cold floor tiles felt good. He didn't appear to be the least bit concerned over the burn in his backside. He was too happy with his fourth place finish and how his pit crew got him there. With a great deal of enthusiasm, he said "I have the best crew on pit road for sure."

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However, one aspect to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship profile that everyone is watching is Ron Hornaday Jr. The four time series champion has yet to score his first win of the season which is totally out of character for this Kevin Harvick Inc operation. Hornaday goes into Friday night's ORP race sixth in the championship standings 261 markers from the top.

This team has been hampered with some harsh racing luck such as last Saturday at Gateway when a broken sway bar left them with a 26th place finish ten laps down. Mathematically speaking, Hornaday's drive for five title run isn't officially over yet. The series will be hitting the approximate halfway point of the year this Friday night. However, the championship drive is skating on thin ice at the moment and a major resurgence is needed. His average finish ratio this year is 13.3 compared to 7.2 this time last year.

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The series is also in the midst of a terrific fight for the 2010 Owner's Championship. Todd Bodine and Germain Brothers Racing also controls the top of those standings as well but it's an extremely thin margin.

DeLana Harvick, owner of the #2 Kevin Harvick Inc Chevrolet, is right behind the leaders only ten points away. That of course is due to her husband, Kevin, who has made four double duty starts in the #2 truck and won three of them. By the way, Shelby Howard will be making his official series' debut in the KHI #2 Saturday night at ORP.

Third in the owner's standing, and only 32 points back, is the #18 Toyota from Kyle Busch Motorsports. Busch has been sharing this ride with driver Brian Ickler this season. However, the boss will be back behind the wheel for the first time in three races. ORP has a special place in Kyle Busch's memory. He scored his first ever truck win there back in 2001.

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The AAA Insurance, presented by J D Byrider, is 200 laps around the O'Reilly Raceway Park's .686 mile oval and the element of racing is rubbing is expected to be prevalent Friday night.

The race has 37 entries vying for the 36 truck field meaning someone is going to have to go home disappointed. 11 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they are not guaranteed a starting berth in the race because they are outside of the top 25 in the owner's points standings. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speeds to make the race.

Qualifying is vital at the ORP. In the past 15 events there five race winners started on the pole. With 36 trucks on a short track, the element of track position is going to be a key factor in this race.

The defending race winner is Ron Hornaday Jr.

The AAA Insurance 200, presented by J D Byrider, will be televised live on the SPEED Channel beginning with the pre race set up show at 730pm eastern time.

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