Three races into the world’s longest racing season and NASCAR’s soap opera already is at full cry. In his debut with Hendrick Motorsports – stock car racing’s most successful modern team – NASCAR’s most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. has run very competitively in the opening races, sending waves of delight through his legion of fans. At Daytona last month, bad boys Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart got into an on and off-track fight and as a result are on probation. There have also been a series of crew chief suspensions and stiff fines for tiny but critical rule infringements as NASCAR continues its iron-fist rule.
The last two races at the California and Las Vegas Speedways were won in convincing fashion by Carl Edwards aboard one of Jack Roush’s four Roush-Fenway Fords. Edwards, 28, won last year’s second division Busch series championship and hopes to mount a serious run at this year’s Sprint Cup title in his fifth year with Roush’s team. Right now, he leads the points from Kurt’s younger brother Kyle Busch and Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman.
But after last Sunday’s race in Las Vegas, Edwards’ winning car was found to be missing a cap from its oil tank and was taken to NASCAR’s R&D Centre in Concord, North Carolina for further evaluation. Over the course of this week NASCAR will decide whether or not the missing cover was a deliberate attempt to find an aerodynamic advantage. Edwards’ team may be fined or penalised and, if found guilty, it could also cost Edwards points and possibly his championship lead.
Meanwhile, heading into this weekend’s round four at the Atlanta Motor Speedway – NASCAR’s fastest track, knocking on the door of 200 mph laps – everyone continues to struggle to find a confident balance from NASCAR’s downforce-reduced new car. And former Champ Car star AJ Allmendinger has been fired after a very frustrating year and a bit in NASCAR, apparently following Jacques Villeneuve into NASCAR oblivion.