Parks Pit Report: Kobalt Tools 400

After just three races, one of the four drivers that switched teams in the off-season broke into victory lane. That was Matt Kenseth, who scored his first win with Joe Gibbs Racing on Sunday.

It certainly has been an interesting week in NASCAR, mainly when it comes to talking about the new race car.  By most notions, this new Generation-6 machine is doing exactly what NASCAR had hoped for, bring true brand identity back to the sport.  If one were to include Sunday’s race, we have gone to three races, on three different tracks, and all three manufacturers have gone into victory lane.

But the real talk of this car came after NASCAR decided to lay the hammer down on one driver for, by all intents and purposes, giving his honest opinion.

NASCAR on Wednesday handed driver Denny Hamlin, who pilots the No. 11 FedEx Toyota, a $25,000 fine for some negative comments he made after last Sunday’s race at Phoenix that were about the new car.  Mainly he was talking about how the car was hard to drive, and couldn’t pass with it.

Hamlin, being the outspoken man he usually is, fired back at NASCAR saying he wasn’t going to pay the fine, and would appeal the decision.

In essence, NASCAR was protecting the new car, and their image, as this car is still new to the track, but has been in development since 2011.  Hamlin then came to the track on Friday saying, “If they suspend me, so be it,” when asked about the situation and his remarks.

To me, this is hard to choose which side is right, and which to be on.  At the same time, trying to form an opinion on a new race car after just two races is not exactly the best idea.  Daytona itself is a completely different animal, and the rules package is different than what would normally be run on these cars, as in the spoiler height, length, and a restricted engine.

At tracks like Phoenix, Las Vegas, and others, the spoiler is much taller, longer, and handles much differently.

ESPN analyst and former driver, Ricky Craven, said it best that we’re still in the first inning with this new car, comparing it to the first part of a baseball season.  It’s a new year, and everyone is still learning.  Later, FOX analyst and former champion, Darrell Waltrip, believed that NASCAR in the end would get its way, because the car is doing what they set out to do, and everyone is still learning about how to set it  up each week.

As for Hamlin, he is entitled to have his opinion on the car, and that’s perfectly acceptable.

What really set NASCAR off, at least to me, is that he was saying the new car handled worse than the previous car, nicknamed the COT, or “Car of Tomorrow.”  NASCAR has worked very hard on the development of this new car, and wanted to get away from the image that the previous model had.  To the sanctioning body, that was about the same as taking a knife and stabbing them in the back, saying how the car that took two years to get right was worse than the one that had been run the last five years.

To them, that was what did it, and in just this writer’s opinion, this is a fight that I don’t see Hamlin winning.  In the end, NASCAR will be the one claiming victory, as the new car is doing what it was intended to.  One shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and one shouldn’t judge a race car after just two races.

Sunday in Las Vegas, there was two and three-wide racing all day, and great passing for the lead under green conditions.  So far, I’d say the car is successful.  Perfect, absolutely not, but you can bet NASCAR is working hard to get it right.

RESULTS:  1-Kenseth  2-Kahne  3-Keselowski  4-Kyle Busch  5-Edwards  6-Johnson  7-Earnhardt Jr.  8-Truex Jr.  9-Harvick  10-Menard

NOTABLE FINISHES:  11-Stewart  15-Hamlin  17-Biffle  25-Gordon  33-Patrick

CAUTIONS:  5 for 25 laps.  Lap 66-70 (Debris), 161-165 (#9 spin-T4), 196-199 (#47 spin-T2), 225-230 (Fluid on track), 237-241 (Fluid on track).

LEAD CHANGES:  22 among 8 drivers.  Keselowski 1-9, Kahne 10-43, Keselowski 44, Kyle Busch 45, Kenseth 46, McMurray 47-48, Kahne 49-66, Keselowski 67, Kahne 68-74, Johnson 75-117, Stenhouse Jr. 118, Johnson 119-137, Kahne 138-160, Keselowski 161, Johnson 162-165, Kyle Busch 166-180, Kahne 181-195, Kyle Busch 196, Hamlin 197-199, Kyle Busch 200-208, Kahne 209-225, Kyle Busch 226, Kenseth 227-267.

TIME OF RACE:  2 Hrs, 44 Mins, 16 Secs.


MARGIN OF VICTORY:  0.594 Seconds

POINTS:  1. Johnson, 129 points; 2. Keselowski, -5; 3. Earnhardt Jr, -10; 4. Hamlin, -22; 5. Edwards, -31; 6. Martin, -34; 7. Kenseth, -36; 8. Biffle, -36; 9. Bowyer, -40; 10. Almirola, -41; 11. Stenhouse Jr, -42; 12. Menard, -47

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