Don’t mess with the COT

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 29, 2007

We now know that there are no “gray areas” with the Car of Tomorrow.

Teams are very much aware now that if you change this car in the least, the hammer will fall. Even though the inspection template fit the cars of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson during pre-qualifying inspection at Sonoma last week, NASCAR didn’t like the front fenders.

Not only were Johnson and Gordon shelved for practice and qualifying for the road-course race, the expected penalties were doled out last Tuesday. Both teams were docked 100 owners’ and drivers’ points, $100,000 fines, and six-week suspension for both crew chiefs.

The penalties are right in line with NASCAR had promised if teams were found changing the COT in any way. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the first to find out that NASCAR meant business and he is still feeling the effects of the punishment. Junior is hanging on in 12th position, the last spot to become eligible to compete in the chase.

Fortunately for the #24 and #48 teams, the penalties won’t hurt near as bad. Gordon is still sits atop the points standings, 171 points ahead of Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson fell from third to fifth in the points. Because of the chase format, these penalties are pretty much meaningless to these teams. Both will be atop the standings after Richmond in September, based on the ten point bonus for wins, and both will be a threat to win the championship down the stretch.

A big question for me is why the #25 and the #5 were not penalized along with their Hendrick teammates. The answer is because those cars did not have the same setup as Gordon and Johnson. There have always been whispers that those teams got better equipment and personnel than Mears’ and Busch’s teams. If altering the front fenders is what they thought would be best, why didn’t all four teams go the same direction? Makes you wonder.

I like Robby Gordon, he is the Waylon Jennings of NASCAR, an outlaw who does things his own way and doesn’t really mind what people think. However, his comments after the race last week at Sonoma were classless and silly. Saying that Juan Montoya didn’t deserve to win the race and he was just lucky brought Gordon down to a level that didn’t doesn’t deserve to be. Gordon is a one-car owner/driver who is holding his own with the mega-teams every week, but don’t downplay Montoya’s win.

The Texaco team did what it took to earn Montoya’s first victory. Yea, he won on gas mileage, but so did Casey Mears at Charlotte. No one said Casey was just lucky, nor should they have.

Just as Robby should be ashamed of his comments after the Sonoma race, Joe Gibbs Racing should be ashamed of pulling Aric Almirola out of Busch race at Milwaukee. When Denny Hamlin couldn’t make it from Sonoma to Milwaukee in time to qualify the car, Almirola put the car on the pole. When Hamlin still had not made it to the track to start the race, Almirola lead the majority of the first 53 laps. Hamlin finally made it to the track and jumped into the car after Almirola was pulled in.

For the record books, Almirola won his first career race last Saturday night after Hamlin took over and won the race. However, the damage done to that guy’s psyche might have long lasting effects. Rumor is now that Almirola might be looking at his options for 2008 and Ginn Racing is said to be very interested.

The flat one-mile track at Loudon, New Hampshire is the 17th and next race on the schedule. Jeff Burton leads all active drivers with four career wins here, however my pick is for Tony Stewart to finally break the ice on the season and win for the first time in 2007.

Until we talk again next week, have a fun and safe Fourth of July. Please remember if you have a little too many adult beverages at the cookout, stay off the road; we need you around.