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Watkins Glen Finish Leaves An Oily Taste In Mouth

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, August 13 2012

Team owner Joe Gibbs and the pit crew of Kyle Busch didn't look particularly entertained after oil on the Watkins Glen track cost them and their driver a victory on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

The thickness of the film of oil that is coating the internal moving parts of the engine in your car is measured in ten-thousandths of an inch. It’s just thick enough to prevent metal-on-metal friction and the rapidly destructive effects of the heat that comes with that.

That film of oil is tough to see – though very easy to feel – when you pull a valve cover to check out the engine’s internals.

Seeing it on a race track by a race official stationed hundreds of feet away from the track surface would require one super set of eyes.

No, the big problem with NASCAR officials’ decision not to throw a caution flag during the final laps of Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International was, in terms of visible-threat criteria, understandable.

However, it is not so understandable when you consider the very visible effects that film of oil was having on the cars and the racing at WGI. Or, when you consider some of the things which have been deemed caution-worthy by NASCAR in the past.

The Watkins Glen situation arose over after, apparently, the engine of Bobby Labonte’s car exploded late in the race. Apparently Labonte continued to navigate the track with oil spraying from his engine and onto the track.

Sprint Cup engines use a dry sump system which means that between the engine crank case and the separate oil tank, they hold a large amount of oil. Like, 16 quarts, which about is three times more than most family cars.

Jeff Gordon's day came to a spinning conclusion Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

When those engines let go, and the pressured oil is released because of a breach anywhere in the oiling system, it makes a major mess. (Don’t ask how I know that.)

A small film of that oil, when it comes between the track surface and rubber slicks rotating at racing speeds, means big trouble.

Drivers began notifying their teams about the conditions by two-way radio with a couple of laps left on Sunday. And yes, NASCAR can/does monitor team communications.

If they were not monitoring the right channels at the right time Sunday, they still could see the on-track, real-time effects. Observers on their couches at home sure could.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby told reporters, “The only corner worker reports were the 47 (of Labonte) was smoking. They were asked repeatedly if he was dropping anything, and the report back to us was, ‘No, tower, track is clear.’

“One car spins out and the rest of them were all just racing. It was obvious to me it wasn’t that bad.”

Drivers found things to be a bit less obvious.

“Oil all over the race track,” four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon of Hendrick Motorsports said. “It’s pretty ridiculous they don’t want to end a race under caution and put that many cars in jeopardy.”

Said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who entered the race as points leader, “It was a bad deal, I think. The track shouldn’t have oil on it. It’s a tough deal I guess. But it finished out with all that oil on the track. I don’t really like that. It was a bad ugly finish at the end.”

Busch, who, like Gordon, may have had Chase hopes ended by the situation, didn’t say anything after the race as he bolted. But, one can accurately assume, that his speed to the exit was not fueled by happy thoughts about the obviously “wasn’t that bad” situation.

But, again, the NASCAR reasoning would make  at least some sense…were it not for the fact that this is the same group of in-tower people who are quick-draw artists on the yellow flags when there is a hot dog wrapper wafting around the surface or a fabric racing glove laying on pit road.

The same people who can see imminent-danger items on the track that are frequently so tiny that they are the only humans who can see them.

So, why would NASCAR officials allow racing to continue if they did in fact know that the track was an oily mess?

Repsonses by drivers – those both positively and negatively affected by the situation – give a hint: entertainment value.

If true, if officials thought they would sit on the yellow flags because fans were loving every moment of what one “journalist” called “an instant classic” finish, then NASCAR is in more trouble as a sport than it actually is.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, August 13 2012
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • mazakk says:

    I can see little kids who race all over the country watching their heroes stuff another guy into the wall to pick up a spot. Nascar is sending the wrong message.

  • Steven says:

    Kyle Busch lost the race because of Nascars’ inability to make the right decision and Keselowski’s dirty driving.

    • bob says:

      What’s Kes supposed to do on the LAST LAP, back off to let a guy come across his nose? Or is he supposed to race, and stick it in there and try to win.

      Realizing all along of course that it was Kyle Busch, the guy that doesn’t care if its the last lap or not, he’ll wreck you under caution, that’s proven, and he’s been suspended for it.

      Kes was on the far right of the track in 2, Kyle was off the track to the left in 1, and coming back on getting towards 2, then all the way back to the right, somebody else’s car was there.

      I would have lost respect for Kes if he let off to let Kyle in, lap 2, smart racing, LAST LAP, I don’t think so.

      If Kyle had come back to the outside lane, he could have made that wild finish insanely wild, but he tried blocking. Didn’t work.