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NASCAR Road Trip: Daytona to Phoenix

Here’s hoping no jet dryers are needed this weekend… for multiple reasons. Also, are Chad Knaus’ cheating habits getting the appropriate attention?

[Editor’s Note: To further 4thanddone’s coverage of all things sports, our racing expert (Wayne) introduces his weekly NASCAR Road Trip series. It will feature an expanded opinion from the prior week’s race along with a brief “what to watch for” thought about the upcoming race. Enjoy… and please, please, please avoid the safety trucks, especially those with jet dryers on the back.]

“If a baseball manager or football coach got suspended as often as Chad Knaus, he would be killed in the media.”  That was a text I received from my old college roommate Wednesday night.  You know what?  He was absolutely right.  Take a trip back with me to September of 2007.  The New England Patriots had just finished whooping the New York Jets in Week One of the NFL season.  One day later, Bill Belichick was accused (and later penalized) for videotaping the Jets’ defensive signals during the game.  The story became so big, they nicknamed it “Spygate.” It even caught the attention of the U.S. Congress.  Belichick was ridiculed by TV analysts, radio talk show hosts, Internet bloggers, and pretty much everyone in New York that year.  I even heard mention of it during the weeks leading up to this year’s Super Bowl.   That was only one incident, and the coach wasn’t even suspended for his actions.

Fast forward to this week.  Chad Knaus, crew chief for Jimmie Johnson’s #48 team, was just handed his third major penalty for such egregious infractions that NASCAR not only confiscated the parts in question, but forced Knaus to stay away from the race track; this time for six weeks.  Knaus’ first penalty was in 2006 leading up to the Daytona 500, forcing him to miss the “Great American Race,” which his team won.  Johnson even mused before this year’s Daytona 500 that he was looking forward to having Knaus in the picture this year if they won the race.  But I’d be hard pressed to find someone offended by that statement.

So, what was my response to that text?  “If you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin’.”  The old stock car racing adage was as true now as it was when it was first muttered.  It also seems to echo most of the media’s feelings toward this story.  Sure it’s been on the front page of ESPN.com and can be found on most NASCAR news pages around the web, but it certainly has not garnered the outrage within its own sport that “Spygate” did.

Bending the rules is in the nature of every NASCAR team.  When they find an advantage; they just hope the inspectors don’t find it before the car is back in the hauler at the end of the weekend.  Chad Knaus can certainly attest to what happens when they do.

From Surf to Sand (and Cacti):
Kasey Kahne won the only race at the newly configured Phoenix International Raceway last fall.  After a frustrating Speedweeks at Daytona, look for that team to rebound well out in the desert.  And don’t be surprised if Kahne gives teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. a few pointers on how to get around the new track.

Stewart Haas Racing will be another team to watch.  With Danica Fever taking a few weeks off, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman will finally be able to focus on their own equipment this week.

Also, look out for Richard Childress Racing who, after a strong showing in the Daytona 500, will look to build on that momentum in Week 2.  It’s worth noting that three of Childress’s cars finished in the top ten at Phoenix last November.

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