Vickers ignores history

DEAN MCNULTY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:29 AM ET

The news yesterday that Red Bull Racing's No. 83 Toyota team was using shaved sheet metal on Brian Vickers' car -- at least at Martinsville last week -- begs the question about people not learning from others' mistakes.

Wasn't Vickers crew chief Kevin Hamlin paying attention last season when NASCAR brought the hammer down on Michael Waltrip Racing, Hendrick Motorsports and this year when they dealt severely with Robbie Gordon's team all for trying to bend the rules?

In Red Bull's case, NASCAR randomly had selected the No. 83 Toyota for a closer inspection after the Sprint Cup Tums QuikPak 500 at Martinsville Speedway, where Vickers had finished 11th.

In that inspection, officials discovered that the sheet metal used to construct the car doors and quarter panels did not meet minimum thickness requirements.

The result was that both Vickers and team owner Dietrich Mateschitz were docked 150 points in the drivers and owners championships while Hamlin was suspended indefinitely and fined a whopping $100,000.

Red Bull team boss Jay Frye immediately issued a statement accepting NASCAR's ruling and promising to vigorously deal with the matter in-house.

"As a team we accept full responsibility for the infractions regarding the No. 83's Martinsville car and will not appeal NASCAR's ruling," Frye said.

"This approach to racing is against the values of the Red Bull Racing team, and the necessary steps will be taken to rectify the situation ensuring it does not happen again.

"It is a privilege to race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and we are taking this penalty seriously."

So just what does shaving sheet metal do to make a car go faster anyway?

First of all, the car bodies used in Sprint Cup must be fabricated from 24-gauge (.025 of an inch thick) steel sheets and doing anything to lessen that gauge -- which could reduce the weight of the car by up to 50 pounds -- is strictly prohibited in the NASCAR rule book.

What a team using, say, an acid bath to reduce the steel's thickness achieves is that they get to redistribute the lost weight to the bottom of the car, giving it much better handling, especially through corners.

Everyone knows the pressure of winning in NASCAR's top tier is tremendous and that the culture of "if you ain't cheating you ain't trying" often permeates the NASCAR garage, but if stock car racing wants to run with the big boys of professional sport it must continue to come down hard on alleged cheaters.

And sponsors who pay up to $40 million US a season to get their logo on these cars must be equally as aggressive in sending a message that breaking the rules will result in a loss of their support.

PUT A FORK IN IT

The race for the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship is all but over.

The trophy has been sent to the engraver and he is only waiting final approval to spell out the words J-I-M-M-I-E J-O-H-N-S-O-N on it for the third consecutive time.

Going into Sunday's Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Johnson's No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet holds a commanding 149-point lead over Greg Biffle in the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford with just four races remaining in the Chase for the Championship.

Heck even Cale Yarborough -- the only driver to win three titles in a row -- is resigned to the fact that Johnson will match his mark.

"The handwriting's on the wall," Yarborough said. "It's going to happen."

In typical Yarborough fashion, however, the 68-year-old native of Timmonsville, S.C., added that while he respects and admires Johnson, he won't necessarily be leading the cheers for him to equal his record.

"I respect him but that don't mean I'm pulling for him," Yarborough said. "But, if he does it, I'll be in good company. I hope he feels the same way."

Judging from the muted fan reaction to Johnson closing in on the 30-year-old record, NASCAR country feels much the same way.

And that's too bad because Johnson should be judged solely on his ability to win races and championships and not because his personality has all the flare of a wet firecracker.

F-1 TO CUT COSTS

Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) and Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) apparently have agreed to several measures to cut costs in the world's most expensive racing circuit starting in 2010.

Reports out of Geneva, Switzerland, yesterday said that among the changes in the works are extending race enigine life from two to three races; teams like Mercedea and Renault making as many as 25 engines available each for sale to customer teams, and that a commission be formed to study how to reduce costs related to chassis development.


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