Wreck sparks age debate on Sprint Cup circuit

Posted Wednesday, Jul. 16, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Age, it is said, is best in the form of old wood, wine and friends.

All true, but noticeably missing from almost all opinions about the issue is driving, and, no, not the elderly fellow taking his sweet time with a Sunday drive down the West Freeway in the left lane at rush hour on Wednesday.

We’re talking the pursuit of NASCAR, a sport best left for — at least on the the surface of the prevailing logic — the young.

It’s harder to tell what “old” is anymore, but Joey Logano, 24, is telling everybody in hearing distance that 72 is not the new 32.

And Morgan Shepherd, the oldest driver ever to start a NASCAR Sprint Cup race, isn’t trying to tell anyone he’s young, but he’s also not saying he’s too old for this ol’ southern pastime.

Shepherd’s age became an issue last weekend when the 72-year-old had a dust-up on the track with the whippersnapper Logano at the Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Shepherd’s car got loose and ran up into Logano on Lap 212. Shepherd was at least 10 laps off the pace.

“The slowest car on the racetrack took us out,” said Logano, running second at the time of the wreck. “I feel like there should be, like, a driver’s test before you get out in a Cup car and make sure you know how to drive before you drive one. But I don’t know, I guess there isn’t.”

NASCAR officials with a statement after the race seemed to clear Shepherd of any wrongdoing, calling the incident “an accident that could have happened to anybody.”

The No. 33 Chevy, NASCAR said, had to issue with dropping to the minimum speed required at New Hampshire.

“Morgan Shepherd has always been approved,” said NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton told reporters. “Under our situation here, you take a physical at the beginning of the year, you pass your physical, you pass inspection with your car, you qualify for the race and you run the event. He met everything he needed to meet.”

Jeff Gordon, who at 42 wasn’t born when Shepherd made the first of his 517 starts on NASCAR’s top circuit in 1970, has been on record as being an advocate for Shepherd’s continued racing.

That is, as long as he maintains minimum speed, which is a tricky gauge, Gordon said.

“A place like New Hampshire … you’ve got a car that maybe can meet minimum speed in clean air, but they’re really never in clean air because they’re constantly getting passed or trying to make some room for the lap cars to go by,” Gordon said. “How do we truly measure minimum speed because if you do it every lap that they’re getting passed by a faster car, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t make minimum speed.”

Gordon added that he didn’t know if that “contributed toward what happened with Morgan and Joey.”

Shepherd’s start at New Hampshire was his second this season. He also has one on the Nationwide Series. NASCAR has in the past removed competitors from the circuit based on performance, though it’s rare.

Shepherd told a radio show this week that “all real race car drivers know that if you go in side-by-side with a car, the car on the outside has the advantage. He laid real close to me and it caused me to lose the front end. My front end slipped over then and I got into him and caused the accident.

“Joey, more or less, caused the wreck.”

That type of finger pointing that suggests Shepherd still belongs with the young guys.

Series updates

Sprint Cup

Takin’ off: The top circuit takes a week off in anticipation of NASCAR’s return to Indianapolis for the John Wayne Waldling 400 at the Brickyard where Sprint Cup series leader Jeff Gordon and six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson each have four victories.

Bonus, baby: Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski formally clinched spots in the Chase Grid and are now racing for the ever-important bonus points. All Chase drivers will have their points reset to 2,000 with three bonus points added for each victory in the regular season. Keselowski, winless in 2013, captured victory No. 3 in 2014 and would share the top spot with Jimmie Johnson at 2,009. Earnhardt would start at 2,006.

Trading paint: NASCAR officials this week announced new paint schemes for drivers in the Chase. Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup-eligible cars will have the roof number, the front splitter/front fascia and the windshield header colored yellow, as well as have a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup logo affixed to the front-quarter panel of their race car. Once they’re eliminated, they’ll lose the scheme.

IndyCar

Castroneves emerges: Helio Castroneves took over the top spot in the series standings, but faces a key weekend at Toronto, where he has never won and has finishes of 16th or worse in five of seven starts.

Quotable

“I think it’s really just more of an official way to create that alliance, and I think it’s a positive because our sport, in order for it to be strong, the teams need to be strong. They need to be profitable.” – Jeff Gordon on the new Race Team Alliance.

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