Melillo’s Mind: O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 @ Texas; Penalty review and title sponsorship talk

By Justin Melillo
April 11, 2018

After a trio of second place efforts, with a third place effort sprinkled between, Kyle Busch was finally victorious at Texas Motor Speedway this past weekend.

It only took the younger Busch seven races to make it back to victory lane in the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series campaign, 14 less races than it took him last season when he broke the streak at Pocono Raceway.

“You know, after Daytona, we’ve just been on a roll of finishing really good and getting really pumped and excited about that, and the momentum we were able to carry, but frustrated at the same time trying to get to Victory Lane,” Busch said.

Busch was also the Stage 2 winner, so he leaves Texas Motor Speedway with an extra six playoff points.

“My guys were just so good. I can’t say enough about everybody on my team and you know, we’ve just got everything clicking right now.”

The race itself saw its share of attrition throughout the event, and it all began right off the bat when Alex Bowman got loose on the second lap, sliding up and collecting Paul Menard, Daniel Suarez, Austin Dillon, and others.

However, that wouldn’t be the biggest incident of the day.

On lap 178, Aric Almirola checked up entering Turn 3, which pinned Denny Hamlin on the low side, and due to the aero effects on the car, spun Hamlin up the track into Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, and a couple of other cars.

“I just got loose under the 10,” Hamlin said. “We were kind of getting squeezed there a little bit and there was just—running these speeds, you’ve got to have all the side force that you need.

“He was battling beside the 18, I believe, and you know we tried to go low, and he was trying to fight for that real estate as well, and we just got together.”

Martin Truex, Jr, Kyle Larson, and Ryan Newman all saw their races come to a similar end, as all had right front tire issues entering the corner at different points in the race.

Kevin Harvick won Stage 1, and finished second overall. Jamie McMurray had a season best finish of third place.

Harvick, who is either in the news for winning, or in the news regarding the rulebook as of late, came home in second, right behind Busch.
Harvick battled pit road woes all day, and even on his final stop, could not get away without an issue that ultimately wound up as a non call.

Problems included a malfunctioning jack after a lugnut got wedged inside during a stop, followed up with a loose wheel thanks to those darn mandated air guns, and an uncontrolled tire penalty when they finally got back on the lead lap.

After all of that, Harvick still found himself in second place coming to the finish, with only one more pit stop remaining. The No. 4 Busch Light team couldn’t possibly have another one go wrong, could they?

As far as the eye could see, and as it had already been called prior in the race on both Hamlin and Ryan Blaney, it seemed that Harvick’s pit crew left the tire out too far away from a body, and another uncontrolled tire penalty should have been called.

My initial thought would be that the pit road camera system would pick that violation up clearly, but it's news to me that now these flags get reviewed by an official and either get a thumbs down or a thumbs up (or a fist bump, in Harvick’s case).

Yes, the penalty was overlooked, the strike was called a ball, and the official celebrated with the crew in the revelation. Then after it was all said and done, well after the race had ended, a few representatives of NASCAR stated on multiple platforms that it should have definitely been called a penalty.

I think someone is going to get in some big trouble for this one, but we won't know about it. It’s enough that NASCAR has admitted fault, but it’s awful that the race played out with someone racing for a win that should not have been.

Granted, Harvick had one of the fastest out there all race, but his pit road troubles kept him down for most of the event as it was, and should have kept him from competing for the victory against Busch.

It was announced on Tuesday that Monster Energy would be renewing their contract with NASCAR to sponsor the Premier Cup Series for at least one more year.

The deal will run through the completion of 2019, when afterward, it is said that NASCAR will adopt a new sponsorship system that encompasses multiple layers of the sport, and that may include having a nameless NASCAR Cup Series.

On the surface, it’s great that NASCAR has a partner that wants to work with them in the coming future and not pull out in the minimum agreement. That says, to me at least, that the current model is working for both parties to come to another agreement.

It was already speculative prior to the 2018 season that NASCAR may be working on a new sponsorship model that might take logos of certain contingency sponsors off of the cars to allow race teams to use the space to promote their own companies instead.

We've already seen the new Pole Award, sponsored by Busch, is not featured on the cars, but is awarded every week nonetheless. The Pole Award was previously sponsored by Coors, and featured a logo under the series logo on the contingency panel, but Coors decided in the offseason to not renew.

On Friday afternoon, my editor asked our team, if we could ask the President of NASCAR (Brent Dewar) any question, what would it be? I jotted down a few things, but ultimately ended up asking about the future of our sport.

I wanted to know what we had in reserve with title sponsorship, and with other post contract futures including the track assortment and television partners. I don't know if my question got to be asked on my behalf, but I feel like with the news that came out today, that maybe it did, or maybe I just got lucky with the timeline of events.

Nonetheless, I’m a little less anxious about our future, knowing a little more about what is on the table for next year, and that a plan is in place for the year after that.

The NASCAR XFINITY Series and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series are heading to Tennessee this weekend for some short tracking at the “Fastest Half-Mile,” Bristol Motor Speedway.

The Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 will run on Saturday afternoon around 1:00 pm ET (it’s an XFINITY Series Dash 4 Cash Race!) and the Food City 500 will be held Sunday afternoon around 2 p.m. ET. Martinsville was uncharacteristically clean, so I’m hoping they didn’t waste all of their beating and banging at Texas this past weekend.

When it comes to Bristol, never count out either Kyle or Kurt Busch. Also, for some odd reason, I feel like Harvick will once again use adversity to his advantage, and will be a threat to win, as he has been this entire season.

Marcus Leno/TRE Dominic Aragon/TRE Matt Courson/TRE

Toyota Racing

DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.