BROWN: Hold The Smoke! NASCAR Is Burning Out On Excessive Celebrations

Rence Brown Cup, Featured, NASCAR, Rence Brown Blog, Staff Columns 0 Comments

Burnouts have been a hot topic of conversation of late in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, especially after Denny Hamlin's smoky celebration Sunday at Watkins Glen Int'l. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images for NASCAR photo)

Burnouts have been a hot topic of conversation of late in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, especially after Denny Hamlin’s smoky celebration Sunday at Watkins Glen Int’l. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images for NASCAR photo)

CALABASAS, Calif. — For the past two seasons or so, a trend has emerged of the weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race winner performing a celebration that is so intense, it rivals that of a smoky eruption of Mount St. Helens.

Just like the active volcano, it leaves a thick plume of smoke in the sky and scatters destruction and debris everywhere.

In this case, the volcano was Watkins Glen International winner Denny Hamlin and the destruction was not that of molten lava, but sheet metal from the quarter panels and rubber strewn across the newly repaved 2.54-mile circuit.

The end result was like a town on the foot of the mountain, in danger of losing everything in the destruction’s wake.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite that dramatic. But after Hamlin claimed the checkered flag to collect his 28th career Sprint Cup victory, he did what is considered the “norm” these days, a large burnout to celebrate his triumph.

Hamlin though, laid down a burnout so massive that it shredded both rear Goodyear tires beyond the cords and blew out the quarter panels of his car in the process, immobilizing the No. 11 FedEx Toyota on the frontstretch and forcing the team to begin their celebration in victory lane without their race car.

While that may be impressive (and it is), it begs the question: 

Are these just drivers who are very, very excited about their victories? Or are they intentionally damaging the race car during their burnout because they don’t want NASCAR to find something illegal on their car?

It’s really a two part question.

First off, there isn’t one single driver who would act melancholy about winning a race in NASCAR’s highest level. A burnout is supposed to be big, loud and obnoxious — an in-your-face type feeling.

This is not a sport where, when you win, you shake hands with the others and quietly keep to yourself about your success. You scream it in front of your rivals that you beat, and you make them envious of the accomplishment and jealous in the glory that isn’t theirs.

Part two of the answer is a little more complicated, however…

In a day where aerodynamics are the key to winning races and NASCAR’s attempts this year to sway away from high downforce packages of years past have provided the best competition in years, teams are trying everything in their power to gain that extra bit of advantage in downforce back over the rest of the competition.

Even if it is a thousandths of an inch, it could mean the difference between finishing first or 10th.

One of the ways to do this might be to cave in a quarter panel, or the side of the door. Admittedly, we’ve seen crew members try to do this on pit stops throughout the year (another thing NASCAR has cracked down on). We’ve even seen teams mess with the suspension of the race car and be penalized, all in the hopes of finding that extra little edge.

This issue, however, is not just meant to point blame or fingers at Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing or Hamlin. While Hamlin may be the driver who is catching the most attention from this, there have been others that have been in the same conversation — Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and even Jimmie Johnson.

They have all one way or another destroyed their car to some extent in their burnouts. This type of and activity and behavior has gone on long before Hamlin or the 2016 Cup season.

For example, back in 2011 during the Chase race at Talladega Superspeedway, moments before the drivers took the command to fire engines crew chief Chad Knaus radioed to Johnson to destroy the rear end of the race car if they won the race.

Johnson — realizing he has an in-car camera — gives a little head motion to Knaus of his discovery. In realization of this discovery, Knaus concludes the conversation with, “We just can’t take any chances.”

Even as early as last year. In the fall race at Dover International Speedway, Kevin Harvick entered with his back up against the wall. He needed to win to keep his championship chances alive in order to make it to the next round. He absolutely dominated the race, and it was his dominance that day that caught everyone’s attention.

During his burnout following the conclusion of the event, he blew out the right rear almost to the cords and tagged the wall with his quarter panel. He chose the spot with the most amount of banking (the middle of turn four) to do his burnout, along with the most narrow strip of apron available (right next to the pit road wall).

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