NASCAR: Shepherd/Logano contact creates more questions than answers

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Two days after one of NASCAR’s youngest full-time competitors got collected by its oldest competitor – part-time or otherwise – there’s more questions than answers that must come out of the contact.

On Lap 212 on Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the AutoTrader.com Ford driven by Team Penske’s Joey Logano got looped around by Morgan Shepherd, in the underfunded Circle Sport Chevrolet, entering Turn 3. Logano’s 24; Shepherd is three times his senior, age 72.

The resulting Logano interview and the TV camera angle didn’t give a great deal away, other than it showed Shepherd moving up the road slightly and enough to contact Logano. There’s not enough shown to potentially alleviate Shepherd of blame; say the angle at which he entered lower into Turn 3 was enough to send the car up the road.

An unlikely war of words has followed.

Logano, in his immediate post-race interview: “To get taken out by the slowest car – I feel like there should be a driver’s test when you get out in a Cup car and make sure you know how to drive it before you [race] one. But I don’t know, I guess there isn’t.”

And Shepherd, defending himself, via NASCAR.com: “Maybe he didn’t realize how wicked loose I was; I was having to tiptoe through the corner.”

NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton defended Shepherd and told reporters post-race, to the letter of the law, Shepherd was all clear to race.

“He’s been approved for decades,” he said. “You take a physical at the beginning of the year. You pass your physical. You pass inspections with your car, you qualify for the race and you run the event. He met everything he needed to meet.”

That may be true, but it doesn’t guard against questions raised in the approval process to race.

So, a few questions I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering as a result of this contretemps:

  • What is involved in the physical beyond standard procedure? How are reaction times determined? Is there an eyesight check?
  • Why do smaller teams, such as Joe Falk’s Circle Sport Racing operation, look for a driver like Shepherd to fill in at this type event instead of a younger driver, even one who could bring money?
  • Why does Shepherd, who’s been accomplished in the past, but in the 1980s and 1990s, want to subject himself and his reputation to this kind of criticism? What does he have to gain other than setting the record for being a septuagenarian on-track in the highest division of NASCAR?
  • If Shepherd’s car was as loose as he claims, why was a call not placed to the No. 33 team to pit?
  • How does NASCAR guard against this level of accident – where regardless of age, someone running so far off the pace could potentially be hazardous – could affect the Chase for the Sprint Cup? Especially in the new elimination format where there are fewer races to advance.

Answers from the sanctioning body need to be forthcoming fairly soon, and it would probably behoove NASCAR in the offseason, if not sooner, to examine its criteria for both minimum speed requirements and performing more stringent tests on older drivers seeking to compete.

Kubica, di Resta complete Williams F1 tests in Hungary

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Robert Kubica and Paul di Resta have both completed one-day tests for Williams in a 2014-spec Formula 1 car as part of the team’s evaluation for its 2018 line-up.

Williams is known to be considering a number of drivers to partner Lance Stroll at the team next year, including existing racer Felipe Massa.

Massa is thought to be going up against Kubica and di Resta for the 2018 drive, with the latter duo taking part in a private test at the Hungaroring in Budapest this week to aid the team’s evaluation.

After missing out on a 2018 Renault drive due to lingering questions about his physical condition six years after his rally accident, Kubica tested for Williams at Silverstone last week before getting back behind the wheel of the 2014 FW36 car in Hungary on Tuesday.

Kubica’s test was called “productive” by Williams, with the Pole handing duties over to Mercedes DTM racer di Resta on Wednesday.

Di Resta raced in F1 with Force India between 2010 and 2013 before returning to DTM, but made a surprise return at this year’s Hungarian Grand Prix with Williams when Massa was taken ill. Di Resta impressed on short notice, putting himself in contention for a full-time return to F1 in 2018.

Williams has one of the few remaining seats on offer in F1 for 2018, with Massa’s future known to be in question after a quiet campaign thus far.

The Brazilian had been due to retire from F1 at the end of last year, only for Williams to recall him after Valtteri Bottas’ late move up to Mercedes following Nico Rosberg’s surprise retirement.

Massa has made clear he would like to keep racing in F1 next year, but only if the deal is right and if Williams is determined to keep him.

While Massa, Kubica and di Resta appear to be the three leading contenders for the seat, Williams technical chief Paddy Lowe made clear in Japan there was a “large range” of drivers under consideration.

“You’ve probably seen a number of names that are floating around that we’re looking at, but honestly, the range is almost unlimited,” Lowe said.

“We will consider all ideas. We’re not in a super hurry to do so, and we’ll just make sure we land the best line-up we can.”