Finley Factor: Three things to ponder after Charlotte

Charlotte was an interesting one, to say the least...

Finley Factor: Three things to ponder after Charlotte
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford
Brad Keselowski damage
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford
Race action
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Terry Labonte and Kyle Larson
Terry Labonte poses prior to his final NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series start
Terry Labonte after a big crash
Bobby Labonte, Phoenix Racing Chevrolet
Terry Labonte, FAS Lane Racing Ford
Terry Labonte waits to qualify
Terry Labonte, Stoddard Ford
Terry Labonte, Stoddard Ford

This week's penalties and why they are laughable, ones to watch at Talladega, and the last race of a legend! Let’s get this thing started.

Consistency? Nope...

Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart have been given slap on the wrist cash penalties by NASCAR for the circus that happened at Charlotte. This, along with Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin getting nothing is absolutely ludicrous and shows that NASCAR likes to let these guys go at it. If I were NASCAR, I’d step in here and show that a NASCAR track isn’t the place to do all of this at, and you will face major repercussions if you do so. If Kevin Ward Jr. died for a reason, it’s to show that the wrestling mindset of fighting or wagging fingers is incredibly dumb and outdated or, if you don’t agree with me, will regularly bite NASCAR in the you know what when something like Ward happens and 24 hour news channels show Stewart throwing a helmet while debating it.

And if you say it sells tickets, then where was everybody at Saturday night? They either weren’t at Charlotte or were invisible ... All I saw were chairs. Heck, most of the marketing revolving around SMI sister track Bristol revolves around clips of fights, and they haven’t come close to selling out in years.

What I would do to those involved

I’d penalize Keselowski, Kenseth, and Hamlin points AFTER this round of the Chase is over. Let’s take 20 from each so that they can go into Martinsville in the hole (If they make it that far ... Brad is behind the cut-off by a country mile and Kenseth is behind by a point). And if they don’t make it that far, which is possible, then they will still get the points penalty in the race to tenth and a spot on stage in Las Vegas. No tolerance, people.

Who's going to win at Talladega?

If I still played NASCAR fantasy, my three-man team this week would be Dale Earnhardt Jr. (The favorite), Clint Bowyer (The sleeper), and Casey Mears (The dark horse). Earnhardt Jr. goes into Dega knowing that only way he can get into the next round of the Chase for sure, is by winning this race. You don’t bet against a man called Dale Earnhardt at Talladega though.

Bowyer, over the past 10 races at ‘Dega, has two victories and an average finish of 8.3. That type of consistency is almost unheard of here. Although Mears has a better record at Daytona, it’s still pretty amazing, with three top 10s in the last five races at the World Center of Speed.

A last hooray for a NASCAR legend?

This weekend will probably mark the end of the 36 year career of Terry Labonte. When Labonte made his first start at the Southern 500 at the Darlington Raceway on Labor Day weekend in 1978, Jimmy Carter was president and Pope John Paul I was on the cover of TIME, less than a month before his untimely death. A TV show named Dallas premiered earlier in the year, and minimum wage was a cool $2.30.

In 1978, Labonte only ran five races with the Billy Hagan team and impressively had an average finish of 12th, including a 4th in the 21 year old’s debut race, which was and arguably still is the second biggest race of the year and securing a full-time ride with Hagan the following year. Labonte, the 1984 and 1996 Winston Cup (Now Sprint Cup) champion, didn’t miss a single race for the next 20+ years, and had 25 full time seasons in his career. Terry also helped to pave the way for another long-time champion in the Cup series; his younger brother Bobby Labonte.

Although Bobby hasn’t outright said it yet, it’s very likely that his days in the Cup series are over as well, with his final race being at Indianapolis this August. Although Bobby throughout his career has been overshadowed by both Terry and by another member of the 1993 rookie class (One Jeff Gordon), he’s still no slouch ... 21 victories and the 2000 Cup championship are in his trophy case, and a probable future induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame soon enough.

A career to be remembered

The first and so far only active Cup driver to be nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the quiet Texan had only two nicknames in his long career ... Ice Man, on account of his cool demeanor under pressure, and Iron Man, for starting in 655 consecutive races, bested only by other future Hall of Famers in Ricky Rudd, Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, and brother Bobby in the years since.

Labonte’s records include having the third most starts of all time, the longest time between championships (12 years), and one of only 13 to have multiple Southern 500 victories. The Southern 500 was an important race for Terry- first start, first victory, and final victory-but easily the finest moment in his career was the NAPA 500 at Atlanta in the final race of the 1996 season, where Terry clinched the championship while Bobby won the race. The brothers, two of the quietest champions in the history in this sport, shared a special victory lap side-by-side.

His career will forever be linked to Dale Earnhardt Sr. Although the two were friends off of the track, they both will always be known for Earnhardt wrecking Labonte on the last lap twice in the same race at Bristol Motor Speedway in 1996 and then 1999. Earnhardt won the 1996 event, but Labonte actually made it across the line before Earnhardt in 1999- moments that are played to this day whenever the Cup series visits Bristol. Labonte is also the only person to ever bring Mr. Hendrick home a championship in the 5 car, a feat men such as Kyle Busch and Geoff Bodine haven’t done, and Kasey Kahne hasn’t come close to it so far.

Although I’d personally love to see Terry come back for one final start next year for the Southern 500’s move back to Labor Day weekend, it’s perfectly fine for the 57 year old to end his career now. Terry retired from full-time competition ten years ago and was in quality equipment last in 2006, with 2007 being the final time he competed at a top level in a race (Sonoma). It’s always great however to see a driver retire when they feel like it, not when they are forced out of the sport.

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