Chew Crew Gets Bitten Hard by NASCAR by Matt Kentfield
Post-Race Penalty Has the Veteran BES Team at a Crossroads
Chew's #99 team has been performing well against the young development drivers this season. (51 Photo)
Many of the headlines to come out of the NASCAR Busch East Series ranks over the course of the 2007 season have related to the impressive performance of the youth movement and NASCAR development programs that have seemingly come out of nowhere to run well against the series’ veterans.
The young rookies may be stealing the show, the veterans of the Busch East Series continue to soldier on and try their best to stay on top of the series even though they may not have the Cup-level budgets and resources of the development teams. Sometimes, though, that feat is tougher than usual thanks in large part to calls made by NASCAR Officials. For instance, Matt Kobyluck voiced some displeasure in the form of a handful of “bulls—t” exclamations in front of live television cameras in the series’ most recent event at Adirondack International Speedway (NY) after the veteran driver was black flagged for, in NASCAR’s eye, jumping a late-race restart.
Kobyluck may have been angry about the officials’ call, but his frustrations are shared in a different way with the Buzz Chew Racing #99 team after the combination of a non-call on the racetrack in the event’s final lap and a post-race penalty and fine for Crew Chief Ron “Spot” Ste-Marie.
Chew took the lead late in the 150-lap event after Kobyluck was black flagged. He continued to show the way until the final corner of the event, when spun racecars yielded onto the track just ahead of Chew, forcing the nine-year series veteran to check up and allowing Joe Gibbs Racing Development Driver Joey Logano to take the lead coming to the checkered flag.
Driver Bryon Chew and the #99 team thought a caution flag should’ve flown for the wrecking cars. But, they accepted their second place finish and underwent the post-race tech inspection process. That’s when the frustration level for the Chew crew pinned.
A rear end gear that was not within the boundaries set by the Busch East Series’ gear rule was beneath the #99 machine at Adirondack and was brought to the team’s attention in tech. An admitted mistake by the team turned into one of the heftiest penalties ever assessed in the series. Ste-Marie was given a suspension through the next three BES events, suspended from any NASCAR events until September 19th and placed on probation through the rest of the calendar year for the violation. Also, the race winnings and all points were docked from the team’s second-place finish and driver Bryon Chew was moved to the final finishing position, 26th.
Now, an outsider may be saying that the suspension is just considering the infraction likely improved the #99 Chevrolet’s performance. Not so fast, according to Ste-Marie.
“Last year at Waterford when they first started the spec motor, they started the gear rule. Fine, no big deal,” said Ste-Marie. “I understood the whole thing and I don’t argue with the gear rule. It’s perfect; makes life easy. There are no problems with it whatsoever.
“From Waterford until now, there’s been 12 races with the gear rule implemented. We’ve finished in the top-five eight out of the last 12 races that the series has had with the gear rule. They’ve teched the gears every time we’ve finished in the top-five. It’s known going into it; it’s not a secret. We’ve been there eight times; it’s not our first time (at Adirondack). So why would we cheat with the gear? It just makes no sense.
“So it’s not that we cheated with gear and we were turning more gear than everyone else, which is what you would do if you were cheating. We were 80 points less. If you took a quick change gear chart, the rule for Adirondack was a 5.15 to a 5.37 for a spec engine. You go over to the gear chart and for the gears for a quick change, it’d be a 5.35. So a 5.35 for a 4.86 ring and pinion is a 25 set. Problem being, we have a 4.11 ring and pinion. What happened was one of us at the shop, and there’s only two or three of us – we’re still one of the smaller Busch East teams and old-school 2-3 guys working 15-16 hours a day trying to compete with all these big teams; we’re still an old Busch North deal. It got overlooked and somebody put the wrong gear in the car. It was put in for a 4.86, not a 4.11. It’s as simple as that. We were 80 points less in gear.”
To put Ste-Marie’s assessment of the car’s capabilities in layman’s terms, the gear that was in the #99 car actually produced less power to the rear wheels than the gears that could be optimized within the rules.
“Was the wrong gear in the car? Absolutely, I’m not disputing that,” said Ste-Marie. “But those brain surgeons down at NASCAR think that with that low of a gear in the car, we ran the thing in third gear. Okay, well why if I know that we’re going to finish in the top-five and I know we’re going to get caught, wouldn’t I just put a higher gear in it and run the thing in fourth gear? It makes no sense.”
What made even less sense to Ste-Marie were the penalties that were dished out Tuesday morning.
“Then for the penalties that they assessed, that’s a whole different situation all together. It’s not like I got caught cheating with traction control or we took this spec motor and hogged it out, took the heads and cheated it all up. It was an honest mistake. We don’t have a history of multiple rule infractions. It’s absolutely insane.”
NASCAR Busch East Series Director Lee Roy based the penalties assessed to Ste-Marie on the suspension handed down to Eddie MacDonald and team owner and crew chief Rollie LaChance last year at New Hampshire International Speedway. Following MacDonald’s fifth-place on-track finish last July, a template to measure exhaust areas on the manifold did not quite fit. Rather than have the whole engine torn down for further inspection and endure the cost involved in the re-building of the engine [which the team had actually borrowed for the race from a third party], the low-buck #48 team decided to just take a penalty, which turned out to be an indefinite suspension (which was later reduced), loss of earnings and points from that race.
Bryon (left, with father and team owner Buzz Chew) was a first-time BES winner last season at Holland. (Ken Spring)
“It was based on a previous experience based on last year that involved the 48 team at New Hampshire,” Roy said of the #99 team’s penalty. “The severity of the situation was looked at very, very similar, that a team refused to give us the heads to their engine after post-race inspection. Their situation was such that at that time they were placed in last position and disqualified. They got zero points and zero money, but that was their choice. They knew what was going to happen to them and they made the conscious decision and refuse to give that engine. The suspension being I think three races.
“A committee reviews what I submitted to them, they take my recommendation and they look at the situation as to why the penalty was imposed, and they felt like I did, that (the Chew team’s penalty at Adirondack) needed to be a strong statement to ensure that the integrity of the series. It’s something we felt that strongly about. We’re not going to just slap somebody’s wrist; we’re not going to just fine them or that kind of situation. It had to be a very stiff penalty and that’s what it was.”
The reasoning for the penalty may be clear-cut for Roy, but that’s no consolation for Chew.
“It’s very unfair. This is the truth – it was a mistake,” said Chew, who entered the Adirondack event fourth in points and dropped to 10th after the penalty. “The gear that we put in there is a
lower gear, so to be honest with you, it hurt me. They put the wrong gear in the car. If anything, I was lugging coming off the corner, so that’s why I couldn’t get under Matt (Kobyluck) or Sean Caisse. It actually hurt me.
“If you look at any of the restarts, I was way late because my guys put the wrong gear in the car. I’m getting blamed for it being in third gear, but if I was in third gear, we would’ve been like over 9000 RPM. It would’ve hurt us by far. It was an honest mistake.
“When we told the officials that, since we’ve never been caught for cheating anyway, they were okay and sort of passive about it. And then to give a fine like this, if I was cheating, I would laugh at it. You caught me, ha ha ha, that’s funny, see you later. But I’m not cheating, I have no means of cheating and now with this kind of fine, it puts me in the position where it takes me completely out of going for second in points. I don’t think I could’ve caught Logano, but at least I was in the battle for second in points.”
Being moved from second to 26th in the race, and dropping so far in the standings, is disappointing for Chew. So is losing his Crew Chief for a few races. But the hits to both the wallet and the team’s pride that stings the most.
“The money that I have lost from the second place in points is astronomical,” said Chew. “I honestly think that this was an honest mistake, but if it wasn’t I would’ve told the truth. That’s how we are. We’ve never been caught cheating like that. I just think the penalty they have given us is just way out of control. I think they’re trying to make an example out of me and I don’t think that’s fair. I’ve been in this division for nine years and supporting them through the thick and thin – been there every time. I paid my bills and never said a word. I don’t voice any nasty opinions like some people do.”
The BES is all about racing for fun for Chew. (Ken Spring Photo)
“We’ve got to appeal the thing and all that crap, but I got on last night to Jayski and they’ve got this whole thing with NEXTEL Cup and Busch penalties,” said Ste-Marie. “If you do the percentages of what those guys like Kasey Kahne and the #17, they got kicked out for four races for blatantly cheating with shocks, unapproved aerodynamic devices and that sort of thing. They got kicked out for four races and 50 points. The percentage of 50 points for them with 36 races and the four race suspension for 36 races is a far cry from our 13-race schedule and me getting kicked out for three races and then stripping us of all our points and our money.
“What that comes down to is that puts us from fourth to I think 11th in points (revised points from NASCAR have the #99 actually in 10th), which winds up being a $4,300 fine (from the race winnings getting stripped) and fourth to 11th in the point fund from last year is about 28 grand. Apples to apples, with us having 13 races, a three-race suspension is a quarter of our season. That’s like telling Chad Knaus and Robbie Reiser they’ve got to skip 10 races. It’s completely out of the ballpark.
“The bottom line is, I apologize to the team, the sponsors and the fans for the mistake because I’m ultimately responsible for Is the Crew Chief. But, all we can do is to see where we can go from here.”
While Chew and Ste-Marie can sympathize with Matt Kobyluck’s frustrations following the Adirondack event, making the pain of the post-race penalty even worse was knowing their gear issues may have had a hand in Kobyluck’s black flag.
“In Matt’s defense, I called Perry (Waite, Kobyluck’s crew chief) and apologized because we’re real close, but the reason why Matt’s restarts look so bad was because we were so low on gear,” said Ste-Marie. “I asked them down there at NASCAR yesterday if any of those guys bothered watching the film or if any of those experts have ever been to Adirondack Speedway. You would’ve seen that we didn’t have any gear or we were lagging back. It’s just a tough deal.”
To recap, Kobyluck was penalized, fairly or unfairly, out of the lead. Chew had the lead going into the final corners when spun lapped cars came back onto the track and blocked his path, allowing Joey Logano to take the lead without a caution flag coming out, then the #99 team was penalized for gear issues. Logano, a NASCAR development driver ,took the win.
Could this be a way of the Busch East Series playing favorites towards the developmental, high-dollar programs?
“I definitely think that the veterans, as in Matt, myself and (Mike) Olsen, it just seems like we are not wanted there. There was a comment made to Spot that there was a reason we were so fast and we must’ve been cheating by a NASCAR official when he got his fine. I take that to heart.
“Our race program, over the last two or three years, has bumped up. We’ve been in contention to win almost every race,” said Chew. “I truly think that was a comment stating to me that they really don’t want you guys here, meaning the veterans. For us, as veterans, to win or do very well, it’s sort of a letdown to them. If you don’t think I’m correct, then every race I’m in and I’ve come in the top-five, which is five of them, I’ve gotten no press from them whatsoever. I finish second, ‘oh Chew finished second.’ I get a little bit of press, but all the kids and all the development drivers get everything. I’ve been saying it since the third or fourth race after I finished second at Elko, they don’t really want me there. If they don’t want me there, then just tell me. I don’t want to be treated any differently and get a penalty like this, then we won’t be there. I have supported this division for nine years, when they had problems.”
Chew (#99) has had many battles with fellow BES veterans such as Mike Olsen (#61) over the years. (Ken Spring Photo)
Roy, however, says that is not the case.
“Every team is important to us; the first place team, the last place team and every team in between,” said Roy. “I don’t differentiate. I like to think that my officials don’t. I want every team that wants to compete on the Busch East Series to feel that they can come race with us on an even playing field and they have the opportunity to do the best they can with the equipment and the driver and the team that they’ve got behind them. Beyond that, I certainly feel that we try to treat everyone the same, it doesn’t matter what number is on the side of their car.
“I can understand the frustration any time you’ve got a good car and don’t win. I can only relate that at one point in my very abbreviated racing involvement, for three years I
was involved with Ricky Craven and I acted as Team Manager and at times Crew Chief. I know all too well the other side of that fence. I’ve been down that road and I’ve had victory taken away from us by what I thought were unjust calls, but somebody had to make those calls.
“I don’t think I’ll ever go to a racetrack, whether I’m involved with NASCAR or somebody else or on the other side of the fence, where everybody’s going to agree with the calls. They have to be instantaneous, they have to be based on the best information that you have or the best sight that you had to see the situation. I could go into the whole last two laps of that race in detail and what went on and so forth, but at this point it’s irrelevant. It was run, it was finished under the checkered flag and I felt very, very confident that the way that unfolded, certainly during the last two laps and throughout the race, I’m very comfortable that the Race Director did an excellent job.”
So where does that leave Bryon Chew, Ron “Spot” Ste-Marie and the rest of the Buzz Chew Racing team to go from here. Could the Busch East Series be losing one of the longest-running teams currently on the tour?
“I’m pretty devastated at this particular moment,” said Chew. “The penalty is way too harsh. The words that were said about our team were way too harsh. I don’t know where we’re going to go from here. We have to sit down and evaluate our situation. We have to go through the process of appealing, which is something we shouldn’t even have to do, and then make a decision from there.”