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Hot/Not: Conspiracies Aside, NASCAR Could Do Better on Penalty Questions

Jimmie Johnson Won Sunday's Texas Race Over Brad Keselowski Fairly, but You Can't Blame Those Who Took Issue

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Settle down, Brad Keselowski fans. Step off that ledge, conspiracy theory-believing anti-Jimmie fans.

Breathe deep. Relax.

You're overreacting. But I don't blame you.

Yes, Sunday's finish at Texas was as fair and square as they come.

Jimmie Johnson proved that he's still Jimmie Johnson. Brad Keselowski made a valiant effort - on only two fresh tires, nonetheless - to steal some late-Chase thunder from the most clutch driver NASCAR will likely ever see. He came up short, but just barely.

But he didn't come up short because NASCAR let Johnson have an advantage - cheat is probably your term - on the final restart. I know, I know: Johnson wasn't the leader and still led the field across the start/finish line. And, yes, I know, that's a technical violation of NASCAR rules.

But Johnson didn't win because he had a 12-inch advantage for the final three miles. Johnson won because he had more grip in his tires and a willingness to drive his No. 48 deeper in Texas' turn one than he had all night. It was a gutsy move, but not one outside Johnson's norm.

It certainly wasn't something we all haven't seen before - which likely is the biggest accelerant on the post-race fire of accusations that NASCAR was treating Johnson favorably. Had Brad Keselowski pulled the same wily move, I'd bet the tone would've sounded quite different.

"That Keselowski, he's sure something. Can you believe he gamed Five-Time like that?"

Instead, NASCAR fans haven't forgotten the stink-show abilities of Johnson, Chad Knaus and the rest of that typically impenetrable fortress of a racing team. Even Tony Stewart's heroics at Homestead last year feel more muddy in the memory bank than Johnson winning seemingly every darn race. (He's actually winning one in every four Chase races at this point, mind-numbing as that number is.)

If Jimmie can't be beat, NASCAR shouldn't help his cause, right?

And so, the fans who mostly just like to see the No. 48 struggle have come out loud and clear against NASCAR's penalty system in the hours and days following that gripping Texas finish.

And it's hard to blame them.

As much as NASCAR is about fast cars, crafty personalities and jaw-dropping thrills and spills, it's also been forever a sport with inconsistent officiating. Yes, there's a black-and-white rulebook, but the lines for using it directly are quite gray.

Most of the time, I'd say, they have to be.

But then there are other times like Sunday's race when a specific call on a specific rule just helps to muddy the water. Fans have already seen the inconsistency of NASCAR's restart rules all season - ranging from Carl Edwards at Richmond in the spring, to Elliott Sadler in the Nationwide Series at Indianapolis.

In both instances, drivers were penalized for jumping the restart and had their races ruined for actions easily defendable as impossible to avoid.

But then there have been other times, just like Johnson's at Texas, where NASCAR indiscriminately ruled beating the leader to the line was fair play. Drivers allegedly feel comfortable with NASCAR's rationale for their enforcement until just about the time a driver actually gets called for it. Further, fans just mostly sit in the dark - knowing the restart rule isn't clear-cut and called seemingly on NASCAR's whim.

Obviously, it's not done that way. NASCAR has extremely professional people in extremely important positions making officiating calls on the fly during the race. It's an inexact science, and just like any holding or pass interference penalty in the NFL, one that can massively derail a driver's shot at winning.

Knowing that, it's easy to understand why so many were up in arms after Johnson's win. Those fans deserve no derision or scorn for their passion and level of incredulousness at a uncalled penalty. Instead, they deserve a sanctioning body that explains rule calls of such important situations clearly, quickly and concisely.

It's an area that NASCAR has gotten better doing, but also one with plenty of room left to improve.

HOT: Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski are going to make this title fight rival last year's epic finish. That's exciting.

NOT: TV ratings for NASCAR continued their plummet despite a great Texas finish. It'd help if the first 300 miles weren't a fall-asleep-on-the-couch yawnfest.

NOT: Memo to Eddie Gossage: you've got to fix the infield grass at Texas. Cars shouldn't need a new front clip just because they slid through the landscaping.

HOT: That's four top-five finishes in five races for Kyle Busch.

NEUTRAL: I'll give thanks to Denny Hamlin for his immediate unbridled passion following Saturday's Nationwide race, but I'll also acknowledge that he's missing the boat if he thinks Austin Dillon's only reason for being a Nationwide Series competitor is his Sprint Cup owner grandfather.

Dillon, whether it be wins or solid finishes, has proven he belongs.

HOT: Give a call to Ryan Blaney for nearly tracking down the win in that Nationwide Series race. There's a young crop of drivers in those ranks who aren't far from booting some underperformers from the Sprint Cup field in coming years.

HOT: Kurt Busch, eighth Sunday night, gave Furniture Row Racing it's best non-restrictor plate finish since a third-place run at Indianapolis last season.

NEUTRAL: It just seems like Marcos Ambrose is going to forever be that guy who can get near the front, but never close it out.

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