Monday, 14 July 2014
Shepherd accident raises age question in NASCAR
Morgan Shepherd's senior status has become an age-old problem in NASCAR.
Just how much longer can the 72-year-old driver race?
Considerably older and slower than any driver on the track, the 72-year-old Shepherd took out contender Joey Logano in the second half of Sunday's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Shepherd's No. 33 Chevrolet was about 15 laps off the pace when he connected with Logano. Logano was running second with less than 100 laps left when he got tangled up with Shepherd and they crashed. Logano was forced to the garage. Shepherd completed 278 of the 305 laps and was 39th.
''I feel like there should be a driver's test before you get out in a Cup car and make sure you know how to drive before you drive one,'' Logano said.
Shepherd extended his mark as the oldest driver to start a race in NASCAR's Sprint Cup series. He made his Cup debut in 1970 and won four times in NASCAR's top series.
He finished as high as fifth in the final standings in 1990 and hadn't started a Cup race since 2006. He last ran a full season in 1996.
Jim Fitzgerald was 65 when he raced in the 1987 Cup race at Riverside International Raceway. James Hylton is the oldest driver to start a NASCAR race. He was 76 for the 2011 Truck Series race at Pocono.
NASCAR has no age limit. Shepherd finished 43rd at Phoenix in his only other race of the season.
NASCAR official Robin Pemberton said as long as Shepherd passed his physical, and his car passed inspection and qualified, he was free to drive.
''He met everything he needed to meet,'' said Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition. ''He was above minimum speed. He pulled over to let Joey go by and it's a responsibility for all competitors. Everybody has a responsibility to lay off each other.''
''It's an accident. Those things happen. It could happen to anybody. It could happen with any competitor.''
Logano wasn't interested in any defense of Shepherd.
''It is just dumb that it happened,'' he said. ''I feel like that should be stuff that shouldn't happen at this level of racing.''
Team Penkse teammate Brad Keselowski won the race. Owner Roger Penske said Shepherd was a good friend who deserved to continue racing.
''That's the great thing about the sport, if you want to tee it up here, bring your car and have a team, we let them run,'' Penske said. ''I don't feel bad about it other than the fact that Joey got knocked out.''
Shepherd, who often drives in a Racing With Jesus car, was unrepentant. Without a chance of fielding a competitive ride, he still had no plans of calling it a career.
''Was he the only guy who wrecked?,'' Shepherd asked. ''That answers that.''