Pop quiz! What do these three NASCAR-related things have in common: swearing on national television, coming in too low during post-race inspection, and the body tolerance being too high on your left-rear by 1/16th of an inch?
The answer comes in the form of three penalties that affected drivers racing in the Chase for the Championship. Those are the only times in seven years the sanctioning body has stripped points in the playoffs, but the severity and circumstances of each teach us just how far this sport has to go in its battle to achieve consistency and credibility with its decisions in the public eye.
Let's take Item No. 1, tagged to
That slipup didn't just cost him a fine, but also 25 points, upheld on appeal in a ruling that's hotly debated to this day. It's one thing if you're driving an illegal car, but swearing?! Could you imagine if
Three years later,
That brings us to the third Chase penalty, a left-rear body tolerance issue in which the car was outside the specifications by the equivalent of 15 pieces of notebook paper. It's led to an atmosphere off the track somewhere between a soap opera and a circus since the penalty was released on Wednesday.
The ruling came just one day after a weirdly timed "almost" story in which officials admitted the No. 33 car came close to failing the same degree of tolerance at Richmond the week before -- meaning this penalty, if granted there, would have completely knocked the team out of the Chase. Bowyer came into his Friday press conference with a six-point
But when you step back from all the drama, it helps to take a look at the two previous infractions to gain perspective. Yes, NASCAR wants to make absolutely sure any violation of the rules is strictly enforced. It's important to keep integrity inside a playoff format that's already heavily criticized. But after two small incidents in two years, suddenly the organization runs the risk of destroying the championship chances of a team for an infraction that's highly debatable as to whether it even caused a performance advantage?
I talked to a handful of drivers and crew over the weekend, all of whom had a different take on an issue Bowyer rightfully claims, "80 percent of the media and fans don't understand." If there's that much debate, leaving so many people scratching their heads, is it really worth six times the penalty for a "too low" incident in 2007 that would seem to be just as marginal?
The bottom line is I just don't understand it, I don't see any consistency here, and I'm not sure I ever will. But not all of you agree, as we'll see with a long list of responses below; by the way, don't fail my inspection. Make your voice heard! Tbowles81@yahoo.com or
Let's get going...
I think you have a future career writing
That's a very underreported issue, it seems, the "mystery warning" Bowyer got after Richmond that could have been a compromise that let his No. 33 into the Chase unfairly. But keep in mind it's not the first time teams have been warned, as
"When you are warned, it is kind of a weird situation because, as a race team, that is your job to push it right up to the edge," he said, presumably referring to last fall's situation when Hendrick Motorsports was informed that two of its cars, Johnson's No. 48 and
Of course, such warnings muddy the issue of just what is legal and what is not. As
And that murkiness makes it completely understandable why Mr. Newman is privately upset about this ruling, especially considering he's got two straight eighth-place finishes that would have left him seventh in points, just 74 off Johnson's lead if Newman had made the Chase. It's ultimately not a theory I'd like to believe in, but just the fact NASCAR's left the door open on those types of fantasies is reason enough to emphasize how much it has mishandled this affair.
Here, here Geoff! Someone was reading my take on Thursday. No need to repeat it, just a standing offer to buy a round if I ever see you 'round the track.
Turnleftguy, the race winner gets automatically torn down each race as part of a trio of cars to make it to NASCAR's R & D Center. No surprise, though, that Clint Bowyer was one of those "random" selections after Dover, a selection that'll be all but automatic between now and the rest of the 2010 season -- no matter what happens on appeal.
Your other comments, though, remind us of the credibility issues after taking three days to bring a race car 1,000 miles away, only to declare it illegal. If testing can't be done at the track, well, the clock is ticking and at the absolute latest the car should be fully torn down and violations announced on Mondays. Forty-eight hours seems like far too much time, no matter what kind of high-tech, Bill Nye the Science Guy test is being done. This isn't a semester-long chemistry project, it's a real-life sporting event. There's a difference here.
Penny's point is the biggest issue I had with Hamlin's comments on Friday. Both these cars at Loudon had to be run through at-the-track post-race inspection a second time, and here's why, according to what I was told. Pressurized shocks caused the car to rise to the point where they initially failed. The reason is these shocks are set up to expand during the race, the pressure pushing up the rear height of the car, resulting in additional grip in a CoT that's notoriously difficult to handle under green. When the race is over, it can take awhile for these parts to cool off and lower the height of the car, which can cause an initial failure in post-race inspection.
Why did these guys get a second chance? It's unclear, especially considering the same issue in post-qualifying inspection cost
So why would Hamlin go all revival preacher on us and sermonize about the seriousness of other teams and drivers cheating? While what resulted was fun to watch, playing right into NASCAR's "Have at it, boys" mantra, Mr. Johnson had it right by simply focusing on the task at hand rather than getting caught up in someone else's mess. Don't cast doubt on others when you're living in a glass house; you never know when that's going to come back to bite you.
So Penny, I wish I had answers about why those two cars weren't penalized. But until there's some sort of public consistency across the board, we may never know.
Whether the height infraction constituted an advantage -- and if so, how much -- remains murky at best. But this type of conspiracy theory is just plain hogwash. Do you think this sport would take the bona fide unpopularity of a possible five-time champ over a Clint Bowyer Cinderella story? Honestly, there's only a handful of people NASCAR would choose Jimmie Johnson over right now: A) That annoying guy with the ShamWow commercials. B)
I think everyone else would be a better story. So no, no truth to that rumor.
This one's a popular topic, especially with
As for the NFL statement ... you're not alone. And that saddens me.
All right. So just because everyone's rich now there should be universal trust in the sanctioning body for every decision without protest? I'm not sure I get it.
Too many Bowyer e-mails to really get into this comment in-depth today. But it's worth pointing out the hideousness of the single-file racing at Dover, a borefest that sapped much-needed momentum from a monstrous start to NASCAR's Chase the week before. It's that type of stub-itself-in-the-foot pattern the sport's found itself saddled with all year, and it certainly doesn't help matters the next two events are on two of its least competitive facilities: Kansas and Fontana, the latter losing a date next year partly because of poor attendance.
And finally, our out-of-left -field e-mail for the week...
Forty-three cars, Dean, has been the nice random number NASCAR came up with in the late 1990s. This was after a fluctuation of starters at tracks at different lengths caused confusion to the point you would have 10 or 15 DNQs at a short track only starting 32 cars. So 43 appeared to be the best number that worked, one where a participant wouldn't get lost in the shuffle but where there would be enough competition each week that cars would actually have to fight just to qualify for the race. At first, that final spot was only reserved for the past champion's provisional, but by 1998 that number had been made standard across the board -- even if a racing legend didn't need a spot in the race.
As for your second question ... I know a guy who would actually take just $3,000 and put you on the hood of his Truck Series car. But Mr. Edwards? Even a small little decal is going to run you more money than that; and I'm not sure the small town of Warr Acres might want to dump its budget on a 5 x 7 decal to be on the side of the race car! If it does, that's the type of passion this sport needs.
"Met a lot of wounded soldiers with great attitudes today. We can all learn something from them." -