Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday June 28, 2007
Dear Brian, Mike, John, and the rest of the people in position to make up rules as you go along:
I know your jobs aren't easy. I probably wouldn't want any of them. I'm a school teacher, though, so I know a thing or two about being fair. Fairness isn't about convenience. It isn't about making an example of someone, and it isn't about proving a point. Fairness is about applying the rules to everyone in the same manner.
I thought you had been trying to do just that this year. After all, you came down hard on teams with aerodynamic alterations at Daytona. After all, you told everyone that you would penalize offenders with violations on the Car of Tomorrow, and you did. When the No. 8 car was found to have an illegal wing angle after qualifying you punished them according to your previous statement. After all, they had tampered with the COT in competition (qualifying, even the sham it has become with the top-35 rule, is still competition, make no mistake about it) and they had been warned.
Had that violation been discovered in the weekend's opening inspection, I'm sure that you would have done what you had always done-politely declined to let the team finish inspection until they had fixed the issue, at which point you would put the sticker on the windshield and hand over the wing. This was, after all, the way you handled the issue with the fender on the No. 16 COT earlier in the year, after all. This was how other teams with discrepancies on the COT and the regular car were treated.
Until Sonoma, when, it seems, someone had heard rumblings that you perhaps favored one or two teams when it came to on-track calls and various penalties. Were you determined to prove them wrong at any cost? Was that why you chose to abandon fairness in favor of public opinion?
For when you pulled the No. 24 and No. 48 cars from the inspection line last week at Sonoma, you suddenly decided to up the ante. Although the template fit the cars, there was an area between the templates that you didn't like. So, instead of allowing those teams to fix the issue (something that was able to be done quickly and easily) and missing some of practice, you made them sit in the garage all day, because missing qualifying is surely a major penalty on a road course. The No. 60 team later said that you allowed them to fix a wheel issue during a later inspection with no penalty at all, even though that issue was discovered after qualifying and before the race. In fact, you have only harshly penalized a team once for an opening day tech issue once, in 2002, when you took a mere 25 points from the No. 2 team for an illegal spoiler on a superspeedway car.
The parking penalty cost both teams points on race day, because everyone knows that starting position is paramount on a road course. In all likelihood, it cost more than the 25-point "precedent" that had been set five years ago. And in that instance, that team had been allowed to practice and qualify their car for the race. At the very least, these two teams should have had to take their backup cars off the haulers and gone through tech, practice, qualifying, and the race in those machines.
But you took full advantage of an opportunity to show the world that you can punish whomever, whenever, even those that many thought perhaps you favored. I do not believe that you will, as you well should, park every COT that has an issue in opening technical inspection at New Hampshire, barring every one from practice and qualifying. That is the only way that you can salvage any credibility, any shard of the fairness that a sanctioning body should put above all else.
Adding insult to injury, you further penalized those two teams this week, as if being made an example of wasn't enough. You punished them as if they had competed in equipment that was less than legal, when in fact they never took so much as one lap in cars that were outside of your rather vague parameters. Had the violations been discovered after qualifying, and thus given the teams an unfair advantage in competition, these penalties would have been fair and consistent. As it is, they are just plain wrong. Mr. Darby, you said this week that “if this modification had been done at Michigan it would have been different. That was the old car and the old way of doing business. If a team had modified the fender in the same area and got too excessive with it, they would have been told to go back to the garage and fix it and there would have been no real harm nor foul.”
Why, then, were the 60 and 16, among several others, allowed to fix the issues found in opening inspection for COT races while only the 24 and 48 were not, especially when the issue on the No. 16 was in the same area of the car-the fender-that you found the issues at Sonoma?
What was done this week was not fair; it was not consistent with what you have done for years; and it was not justified in any way. It was used as a public image opportunity, not as the opportunity to police the sport fairly.
Competition is about innovation, about trying to get any small edge, about never giving less than the best. Policing the rules in any sport is right and necessary. But in so doing, you must first be fair. In this case, either pull EVERY team with an opening tech violation from practice and qualifying, or allow EVERY team to fix the issue and go through again. You showed last week that you are unwilling to do this and so are unwilling to treat every competitor fairly. That's a shame, because as the sanctioning body, your first concern should be fairness. Instead, image took that spot, while fairness in competition took a backseat. That is really a shame.
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