The Frontstretch: Breaking the Rules Just Ain't What It Used To Be by Amy Henderson -- Thursday August 16, 2007

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Breaking the Rules Just Ain't What It Used To Be

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday August 16, 2007


Just when you thought it was safe to go out of the house…

NASCAR goes and does it again. The "it" in question is the decision to make an arbitrary call with no regard to the rulebook or precedent set in previous years or weeks. Within a seven-day stretch, NASCAR made a strong statement about what it means for a driver to be on probation and then completely ignored it when the issue came up in competition.

Following an on-track incident at the Busch Series race in Montreal last week, NASCAR placed Robby Gordon on probation. In itself, the action was both warranted and consistent with past incidents. However, what followed was not. In their press release, NASCAR noted that should Gordon partake in any other rules infraction "that is deemed by NASCAR officials as detrimental to stock car racing or to NASCAR, or is disruptive to the orderly conduct of an event, he will be suspended indefinitely from NASCAR."

I mistakenly took that to mean that a driver in violation of a NASCAR-imposed probation would receive heavy punishment. Obviously, I was wrong.

Less than a week after NASCAR seemed to finally define what it means to violate probation, they refused to uphold their own policies not once, but twice. When Kevin Harvick and Juan Pablo Montoya got out of their cars after an incident at Watkins Glen and engaged in a shoving match (and, yes, it was a pretty weak one at that; the phrase "You fight like a girl" comes to mind), NASCAR did not penalize either driver, despite a clear precedent set in 2006 and their statements about drivers on probation.

Wimpy or not, shoving another driver is in violation of NASCAR's rules. Just ask Jeff Gordon, who was fined ten grand and placed on probation for the first time in his thirteen-year Cup career following a pit road incident in which he shoved Matt Kenseth. Gordon, for the same infraction that both Harvick and Montoya committed in full view of the television cameras, got off lightly because he wasn't already on probation at the time. Not so Harvick and Montoya. Both are already on probation for prior incidents this season, Harvick until October, Montoya through December.

NASCAR had the precedent-and the obligation due to that precedent-to penalize both drivers for the incident. Not only that, but due to their statement on probation violations made just six days prior, they also dropped the ball on enforcing the policy by suspending both drivers for at least one race, if not indefinitely.

No matter what John Darby personally thinks of the incident (the Nextel Cup Series Director said on Monday he thought the incident was "darn cool") he is under obligation to uphold the NASCAR rule book. Section 12-4-F of said rule book reads as follows regarding the penalty for physical altercations: "Any Member who participates in fights in the pits, on the track, or on the race premises: a fine, and/or disqualification, and/or loss of championship points, and/or loss of finishing positions in the Event, and/or probation, and/or suspension."

In English, the rule book says if you fight, you get in trouble. And according to NASCAR, if you get in trouble when you're already in trouble, you get suspended. At least if your name is Robby Gordon.

And therein lies the rub. Had Harvick had an impromptu shoving match with another driver, I have to wonder if the consequences would have been the same. The bottom line is, NASCAR blew this one. Big time. By failing to uphold the written rules and also failing to follow their own written statement, the sanctioning body takes a huge hit in credibility with fans, teams, and drivers. Unless there is a separate rule book for each driver (and Robby Gordon apparently has his own edition), the rules need to be upheld in the same manner for everyone. Unfortunately, NASCAR proved this week that they are not willing to do this. Sad, really, because it would have been so simple to do the right thing.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
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©2000 - 2008 Amy Henderson and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

08/17/2007 06:42 AM

Amy, you should know by now that NASCAR has no intention of being consistent with their “rule book.” There are so many examples no one can keep track of them. All of their rules enforcement is dependent upon who is involved, how popular they are, who their sponsors are, and how badly they need to sell tickets to the next “show.” It’s all a big joke and it won’t change as long as the Frances are in contol of sanctioning.

M. B. Voelker
08/17/2007 07:05 AM

You call that a fight? It was just yelling at each other with body language.

I’m a very strict parent, but if my kids had been involved in a scuffle like that they wouldn’t have gotten more than a stern look and a “Play nice, boys.”

One has to wonder if you’ve ever spent any time among men in their natural environment — where they’re interacting with each other instead of attempting to impress the women around them.

Male friends push, shove, headlock, wrestle, noogie, give wedgies to, and even punch each other. That behavior, like the Harvick-Montoya scuffle, is part of their ongoing and completely ordinary dominance-sorting and they establish and maintain their “pecking-order”.

As a woman whose friends, especially in the high school and college years, have mainly been guys I’ll walk you through this:

Harvick and Montoya confronted each other. Harvick used his height in an intimidation posture. The shorter JPM demonstrated that he wasn’t intimidated by his willingness to briefly put hands on his opponent. Harvick removed Montoya’s hands and, again, displayed his superior size. Montoya moved forward to reinforce his lack of intimidation.

Then the Nascar officials established who was truly dominant by asserting their authority — first separating the opponents, then taking them to the trailer to tell them, “Play nice, boys.”

While women who went through the same sequence of events would have been well along in a genuine fight — we do our dominance-sorting in a very different way — for men that confrontation was a minor issue.

For comparison think of Tony and Kevin dumping Spencer off the wall. If a pair of women had done that to another woman it would have a severely humiliating gesture. But for guys it was a friendly joke.

During the entire Harvick-Montoya scuffle both guys were wide-open for any truly aggressive move — a punch in the gut, a knee in the groin, or a wrestling hold. Neither party even attempted to turn it into a true fight.

Have a sense of proportion!

08/17/2007 08:03 AM

Amy………..I thought we all knew by now that the NA$CAR rule book is written in pencil with a BIG eraser.

08/17/2007 11:33 AM

You all forget that one of the participants is the supposed saving grace in the Hispanic community. The problem is that Brian France, by anointing JPM this, has shown that NASCAR is still run by a bunch of redneck racist and I used to like NASCAR. JPM is liked by COLUMBIANS that about it. He was booed in Mexico. He is not liked by ALL HISPANICS. This is a news flash to Brian, I know. That is why no penalties were handed out. He has been punished once this year. To have him sit out a race or more, in Brian’s eyes would be offend his precious new market. Brian couldn’t find his brain with a road map, 3 guides, both hands, and Dorothy & The Wizard.

I do not watch NASCAR on TV or listen to it on the radio. The only reason I still pay attention to NASCAR is the drivers. It’s not their fault that their chosen series has been taken over by the one of the dumbest human being to inherit a company. I check out the websites that are not owned by the media networks or the France family, I like to help someone else earn a buck from racing.

08/17/2007 12:41 PM

Good article Amy!

First off I want to say that I don’t think drivers should be punished for shoving someone. But what is good for one driver should be good for them all. It’s moments like this that make me laugh at the people who have the “Henrdick gets preferential treatment” crap.

I really wonder if this incident had happened between Harvick and a different driver if there would have been no penalty. I think NASCAR didn’t want to punish their Diversity darling and they couldn’t not fine him and fine Kevin so they didn’t do anything. I knew Harvick was already on probation, but forgot that Montoya was too. Let’s see if Joh Darby still thinks it’s “cool” the next time someone get in a shoving match and there better not be fines. Nothing surprises me anymore with how inconsistent NASCAR is.

08/17/2007 01:40 PM

If a NASCAR rule is broken
but nobody is around to see it,………..
does it still make a sound?

08/17/2007 03:15 PM

Tim, you nailed my pont exactly! It’s not about HOW they scuffled, the point is they DID.

MB, I think you missed my point. I don’t deny that Harvick and Montoya’s little locking of horns was not very forceful (kinda wimpy, in fact) and yes, men DO act like that, probably more frequently than women would like. However, as soon as they shoved, NASCAR was obligated to follow their precedent. Jeff gordon shoved Matt Kenseth and was penalized. It is in black and white in the rulebook that fighting of any kind is expressly prohibited. THAT was my point-that NASCAR has a written rule that they have previously enforced that they chose to ignore because, IMO, they favor one of the drivers involved to an outrageous degree.

As far as telling them to “play nice,” that obviously didn’t work, since both were already on probation for failing to do so. If big brother shoves little brother and gets told to “play nice,” with no other consequences, chances are he’ll shove little brother a bit harder next time, becasue, after all, it was okay with Mom before…

08/17/2007 11:11 PM

Amy… NASCAR does what it wants and when it wants.

The confrontation between Harvick and Montoya isn’t worthy of any comments. After 40 years of going to races… and seeing conflicts between competitors I can say all the uproar is about nothing.

Drop the drama; it’s all moot! You can scream, bellow, write nasty columns… ain’ nuttin’ going to happen!

08/18/2007 10:14 AM

I would agree with this article, however I cannot find myself doing that. Why? Just because NASCAR had set a precedent for situations such as those described in the article, doesn’t mean it is a good precedent. Should NASCAR have penalized Jeff Gordon for shoving Matt Kenseth in the garage? In my opinion, NO. It really seems like instances like that are glorified only because the media is in their faces. If that were not on television, there would not have been any consequences.

In my opinion, therefore, NASCAR had set a BAD precendent in 2006 with the Gordon/Kenseth incident. They made the right call with the Harvick/Montoya incident.

Steve M.
08/20/2007 05:30 AM

Amy, thanks so much for bringing into light the Gordon/Kenseth shove-fest and the penalties that Jeff paid. I, like everyone else who saw the “encounter” between KH and JPM, laughed at such a sad state of manly display. However, I was upset the following week when neither driver was fined, or worse yet, penalized even more due to the fact that they were both already on probation for previous violations. I have, and will continue to watch NASCAR, but they (Brian France) once again lost more of my respect for their lack of consistency.

08/20/2007 05:54 PM

the rules are made for the moment—unless you are Robby Gordon—since when does the France family have to answer to anyone??


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