Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday May 2, 2008
When it comes to the rules, it’s long been lamented that NASCAR writes
with disappearing ink. More often than not, the complaints are about the rules not being applied fairly, which is often the case. However, it seems to me that the rules could use a little tweaking in the consequences department. The outcome does not always make the most sense in light of the infraction.
The punishment should fit the crime.
For example, if a car is found to be illegal after qualifying, the time is thrown away. However, under current NASCAR rules, if the team is in the Top 35 in owner points, they race anyway, while those outside go home. In essence, there are two separate punishments for the same crime. That’s just not right. The Top 35 rule should apply to those whose cars qualified within the rules, period.
Another time when the punishment was almost, but not quite right was last summer at Sonoma, when the cars of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson were caught with funky fenders that resulted in a myriad of penalties, some of which have never been seen since. I agree completely that if a car fails opening technical inspection, NASCAR should pull them from practice. But if that is the case, every car, every week that fails opening inspection should miss practice, no questions asked. Currently most are allowed to fix the issue and re-inspect.
I don’t agree that those cars should have been pulled from qualifying. They should have had to fix them and, having missed practice, gone out with the best setups they could think of with no practice time and hoped for the best. Otherwise, a locked in car has a competitive advantage over a team outside the magic Top 35, should they receive the penalty Gordon and Johnson got slapped with.
Then you get to the heart of the matter. Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at Talladega provided the case in point. Clint Bowyer got socked with an extra trip to pit road for coming off pit road and blending with traffic too soon, a move which could have caused a huge wreck. Cars coming off the flat apron onto the high banking are unstable and cars closing at a faster speed just beg for trouble. Bowyer got lucky and didn’t cause the Big One.
Enter Kevin Lepage.
Lepage made the same mistake that Bowyer had earlier, only he made it with the lead pack of cars bearing down on him running approximately 70 mph faster than he was. Some cars did get around Lepage, but it was inevitable that they wouldn’t all be so lucky. Lepage’s car was destroyed, so NASCAR couldn’t give him the same penalty as Bowyer. NASCAR chose not to penalize at all, probably figuring that enough damage had been done.
Not quite. A fitting punishment for Lepage’s dangerous lack of judgment is actually quite simple: the $24,608 (and yes, the size of that purse is a crime in itself) that Lepage won should have been instead distributed to the teams whose cars were wrecked by his carelessness. A punishment of this type would certainly not be well-received by the sponsors, which is, ultimately, the point. Threat of sponsor or money loss might make some drivers think about the moves they make on track. That would be a good thing.
I don’t think beating and banging and showing personality is bad. It is certainly not “detrimental to stock car racing” in any way. But sometimes it is detrimental to a competitor’s chances of a decent finish, and that’s when NASCAR needs to look long and hard at their rules. A fine and even a point penalty of the size that’s been given in the past isn’t a deterrent. Finishing one spot behind the car taken out by a driver’s recklessness might send a stronger message.
NASCAR should take a look at the rule book and revamp some rules so that the punishments fit, without exceeding, the infraction they are handed out for. It might make some drivers and teams think about their actions-without paying more than they should. There’s more than one place for parity in racing.
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