The Frontstretch: Crime and Punishment 101: Why NASCAR Needs a Refresher by Amy Henderson -- Friday March 2, 2012

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Crime and Punishment 101: Why NASCAR Needs a Refresher

Holding a Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday March 2, 2012

 

The 2012 NASCAR season is barely a week old and already the sanctioning body is throwing its weight around the garage, this time in the form of fines, suspensions, and points deductions for the No. 48 team, which was found to have an illegal C-post in the opening technical inspection. At first glance, this is NASCAR patrolling the garage, making sure that no team is breaking the rules, and making sure everyone knows that any infraction found in opening tech will be dealt with in a fair and equitable manner. That’s supposed to be a good thing, right? NASCAR is really cracking down on cheating, right?

Well, no. Because when you look closer at the situation, including similar situations in recent years, there are some glaring inconsistencies.

Let’s start with that first inspection. According to several sources, the No. 48 was singled out before the inspection for a closer look. Why? Perhaps it stemmed from the Talladega race last fall, when Chad Knaus, while looking directly at a television camera, told driver Jimmie Johnson to hit the rear end of the car on something if he won. Bear in mind that that car passed four separate inspections that weekend with no issues. NASCAR never had any reason to believe that Knaus’s comment was anything more than smoke and mirrors, a way to get inside the heads of the competition, something both he and Johnson excel at. So, why single out a car before it even hits the inspection line?

Well, then how about those C-posts? NASCAR has never said where they were out of tolerance, nor by how much. The final ruling was that the sanctioning body “didn’t like” how they looked. Really? If officials not liking how something looks was grounds for a penalty, several drivers would be out of a job.

Over the years and myriad of violations seen at the Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR has never proven able to standardize its penalization of race teams for violations that occur prior to taking the green flag.

In case you missed it, the No. 48 fit the template. That was never in question. And the car never even hit the track. Except, that is for the four times it raced in 2011, where it was inspected at least 16 times, including a complete teardown at NASCAR’s R&D center. According to team officials, the C-posts were never changed. If that’s true, then why are the posts suddenly illegal? There were no rules changes issued in the off-season regarding the C-post configuration. If the car really was in violation of a rule and passed 16 inspections, perhaps NASCAR needs to invest in some new officials, or a better training program.

Because if they could miss a violation on one car 16 times, what else are they missing?

Now for the sake of argument, let’s say that the No. 48 did get a make-over in the off season. It was presented at preseason testing…if it looked that wrong, wouldn’t someone from NASCAR have said something?

There are really two things at the heart of this matter: when the alleged infraction was found, and why the penalties for cars that never get on the racetrack are often heavier than cars that are found to be illegal after they have competed, and often won. This is not about the No. 48; it’s about every team that shows up, every week, and their fans.

Here’s the thing: teams don’t show up at the track attempting to race with a template violation. They show up with a car that they hope will satisfy the NASCAR inspectors. If NASCAR allows something through, it’s not cheating, because the people who make the rules didn’t find it illegal. But if it doesn’t satisfy the inspectors, that’s where the questions start. The answer isn’t always the same.

And that’s where NASCAR really fails its teams and fans. In other sports, the rules are clear, and everyone is given the same penalty for the same infraction; it’s simple and fair. Not so in NASCAR, even though it could and should be so.

In NASCAR, cars come to opening tech every weekend to see if they are legal. If they are legal, they are allowed to practice. If they are not, especially on a body violation, they are told to go back, fix it and try again. That’s different for parts, like windshields, that require prior approval by NASCAR-if something is supposed to be submitted for approval and isn’t, that team was already given one chance. But for parts like door posts, which do not require pre-approval, the only way to know if they’re legit is to go through the inspection line.

Lest you think that template violations don’t happen every weekend, that this is something rare and special, they do and it’s not. On any given weekend, cars that don’t meet NASCAR’s rigid standards are told to make a change or two and go to the end of the line. All they lose is practice time, a penalty in itself. It should be no different here; the No. 48 fit the template, and NASCAR had questions on the C-post. They should have told Knaus exactly what their issue was and made the team fix it, like they have with countless teams.

Heck, it was practically tradition at Daytona in years past for teams to show up with some off-season innovation to see if it was going to pass muster. If it did, good for them; if it didn’t, well, there were whole tables of confiscated parts put out in the garage for all to see what not to do. And no penalties beyond the humiliation. This situation is no different, and should not have been treated as such.

Not to mention, the other teams didn’t have an issue with Knaus’s C-posts. Most crew chiefs applauded him for working on an area they hadn’t thought of, one not touched by the template. Is there no room for innovation in NASCAR anymore? Does NASCAR, or its fan base, really want nothing more than IROC with the NASCAR label slapped on the fenders?

Teams need to be able to work somewhere. The common template and current engine and suspension packages allow little room for a smart mechanic to find his driver an advantage, and that too is a shame. Yes, it should be about the drivers, but it should also be about the team around him, and the ability to find that something more. The other teams would then find their own advantage, or be relegated to a season of beatdowns until they did. Parity comes from the common template, from the engine and geometry rules. Innovation comes from the rest of the car.

Not only was the No. 48 heavily punished for a part that NASCAR couldn’t even explain the illegality of, but a car went out the very next day and was found to be in violation of a clearly defined rule after their run…and next to nothing was done. When a corner of the No. 15 was too low after its qualifying run-potentially an aerodynamic advantage- the team had its time thrown out and had to start at the rear of its qualifying race, while still guaranteed a spot on Sunday. There were no fines, no points taken…from a car that competed illegally.

There’s something seriously wrong there, even if one can say that Knaus is a repeat offender. Do you know which crew chiefs have the most penalties in the past five years that resulted in fines, suspensions, or both? How about which teams have had the most violations in that time span? You won’t find Knaus or the No. 48 on either list. Including this one, the team and crew chief have just one other infraction since 2007, for a five-year total of two.

Four crew chiefs also have a pair of infractions over that stretch. Three-Kevin Manion, Rodney Childers, and Frank Kerr-have more, with three apiece. The No. 7 team of Robby Gordon leads with four violations, while the No. 1 of Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing and the No. 18 of Joe Gibbs Racing have three each. (Driver-only penalties are not included here.) Bob Osborne and the No. 99 tie Knaus and the No. 48 with a pair, but both were post-race violations, while the No. 48’s both came in opening tech, before the car ever even practiced. The repeat offender card isn’t really on the table here, or shouldn’t be anyway.

What NASCAR needs to do is have a set penalty for infractions found at different stages of the weekend. An issue in opening tech should result in the team having to fix the issue and reinspect after every other car has gone through the line. A team should be able to show up with a monster truck with a jet engine and a rocket launcher and this should still be the penalty as long as it never competes. Perhaps also taking 30-60 minutes of practice time after the car passes would be a good attention-getter here. Take the offending part and put it on display for the rest of the world to see.

And that’s it.

Instead, some teams go back through, while others get fines (as the Joe Gibbs teams did last year after NASCAR found unapproved oil pans on all three JGR cars), and still others get point deductions and suspensions (as did the Michael Waltrip Raicng teams last year for unapproved windshields, largely the same infraction as the JGR teams had in terms of not getting prior approval). The process is ridiculously arbitrary and unfair. There should be no points deductions as no points are earned in practice.

If a car qualifies and is found illegal, it’s a no-brainer: if, after given time to cool, the car is not legal in any way that may have affected its performance, unless the team can prove that a part failure caused the infraction, the time should be tossed, and the team should miss the race, whether or not they are in the top 35. Right now, times are thrown out, but teams in the top 35 still start the race, while those outside go home, thereby receiving a much stiffer penalty for the same infraction. A stiff fine or even suspensions should come into play as well, but again, if points were not earned by the infraction, points should not be deducted.

Finally, if a car is found illegal after a race, if the infraction could have given any performance advantage, no matter how small, the finishing position, even a win, should be stripped, as well as all points and money earned in the event (but no more) by driver and owner, suspensions issued to crew chiefs. Basically, it should be as if that team was never in the race.

Unless NASCAR is planning to treat every team that fails opening tech for any reason in the same way as the No. 48 at Daytona, the penalty the team received was out of line with the infraction, if there even was one. There needs to be a better reason than “it didn’t look right,” and measurements to back that up. Really though, what NASCAR needs to do is treat the No. 48, and any other team that can’t make it through opening tech the same way as every other team that doesn’t, because that didn’t happen at Daytona.

Not only that, but it didn’t happen last year with the MWR and JGR teams, either. NASCAR, not the teams, was out of line in these punishments (and every other opening tech problem they gave penalties for). There needs to be a set of rules for the entire weekend, escalating in accordance with the amount of competition the car has participated in. It’s not about one team here. It’s about them all.

Contact Amy Henderson

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PJ
03/02/2012 01:29 AM
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Exactly right Amy! Interesting… to hear some folks Chad is the only CC in the garage that pushes the envelope and he does it way more than anyone else… but appears that is not the case. Stats in your piece speak for themselves.

Vicki
03/02/2012 07:23 AM
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This is the best article I’ve read on this issue.

RickP
03/02/2012 07:33 AM
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I don’t agree with you most time, Amy, but you hit it dead on this time.

With the inconsistencies, it gives NASCAR the appearance and ability to play favorites. But then again, with Brian France at the helm, no one would expect anything different.

Bill B
03/02/2012 07:58 AM
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The problem is that NASCAR doesn’t want teams to push the envelope where the body is concerned. What part of that don’t you understand? I don’t particularly like it but that’s what they want and they make the rules. (I don’t like a lot of the laws the government forces on us but I have to follow them and if I don’t I get in trouble). I’ve notice that there have been fewer and fewer illegal parts found each year at Daytona. That is because most teams have gotten the message and aren’t playing the “try to get one by NASCAR game” (or they have gotten even better at slipping things by than Chad). Once again whether you like it or not that’s what NASCAR wants and it’s their game.
As for Chad being singled out…. Let’s say there is a town with a population of 43 people in it. One person in the town has been caught stealing 5 times more often than anyone else in town. When something shows up missing who do you think the cops are going to question most. That’s just common sense.

johnboy60
03/02/2012 08:59 AM
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Just disgruntled 48 fans doing what they and Jimmy do best….whining!! Bring out the towels…..

PJ
03/02/2012 09:04 AM
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@Bill… however the point is NASCAR HAS to be consistent across the board and apply the rules and penalties equally for every team for infractions. What part of that do you not understand? In this instance I have heard from more than one source/article that there were other cars with similar looks to their c-posts but NASCAR let theirs go. That’s not being consistent or fair in managing the sport. If you don’t want teams to mess with an area then make specific rules and then apply them across the board, don’t pick and choose. And if you actually read the article there are other crew chiefs/teams with more violations in the past few years than Chad.

Bill B
03/02/2012 09:34 AM
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PJ,
I’ll agree, NASCAR’s consistency sucks.
I’m not sure what articles you’ve read regarding other teams and their c-posts so I won’t even get into that. I would bet none of the article are official quotes from NASCAR but speculation from individuals (not that NASCAR’s official quotes aren’t usually a load of BS).

So what you are saying is that if NASCAR’s intent is to not have any modification made to the body then then need to develop better templates. Perhaps some sort of encasement that fits over the entire car and then, using some sort of monitoring system, can determine variances all over the car.
Once again I will use the analogy of performance enhancing drugs in baseball as an analogy that I previous posted on RJO….
In many ways the templates are much like a drug test. The templates check for certain points on the car that NASCAR knows teams mess with. The intent is to keep crew chiefs from changing the body to get an aero advantage. If the crew chief knows the points where the templates are used to test the car and they find ways to change the body in between those points then they have circumvented the purpose of the test. So you could say the templates are a “drug test” for the car.

Similarly, when sports players are tested for performance enhancing drugs there is a list of things they test for (they can’t test for something they don’t know about). The intent is that they don’t want anyone using a substance that gives them an unnatural advantage. If someone invents a new performance enhancing drug that they don’t know about (and trust me they will if they haven’t already) they can’t test for it until they find out about it. However the player in question KNOWS they are circumventing the purpose of the rule and when they get caught they get discredited and the drug gets added to the list. You could call that innovation or you could call it cheating.

Once again, you can make the case that the intent of NASCAR’s rules stifles innovation but that is a point of view. I don’t necessarily like it either but that is what NASCAR wants and it’s their game. I think they have made their intentions abundantly clear and if crew chiefs continue to try to outsmart them then they deserve what they get when they get caught. Chad knew he was trying to circumvent the intent of the rule, it wasn’t an accident.

Now I have a question for you… on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest) how big of a 48 fan are you?

PJ
03/02/2012 11:23 AM
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Explain the car being legal (and don’t tell me DArby didn’t see the car last year cause Darby sees everything) last year including at the R&D center but not this year but no rule changes about that area? And I am a JIMMIE fan and have been since the beginning; he just happens to drive the 48 car. And I’d give same argument no matter what team this happened to. Fairness and consistency should apply to all teams.

ilene
03/02/2012 11:34 AM
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nascar is trying to do every thing it can to keep Jimmie Johnson from winning another championship

KyCupFan
03/02/2012 11:36 AM
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@Bill B.

On a scale from 1-10 I am a -10 fan of Jimmie Johnson. Now that I have made it crystal clear I loath the 48 team, I think suspension, points and fine are absurd. If you ask me why, then I would have to ask you to read this article again.

Great article Amy!

Cotton
03/02/2012 12:44 PM
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Very good article, Amy, and you are right in all respects. You are wrong, however, in assuming that NASCAR is inconsistent in administration of penalties. They are very consistent. They just have different goals in mind than most of us fans would have.

NASCAR has always enforced rules with the intent to make for a better show or to put fans in the seats. This has been true from the very beginning. They always do whatever they believe will cause ticket sales to increase and if that hurts the #48 team this week, that’s just part of the big picture. Maybe it will hurt the #29 or the #18 next week. NASCAR racing has always been and will always be about creating a show that will put folks in the seats. I wish it wasn’t, but it is.

Cotton

Shayne Flaherty
03/02/2012 01:10 PM
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NASCAR needs to give us access to their dry erase rulebook. If the C-posts fit within the template, the car should pass. If you don’t like the innovation and creativity from some race teams, fix your damn templates. If not, tell Chad “good job” and close the loophole, but don’t punish him for outsmarting y’all…it ain’t that hard to do.

Great article Amy.

I’m not a #48 fan.

Bill B
03/02/2012 01:38 PM
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KyCupFan,
I can sum up this article in one sentence. “NASCAR’s policies are inconsistent.”
And the world is round. Tell me something I don’t know. This is why every time something like this comes up there is tremendous debate among everyone (and it’s not just with penalties).
I am not trying to debate that issue, it’s a given, NASCAR’s rules suck because they aren’t written in ink and everything is a judgement call. I get it. That doesn’t change the fact that NASCAR doesn’t want crew chiefs f-ing with the body of the cars…period.

old farmer
03/02/2012 01:46 PM
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Just another day at the track—Jimmie & company cheating and Amy defending the cheater.

mkrcr
03/02/2012 02:08 PM
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Believing team officials statements that the C posts on the car had not been touched after last season is like a criminal in prison stating he’s innocent. There’s a possibility but highly unlikely. Stating something doesn’t make it so.

If the C posts were that obvious to NA$CAR during this inspection, you can’t make me believe they missed them in 16 previous inspections. The 48 team knew what they were doing. They showed up at the track with every intention of racing an illegal car and got busted. Now they have to pay the price. I wonder if they would have slipped through, and won the race with that car, if JJ would have had the guts to back it into the wall after the “Victory” celebration.

Greg
03/02/2012 02:26 PM
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I knew Amy’s dislike of toyota and the 18 would show up before even reading the article.

Nascar is laughing….all this stuff is for show.

This makes a nice setup for JJ to make the “comeback” later in the season.

Then Amy can write a article about how awesome the Hendrick teams are.

gshurt
03/02/2012 03:01 PM
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I love the argument that because the car raced last year and passed that it should be ok this year. By that thinking Sammy Sosa’s corked bat would have been legal because he used it before in a game. Come on, if you get caught it doesn’t matter if you got away with it before.

Earner
03/02/2012 03:08 PM
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Almost NEVER agree with amy (due to reporting by favs & emotion) But this article is about dead on..(that didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would) & no I’m no fan of JJ. But Nascar got the penalty phase of this wrong & I believe it has to do with Dega (& the stupidest comments by a crew chief ever) .,..This car didn’t race (& no I don’t buy the “we used it last year the same way” argument) But when Nascars mad at you your going to pay. (maybe it’s time for more legal challenges until a scale is established…Go Phoenix (real Racin)

Steve
03/02/2012 03:35 PM
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Nascar consistency does suck, but one thing they have stuck to, especially with this new car, was to not mess with it or there will be stiff fines and punishments (severity based on who you are of course)

What people need to understand is Nascar, for better or worse, does not allow innovation with this new car. Plain and simple. You don’t have to like it, but peoples negative reactions to this penalty have more to do with the lack of innovation allowed than the infractions.

Fred W
03/02/2012 03:42 PM
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I think that anytime a car is at the track, and submitted for inspection, it should be race ready. To say something like “I don’t care if they bring a monster truckZ” is just plain dumb. In what sport are you told, “bring what you want, and if we don’t catch it, it’s OK”? Pre race, post race, during the race, it’s all the same to me. If that car hadn’t been caught, it would have been raced that way. And I also don’t care how many, or how few times, he’s been caught. If the car isn’t in spec, it isn’t in spec. I don’t care if it’s my favorite driver, or least favorite. Citing what other crew chiefs have or have not done has ZERO bearing on whether or not the 48 was in spec this week. Also, didn’t NASCAR state a few years ago that penalties would be cranked up for repeat offenders? It’s a just punishment, especially in light of the fact NA$car will more than likely reduce it on appeal.

FS_Amy
03/02/2012 03:55 PM
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I have never understood the “They intended to race it if it wasn’t caught” argument. Of course they intend to race it if NASCAR inspects it and says it’s legal! If a car goes through four NASCAR inspections over a weekend and passes them all, especially if one is a complete teardown…the car was legal in NASCAR’s opinion. And if it was legal, then there is really no issue, is there?

Lydia
03/02/2012 04:57 PM
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I am puzzled with this entire incident..Knaus says the cars not been changed..NASCAR says its out of spec. I have no clue. The biggest huh? to me is if the car is correct why would NASCAR put themselves in the idiot seat with such big fines? Now I know they are pretty good at doing dumb stuff..but I would have to believe they did more then eyeball the parts…and can backup their allegations during the appeal. I just have a feeling NASCAR “caught on” to the infraction to late last season and waited to have the car put before them at Daytona for their Ah Ha! moment! I think Chad’s telling truth the car has not been changed..it just took NASCAR awhile to catch up with Chad’s ingenuity.

Josie
03/02/2012 05:04 PM
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The thing that comes to my mind is NASCAR was “waiting” for that 48 car to go through inspection. I believe somehow they got wind the 48 has been out of spec and passing inspection since last season..and they were ready to put their hands on those c posts. I don’t know if someone snitched or was just overheard bragging..(gotta watch those tv cameras!) but I believe NASCAR got a “heads up”.

Fred W
03/02/2012 05:17 PM
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What is there not to understand about the “intent to race it if it passed”?

If they managed to sneak an illegal car through, they would have raced it. Duh. Not real hard to understand. I’m sure there are still illegal cars that get through. If folks say it’s a crew chiefs job to try and be “innovative”, then it’s his job to try and sneak something past. To say it’s only illegal if caught is just a foolish argument.

Fred W
03/02/2012 05:23 PM
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You know what argument I don’t understand? The one where folks think you can just bring anything you want to the track and try to pass it. I am pretty sure NA$CAR tell em to bring cars that are LEGAL from day for inspection, not bring the closest you can get it. Do you know how foolish it sounds, how much of a second rate sport it looks like, to see it that way?

DoninAjax
03/02/2012 05:46 PM
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So Chad says the C-posts weren’t changed from the car last year. Does anybody believe him?

This reminds me of the penalty to Mark Martin in 1990. NASCAR said what his team did to the engine (they welded the spacer to the intake instead of a gasket)didn’t affect it in any way but NASCAR didn’t like what they did. They penalized him about 46 points and he lost the title by 26.

 

Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
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Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.