Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday November 1, 2013
“Turn his ass upside down. Don’t take no $#!&.’‘
Those were the words in Ty Dillon’s ear as the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series circled the track on Saturday under caution. Late in the race, Dillon had been trying to make a move on Harvick, who was driving for Joe Denette Racing, and when Harvick moved to block, Dillon drilled him in the door, creating a pileup in Turn 2 which collected a handful of others. Harvick took exception, waiting on Dillon under caution and giving his truck a shot on the backstretch. Dillon then hit Harvick’s truck several times before the two came to pit road, clearly trying to turn the No. 14 around, though his multiple attempts were unsuccessful in wrecking Harvick.
Harvick responded by stopping in Dillon’s pit box as the two came to pit road, where one of Dillon’s crewmen heaved a large sledgehammer toward the open drivers’ side window of Harvick’s truck (Harvick had previously lowered the window net).
This week, NASCAR announced penalties to Dillon’s team for their actions: crew chief Marcus Richmond was fined $10,000 for failing to control his crew, and Adam Brown, the crewman who threw the hammer, was suspended indefinitely. Though the penalty for Richmond was a bit light considering the nature of the incident (the sledgehammer was very large and an estimated 15-20 pounds, and could have caused serious injury had it gone into the window of Harvick’s truck or hit another of Dillon’s crewmen), the penalty was, overall, about right. The comment on the radio? Well, it’s not unusual for a crew chief to say something like that in the heat of battle, right?
Except, it wasn’t Richmond who told his driver to wreck a competitor. It was team owner Richard Childress.
Let’s recap: a team owner ordered his driver, on the team radio, to go wreck a driver from another team. And NASCAR didn’t do a thing about it.
At the very least, Childress should have been suspended for the remainder of the weekend, with a large fine (think six figures) to think about. You can say it was the heat of the moment, you can say it’s because Ty Dillon’s his grandson, but at the end of the day, a team owner ordered his driver to wreck another one. And NASCAR apparently thought that was A-OK.
To be fair, there have been times in the past when this worst form of team orders has almost certainly been in play, particularly with a title at stake (the 2000 and 2003 CWTS championship battles come to mind). But if a few well-timed crashes were, in fact, engineered, at least the team owner had enough sense not to tell his driver to do it on the team radio!
Because Childress was not penalized with so much as a slap on the wrist, does that mean NASCAR is going to allow owners to tell their drivers to wreck others on the radio? Would they let it slide if the owner of a title contender told a team driver not in the Chase to take out the competition? Is it okay under caution but not under green? If the driver on the receiving end isn’t a series regular? Does it matter who the owner is and who’s on the receiving end? What’s the line?
A couple of seasons ago, an NFL coach was suspended for ordering his players to take out opposing players, offering a bounty if they were hurt. Childress’ order doesn’t go quite that far—he didn’t order Dillon to try and hurt Harvick—but it’s not too far off, either. Driving race cars is risky; allowing an owner to make it even more risky is all kinds of wrong.
NASCAR dropped the ball on this one, big time. By allowing Childress to slide, whether it’s because it was “in the heat of the moment,” because it was under caution, because Harvick isn’t a series regular, because Dillon is Childress’ grandson, NASCAR opens up a can of worms that should never have even been removed from the shelf. If they don’t penalize owners if they order a driver to wreck a competitor, it’s setting up a ridiculous scenario in which this kind of team orders are accepted under certain circumstances, which owners could certainly manipulate to their advantage. Not to mention, it makes NASCAR look even worse for their handling of the Michael Waltrip Racing fiasco at Richmond—how could they justify penalizing one type of race manipulation but letting a much more blatant (and dangerous) one slide?
On the other hand, they did let it slide. Penalizing the same action now would be inconsistent, something with which NASCAR has struggled mightily over the years, to the discontent of fans. Granted, this has never stopped NASCAR before. Still, it just smells rotten all around.
NASCAR got this one wrong. The first, and heaviest, penalty handed down this week should have been to Richard Childress for ordering his driver to wreck another one during a race. If a driver voices his intent on the team radio to take out a competitor, he’s most likely going to be parked for a race to think about it…why should a team owner be exempt?
The lack of a hefty punishment for this very worst kind of team orders is puzzling. Are owners now allowed to tell their boys to have at it at any time? Was NASCAR playing favorites with Ty Dillon’s Pop-Pop? NASCAR should have taken a hard line with this one. Instead, the sanctioning body allowed the orders to slide, creating more questions than answers. What kind of dirty is okay?
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