The Frontstretch: Racing to the Point: Just Who Is Making The Decisions In NASCAR? by Brett Poirier -- Tuesday May 14, 2013

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Know those AT&T commercials with the one adult sitting down and asking the four children questions such as, “What would your nickname be?”

Child from one commercial: Nicky Flash.

Adult: Why Nicky?

Child: Because it rhymes with flash.

Child: Close.

Adult: Yeah, close.


Who is making all the decisions around here? The answer might scare you.

That is, until these children are actually making real decisions. After the past few weeks, well I have reason to believe AT&T might not be the only company they are working for. While AT&T is using the children strictly as part of their advertising campaign, the folks at NASCAR have them deciding on penalties in its top series.

How else could their decision-making lately be explained? Clearly, there was a miscommunication somewhere and the children were moved to the wrong department.

For those of you who have been trapped under a rock, one of Matt Kenseth’s eight connecting rods came up less than three grams light at the R&D Center in Charlotte after he won the race at Kansas.

What followed were some of the strictest penalties the sport has ever seen. Kenseth’s crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, was fined $200,000 and suspended six races — he had nothing to do with building the engine. Owner Joe Gibbs was suspended six races and was told he couldn’t accumulate owner points on the No. 20 for the same amount. Kenseth was handed a 50-point penalty — more points than he earned by winning — and lost his bonus for the Chase.

If Kenseth was racing a paper airplane, the connecting rod might have mattered. In a 3,200-pound race car, it mattered as much as the Twinkie wrapper under Ryan Newman’s seat.

I can picture the meeting about what to do about Matt Kenseth’s engine right now.

Adult: How many points should the No. 20 car lose?

Child No. 1: 100.

Adult: That seems like a bit much.

Child No. 2: Either 300 or 50.

Adult: Hmm. 50 sounds good. That’s more points than Kenseth actually earned from winning the race, which doesn’t make any sense, but I like it.

And with the Penske Racing penalties…

Adult: Who should be suspended — or put in timeout — from the No. 2 and No. 22 race teams?

Child No. 1: Their mother, father, grandmother…

Child No. 2: I’d put everybody in timeout.

Adult: Everybody, interesting. So just suspend everybody that knows anything about the cars on both teams, even though we’ve never done that before even when people have brazenly cheated? (Yeah, I’m talking about you Chad Knaus.)

Child No. 2: Uhhh, I don’t know… Yeah.

Those were some pretty harsh penalties with some severe consequences. In the end, only some of it mattered; both decisions were overturned in the appeals process last week. Kenseth only lost 12 points, instead of 50, and Penske’s key crew personnel were still all suspended together, but now only for two races, not six.

Wow, are we lucky to have an appeals process or what? It’s easy to point the finger at NASCAR for almost completely screwing up the season with their unjust penalties, but we have to remember they are just kids. They did their best.

Imagine those penalties weren’t overturned, though. It’s easier if you forget how hot Kenseth is right now. The driver skyrocketed from outside of the Chase to fourth in the standings after his penalty was reduced. That’s what 38 points will do; it’s like finishing sixth in a race. Kenseth also got his bonus points for the Chase back and his crew chief Jason Ratcliff’s suspension was reduced from six races to one. What if it wasn’t overturned, though and he somehow missed the playoffs?

Joey Logano still has a very realistic shot at missing the Chase — mostly because he’s never actually qualified for one. Before his 25-point penalty, he was running in the top 12, though. Six races with Steve Reis — who isn’t exactly Larry from Larry’s Automotive — setting up the car might have done Logano in for this season, but two with Reis is definitely much more manageable.

It’s difficult to picture last year’s champion, Brad Keselowski, not qualifying for the playoffs — even if NASCAR removed the back end of his car for the next six races and Penske put Paris Hilton on the pit box. Neither happened, at least not yet as Kevin Buskirk was on the box at Darlington. That night was a struggle, although all indications are these are the types of bumps Penske’s top team will overcome.

Still, when the 26-race regular season ends, we’ll have to ask ourselves, what if? What if we didn’t have an appeals board to significantly lessen the Gibbs penalties and an arbitrator to question why a car chief, crew chief and engineer from two separate teams needed to be suspended for nearly a quarter of the regular season?

“I don’t know that we know exactly what the appeals members are thinking,” NASCAR President Mike Helton said to reporters before the race at Darlington. “If there is a way for us to be more precise in changing wording or adding wording to a rule so the clarity of what we feel like our responsibility is is translated to the member … (we will do that).”

Helton doesn’t know what the appeals board was thinking, and most fans and the appeal board don’t have a clue what Helton was thinking, especially in Kenseth’s case. There is a serious disconnect here which means this process is bound to repeat itself.

With this current crop of decision-makers, we are all getting penalized.

I’d like to file an appeal.

Let’s find a group of people who can make logical decisions that factor in intent, what kind of advantage was gained, who was responsible and what action has been taken in the past in similar circumstances.

Let those people make the big decisions from now on because the top level of motorsport is no place for kids.

Contact Brett Poirier

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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
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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05/14/2013 08:31 AM

Heck man, anybody who’s not drinking the Nascar/Hendrick koolaide could tell you there’s some serious fishy business going on within.

Thank the racing gods that we DO have an appeals process so teams at least have a CHANCE at fighting this bias and nonsense. What they did to Gibbs was WAY out of line.

And in todays mega-information world, Nascar is finding it harder and harder to rule with the iron hammer.

But don’t for one second think that Nascar is done fighting. It will be interesting to watch how it unfolds.

05/14/2013 10:02 AM

nascar… logical?
there’s two words that you never see together.

my that was a fun read.

Carl D.
05/14/2013 11:06 AM

Now I get why Nascar is issuing so many penalties…

Nascar: “More is better than less because if penalties are less there’s more less penalties, then we might want to have some more. But then, we can’t because there’s only a little. If you really like something, you’ll want more of it. We want more, we want more.”

05/14/2013 11:31 AM

I get ya Carl D.


It’s too bad Monty Python isn’t around anymore. They could make a great movie on the leadership of Nasar that would equal “Holy Grail”.

(now THERE’S an idea…)

Carl D.
05/14/2013 12:01 PM

What’s sad is that I understand that little girl in the commercial better than I do Brian France when he tries to say something.

Wayne T. Morgan
05/14/2013 12:25 PM

Very well said. Now you know why some call NA$CAR “Beach Boy Bubbas”

05/14/2013 02:20 PM

Fun to read. Unfortunately it also appears to be the way decisions in NASCAR ARE made!

Funny comments, too, folks.

Sue Rarick
05/14/2013 05:25 PM

Bill France raced and built cars… Bill Jr was at every race and talked to everyone from fans to drivers to mechanics…..Brian France knows more about a Jack Daniels bottle than he does about stock car racing…..Nascar’s top end is filled by NYC marketing people

I can’t figure out why there’d be a problem.

Steve K
05/14/2013 11:18 PM

“Actions detrimental to NASCAR” needs to be thrown out of the rule book because it is the complete rule book. The phrase is a joke. It gives NASCAR the ability to punish someone for anything they choose. If all of the Penske parts were declared legal individually, then how are they illegal when assembled? Your Answer from NASCAR: We don’t like it so we will punish you anyway. Your actions are detrimental to NASCAR. Embarrassing. The NASCAR inspection rules have zero credibility to this fan.

05/14/2013 11:55 PM

with the selection of the “adopted france” to the hall of fame over more deserving choices where the ruling class has it’s favorites.