The Frontstretch: NASCAR's Rule Enforcement Problem by Kurt Smith -- Friday May 30, 2008

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NASCAR's Rule Enforcement Problem

Kurt Smith · Friday May 30, 2008

 

Haas Motorsports is the latest student to be schooled in NASCAR Rule Enforcement. They committed the cardinal sin of tinkering with the CoT and have received a good old-fashioned whoopin’ for it. This article isn’t excusing Haas, but, in the end, it may be NASCAR that violates the best interests of the sport with their blind heavy-handedness.

As everyone knows by now, NASCAR has been enforcing a zero tolerance policy regarding the new car that is about equivalent to six months in jail for a traffic violation. Any attempt to step outside the strict boundaries has resulted in a loss of 100 points, $100,000, and six weeks’ work for the crew chief. This had been the broad brush standard from day one of the winged snowplow. That is until now—the ante has been upped: mess with the car and you’re looking at 150 big ones now.

The Haas cars had the rear wing brackets illegally mounted, which for Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s team last season resulted in a 100-point, $100K fine penalty. But according to No. 66 crew chief Bootie Barker, Haas had run the cars that way all season without a problem. Kudos to NASCAR’s exacting inspection methods!

The Haas cars passed two initial inspections, but NASCAR was apparently tipped off to give the Haas cars a second look, which resulted in their confiscation. Barker didn’t quite deny the team’s guilt, but he was clearly distressed at the finger pointing in the garage area that led to their discovery. OK, he may have been embarrassed and lashing out at the ratfink that gave them away, but Barker’s statement followed a related statement from NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp: “The garage is a self-policing area. We follow up on information we get. That was the case with this.”

The Haas No. 66 and No. 70 cars passed two initial inspections, but were confiscated after NASCAR was apparently tipped off to give them a second look.

If NASCAR’s inspection process isn’t finding problems and informants are required, is it fair to question whether the process is suspect? The severity of punishment that NASCAR now dispenses is more than a little steep considering that its enforcement is at least occasionally based on tips from other teams. Does NASCAR have informants in the garage? Better yet, do they have “favorite” informants?

To go along with that, the world of NASCAR found out a few weeks ago that there is more gray area in the new car than initially thought. In this year’s Darlington race, several cars, like the No. 99 of Carl Edwards, had the rear housing adjusted so much that the cars appeared to be crooked while on the straightaway. While NASCAR initially ignored Jeff Gordon’s complaints about the chassis of the No. 99—Series director John Darby opined that drivers are already complaining that NASCAR legislates too much—eventually they did tighten the limit on the amount that the rear can be adjusted.

That may have sounded to some like NASCAR trying to placate their number 2 matinee idol, but look at it from Gordon’s standpoint for a second—his team lost 100 points, 100 grand and Steve Letarte for six weeks last season before Sonoma for attempting to adjust the front fenders in a manner that was within NASCAR’s tolerance for the car. And this was before qualifying had even started. NASCAR simply didn’t like the way they did it. The 24 and 48 teams were given a hard message not to mess with the car at all. Had they known that the rear of the car could be adjusted so radically without penalty, they might have done so.

To sum up all of this, NASCAR still hasn’t really defined what is a violation and what isn’t with the new car; they often rely on informants to find information on crew chiefs trying anything funny; and when they do find something, they levy a gargantuan penalty that is almost always larger than the difference between 1st and 2nd, or 12th and 13th, or 35th and 36th.

Now, add the brilliant playoff system into this mix. When a team runs 26 races and needs only to be 12th after the last one, 150 points, while definitely painful, is not as much of a blow to their championship chances. But once the Chase starts and all bets are off, a 150-point penalty will most assuredly knock a Top 12 team out of contention for the Cup. No Chase has been won by even close to that large a margin.

This has already resulted in questionable policing. In the Dover Chase race last year (a Car of Tomorrow race), Carl Edwards’ winning car was found to be too low in post-race inspection. The penalty: 25 points. Spokesman Ramsey Poston stepped up to the mike and said, “This is not considered a Car of Tomorrow-type penalty. There’s no evidence of manipulation of the integrity of the structure of the car.” Then why any penalty at all?

Since then, NASCAR has been consistent on a similar infraction—Ryan Newman was handed the same 25-point deduction earlier this year for a car being too high in post-race—so did NASCAR remember that they only penalized the No. 99 just 25 points in the previous season’s Chase and decide to stay consistent on height infractions?

What exactly does constitute a “Car of Tomorrow” type of penalty?

Fast forward to Vegas. NASCAR found that the oil cover lid was removed in the race-winning No. 99 car, giving the car more downforce. There was no such “not a Car of Tomorrow infraction” explanation this time, in a non-Chase race—despite that this was something that could have been, and was, done in the “classic” car just as easily and to similar advantage—NASCAR came down hard with their 100-point pounding this time, and on top of that disqualified the possible 10 Chase points for Edwards’ win.

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when the Chase comes.

Suppose an informant that has an axe to grind with a Chase team lets NASCAR know that the team is walking the line on a spec. And suppose it’s a proverbial “gray area” which still exists on the new car as the 24 and 48 teams proved at Sonoma last year and the 99 team proved at Darlington this year. And suppose that this happens during the final ten races of the season. Heck, let’s go all the way…suppose it’s the No. 88 team.

Is NASCAR going to remain consistent and swing the 150-point sledgehammer that they swung so decisively Wednesday?

If they do, it will take a team and a driver out of the championship running, which will infuriate that driver’s fans at a level inversely proportionate to the quality of the explanation that Ramsey Poston gives. If they go wobbly and back off, the fallout will be about 11 times as harsh…from all of the fans of the other drivers in the Chase who would be irate at NASCAR’s sudden leniency regarding the Car of Today for certain drivers.

Either way, NASCAR’s reputation for bungling leadership, already more evident than it should be, will take another serious hit.

And for all of the blather about tougher enforcement, is the winner of the Sprint Cup this season going to be the team that has nothing to lose and is willing to take a chance on that gray area for that little edge that they don’t yet have…and win by taking advantage of NASCAR’s unwillingness to proportionately punish a Chase team? No team would try that, would they?

This is, of course, a dilemma of NASCAR’s own making. We already know that the Chase was not very well thought out, as evidenced by the suggestion of tweaks every season, and they are overreaching in their gaudy enforcement of the new car. Now there is potential for the two factors to turn into an explosive combination.

Most NASCAR fans don’t condone cheating, and no one here is saying NASCAR should not crack down on the sport’s scofflaws. But the only thing worse than no rule enforcement is inconsistent rule enforcement. And as things currently are, there’s a looming possibility of it.

Kurt’s Monster Shorts

  • In Humpy Wheeler’s last driver meeting at Lowe’s, he made a point to thank the drivers, saying that no one ever bought a ticket to see him do anything at the racetrack. If only NASCAR had the same mentality…then again, that may be why Humpy’s out. How dare he suggest that NASCAR needs the drivers.
  • I have heard Dover referred to as Martin Truex, Jr.’s “home track”; especially since he scored his first Cup win there in this race last year. Dover isn’t actually all that close to Mayetta, NJ. It’s certainly not close enough to make the trip easy every Friday. For you comedians out there that aren’t from NJ, Mayetta is exit 63. The Parkway.
  • I was present to witness the epic Kenseth-Burton battle at the September Dover race of 2006. I’m sure that was great on TV but it truly kicked ass being there. And Jeff Gordon gave me five.

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Kevin in SoCal
05/30/2008 02:30 AM
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One NASCAR rule is for sure: if your name is Earnhardt, you’re allowed to ignore safety and speed on pit road and on the race track during a caution period, and your only penalty will be the tail end of the line during the restart.

Douglas
05/30/2008 07:48 AM
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QUOTE: “Either way, NASCAR’s reputation for bungling leadership, already more evident than it should be, will take another serious hit”.

Well stated!

I listened a bit to Sirius Radio’s NA$CAR program yesterday, they were talking about penalties and such for cars not “meeting” the CoT specs! Whatever they may be! At one point a caller said that teams caught cheating, should be being thrown out of the track! And they referenced the “offset” bodies on some cars!

The point is!!! THESE CARS MET THE SPECS! THEY PASSED TECH INSPECTION AND ALL TEMPLATES!

NA$CAR seems to pick and choose when to penalize and when to turn their backs! And having “informants” in the garage area is not the way to conduct business! This will promote the mechanic from one team going to another team and saying “gee, if you want to know what I know it will cost you $100,000!!

MMM, wonder if that hasn’t happened already!

Blackmail!! NA$CAR style!

Great way to police the teams for sure!

NOT!

Don
05/30/2008 12:51 PM
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some guys just can’t be competitive without cheating, so gamble and take your chances of getting caught, but if you do, don’t complain like it was somebody’s fault for telling on you. rules were made to be broken but, don’t get caught.or you could make the next news letter.Ha Ha

Ron
05/30/2008 12:58 PM
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Oh, so just because Bootie SAYS he has been running them that way all year that makes it true? Noone who is cheating would lie now would they? I can’t believe that there are some people out there who are defending him because of that statement. Some people are just so freaking naive.

Sam
05/30/2008 03:08 PM
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Since NASCAR is an IROC series now, why not just have NASCAR issue complete cars at each race. Only adjustments allowed, front camber, track bar, tire pressure and weight jacking. Sounds stupid doesn’t it, but is that really that much different than the so called “stock car racing” we have now? NASCAR stopped being real racing a long time ago, it’s now all about entertainment and selling stuff. By the way, this is not just a knock at NASCAR drivers but all pro athletes, they’re all so patriotic but none of them with the exception Pat Tilman has the balls to step up and serve their country.

sparxmoore
05/30/2008 05:04 PM
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The bottom line is that na$car has NEVER been fair and equal with their fines and penalties so why expect any different now ? ALSO remember that the COT was designed to give toyota a winning season in NA$CAR , they couldnt engineer a drivable car so they paid NA$CAR to make all the cars junk ..NA$CAR has been adamant since day one they would make no midseason rule changes ( a first ) and they bitchslap any team who tries to find a way to compete with the toyotas ..The old saying is true …ya get what ya pay for …and toyota paid for a championship !

Douglas
05/30/2008 05:04 PM
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Hey “Sam”! Actually I had suggested that if Jr. is so very supportive of the Armed Forces he takes the money from, under the guise of enhancing recruitment, that Jr. himself should volunteer and encourage a large portion of Jr. Nation to enlist along with him!

Recruitment problem solved!

Along with beer cans thrown on the tracks!

They can throw all the beer cans they want at the enemy (whoever that might be) in IRAQ!

Kurt Smith
05/30/2008 06:37 PM
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Ron, I believe I did say I wasn’t excusing Haas. But that is a fair point for you to raise. Having thought about it, if Bootie was lying, is there a way to prove it? That was part of my point. Someone could have said that was BS and proven it…unless of course the inspection process doesn’t catch these things.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume you’re right and Bootie is lying about mounting the rear wing this way all season. That doesn’t really change the central thrust of my point…that NASCAR’s inspection process is shaky enough that they need help from a “self-policing” garage, yet they are dishing out debilitating punishments. It is disproportionate and may come back to haunt them.

Ron
05/30/2008 08:08 PM
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Kurt,
That wasn’t directed at you, it was more of a general comment because of how many times I have read and heard this week that he’s innocent because “Haas had run the cars that way all season without a problem.” Yeah, and I’ve got beachfront property in Death Valley for sale. Also, I don’t fault him at all for trying it, that’s the birthplace of innovation in this sport. The problem I have is the whole innocent routine, just own up to it and deal with the consequences. There’s no way that both of those Haas cars ran that setup all year and made it through inspection EVERY time. Give me a break.

Joe
05/30/2008 11:37 PM
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“and your only penalty will be the tail end of the line during the restart.” —- Hey IDIOT, That’s the penalty for ALL DRIVERS, has been that way for a long time!!!

Ron
05/31/2008 11:49 AM
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Hey Joe, you’re the idiot. The endangering safety workers penalty is a one lap penalty, you are held in the pits. Unless your name is Earnhardt, just like Kevin said. Go back and watch it again if you have it recorded. The booth fellas even announced that Jr. was going to have a one lap penalty for it, but we all know what happened, NASCAR changed their mind because of who it was.

Marc
06/01/2008 06:56 PM
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Instead of complaining about who gets what, we as fans need to turn the darned thing off, quit buying tickets, and forget NASCAR until Brian France is gone or has his front end realinged. That, my friends, is self policing. A poor little old struggling team like Haas cant afford the types of penalties that Hendrick, Roush, Gibb, and Childress can handle. But heres another thing, the driver only drives what he is given. Why penalize the driver for a cheating crew chief, or a mechanic that alters the car. Hit the owner hard, and leave the driver alone, IF the problem was found prior to the race. IF it comes after, then you have to penalize both. Does this make sense to anyone else?

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