The Frontstretch: Is There Really Preferential Treatment In NASCAR? by Mike Neff -- Monday May 14, 2007

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Is There Really Preferential Treatment In NASCAR?

Full Throttle · Mike Neff · Monday May 14, 2007


Superstars in all sports are known to receive preferential treatment. In the NBA, Michael Jordan always seemed to be able to push off to get open for a shot, all while Craig Hodges seemed to get called for a foul every time. The NFL’s Randy Moss can interfere with a defender and still make the touchdown grab, while Cary Colbert will get called for offensive pass interference. Simply put, it’s just the way that stars of their respective sports tend to be treated. After the race at Darlington this weekend, Denny Hamlin said that NASCAR’s superstar, Jeff Gordon, was cut a break at the end of the race. Hamlin claimed there was debris on the backstretch, and had he been leading the race, NASCAR would have certainly thrown a caution. That dichotomy brings up an interesting question : Does NASCAR really treat its stars differently when it comes to caution flags and the safety of its drivers?

It is rather hard to look at the way the race was officiated on Sunday and feel like Jeff Gordon received any kind of preferential treatment. Gordon's car was spewing steam like Old Faithful for the last 40 laps of the race. With the engine going south, everyone assumed there was no way that his car would make it to the end; the only minute chance it had was if the race went green for all of those laps. Well, NASCAR threw two different cautions during that final segment of the race which put Gordon at a much greater risk of his car blowing up. Saying that he was given preferential treatment during the entire event is simply inaccurate.

However, there is certainly precedent for what some people might view as preferential treatment of rules enforcement in NASCAR. Most longtime fans remember the ruling that essentially cost Mark Martin the championship in 1990 which, by most accounts from people on the outside looking in, was a blatant case of preferential treatment. At the time, Roush Racing was running a carburator spacer that supposedly was given the blessing of NASCAR. It took awhile, but Richard Childress Racing of all teams actually protested the part, and it was ultimately deemed illegal. Martin was docked 46 driver points, enough for him to eventually lose the championship by 26 points to Earnhardt. Whether you believe that was special treatment or not, the fact is, the appearance of favoritism surely emanated from that ruling, and it cost Jack Roush a championship very early in his ownership career.

The only recorded instance of NASCAR taking away a win for rough driving occurred in 1991, when Ricky Rudd spun Davey Allison coming to take the white flag during the road race at Sonoma. As they drivers came around to take the checkered flag, Rudd was allowed to pass the flag stand and did not see the checkered flag. Instead, the victory was awarded to Allison as he crossed the finish line. That’s a bit surprising, for there is little doubt that many other drivers have done as much or more to take a driver out of the lead of a race. Most fans remember Dale Earnhardt spinning Terry Labonte for the victory at Bristol during the night race in 1999; there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth after that event that Earnhardt should have lost the win, but NASCAR did not take that victory away. Jeff Gordon has also moved people out of the way more than once for a victory at Bristol, but those wins have also been allowed to stand.

In the end, NASCAR does a heck of a job policing a sport that has a few million nuances that can cause any number of outcomes to occur on a given race weekend. At the end of the race there may have been some debris on the backstretch, but even Hamlin himself said it was two grooves down from the wall. Obviously, in NASCAR's opinion, it was not a threat to competitor safety, and therefore they did not throw the caution flag. Had Hamlin been leading, would they have made a different decision? Let's hope not. It would seem as though the organization has a little more integrity than that; there may be preferential treatment in sports, but in NASCAR, it’s not as bad as some might lead you to believe.

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Barbara Willis
05/15/2007 06:06 AM

I’m sorry I don’t agree with you. It is quite simple to do certain things in Nascar to benefit certain drivers. Nascar has made so many wrong decisions that the fans are giving up. Ticket prices are going up and fans are moving out. It has become a business and no fun anymore. I turned in my reserved seating. It just isn’t worth the hassle anymore. When you can predict the winner of a race, it is very sad. TV ratings are down. I watched Golf during the last half of the race and enjoyed it so much more. I really miss the good ole’ days of racing but certainly not this business adventure that is going on now.

Travis Rassat
05/15/2007 06:19 AM

I think Denny Hamlin might be right in this case. I can’t remember which car it was that had the tire go down at the end, but they were throwing debris everywhere as they were trying to come to pit road. I thought to myself that this would end up a green-white-checker, but no yellow was thrown. It was an inconsistent call at best.

I agree with Barbara – I’ve been watching more golf on Sundays lately, too.

George Schweikle
05/15/2007 06:41 AM

The resolution of “PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT” IS EASY; just tabulate all of the voluminous statistics that are saved from every incident. Cautions for debris vs. no cautions,etc. Let the numbers speak for theirselves. Oh, and how about NASCAR publicising all pit road speeds?. Again, let the information replace speculation and rumor.

05/15/2007 07:33 AM

In any other racing series a car streaming as much coolant smoke as Gordon’s #24 would have been given the black flag and told to report to pit road.

05/15/2007 07:38 AM

There is no doubt that NASCAR favors its “stars.” All you have to do is look at Earnhardt senior. How many times do you remember him being penalized for rough driving? Even his tragic death appeared to be at least partially caused by an illegal seatbelt installation, something that should have been caught by NASCAR inspectors. However, he was a favorite and close friend of Helton’s. Jeff Gordon can push and shove his way through the field and not get penalized. If anyone else had had such an overheating problem as Gordon on Sunday, they would have been black flagged. Then there is the worst case of Mikey Waltrip. His team cheats terribly at Daytona, but he is allowed to qualify and the results of the tests were never made public.

05/15/2007 10:02 AM

I think you are all forgetting that just a few weeks ago, another big star criticized NASCAR for throwing “bogus” cautions. If Denny Hamlin is mad that the race was decided by, well….racing, and not by a caution flag, he has only to look across his home shop to point that finger. The drivers all need to remember that every single caution flag thrown (or not thrown) will benefit some, and hurt others. It just depends where you are at the time. How many times have we seen a driver complain about too many debris cautions one week, and then be the recipient of the lucky dog the next?

05/15/2007 10:40 AM

Where did you get such a dumb idea?
They would have had to black a third of the field for spewing steam.
And since when is this cause for a black flag?
Maybe you should swich to golf too, since you don’t seem to know what you are talking about

05/15/2007 10:45 AM

Of course they get preferential treatment! The end of the race Sunday showed that. If anyone else had been in the lead like Jeff Gordon was, they would have thrown that caution. Even Jeff Gordon admitted that he was surprised that they did not throw the caution.

Unfortunately, it is getting sad to see the state that NASCAR is getting now. It is getting where you have no problem seeing where the officials will either throw a flag to benefit a certain driver or will not throw a flag to benefit that same driver. Brian France and the rest of his crew are continuing to creep NASCAR closer to the WWE than the NFL.

Brian France is more concerned about the money. He wants to make sure that he gets the money and does not care what the real NASCAR fan thinks about what it happening to the sport. As Barbara mentioned earlier, it is becoming a business instead of a sport. Nobody is racing because that is what they want to do. They are doing it because it is their jobs. I long for the old days when the racers really did what they loved.

05/15/2007 10:52 AM

I agree with Don, NASCAR doesn’t black flag anyone for over-heating. There was more than just one car spewing water if you watched the race carefully. They weren’t black flagged as well they shouldn’t be. Actually it isn’t water,it’s steam which doesn’t spill on to the track and will not cause a wreck. If it were oil, then, yea, a caution should be thrown. As far as NASCAR is concerned it’s a lose lose situation. They call a caution and half the people or drivers complain and if they don’t throw a caution the other half will complain. It seem that the only inconsistancy in NASCAR is the fans….
P.S. Every sport is a buisiness. Do you think anyone who starts a team or organization does so to benifit anyone else but themselves? Maybe eveyone who disagrees should watch something a little more there own pace…like golf or croquet.

jo smelser
05/15/2007 12:03 PM

nascar,does show favoritism,to the hendrick drivers!! they, push the caution button, when they get the driver, they, want ,into the position, they want!!! any true nascar fan, can see, how much nascar, has changed ,and not for the better. we have also ,let all of our reserved tickets go. if you are not a hendrick fan, you might as well stay at home and don“t waste all your money going to a race.!!!! all, of our family , 10 of us , stay home now.look at the stands now… nascar is on the fast lane to the slow lane!!

05/15/2007 12:21 PM

I might as well ad my 2 cents to the discussion. NO, I’m not happy with the Hendrick teams winning all the time now. NO, I’m probably not going to stop watching NASCAR. But, I am going to be spending more time at my local track. At least I can watch something there that MIGHT look like a real car on a track. This whole thing of “Car of
Tomorrow” is a bit sad. I realize why they are doing it, and their motives are good. Sadly, it appears some teams, specifically Hendrick, just did their work better and they are enjoying the fruits of their labors. Unfortunately, SOME fans are abandoning NASCAR, because the cars no longer even resemble the car we drive each day (not that they were ever close), but this “generic” body style is insulting, to say the least. NASCAR has what they want, now…and that is parity. The unfortunate side effect of that is boring racing, with the same “have-not” teams just having to build a new car to run at the back of the pack. Sad…

Mark Rubley
05/15/2007 12:22 PM

Simple: NA$CAR stands for Now All we $eriously Care About is Revenue – I’ve been saying that for years. They really don’t care who wins as long as they turn a profit…. I’m about done with it myself… turn off the lights, close the door and bring the flag…....

05/15/2007 12:55 PM

I bet NASCAR even pays drivers and crew chiefs to sabotage there cars so they can’t win and that way NASCAR can be sure their favorite driver is up front so he can win…whatever man. People will reach for anything when their driver or team isn’t winning. Lots of people though DEI was cheating when they dominated the resrictor plate races. Nope, ‘fraid not. They just did their homework and did it better than anyone else. Now that Hendrick’s having a good year I guess they’re cheating as well. They just took this COT more serious and attacked it. Now they’re reaping the benefits. NASCAR is bad about of a lot of things but does anyone have any idea of how many people it would take to orchestrate such a massive puppet show? Don’t think sponsers pay big bucks to watch their driver lay down so NASCAR can show this so-called “favoritism”. Geez people, what’s next? I know, Ken Schrader wins 3 in a row and we boycot Little Debbie Snacks that’ll teach them cheaters…

Steve Thornton
05/15/2007 02:58 PM

Those of you who can, always support your local track, be it dirt or asphalt. The drivers and promoters always appreciate it. Those of us that race at a local level are there for the fun and the bragging rights, not big bucks and multi million dollar marketing schemes. Don’t believe me? Go ask a local racer when he is going to buy his jet so he can go traveling to another track across the nation. Ask the guy with the homebuilt trailer and the 20 year old pickup why he doesen’t have a 18 wheeler hauler. I guarantee you’ll get the answer I just gave you. I personally think Smoke was right on the money with his comment about wrestling coming to NASCAR. If NASCAR wants to see revenues come back up, get rid of the top 35, bring back Wilkesboro and Rockingham, and if you have to build new tracks then build some with character, not cookie cutters.

William T.
05/15/2007 02:59 PM

It’s obvious. If you cannot see this happening, then you are either ignorant or in denial. I am a huge NASCAR fan and have been my entire life, and I really hate to admit it, but NASCAR has become “white-collar” money hungry sport that is no longer revolved around it’s fan-base. Before you know it, drivers are going to be holding out on contracts for more money just like the NBA........SAD.

05/15/2007 07:13 PM

What we need to remember is NASCAR picks its favorites. It is not the drivers fault. That being said, however, it makes me very angry that NASCAR does not enforce its own rules and policies in an even manner. It is worse than some umps calling balls and strikes. As for the teams and drivers, who cares? It is the loyal fan who is being hurt. As Ive said many times before, go dirt tracking.

05/15/2007 08:46 PM

Mark, I totally aree with you. I see that my NASCAR days are numbered because of the inconsistencies and favoritism of the officials/Management of the sport. Now adays, to find real racing you need to go to your local dirt track, not to look to the commerialized giant they call WWE, oops….I mean NASCAR. Thank you NASCAR for saving me about $2000.00 a year since i won’t be going to Pheonix, Fontana, or Las Vegas races again.

05/15/2007 10:02 PM

With 2 laps to go at Darlington, Gilliland blows an engine and lays down oil on a track that is already slick from the temprature. Does NA$CAR wave a caution to help protect the drivers’ lives? No, they want an exciting finish to the race.

I think we all saw the carnage on the final lap at Daytona and NA$CAR not throwing the caution while Bowyer was rolling down the track and cars were continuing to plow into each other. They wanted an exciting finish.

NA$CAR has always been about money and they have always had their favorites. NA$CAR’s very first race winner was disqualified because Bill France didn’t like the fact that he was a moonshine runner.

NA$CAR disqualified a 1955 race winner to accomodate a big, multi-car race team that threatened to pull out.

A former champion once said “NA$CAR has never been about racing. It’s always been about the money”. He’s right. Driver safety be damned. No need to be consistent with cautions or penalties. We’ll bow down to an auto manufacturer if it’ll give us more money.

As long as their coffers are full, NA$CAR will be happy.

05/16/2007 08:46 AM

I very much enjoy reading all of your comments. Isn’t it great that we all live in a country where we can spend our own hard earned money on whatever we want, including NASCAR tickets, then complain about “whatever” it is that you’re not happy with; whether it be “favoritism”, “bogus cautions”, “whiny drivers”...whatever. Guess what, my favorite driver doesn’t always win and he doesn’t always place in the top 10. But regardless of who wins, I’ll still watch the races on tv and go to what races I can afford to attend. If any one thinks they could do a better job than the NASCAR officials, then please, get a job with the organization and then you can really show them how to do it right. Just be happy that you’re able to express your opinions freely and enjoy the sport for what it is….racing…No sport is perfect, least of all NASCAR but I for one wouldn’t switch the channel for love nor money. And honestly, if you really hate the so called “bad calls” or “special treatment” then by all means, leave the sport and start watching something else. You won’t be missed by the rest of us.


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