The Frontstretch: NASCAR Cheaters Always Win (Bowles-Eye View) by Thomas Bowles -- Sunday March 27, 2005

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NASCAR Cheaters Always Win (Bowles-Eye View)

Thomas Bowles · Sunday March 27, 2005

 

Millions of Americans woke up Sunday with a house full of Easter Eggs. You may have even been woken up at 5 A.M., by an excited seven-year-old kid who’d already found all the chocolate in the house and tried to eat it, as was the case with my aunt and uncle this year. But, no matter how early you found those eggs, your house wasn’t the first one the Easter Bunny came to visit. This year the rabbit came early, stopping by the world of stock cars to leave a box of goodies a team should have never received, and cementing the wrong reputation for a sport that didn’t stand tough at the right time.

Apparently, the boys over at Hendrick Motorsports had been extra nice to the rabbit fraternity in the past year, and boy did it pay off. At the beginning of the week, though, the group was facing an uncertain future. The winning car of Jimmie Johnson and the second-place car of Kurt Busch had failed post-race inspection two weeks earlier at Las Vegas, causing heavy fines and a loss of 25 Nextel Cup points for each team. The crew chiefs for the 48 and 5 cars, Chad Knaus and Alan Gustafson, were facing the prospect of a two-race suspension just as the NASCAR world kicked into high gear, with seventeen straight weekends of Nextel Cup racing beginning at Bristol April 3rd. With such a long stretch ahead, it’s critical to get off to a solid start, and suspensions would put that in serious jeopardy. Two straight bad races with interim crew chiefs crumples up momentum and throws it in the trash bin, no matter what car owner’s name is on the side of your hauler.

Hendrick’s group had reason to worry, because these penalties were a chance for NASCAR to take a serious stand. Two cars owned by one of the most powerful teams in the business had chosen not to follow NASCAR’s rules. That’s right, I said chosen; it was clearly shown during the race by FOX that the fender of the 48 car had come undone during the race, and anyone could see by the car’s appearance that the front of the car just looked uneven. If you’re ready to argue my point, think about when the side window comes off a racecar during the event; NASCAR black flags the car, because it doesn’t have all the necessary parts and pieces to legally compete. While the loss of a wedge bolt didn’t result in a black flag in this case, it was still the equivalent of a piece coming off the car, and the team had plenty of opportunities to correct the part failure; it would take a matter of seconds to bolt in the fender on a pit stop. Instead, the 48 team chose the aerodynamic advantage, giving into fears of losing track position, and found itself having to accept the consequences of a failed inspection. And as for the 5, Busch’s car clearly had no clear altercation on the track that would cause a failure in post-race inspection. Call me crazy, but I have a hard time believing we’re dealing with innocent victims here.

Still, there was one road left for Hendrick before the suspensions were set in stone; the NASCAR appeal. All appeals of the sport are heard by three members of the National Stock Car Racing Commission, composed of names no race fan knows to the point they could be imaginary people. So, during the hearing in front of Peter Pan, Cinderella, and Dumbo the Elephant, neither team contested the fact the cars had failed post-race inspection. So, in a sense, they freely admitted a form of “cheating,” whether or not it was intentional. Why the argument then on appeal, you might ask? Well, basically they just asked for the sport to go a little light on them.

The evidence was inexplicably weighed over the next two days before a decision was reached, in the face of a clear opportunity to re-establish NASCAR as the one sport where playing outside the lines would not be tolerated. The harsh penalties could be a public relations snafu in the face of Major League Baseball, who has spent the past month of March trying to save face as it watched its ugly world of steroids become exposed on Capitol Hill, and one of its most respected players all but admit cheating during his record-breaking years. Unfortunately, NASCAR had already missed the boat as it was the first time; after years of letting drivers keep the win after taking the checkered flag with an illegal race car, stripping Johnson of the win on the initial penalty would have given instant credibility back to a sport that polices itself about as subjectively as your neighborhood cop gives out speeding tickets. Still, the suspensions of two NASCAR crew chiefs would send a clear message; cheaters WOULD be punished.

Unfortunately, the National Stock Car Racing Commission turned into the mom that doesn’t have the heart to discipline her children. Even though they agreed with all of NASCAR’s evidence, suspensions were removed; in their place, 90 days probation, which can be rewritten in English as ‘slap on the wrist.’ With one piece of paper, the Commission reduced the penalty to the same one Dale Earnhardt Jr. got for swearing in a television interview, only more money was involved in the fine.

That’s right, casual race fans; in the crazy world of NASCAR, saying the word *&^& in a public place will cost you the same number of points as altering your race car to win the race. And we haven’t even talked about the other appeal for Kevin Harvick’s team, whose crew chief is in trouble after the car tried to cheat during qualifying! When the car already was guaranteed a spot in the field! Still, we’re all supposed to think things have all become OK because Mike Helton held a “harsh” drivers’ meeting last Sunday in Atlanta in which he said cheating will no longer be tolerated. Poor Helton; I’m not sure after all his “warnings” people refer to him as anything other than the Boy Who Cried Wolf. And the kicker is, after next Sunday someone’s going to bang into somebody else at Bristol, tempers will flare, and there’ll be a new controversy, throwing this important issue under the rug until the next time someone decides they need to beat the system.

I hate to say it, but I have a good idea when that next “cheater’s” race might be. I’m the team in 11th place, 5 points out of 10th heading into the Chase Race at Richmond. I know from the precedent NASCAR’s set that no matter what I do, I lose 25 points (Quick, name the last time a NASCAR team lost more than 25 points in a race. Answer: Not in this century!) The difference between making the Chase and being left out means millions in publicity, points money, and sponsorship. Why wouldn’t I cheat? A win would be equivalent to a third-or-fourth place finish, and I’d guarantee myself one with a souped-up race car; the fine and the 25 points would be peanuts in the grand scheme of things. It’s the same reasons baseball players took steroids; the pressure to succeed and the fame and fortune achieved with that success made cheating worth the toll the drug was taking on their bodies, as well as their pride.

And so, we end another Easter with the officiating side of this sport more confusing then ever before, and with an illegal race car keeping its place atop the record books. Stock car racing keeps trying to market itself as different from all the other major sports; yet why do their decisions keep tilting further and further in the same direction? In baseball, it’s all about what cheaters don’t have to say. In NASCAR, it’s all about what cheaters don’t have to do. And the only one that loses, race fans, is you.

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John
03/28/2005 03:27 AM
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I was glad to read Thomas Bowles column on the recent decision by the Stock Car Commission, I felt like I was all alone in my thoughts about the disasterous decision they made. As a Saturday night racer, I am held to rules that say “The decision of the Race Director is final”. If we are not legal for any reason (they might cut us a break on camber if it is the result of a wreck) we are disqualified, no points and no money it’s as if we didn’t race. NASCAR should use the same rules. They should run over the scales and get spoilers and ride height checked on the way to victory lane, if they are not legal they get to go to the garage and the next car wins the race.
Ron
03/28/2005 05:01 AM
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As important as points are, who says the guy that finished 10th didn’t cheat. He might of had a 30th place
car. I think they should run all of them though the height stick. Look at timing all the cars on pit road, instead of spot checking them. A lot more penalties.
Jggirl2448
03/28/2005 07:20 AM
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Without going too deep into a Hendrick arguement (the same thing that’s already been said), you cannot compare losing a window to losing a bolt. Why you ask? Because the window is a SAFETY requirement.

If a car loses it’s fender due to parts failure, that car does NOT get black flagged. If a car loses it’s bumper due to parts failure, it also doesn’t get black flagged (in fact losing a bumper is a Jr. syndrome, but Jr. doesn’t get black flagged for causing it.).

Not all parts failures are black flagged, and not each piece of the car is cause to toss a black flag out.

Johnson’s fender was out yes, but it didn’t cause a safety issue, they were told to fix it and did.
terry
03/28/2005 09:05 AM
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rick hendrick is a master at manipulating justice. the commision should be ashamed of itself for undercutting mike helton.
BILL AVANT
03/28/2005 12:54 PM
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THANK YOU THOMAS BOWLES FOR SAYING WHAT MILLIONS OF NASCAR FANS WOULD LIKE TO SAY. THE ONLY PEOPLE THAT AGREE WITH WHAT THE COMMISSION DID ARE JOHNSON OR BUSCH FANS. I GAURANTEE THEY WOULD NOT AGREE IF IT WERE ANOTHER DRIVER {EARNHARDT JR,HARVICK,WALLACE,ETC.}.THEY WOULD WANT THEM PUNISHED TO THE MAX. I SURE HOPE NASCAR DOESN’T TURN INTO WHAT PRO WRESTLING HAS.A JOKE!!!!.TAKE AWAY THE WIN,THE WINNINGS,THE POINTS AND SET THEM OUT A RACE OR TWO AND THEY WILL GET THEIR ATTENTION
Leo
03/28/2005 12:58 PM
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(Quick, name the last time a NASCAR team lost more than 25 points in a race. Answer: Not in this century!)

May of 2000. Jeremy Mayfield was fined 151 points for an illegal fuel additive at the spring Talledaga race. Good article though I enjoyed it and agree with most of it.

Leo (a.k.a. FORDRULES)
Frank
03/28/2005 02:10 PM
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I agree that NASCAR needs to get tough. In SCCA, if in post race inspection, the car is found illegal it is disqualified, even at the National Runoffs. You can appeal the ruling and the appeals board will provide it decision. That is how it should be. Cheat and you lose.
Don
03/28/2005 02:26 PM
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I just don’t understand why we need all these cookie cutter rules, and broken parts isn’t cheating.
What’s wrong with the old days of racing, whoever could get the most speed out of the car was the fastest. And I’m sure I’m not the first to say NASCAR needs to change it’s name, STOCK CARS? That’s the biggest JOKE of all
Reginald
03/28/2005 07:00 PM
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Please folks, please look up the definition of cheating!!
Robert
03/28/2005 08:11 PM
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..its money ,its all about the money,com`on folks this “sport”is all about filling the stands..rules..shesssh..chevy yesterday,ford today,dodge tomorrow..the rules are “tweaked” constantly to level the field..right..oh I almost forgot its also to save the teams money..when all aspects of a car are controlled the results can be manipulated and controlled..imho
Jggirl2448
03/29/2005 03:12 AM
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Bill said: “THANK YOU THOMAS BOWLES FOR SAYING WHAT MILLIONS OF NASCAR FANS WOULD LIKE TO SAY. THE ONLY PEOPLE THAT AGREE WITH WHAT THE COMMISSION DID ARE JOHNSON OR BUSCH FANS. ”

Although I am a Hendrick’s fan, my father is not. He is a Penske fan and although he had a hearty laugh, he thinks that suspension was overboard as well. Millions of NASCAR fans (who AREN’T JJ or Busch fans) DIDN’T agree with the suspension because at some point or a point coming, a piece will fail on their driver’s too.

Make sure when you speak for fans, you have talked to them all personally. Here in our own forums (and tons of other racing forums I visit), people who WEREN’T Johnson or Busch fans thought suspension was stupid as well. And as a Johnson/Busch fan, I agree with the points docking and I agree with the fines.

And actually, if anyone remembers, who “any” of these other drivers are, lots of them have been docked, fined and suspended for various things, and some appeals were overturned, but no crew chief has ever been suspended for a legitimate parts failure. NASCAR appeals doesn’t take lightly what they turn over so I am positive that evidence produced was pretty set in stone.

The only ones that think that everything was right in this was the people who hate Hendrick. See? I can generalize too! :)
Ironman
03/29/2005 04:38 AM
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What do you expect from two teams owned by a crooked businessman? A convicted FELON?
Jeff M
03/30/2005 08:13 PM
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Tom, Tom, Tom…. (shakes head)
The loss of points is justified. They failed post race specs. The suspensions were not.
Neither the 48 or the 5 teams had the INTENT to cheat. If NASCAR officials in the pits saw the fender that far out of whack, they should have at the very least, held them and checked it out. It is no different than say, you getting a warning for going 59 in a 55 zone on the freeway.
As for the 5, if it was there intent to make the car higher, that should have been caught in pre-race inspection. How do you make a car get higher during a race on purpose anyway?

The commission was right on overturning their suspensions. Where NASCAR TOTALLY lost it was not sending the #29 home IMMEDIATELY when their deception was discovered. That is where NASCAR could have sent the message.

And lastly, re: baseball, I sincerely hope you weren’t referring to Jose Conseco as one of baseball’s ‘most respected players’, because that is laughable.

Think about it. The people we’ve elected to run the country are wasting their time investigating steroid use in a professional sport! No wonder this country is so f’d up!

 

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