The Frontstretch: Move Over, Jimmie…Let's Let Gordon Get One For The Thumb by Tommy Thompson -- Tuesday October 9, 2007

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Move Over, Jimmie…Let's Let Gordon Get One For The Thumb

Tommy Thompson · Tuesday October 9, 2007

 

Race fans, imagine this…

Jimmie Johnson is leading Jeff Gordon by one point at this year’s season-ending race at Homestead, Florida. Johnson runs one spot ahead of Gordon on the track, when all of a sudden, he receives an order over his in-car radio from Chad Knaus instructing him to let his teammate move ahead. Dejected, Johnson obeys the edict, watches the No. 24 swing by, and remains helpless as Gordon goes on to win his fifth NASCAR Cup Championship.

Sound crazy? It is actually not as far-fetched as it seems. Unless the hierarchy of the sport steps up to the plate and takes action to stop the issuing of "team orders,” something similar to my illustration is almost certain to occur in NASCAR. It may not be this season, or even the next – but eventually a championship will be determined by the whim of an owner, and not by honest competition on the track.

In my column last week entitled “NASCAR Is Ripe For Scandal,” I detailed two known instances since the start of the 2007 Chase for the Nextel Cup 10-race championship in which non-Chase participants have given up finishing positions to teammates contending for the title. In case you missed it, Greg Biffle began the controversy by admitting on SPEED TV to permitting Roush Fenway teammate Carl Edwards to pass him late in the race; the move allowed Edwards to improve his position in the finishing order from 13th to 12th at Loudon, NH. The very next week at Dover, Casey Mears, according to team radio transmission transcripts acquired by the Frontstretch.com staff, likewise relinquished a certain 5th place finish to his Hendrick Motorsports stablemate, Kyle Busch. As a result, the youngster also gained undeserved points in his quest for the Nextel Cup title.

This topic has generated a fair amount of discussion and interest among fans of the sport, but I am taken aback at the level of acceptance by others to the practice of owners manipulating the outcome of a NASCAR Cup race by ordering one driver to not race another. Regardless of what questionable concessions in the past were tolerated in the name of courtesy or sportsmanship, "team orders" should not be condoned – either by fans or by NASCAR. As I have previously stated, and continue to maintain, artificially manufacturing the natural course of a sporting event is fraudulent, unethical, and counterintuitive to the standards of conduct that all participants in said contest should be expected to uphold. Maybe this sport has always been just a little dishonest, but a little dishonest is akin to being just a little pregnant…both are conditions that are certain to grow larger in time. And in the case of "team orders," the situation has reached a breaking point – largely due to the Chase format – which requires corrective measures to be implemented by NASCAR as soon as possible. Otherwise, the sport will see a steady and rapid decline of its credibility.

As for the hypothetical situation I described in which the Hendrick teammates conspire to "gift" a championship to Jeff Gordon, I only half-heartedly believe that if such a scenario were to play out in the championship hunt that such an order would be given. Nonetheless, the facts are that both Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway drivers have proven they’re not above conceding positions for their teammates. And is it wrong? The answer to me is yes – but while it is certainly unethical, it is apparently allowable, at least until this sport says differently.

NASCAR's Managing Director of Corporate Communications, Ramsey Poston consented to be interviewed by Frontstretch.com on these very concerns as a follow-up to my column this week. Excerpts from that interview are as follows:

Frontstretch.com:

What is NASCAR's reaction to recent information that indicates that both Casey Mears and Carl Edwards were under "team orders" to give their Chase contending teammates their positions in the running order?

Poston:

"We really would like to think that no driver would pull over. But this is a team sport, to a degree, as well."

"And we really can't police it, teams would create their own language and what have you."

Frontstretch.com:

Have there been recent discussions within NASCAR on this issue?

Poston:

"Not really, there have been very few instances of it. We're aware that teams have worked together for 5 bonus points. But at some level, this is a team sport."

"Ultimately, it will be self-policing. Sponsors will police this as well. They will start asking questions if their car is being affected. But we will continue to monitor it."

It should be pointed out that this issue has been largely ignored by other colleagues in the racing media, and it would have been easy enough for NASCAR to simply not have commented – at least for now – on this topic. Additionally, there has yet to be a large backlash against this practice to date by the fans of the sport, a situation that would no doubt spur them to take what I believe are needed drastic measures to put a stop to "team orders." So, as a result, I am led to believe that NASCAR, in agreeing to comment and explain their position on the matter, truly does not see it as I do – a train wreck just waiting to happen.

Now, Mr. Poston may be correct and sponsors will not tolerate the practice to the extent of team owners giving away wins to another team. But where were they when Biffle gave up his 12th place finish, and Mears, his 5th place result?

Besides the general acceptance by some of this practice, I have been told repeatedly by stock car enthusiasts that they believe, as Mr. Poston alluded to, that even if NASCAR were to issue a clear and stern position to owners, orders would still be issued by owners to their drivers…albeit more covertly. I disagree with that line of thinking. NASCAR can enforce a ban on the practice, at least to a satisfactory degree of certainty that their race results are as legitimate as other sports with which they compete for fan support. Certainly, Major League Baseball cannot prevent a pitcher from throwing a big fat one over the plate, or an offensive lineman deliberately missing his block in the National Football League. And if a National Basketball Association player chose to "tank" a free throw, it would be hard to prevent or prove. But in those sporting organizations such instances, if discovered, are dealt with harshly. Fans are not accepting of athletes in those arenas fraudulently influencing the outcome of the event…and I’m confident they wouldn’t in stock car racing under the same circumstances, either.

Race "fixing" should become a "poison pill" for anyone in the sport involved in it, whether it’s for 5th or 40th; and that, in my estimation, should be the policy of the sanctioning body. The organization should impose such severe penalties for these occurrences that no one would consider the risk worth the consequences. Penalties along the lines of $10 million dollars or more and a mandatory 2-year suspension for any owner, driver, crewman or sponsor involved in the deception could go a long way towards bringing a quick halt to a rapidly growing practice.

Further, drivers should be protected from even being asked to "take one for the team." I sincerely doubt that there is a driver in NASCAR that truly wants to give up a hard fought position; by being asked to pull over, they’re being put in a true "no win situation." NASCAR should make it mandatory that every owner provides specific language in the driver’s contract protecting them from being subjected to "team orders," for any position and for any reason.

And to that the difficult issue of policing a "whistle blower" program, designed to catch those violating the rules, and the sport would be in much better shape. Under my proposal, should anyone present to the sanctioning body that teams conspired to intentionally skew the result of an event, they would be handsomely rewarded – to the tune of $10 million or more.

Periodically, all organizations and businesses have to reexamine their policies and procedures. NASCAR is no different, and they are being taken to task due to what I believe is a growing problem that has to be addressed. Should they take swift and appropriate action to correct the problem, they will head off what has the potential to be a very damaging situation in the future. But if they don’t…look out.

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Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
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The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
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NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
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Lee
10/09/2007 11:13 PM
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Remember the battle at Martinsville between Gordon and Johnson? I hardly think either would lay back from the other. But if believing that makes you happy, go for it. I find the suggestion ridiculous and hardly comparable to the actions you discussed last week.

29ER
10/10/2007 02:08 AM
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Hey Bill from last week; check out Poston’s comments above and you can tell him their’s no such thing as taken 1 4 the team!

C. J.
10/10/2007 07:05 AM
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Well, it may not be either Jeff or Jimmie moving over for the other to get a Championship, but after watching Casey on Nascar Now last night, it’s still apparently HMS’s stand that Casey shall move over whenever Jeff or Jimmie demand so. He even went so far as saying that while it would a hard decision to make, for the “Bigger Picture”, he would give up a win to keep his teammates on top in the Championship. “Bigger Picture” for Casey should be wins for all the hard working guys on his team and his sponsors, not what benefits someone else. As a race fan in general, and as a Casey fan, I have to say I’m seriously disappointed in Casey. When the dude asked him if it came down to choosing I thought for sure, it would be a quick and total “I’d go for the win”. I was shocked when he danced around the subject. I honestly can’t see the side of those who think that kind of stuff is ok. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy something I know I didn’t earn on my own merit. I also don’t know how Jimmie can call himself a friend of Casey’s (or even Jeff for that matter) if they are guilting him into giving up precious Cup wins for what amounts to THEIR own personal goals and gains and does nothing to benefit Casey. That’s beyond selfish, and who wants friends that only think of themselves constantly. It’s not like Casey and the #25 get to go to NYC and share the spoils of the Championship…oh sure, they might get a couple hundred extra bucks in the paycheck, but is that really worth giving up a mark in the win column, when everything a driver is judged by is what is on the stat sheet?

mmack
10/10/2007 08:50 AM
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“This topic has generated a fair amount of discussion and interest among fans of the sport, but I am taken aback at the level of acceptance by others to the practice of owners manipulating the outcome of a NASCAR Cup race by ordering one driver to not race another.”

Tommy, if race fans aren’t surprised when the SANCTIONING BODY alters the outcome of a race (“Phantom Cautions”, “Lucky Dog Passes”, etc.), why would they be surprised when a TEAM alters the outcome of a race?

Bill
10/10/2007 09:46 AM
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After reading this and having NASCAR the entity AND the teams recognizing the ‘Team’ aspect of the sport, there is one thing NASCAR can do and should do it NOW. They have limited each of the multi-car teams to four and it appears that each and every one of them will eventually take advantage of having four teams. They may not now, but for the competitive advantage gained, they will in the future.

Considering that and the fact that the teams appear to be ‘seeding’ their drivers, just maybe they should all do without teammates. If this continues, the teams will be seeding their drivers before the season starts. By doing that the teams will be dictating the finishing order within their own teams in the driver standings.

So, what should NASCAR do? Revisit the team limit rule. If the teams start engaging in actions like we have already seen this season, limit everybody to ONE team. Make it so there must be 43 different owners in the Series. Then, none of the players have to report to anybody but their owner. Maybe that is simplified, but at this point I see no different way to treat the situation.

DB1
10/13/2007 12:13 AM
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“Otherwise, the sport will see a steady and rapid decline of its credibility.”

Tommy,

What do you think has been happening for the last few years? Credibility is fast falling out the open window. The rule book is printed in pencil, and the cars are being turned into IROC-like machines. What credibility?

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