The Frontstretch: Edwards' Penalty: The Decision Should Be Simple by Tommy Thompson -- Wednesday March 5, 2008

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Edwards' Penalty: The Decision Should Be Simple

Tommy Thompson · Wednesday March 5, 2008


In a departure from NASCAR's standard operating procedure, fines and penalties for rule infractions committed at Las Vegas were not announced on the Tuesday following a Sunday race. Of primary interest to stock car fans and Carl Edwards' No. 99 Roush Fenway camp is what the repercussions will be for a rule violation detected in post-race inspection following Edwards' UAW-Dodge 400 victory. The oil reservoir tank lid was not securely fastened as required by NASCAR; it’s a gaffe which could possibly have given the No. 99 a small aerodynamic advantage. Edwards said this week on SPEED TV that a bolt backed out of the cover, but that he believed that he would be penalized. I would hope that’s correct, and that NASCAR follows its newfound consistency in dishing out sizable fines and penalties.

The sport only needs to follow this "rule of thumb," … a violation is a violation, is a violation, and is a violation! This just makes the whole thing simpler to sort out. Just break it all down to its lowest common denominator; besides, it eliminates all the "Yeah, buts…" that can be argued in virtually every case of non-compliance to the rules. Perhaps a bolt did back out, or maybe it was intentionally removed. It doesn't matter, the car was illegal without the cover being securely fastened.

Carl Edwards celebrated the spoils of victory in Vegas on Sunday, but NASCAR could be ready to deal him a big blow this week in the form of a penalty.

I didn’t come to this conclusion because I do not understand there are quite often valid extenuating circumstances surrounding the cause of an infraction, but because it has become clear through the years NASCAR, when tasked with attempting to mete out "fairness" in their decisions, opens the door in the process to non-productive debate and derision. In the end, if NASCAR stays consistent in the penalties they impose on teams that do not present a race car that complies with the rules for competition, fans and competitors can at least understand it — even if they don’t agree.

In a perfect world, every non-compliance issue would be thoroughly investigated by NASCAR to determine whether there was intent to violate the rules before rendering their decisions. However, in reality, even after an impeccable review of all the factors leading up to a ruling by the sanctioning body, the decision will still boil down to a judgment call having to be made by NASCAR. More often than not, teams caught red-handed breaking the rules will insist that the violation was "unintentional." Now, if all the involved parties could be believed beyond a shadow of a doubt, that certainly would be different. But in absence of a "truth serum" being available to the sanctioning body they, in the end are just winging it with any decision they make involving determining "intent."

NASCAR's been down that road for the last 60 years, and have demonstrated repeatedly that they are not particularly good at making consistent, across-the-board disciplinary decisions when they start micro-analyzing the factors that contributed to a car being illegal. Weighted decisions by their nature only create more questions from fans and others within the NASCAR community, and accusations of favoritism immediately come to the forefront when a team owner or driver perceived to be "favorite sons" of the organization are given less onerous penalties — based on intent and competitive advantage considerations — for a similar infraction than others have received. These suspicions are generally followed by accusations that the governing body "plays favorites," and are putting their own vested business considerations ahead of assuring a level playing field for its competitors.

Whether the allegations of malfeasance are accurate or not, the damage to the racing organization’s reputation is questioned each and every time time they make such a judgment call. That’s not the kind of headlines that NASCAR or, for that matter any other legitimate sports entity wants to constantly have to defend themselves against. So, why put yourself through the ringer like that?

With the introduction of the new generation of Cup car last season, the sanctioning body has made a concerted effort to move away from the "decision by discretion" game. And as the season progressed, they tagged some of the sports’ biggest names and their teams with new, tougher punishments. In addition, they did it across the board, as well. Some of the sport’s biggest stars: Dale Earnhardt, Jr., four-time Cup Champion Jeff Gordon, and defending Champion Jimmie Johnson and their crews have all been subjected to similar, more severe fines and penalties. And in each of those cases, there were arguable circumstances surrounding each violation. The rules committee did not in those instances attempt to determine the degree of intent that the involved teams had in breaking the written rules, or what, if any on-track advantage the violation gained, or would have gained the violators. All they said was that the cars were illegal — nothing more.

Pure and simple, I would say.

Once the unavoidable fan-biased bellyaching subsided and the fines, suspensions and points deductions were history, by and large the racing community seemed better able to accept them simply because at least they were imposed equally. The race cars in those cases last year were not legal; they were proven to be inarguably in violation of the rules. And there was no hint of preferential treatment being given to either team owner or driver by NASCAR. As a result, the sport established a new, easy to understand process for determining punishment; now, the trick going forward is not to veer off that road.

Ironically, NASCAR's new "get tough" tact of levying 100-point deductions, $100,000 fines, and crew chief suspensions last season was considered by many not to be severe enough. There seems to be a general consensus that repeat offenders, most noticeably the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team of Jimmie Johnson, should be dealt with more harshly. And I, too, subscribe to that point of view. Just as in a court of law, the penalties should be progressively more punitive; with multiple violations, incresed sanctions should include disallowing the team or driver to participate in a set number of races, dependent on the number for chronic violations of the rules they have committed. The goal here is to send a message loud and clear to competitors that NASCAR insists, in the interest of fairness to all the competitors, that all entries are legal to race.

While still waiting for the decision to be handed down from the powers that be, I still cannot be 100% confident in Edwards’ case that they will have the wherewithal and fortitude necessary to stick with the recent course that they have charted in the last year. But I certainly am hoping they do!

And…that's my view from Turn 5.

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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
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03/05/2008 12:42 AM

NASCAR already took a huge step back in their consistency of COT penalties when the #99 was not penalized at California when their car had sheet metal around the wheel wells extended a bit beyond the norm, which would allow for additional side force. It was noticeable enough that other teams saw it and asked NASCAR about it. What kind of punishment did the #99 team get? A warning not to get too creative with the areas around the tires, or there will be repercussions. I think the penalized teams last season would happily have taken a warning instead of a 100 point penalty, $100,000 fine and losing their crew chief for 6 weeks.

03/05/2008 06:24 AM

Nascar needs to have different penalties for violations found in pre race inspection and those found post race. If a violation never makes it to the race, the fine should be considrably smaller than those found after a race.

03/05/2008 06:50 AM

The article is spot on—Rules should be clear, consise, public, and CONSISTENT. In my opinion, if one is a repeat offender it should not matter—break the rule, suffer the consequence, no more, no less. Otherwise we are back to endless (and silly) judgment calls. I also agree with Sally B—if an infraction is found before qualifying (a la Robby Gordon), no harm, no foul, no penalty.

03/05/2008 08:13 AM

MMMM, what did you just say???

Consistency from, (of all organizations) NA$CAR?????

Then please tell me, and let me remind you of what NA$CAR says: (not what they do obviously, just what they say):


So, lets examine a couple of RECENT actions on the part of SICKAR:

1. Robby Gordon, car does not pass tech! 100 drivers points, 100 owners points, crew chief suspension, $$$$ in fines!

2. Cars 17, 48, 88, all FAIL tech inspection (remember the ZERO TOLERANCE bit?), no fines, no suspensions, no points deduction, no nothing except get kicked out of line and ALLOWED TO GO BACK AND FIX THE CAR!

Sure, easy to say that offending cars should get penalized! But remember, the rule book in NA$CAR is in two parts:



Well, no one ever claimed NA$CAR was FAIR and CONSISTENT!

Oh, did I mention that I am one of those “CORE FANS” they keep referring to that are dropping out of the sport like flies? Wonder why?

The royal jester
03/05/2008 09:12 AM

There will be no fines issued.
After all it is Carl and he does that addorable back flip. and he has that hot bod that King Brian loves!!!!!

Brian France Sucks
03/05/2008 10:29 AM

Carl is my boy, but he’ll be w/o the services of Bob Osborne for 6 races and 100 points, more than likely.

03/05/2008 01:47 PM

I agree there should be consistent application of the rules. But, there are two points from the world of real law enforcement to consider.

1) The punishment should fit the crime. In other words, what is the severity of the offense. If the offense is one that could give/gave the team a competitive advantage like Mikey’s “jet fuel” or the #24 and #48’s fender bending should get 100 points. Dale Jr.‘s illegal bolts or Robby’s illegal nose should not as no advantage was obtained. By using competitive advantage as a yardstick we have an objective measure of the harm done without resorting to judgment calls on ‘intent.’

2) Do we want NASCAR to be like Traffic Court with strict penalties regardless of the situation or like criminal court where circumstances and possibly intent come into play? (I know I may be partly contradicting myself on the intent issue, because I think it should be part of the process. But, realistically, as NASCAR has shown it cannot make judgment calls in a consistent manner, we should probably leave this out.)

I have a strong hatred of the ZERO-TOLERANCE nonsense that deals out the same penalty regardless of the severity of the offense. It is antithetical to the American legal systems ideals for such policies to exist. Now, I can live with “Zero Tolerance” if the penalties vary to the severity of the offense.

Lastly, I have not mentioned the Carl Edwards situation as I am a fan and fantasy league “owner” of him and I am both too ignorant of all the facts and too biased to make an informed decision. Anyway, NASCAR has been arbitrary in its decisions for over 60 years. Does anyone think they’ll start now?

carole penrod
03/05/2008 04:40 PM

Pre-race: no harm, no foul.
No questions,no exceptions. Now what’s so hard about that.

03/05/2008 05:43 PM

Consistency is key. But let’s not kid ourselves. NASCAR can’t be consistent from race to race, let alone from season to season.
Much like bureaucracy everywhere, the bigger the “book” the more difficult to enforce.
I am also not naive enough to forget that part of the history of the sport is “creativity” among crew chiefs, crews, engineers, etc.
Afterall, if IROC was the ideal model, wouldn’t it still be around?
There always has been and always will be pushing of the envelope. The trick now is to clearly define what a violation is, and then consistently apply pre-determined penalties, regardless of a team’s financial or point standing, driver popularity, or the myriad other factors that NASCAR seems to use in handing out penalties.
If you didn’t gain an advantage in using it, heck, if you didn’t even qualify with it, it shouldn’t be a penalty. But… if you run it, all bets are off, and you get the penalty. And that includes forfeiting a win and the points you may have gained.

nascar roots
03/05/2008 06:07 PM

first off i would like to know where all these fans heard that carls car failed post race inspection?. nascar said his car passed post race inspection that they only had a issue with the oil tank i ask this question if a car runs 500 miles and wins the race and sometime during that race the car taps the wall but does no body damage only knocks in a crush panel to the inside of the car does that car get pentalized?.it should right because nascar exspects a car to run 500 miles at 200 mph and nothing work loose. i can’t run my chevy 70 mph for 43 miles without something falling off.

nascar roots
03/05/2008 08:04 PM

hey kal were did you read that story the chevy gazett thats the first i’ve heard on that story. like i’ve said a chevy wins their a great team a ford wins their cheaters.chevy allways got nascar to cheat for them so thats ok right.[we need help to be competitive]rule change for chevys starting at atlanta allmost every year then the worlds greatest drivers would start dominating. nascar said this new car would show the drivers true talent so far it has ,remember after nascar finally wind tunnel tested gordons car back in 2000 and found he had a huge aero advantage nascar made new front templates and gordon wrecked out the next 6 races because he could’nt turn his car and whats his complaint this year [he can’t turn his car]cost matt 2nd at vegas. 18 years ford has had to race chevys at a disadvantage because of nascar and they had to be good with setups to make up for what nascar was giving chevy or taking away from ford. with that said ford don’t have to cheat to win. nascar history shows the most penaltys handed out was to chevys hendrick is at the top of the list

03/05/2008 09:42 PM

nascar roots
Hey buy a Toyota, Been driving My Lexus for 6 years, and nothing has fell off yet, nothing has broken either, I root for the Chevy Drivers, but wouldn’t drive one of those pieces of crap if you gave me one

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