Thompson In Turn 5 · Tommy Thompson · Tuesday July 25, 2006
Following qualifying for last Sunday’s Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway, the Front Row Motorsports No. 61 driven by Chad Chaffin was found to be outside the mandated height requirements given by NASCAR, and, as a result, their qualifying time was disallowed. The underfunded team was effectively sent “packing” after having turned in the 38th fastest time and thought to have qualified for last Sunday's race, something they haven’t done all that much of this year. More importantly, for the first time in recent Nextel Cup history, a team that violated the rules during qualifying was hit with a penalty of not being allowed to compete.
NASCAR enthusiasts jumped right in with praise and/or criticism as a result of the team’s expulsion from the race. However, fan’s initial judgments may have been based on a misunderstanding as to what actually transpired. Apparently, and it is important to follow along closely, the No. 61 team wasn't really and truly sent home for the rules violation. Their qualifying time was simply disallowed. And the consequences for having your qualifying time disallowed are that you don't make the race…right?
OK, now continue to follow along because this gets real tricky. The answer to that question is—not necessarily. If the No. 61 team had been within the Top 35 in owner points, they would have been allowed to race. In this same scenario, the consequences for Top 35 teams violating the same rule(s) would simply have been that they would have had to start the race at the back of the field with a provisional. Don’t you see…your parents were right after all. Life isn't fair!
No. 61 car and Front Row Motorsports owner Bob Jenkins issued a statement before Sunday's race stating the following:
“This is the first time in the history of the series that a competitor has been disqualified after successfully making a race. Since the team must forfeit at least $70,000.00 of winnings, this is also the largest financial penalty ever levied by NASCAR.”
Mr. Jenkins was referring, of course, to the amount paid to the forty-third (43rd) finishing position, an amount guaranteed to a team desperately trying to keep their heads above water in this series after initially qualifying for the event at Pocono. Jenkins is right; Front Row Motorsports experienced consequences that resulted in the largest financial penalty of all time for a rules infraction.
And now for the "life’s not fair" connection: Jenkins, in that same prepared statement, continues to make solid points:
“In recent years, roof-height violations have met with fines ranging from $20,000-$35,000 and, usually, a 25 point reduction in owner and driver points. As violations have been discovered, teams were always allowed to race and earn points and purse money for the event. In 2005, Hendrick Motorsports earned a victory and nearly a half million dollars in purse winnings, despite the fact that the No. 48 team had failed a post race height inspection. In each case, penalties were handed out following the weekend and the teams were afforded the opportunity to appeal the penalties prior to them going into effect.”
The incident on Friday and the ones Jenkins were referring to were similar violations, of course; yet, the consequences for the No. 61 and No. 48 teams were very different. Certainly, Bob Jenkins has every right to be upset; after all, don't we all want to be treated fairly?
It is understandable how fans, on first hearing the news that the Chad Chaffin team was being sent home, would have concluded that NASCAR was enacting a new “get tough on cheating” policy that they have been recently hinting at. But based on the events as reported, there is no way of knowing whether that is the case. For now, all we know is that the consequences for teams outside the Top 35 are severe, and will result in being sent home.
Now, NASCAR has every right to insist that racecars entered for races are legal, and they should vigorously police their rules. These rules are purportedly designed to provide for fair competition, and I see no other way to dissuade competitors contemplating violating NASCAR's rulebook but to impose more severe consequences to those that do not adhere to the rules posted within. When caught, those that attempt to circumvent the rules should be dealt with firmly, as there is no better deterrent to intentional tomfoolery than not allowing a race team to race. A “be legal or be at home” policy is the best type of policy for that.
Certainly, after what transpired on Friday it is my belief that NASCAR will not experience any more height violation issues with a Front Row Motorsports entry. Unfortunately, I am not as confident that Hendrick Motorsports or Richard Childress Racing, two teams that have recently been caught being less than compliant with the rules, have suffered consequences for their actions that would guarantee compliance with NASCAR in the future.
Admittedly, I am not a supporter of the Top 35 rule, and have not been since its inception. However, never did I until this week understand that this rule also offers those teams under that umbrella immunity from receiving fair and just consequences for “violations detrimental to stockcar racing.” NASCAR might need to take a look at this one. It would seem that a failure to do so would result in consequences that I am sure they do not desire, namely further erosion of credibility and trust from their most needed assetsâ€¦the fans!
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