The Frontstretch: Consequences For NASCAR Rich & Poor Not the Same by Tommy Thompson -- Tuesday July 25, 2006

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Consequences For NASCAR Rich & Poor Not the Same

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 assets…the fans!

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Chris2
07/26/2006 03:38 PM
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Tommy, Nice article. I too don’t agree with the “Top 35 rule”...or any other rule that protects any of the teams to be in a race. Mike Neff’s article “Marlin Pulls Out of Danger, Schrader in Jeopardy of Having to Qualify On Speed” from July 17th addresses some of what you are saying in the readers response section. The aurgument that could be made that doing away with the top-35 rule could cause a big name driver to go home just doesn’t sound very sportsman-like. What it does sound like though is NASCAR is more concerned with keeping the sponsors happy than actually being a somewhat fair to all teams sport. There is no denying that it would be foolish to think this or any other sport is “fair” for all the teams/atheletes but NASCAR, while it keeps talking of fairness is anything but. Plain and simple..the fastest teams run. You don’t make it through tech you don’t run…caught cheating you go home. How hard is that? NASCAR is basically telling the good teams “Hey, we know your going to try something but we have to make sure you make the race” Hence the silly “Top-35” rule. I’ve often been amazed that NASCAR allows cars that are found, after winning, to have some post-inspection infraction but yet the team is allowed to keep the win as well as the money/points.

Bob_The Ford Guy
07/26/2006 04:34 PM
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Thomas,

Excellent article. And I agree with you in not liking the Top 35 rule. If Hendricks cars cheat (and that’s already been established) then they should be sent home just like Front Row was. I’m tired of seeing the high money cheaters get away with all their tricks. Send ‘em home!!!

Bob

Colin Baird
07/26/2006 06:14 PM
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Thomas;

Excellent expose article on NA$CAR’s inability to punish rules violators fairly and equally. We have known for a long time that NA$CAR Officials are biased in how they interpret the rules on various occasions, and in relation to certain drivers and owners. In their infinite wisdom, NA$CAR has no intentions of jeopardizing their relationships with the “cash cows” in stock car racing. The NA$CAR Gestapo refuses to admit that race attendances have decreased over the past couple of years as has the TV audiences. It is apparent that REAL Race Fans are starting to get a real belly full of the professional wrestling type of racing that NA$CAR is putting out. The top 35 in points is not fair to all teams and drivers. The Chase is certainly not fair to the owners and drivers. The use of provisionals is not fair to all drivers. And the brand of stock car racing that NA$CAR is producing is certainly not fair to the Fans that are paying their hard earned money to see. To put it bluntly, today’s NA$CAR Racing is a bunch of bovine fecal matter.
BobbyD
07/26/2006 09:11 PM
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Like Daddy said, “Life is not fair.” NASCAR honors the top 35 just like I honor my good customers.

Paul A.
07/31/2006 02:34 AM
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Great article! I too found this odd when it was announced before the race. Of course, the networks would never point out the inherent unfairness of this for fear of incurring the wrath of NASCAR. I do understand the need to protect the sponsors to some extent, but look at the longtime, big name sponsors that have not been afforded that protection at times (e.g., Valvoline, NAPA, Tide) in addition to the smaller sponsors and teams. So not only is the rule unfair, it doesn’t even fulfill its intended purpose. Also, with the influx of new teams next year, there may well be 45 to 50 full-time, highly-funded, nationally-sponsored big-name teams; there is just no way to protect them all in a 43-car field.
In my opinion the most unfair issue is the carryover from the prior year’s points: there’s no way success or failure during the current season should be dependent on anything other than this season’s results (except MAYBE the past champion provisional). Start fresh with Daytona every February and don’t lock any teams in for the first 5 races…then perhaps the top-20 or 25 could be locked in, which would provide some guarantee for sponsors while still leaving around half the field open to everybody else.
The other option (and probably more likely long-term) is what Jeff Burton says is coming…a limited number of NASCAR “franchise” teams, with ownership rights purchased/rented from NA$$$$CAR (as always, follow the money!!).

Paul A.
07/31/2006 02:54 AM
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Here’s an article at NASCAR.com addressing this specific incident

Paul A.
07/31/2006 03:21 AM
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And here’s a Jeff Burton interview (see last question at the bottom)

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