NASCAR handed down some penalties this week.
Yeah, that’s nothing new, but this week’s bear a closer look.
One, on the surface, seemed consistent in every way with what they have done this year until you take a closer look. The others, or more accurately the lack thereof, should also be raising a few eyebrows. It isn’t like NASCAR is suddenly going to become a model of consistency, but these recent actions are out there in left field somewhere looking more lost than Jose Canseco on a pop fly.
When Carl Edwards was docked 25 points and $25,000 after being ¾ of an inch too low in post-race inspection, it brought squarely into focus a discrepancy in penalties depending on when they occur in a race weekend. It also begs the question of what exactly is and what is not a Car of Tomorrow issue. Edwards’s penalty was the same as penalties handed out to Kyle Busch and Johnny Sauter earlier this year at New Hampshire International Speedway when the Nos. 5 and 70, respectively, were found too low after that race. “Wow!” you say, overwhelmed by NASCAR’s incredible display of consistency.
But not so fast. There is no consistency at all when you look at a height penalty that is discovered after a race compared to one found after qualifying. By the NASCAR rulebook, height violations fall under section 12-4-Q (car, car parts, components and/or equipment used do not conform to NASCAR rules). Same rule, same penalty, right? Wrong. If a height violation is found in post-qualifying inspection instead of post-race inspection, the penalty is potentially much, much harsher. A race winner with a low car keeps his win and still gets better than fifth-place points even after being stung for 25. A car that is under minimum height in qualifying gets the driver’s time tossed. For most teams that means the inconvenience of starting in the back, but for team out of the Top 35, it means they go home. And had they competed, the minimum point gain on the day is 34, for last place. When Brian Vickers was disqualified at New Hampshire in July, the same race in which Busch and Sauter were penalized after the race, the penalty Vickers faced was much, much stiffer. Had Vickers finished in last place, he would have gained 34 points and made $68,461. In essence, that was the penalty he received.
Sure, it’s more likely that over 300-500 miles, the likelihood of a part failure is greater. But it’s not impossible for a part to fail on a kamikaze run, and it’s completely possible for a car to race all day with no issues. Teams are not required to prove parts failure when they are too low after a race; they are given benefit of the doubt and allowed to keep the position. It should be the same with a qualifying run. Unless there is proof of tampering or an illegal part, the run should stand and the car be moved to the back of the field. It is completely unfair to penalize harsher at one point in a race weekend than another for the same infraction. Kinda like getting a warning if you bite a kid in morning recess but a detention if you bite him at lunch.
And what, exactly, constitutes a CoT penalty? The low cars in question were all CoTs. NASCAR said they would penalize heavier for CoT infractions, and they have… for some. Color me confused, but how can an issue on the CoT not be a CoT issue? Old cars had template issues, but CoT template issues are worse. Old cars had spoiler issues, but CoT wing issues are worse? So what’s different about height issues? Part failure or not, it’s the CoT, so it’s a CoT issue. Perhaps the now-standard 100-point, six-week penalty is too much, but why not $50,000, 50 points? The 25/$25,000 penalty has been around for years and NASCAR hasn’t increased it even when there are times when cars fail height inspection every other week. In 2002, the sanctioning body said they were looking at bigger points penalties and the possibilities of stripping wins for cars found too low after a race. It hasn’t happened. Wouldn’t the CoT era be the time to raise the bar?
Then there are the anti-penalties. Tony Stewart bumped Paul Menard at Dover, and it sure looked deliberate. That’s always been a penalty, but there was none. Apparently Menard’s safety isn’t that big of a concern in NASCARland. Then there was the incident between Kyle Petty and Denny Hamlin in which Petty reached into Hamlin’s cockpit and slapped his helmet. When Jimmy Spencer reached into Kurt Busch‘s car and hit him (albeit a good bit harder), he got a suspension and a fine for his efforts. When Stewart reached into Vickers’s car and touched his helmet, Stewart got a hefty fine, but no suspension. Petty got no penalty at all. At the rate that’s going, NASCAR is going to pay the next guy to get pissed off and pop someone in the helmet.
It’s a sad thing when even the easy calls are marred with inconsistency and apparent favoritism. It’s even sadder when one of the premier sports organizations in the world is the one behind it. If the only consistent thing about NASCAR is that it continues to be inconsistent, the only other consistent thing will be a continued drop in ratings and ticket sales. And that would be the saddest part of all.