NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Holding a Pretty Wheel: No Cries of “Cheater” on this Playground?

Sometimes I wonder why some things get magnified until they seem larger than life while some things that should be a big deal seem to be buried in the background. No, I’m not talking about making mountains out of molehills and molehills out of mountains. I’m talking about calling a mountain a mountain and a molehill a molehill.

There was barely a ripple in Race Fan World about the oil-tank lid infraction on the No. 99 after Las Vegas. I suppose it’s feasible that four bolts backed out and the lid migrated up to a highly unusual and visible place in the back of the racecar. It just seems highly unlikely, given that this and four similar issues (lids loose, but not removed) in the Nationwide Series this year are the first time in recent memory a car has been cited for a loose oil-tank lid. Cars vibrate all the time and their bolts stay in place.

Still, NASCAR did what was right in this case. The penalty was stiff because the infraction was found after a race and the car gained an advantage in competition because of it; by some reports the downforce on a car can be increased by up to 10%. That’s a lot, surely enough to make a car fast enough to beat the competition if it was equal to begin with, just needing that edge.

What made me look twice was the fact that by reports, this was the second week in a row that something looked amiss on the No. 99. FOX Sports reported on Sunday that several teams had noted after the California race that the fender on Carl Edwards‘s Ford looked to be pulled out past the tire slightly further than is allowed. Now, presumably the car had fit the template in post-race inspection, but race teams tend to be self-policing in that they will ask a race official “Hey, are we allowed to have a fender out that far?” if they see a whiff of impropriety.

THOMPSON: CARL EDWARDS PENALTY DECISION SHOULD BE SIMPLE

It seems to me that if several teams made note of the funky fender, there might have been something to it. It is possible for a car to fit the template and still have discrepancies, as was shown by the Nos. 24 and 48 at Infineon last summer. What I find troubling is that many seem to have taken the attitude that it’s no big deal.

It is a big deal if a team is allowed to work between the templates, because it was made abundantly clear last year that they were not to massage those areas at all. It is a big deal that apparently no attempt was made beyond the initial inquiries of those teams to ascertain if there was, in fact, a violation. It is a big deal that for all intents and purposes, nobody cares. The story was buried at the end of a news column, almost as if nobody really wanted it reported at all.

There was no media backlash, no fan outcry. Is Edwards, NASCAR’s answer to Opie Taylor, really above the “creative engineering” talk that seems to plague some drivers and teams? It’s surprising that, in light of this week’s penalties, nobody thought there might more to that little blurb in Sunday’s news. Surely, with some other teams, it would have been Mount Everest. Instead it was barely an anthill.

Maybe there was no hill at all, but perhaps there was a small mountain. It seems that it would have been easy to talk to the teams who reported the issue, at the very least, to find out their take and why NASCAR let it slide. It deserved to be reported, and it deserved an explanation. It deserved the fans’ outrage far more than the legal maneuvering of shocks or a barely incorrect nose on a racecar.

NASCAR was consistent in their penalty of the No. 99 this week – the infraction, while not a body penalty on the CoT, was more severe than the three previous tweaks given similar penalties in 2007 because the car sported the illegal modification in competition. The fans’ reaction, however, was far from consistent. Cheating is cheating, and if it’s a big deal on a car you don’t like, it’s also a big deal on the one you do. It shouldn’t be brushed aside or excuses made. A mountain is a mountain – call it a mountain and climb over it!

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