The hot topic of the week continued Friday in Pocono when competitors were finally asked about NASCAR fining two drivers for comments they made that NASCAR determined detrimental to the sport.
While this is not the first time drivers have been publically critical of the sport, it does mark the first time NASCAR has handed out fines as a result. What makes this story much more complicated is the fact NASCAR attempted to keep a lid on the fines, conducting their business behind closed doors. Thanks to a report by The Associated Press earlier this week, those doors were opened slightly.
Speaking with members of the media Friday at the Pocono Raceway, both Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman confirmed reports that they were the two hit with the fines – one of which is reportedly up to $50,000.
Giving out as many details as he could, Hamlin admitted his fine came from a conversation he had with reporter Jeff Gluck on the social networking site Twitter. One of the most active drivers on Twitter, Hamlin’s conversation away from the race track cost him a hefty chunk of change.
“More than likely, it was the Twitter comments that kind of got me in trouble with them,” he said. “Chicago weekend, talking about some of the Nationwide stuff, but most of those conversations were all direct messages to one person.”
As for Newman, his fine was a result of critical comments made about the style of racing at Talladega Superspeedway. One of the biggest proponents of safety in the sport, Newman argued the style of racing at the restrictor plate track was not actual racing and was more of a marketing ploy on the side of NASCAR than anything else.
NASCAR has offered little – to no – information on this issue and many of the drivers are tiptoeing around the subject. As facts emerged and drivers offered their thoughts on the issue, it quickly became clear that only a few people were aware of what actually took place.
Talking with Newman’s crew chief Tony Gibson following Friday’s qualifying session, he explained he had not learned of the fine until arriving at the track earlier that day. Crew members on the team knew very little and team owner Tony Stewart he was unaware of the fine.
“I didn’t know,” Stewart said. “I did not know. I think it was just between (NASCAR) and Ryan.”
According to Newman, however, Stewart was aware of the fine.
NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton told Frontstretch.com that it is typically up to the drivers to inform their team owners of their fines.
Hamlin explained he told team president J.D. Gibbs of NASCAR’s actions, but when asked if he felt if Newman had done the same, he suggested his situation was much more secretive than Newman’s.
When asked to clarify when Stewart learned of the fine, neither Stewart nor Newman would discuss the issue further.
“What’s the point of the story? Does it have anything to do with making anything any better?” Newman said when asked. “It’s your job to write good things about our sport, otherwise we don’t want you.”
“You guys are making way to big of a deal out of this penalty deal,” Stewart said. “You’re making it much bigger than it really is.”
Whether this is simply an example of over analyzing a decision by NASCAR by the media or simply drivers unwilling to go into details, either way those involved are keeping their secrets and seem through talking about it.
There is no question everyone in the garage – team owners, drivers, crew members, officials and, yes, even the media – have it in their self-interest and the interest of the others in the garage to help make NASCAR succeed. However, when news leaks and stories conflict, it is the job of those in the media to get to the bottom of things and make the situation clear for those that are not privileged enough to walk the NASCAR garage. To the fans at home and in the grandstands, this issue will not go away as easily as the drivers and NASCAR hope.
Stewart has not only had choice words for NASCAR in the past, but he is also one of the biggest critics of the media. Over the years he has ridiculed questions asked and Friday was no different. When asked about what he would change about Pocono, Stewart smiled and said, “I would bar all media from the race track. You asked an honest question, I gave you an honest answer.”
Simply trying to find transparency in a situation is no fault of the media, in fact it is their job and their duty. Being critical and hurting the long-term growth of the sport are not one in the same, there is a point at which some complain simply to complain, however, this is not one of those issues. When news such as this is shrouded in secrecy, speculation and conflicts it is those three things that do the damage to the sport, not the members of the media that are simply looking for answers and trying to tell the fans what happened and why.