While this is not the first time drivers have been publicly critical of the sport, it does mark the first time stock car officials have handed fines out in secret, based on a basic philosophy of protecting their brand. For months, the sport attempted to keep a lid on the fines, but thanks to a report by The Associated Press earlier this week, those doors were opened slightly.
Speaking with members of the media Friday at Pocono Raceway, both Hamlin and Newman confirmed reports they were both hit hard in the wallet, with one fine reportedly as high as $50,000.
Without divulging financial details, Hamlin acknowledged his penalty came from a conversation he had with reporter Jeff Gluck on the social networking site Twitter. One of the most active drivers on the website, Hamlin’s conversation away from the racetrack 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 tracks was “fake,” more of a marketing ploy on the side of NASCAR than anything else.
“I was thinking about when I was out there, these shouldn’t be points races,” he said back in April after being involved in a wreck. “If they want to have these races for the fans, just let us come here and do this but don’t let it affect our championship because it’s not racing. If is NASCAR racing, we should be here for the Talladega Event Marketing or something like that. Something different besides racing.”
NASCAR has offered little – to no – information on this issue ever since, with many of the drivers tiptoeing around the subject in press conferences Friday. However, as facts emerged and drivers offered their thoughts on the fines, it quickly became clear that wasn’t an act; in truth, only a few people were aware of what actually took place.
Talking with Newman’s crew chief Tony Gibson following Friday’s qualifying session, Gibson explained he had not learned of the fine until arriving at the track earlier that day. Crew members of the No. 39 car knew very little, and team owner Tony Stewart claimed he was unaware of the penalty early in the day.
“I didn’t know,” Stewart insisted. “I did not know. I think it was just between [NASCAR] and Ryan.”
Newman, however, tells a different story. He claims Stewart was aware of the fine. When asked to clarify, 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 questioned. “It’s your job to write good things about our sport, otherwise we don’t want you.”
“You guys are making way too big of a deal out of this penalty deal,” Stewart added. “You’re making it much bigger than it really is.”
So whether this is simply an example of overanalyzing a decision by NASCAR, by the media, or simply drivers unwilling to go into details, either way those involved – in particular those on the Stewart-Haas side of things – are keeping their secrets and seem to be finished 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’s the media’s job 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 both the drivers and the sport 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 racetrack. 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. But 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 gets shrouded in secrecy, speculation and conflicts it is those three things that do damage to the sport – not the members of the media looking for answers.
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