Tuesday brought an announcement from the hallowed halls of Daytona that Kyle Busch was fined $25,000 for his editorial assessment of NASCAR’s decision to hold him for a lap on Sunday for speeding to beat the pace car and stay on the lead lap. Busch’s actions initially garnered a two-lap penalty, which effectively ended his chance for a victory in the race and relegated him to a 32nd-place finish, as well as costing him $50,000 in prize money – assuming he’d have been able to score a top-five finish.
There’s no question that NASCAR has had some arbitrary rules enforcement from time-to-time throughout its history, but this one is simply going over the top.
Sunday after the race, Dennis Michelson from www.racetalkradio.com posted on his Facebook page that he had confirmed through a source at the racetrack that NASCAR made the call to penalize Busch the two laps because his gesture was shown on television. There are fingers flying around on a pretty regular basis most every weekend during thousands of races all over the country, and most every Sunday during a NASCAR race. However, they aren’t shown on television and are therefore overlooked by the sanctioning body when it comes to doling out fines and penalties during and after races. In fact, there have been several instances just this year where drivers have been shown on TV with their middle digit extended outside the window of their car as a response to the driving prowess, or lack thereof, of a competitor. And although these moments were caught by television cameras, they have not warranted a penalty.
Once again, the people calling the shots are making a change to the rules on the fly only because Kyle Busch chose to push the limits.
There is no question that choosing to voice one’s displeasure by making an obscene gesture is probably not the most mature way to handle a situation, but in the heat of the moment, in a sport where the people who run the show have told the competitor’s they want to see more personality, it is an understandable action. The fact that the personality was displayed on television, in a moment that the director of the program chose to broadcast, should not result in a penalty against a driver if that same action is allowed to pass when it is not shown on television. If the people calling the shots are going to allow the director of the race broadcast to influence their decisions, then most of the car owners in the garage ought to look at getting the directors on their Christmas gift list so that they can bend their ear and make sure their competitors’ indiscretions are played for the world while their own go unnoticed.
Assuming this action is considered “unsportsmanlike conduct,” which has not been mentioned much, if ever, during the history of NASCAR, then it needs to be penalized every time it occurs. Whether the bird flies on television or at the back of the pack while drivers jostle for position after being put to the rear for causing a caution, it needs to receive the same judgment. When the people running the broadcast are able to have an impact on the outcome of a race, the sport has officially, completely crossed over the line and become entertainment as opposed to competition.
The ultimate insult, after the fact, is that NASCAR is adding an additional penalty to Busch on top of the amount of money that he was already cost by being penalized two laps in the race. Jeff Gordon assaulted a fellow competitor on the track in front of the fans and on television, and is being given a pass. He’s allowed to get away with this, apparently, because his reputation is “cleaner” than Busch’s. This “clean” reputation has persevered despite hitting Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth on television, dumping multiple competitors throughout his career and insulting his own teammate on the radio after trying to wreck him during a race earlier this season. It appears that if the hostility you spew is directed at everyone except NASCAR officials, then it is allowed without penalty.
Busch is not an angel, but he is a great racecar driver and a driven competitor. When things conspire against Busch to prevent him from winning, he tends to wear his emotions on his sleeve and sometimes that rubs people the wrong way. However, for years the fans have been screaming that the drivers are too vanilla and don’t show enough emotion. Now that one of them has vented and shown his displeasure for a decision he felt was wrong, he’s being unjustly penalized because those actions were shown during the race broadcast and might have been offensive to someone, somewhere.
NASCAR needs to get a grip over the rush to penalize for genuine raw emotion and allow the drivers to be themselves.