I have a beloved colleague here at Frontstretch by the name of Mike Neff. You may have heard of him before. He does a lot of great writing for us, and he is almost as popular as me. Mike and I usually agree on most things, right down to political candidates – let alone anything to do with racing – so imagine my surprise over his latest article calling the recently announced fine of Kyle Busch’s unauthorized flight pattern of his middle finger “a new level of stupidity” by NASCAR.
So surprised was I, that my rebuttal to his argument is forced to begin with no less than a variant of the old SNL classic; Mike, you ignorant slut! (Mike knows of course that I say that in good fun. He is anything but ignorant!)
You should, but in case you have no idea what either of us is talking about, here is the rundown. Roughly midway through the race, Busch got spun. Caution flew and, since the only thing hurt was Kyle’s pride and his Goodyears, Kyle headed for the pits to get new ones. In his effort to stay on the lead lap, Kyle was busted for speeding as he was coming out of the pits. Informed that he must serve a one-lap penalty, Kyle obediently conformed to NASCAR’s request and politely parked his No. 18 Toyota in his pit as an official stood in front of it.
During his tenure at the front of the young Busch’s car, the official was greeted by Busch in the form of the universally known, one-finger salute which ultimately landed Busch a further penalty of two laps due to “unsportsmanlike conduct.” Unfortunately for Kyle, television producers had also picked that exact moment to get some great ‘in-car cam’ footage. That, folks, is where the controversy begins.
Mr. Neff (and his cited source of ex-Frontstretcher Dennis Michelsen’s racetalkradio Facebook page) contends that the only reason that Busch was penalized and fined is solely because his salute was captured on national television. Both Neff and Michelsen say that this sort of thing happens all the time. Why, it is a natural occurrence to see one finger salutes flying all over the place at any given race, NASCAR or otherwise, all over the country. Most of which, by their own statements, they cite as being executed by and directed amongst the competitors themselves. That fact I do not deny. Been there, seen that.
But lets look at all this in another light, one which NASCAR itself is so desperately trying to bask in; compared to stick and ball sports!
Anyone who has watched some of the great films from the NFL archives knows, there is a lot of bleeping going on down in the trenches. Tons of it! Same goes for hockey and most other sports. Now I will be the first to admit, watching other sports, it is rare that you see one guy flip another off and the reason for this is simple logistics.
When you are at the bottom of a pile of men, or face to face with them, it is much easier (and more effective) to simply say… FU you MFnCSnSOB! I mean, why bother raising a finger when you can say it to the guy’s face AND with the desired amount of voice inflection! Especially in hockey. Have you ever tried flipping someone off while wearing hockey gloves?!
In racing, you don’t have that luxury of face to face confrontation. In order for a driver to get his point across, the one fingered salute is about the only option. The point is this; to a point, the officials will let the players be rude amongst themselves. It is the nature of the beast. However, there are exceptions. Catch a winning pass in the end zone and then turn to your defender and flip him off… yeah, that’s probably gonna get you 15 yards (assessed on the kickoff) for “taunting.” Stand in the racetrack and throw your helmet or your booties at another competitor’s car… you’ll probably get a fine or penalty for “actions detrimental….” There are, and always have been limits and one of the limits that you absolutely DO NOT CROSS is covered next!
Anyone who has played in any sport and has any type of proper upbringing at all knows… YOU DO NOT flip off, curse at, spit on, kick dirt at or otherwise call into question the family lineage of, an OFFICIAL!!! How much of that argument don’t you understand? And y’all think I’m the hayseed from Iowa!
OK, let’s tackle the “they only enforced it because it was on TV argument….
To quote Mr. Michelsen from his Facebook page, (sorry Dennis, but thank Mike for dragging you into this!) “I am not comfortable with NASCAR using television replays to make the call. The Television Director is NOT a NASCAR official but he determines what they hear and could protect certain drivers and search for infractions by others.” And this one… “…they didn’t make the call until television pointed it out. How can I say that with confidence? If the call came because the official saw it they wouldn’t have let him go back on the track and called him back.”
First of all, as you can see from the original television broadcast, thanks to this wonderful YouTube post by skinley218 the in-car footage of Kyle Busch starts well before he even starts to raise his finger at around 1:48 into the video. That being a fact, how is it the “television director” is going to determine what the fans (or NASCAR) see or hear? Did he somehow know Kyle was gonna fly the bird in advance? Keep watching the video…
The in-car footage of “the finger” lasts from 1:48 to 1:53 before the “director” cuts away. OK, maybe in those five seconds, those that make such decisions were busy checking their rum and cokes for floaters and missed it. What you cannot miss is the announcers immediately apologizing on national television for Busch’s gestures! What kind of replay do you need? Do you honestly think anyone from the network had to point out to the officials what millions of people just saw live? I bet it went something like this…
“Uh… excuse me, Mr. France?”
“Uhhh… this is Bob down here in the production trailer. After going over our tapes, we uh… we saw Kyle Busch flipping off one of the officials. Just thought you’d like to know.”
“Thanks you, Boob! We be getting on it!”
I ask you. What was NASCAR supposed to do? Busch essentially forced their hand by his immature (by his own admission) actions! NASCAR, for once actually did the right thing. They did what any ref, ump, or official in any stick and ball sport would have done, which is essentially eject him from the game, by holding him for two laps!
As for the fine to come afterward, well there is plenty of previous precedent to justify that too. Remember Shane Hmiel flipping off Dale Jarrett a few years ago at Bristol? NASCAR fined Hmiel $10,000 and docked him 25 driver points for making an obscene gesture that appeared on live television via Hmiel’s in car camera. “I apologize for making the gesture,” Hmiel said. “I never intended for it to end up on television.” And that was during a (then) Busch Series race! And then the infamous fine of $25,000 of Dale Earnhardt Jr. for bad language during a post race interview. I’m sure a guy could go on and on if a guy (me) had a better memory or felt like doing more research, but I don’t to either!
The point is simple; Kyle Busch, not surprisingly, did the wrong thing. NASCAR, surprisingly, got it right! What is this world coming to?
I salute you, Mr Neff, with a finger. You guess which one! (wink, wink)
Stay off the wall, (and off the in car cam!)