NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fact Or Fiction: Penalty Punch, Catering To Newman, And Shaky Secrets

*FACT: The Richard Childress Penalty Was The Right Call*

There’s a lot of people up in arms today over the Grandfather – Greenery fight of the century: Richard Childress versus some shrubbery who goes by the name Kyle Busch. After the owner threw a punch at Busch following Saturday’s Truck race, in public view of several NASCAR competitors and officials the sport felt compelled to act quickly. So instead of their usual Tuesday detention session, the consequences came hard and heavy Monday afternoon: $150,000 and probation for Childress, while for Busch “no further action” was deemed required since Busch was already on probation for another incident – clashing with none other than that owner’s premier driver, Kevin Harvick at Darlington.

The punishment, while severe has left both sides of the aisle with a bitter taste in their mouths. The pro-Childress faction, upset with the size of the fine also feels frustration over the slap on the wrist for Busch, whose probation they claim was clearly violated during Saturday’s Truck race. Busch, upset with the way RCR driver Joey Coulter raced him, tapped the No. 22 Truck to show his displeasure after the checkered flag, then didn’t back down from the Childress confrontation which supporters say is enough to turn this “pretend” discipline of Busch into something real. Others say Childress, standing up for a race team that appears under siege from Kyle after a yearlong string of on-track confrontations has the right to take matters into his own hands.

Of course, the anti-Childress supporters aren’t happy, either, claiming $150,000 is pocket change for a multi-million dollar car owner that they think should have been suspended. And while the punch wasn’t caught live on camera, there’s precedent for that sort of thing; Jimmy Spencer got the one-race boot after sucker punching a defenseless Kurt Busch (sense a common thread here?) after Michigan in 2003. Typically, unless you’re the 1979 Daytona 500 captured on national television brawls aren’t dealt with through a smile, a wink, and throwing the whole incident under the table.

So which side is right? I’m going to go with Door #3: NASCAR. In this case, they had to do something to draw the line considering “Have At It, Boys” is escalating into a 65-year-old owner throwing punches. Yes, Childress has enough to pay the heavyweight-boxing fee but it’s enough money to make him think twice. On the flip side, Kyle Busch may have tapped Coulter after the checkered but he did no permanent damage to the truck and did nothing to instigate the physical confrontation with Childress in the garage; so why should he be suspended or punished? And certainly, by not locking either out of the garage NASCAR is, to a degree tolerating the physical consequences of the “Have At It” policy – which when this whole drama begins to calm down people will remember is _exactly_ the type of rules policy they want. Did you gloss over the part where I mentioned the 1979 Daytona 500? Last I checked, those involved in the Cale Yarborough – Allison brothers brouhaha came out with their bodies intact, a pretty good story and the two-minute clip that would help usher this sport into the national spotlight. While not exactly something you want every week, keep in mind this 72-hour drama has left NASCAR at least a blip on the radar screen these days, a hard thing to do in the age where “Anthony Weiner,” “deadly tornadoes,” “NBA Finals,” and “Stanley Cup” demand top billing.

*FACT: Ryan Newman Is Staying At Stewart-Haas For The Long-Term*

With point leader *Carl Edwards* and walking miracle *Brian Vickers* heading the list of NASCAR free agents, it’s easy to forget Ryan Newman’s name is still out there, too on the list of drivers looking for 2012. But after a Monday shakeup at Stewart-Haas Racing, any doubt the Purdue grad would take his technical and driving talent somewhere else has been wiped away.

Surely, SHR hasn’t run as well as expected; both Newman and Tony Stewart are winless, with the boss carrying just one top-5 finish to his credit through 13 starts. Undoubtedly, those slumping numbers helped Vice President of Competition Bobby Hutchens, the only one the fledgling organization has ever known get the axe after two-plus seasons at the helm. But for Newman, it’s nothing but private smiles over SHR’s promoted replacement: Matt Borland, not only a technical whiz but the man who crew chiefed Newman to an eight-win, 11-pole season back in 2003 for Penske Racing. Borland, an SHR employee from the start has always been within Newman’s comfort zone, creating chemistry that’s critically important to developing the No. 39… should the driver sign on the dotted line a few more years.

Certainly, without many open rides it was difficult for Newman to test the free market waters in the first place. Now? A commitment to supporting _his_ guy, even if it means a short-term rocky road should be enough to keep the SHR partnership rolling. It even might keep the No. 39 in Chase contention now, a well-timed risk with Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin, and Jeff Gordon among some of the drivers now breathing down the 10th-place point man’s neck. With just one top-5 finish over the last eight weeks, what did this organization have to lose?

Oh, that’s right, they could have lost a driver… someone looking to see a commitment internally for a middle-tier organization to try and improve itself. SHR has gone out and done that, so? It all adds up to a Newman-Stewart continuance come 2012.

*FICTION: “Secret” Fines Can Stay Secret*

It amazes me how, in this age of Facebook and Twitter and devices the size of your pinky that can record just about anything, anywhere big-time officials think they can keep secrets. But surprisingly enough, NASCAR – after getting burned by two similar incidents a year ago – has pulled the “don’t tell anyone” card again, supposedly keeping “hush hush” a $50,000 fine to Ryan Newman for using his fist to settle things with Juan Pablo Montoya inside their hauler. Occurring one month ago, at Richmond the sanctioning body never commented on or issued a penalty for the incident well-known to even the casual fan; they just hoped no one would ever confirm it actually happened.

Um, what? Sorry guys, but you’re not the CIA and we’re not talking about killing Osama Bin Laden. That type of miraculous intelligence trail, where a secret mission like that can be kept under wraps for over six weeks is an exception, not the rule to a type of public transparency that’s naturally evolving out of anyone’s control. As a public organization, every disciplinary action doled out by NASCAR officials will be subject to some serious scrutiny; the type, if even not publicly reported at first will cause various people “in the know” to gossip. And you know what happens when you gossip! There’s too many ways for those words to make it to print, from the deadly Tweet of 140 characters to the Facebook post that leads to instant notoriety. Do these guys really think the magnitude of a $50,000 fine, wrapped in the arms of a verbal threat is enough to keep that ugly present wrapped out and sitting out of public view for the rest of time?

The answer, of course, is a big fat “NO” so why is the sport so insistent on taking the unnecessary risk? It’s like hitting on 17 in Blackjack; bad enough as it is, even worse when a dealer has a 6 showing on the other side of the table where any card he picks is almost certain to make the hand go bust. And the best part of this whole thing is the vast majority of the sport’s opinionated fan base would have _agreed_ with them on the penalty if it were just made public to begin with!

Instead, NASCAR had to jump on its high horse in the short run to make a point. We’ll see how much cache it costs them with the general public over the long-term.

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