Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice?… Penske’s Appeal Resolution Still Comes With Unanswered Questions

Did You Notice?… How the reduction of a suspension, from six weeks to two on Tuesday came without any rhyme or reason? I say that noting there were certain parts of this final part of the Penske Racing appeals process that were positive. For the first time, we heard a little bit more about what actually happened to their two race cars than just an official statement someone from the NASCAR Appeals process had “considered the facts.” Up to that point, those facts were so unclear you could think NASCAR had found anything from an alien to a port-a-potty inside the rear suspension and be considered “in the ballpark” as to what potentially went wrong.

It turns out that, in the end maybe there was a bit more playing around with the “rear skew,” trying to innovate in a way where the cars will handle better than NASCAR liked. Perhaps one of the most notable comments, Tuesday came from Penske himself who admitted that, had the suspensions been reduced in the initial appeals process he would not have taken the matter further up the chain. To me, that’s an admission of guilt, considering the 25 points lost by Joey Logano may very well keep that car out of the Chase. It’s a potential loss of millions of dollars in marketing, angering your primary sponsor in the process and you’re not going to “keep going” to restore his points? Sounds like a team that knew they were using a gray crayon.

But even with those comments, where we could read between the lines on some rear end creativity gone awry there’s still not a concrete explanation from anyone on why this particular penalty deserved a bunch of two-week suspensions, for anyone at Penske not named secretary. How is that different from Hendrick Motorsports, last year in which Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrooks ultimately knocked off every portion of an inspection violation except for a $100,000 fine? How is that different from the Joe Gibbs Racing penalty appeal we’ll hear today? The bottom line is that no one really has any idea. It’s like throwing at a dartboard, with different verdicts listed on it and then writing one down, adding in the obligatory “we’ve weighed all the evidence” two-sentence explanation and hitting send.

Fans, in 2013 where instant accessibility is key don’t buy that anymore. This age is one where instant replay overturns calls, where you can ask the NFL Commissioner a direct question on Twitter, and where the internet allows you to access rulebooks. NASCAR, at the moment doesn’t have any of these things, with the added baggage of official “mistrust” based on all these inconsistent penalties issued over the years. Repairing that gap, with the fans to me means being overly transparent, making as much information readily available to the point you’re asking them to please stop. Remember the old eggs commercial describing your brain on drugs? How about a little YouTube video that says, “This is a legal NASCAR suspension,” then cutting to Penske’s bungled parts and pieces and going, “This is a suspension that’s messed up.”

I kid, somewhat but you can’t just mythically assign consequences to penalties NASCAR fans can’t even see. At least, with a brawl in baseball when it’s appealed you know what happened because it’s a visual; fans can create their judgment calls and “participate” in the process. And suspensions, or fines in those cases have a more limited effect on which teams make it all the way to the playoffs. In NASCAR, when you’re talking 25 or 50-point penalties given directly to the drivers involved the consequences typically run far steeper. It’s a big difference that requires even more explanation; there is no driver that can step in for Mr. Logano, like in a baseball suspension and “earn” those 25 points back. A brawl could affect your long-term future, in another sport but typically they don’t wind up taking the equivalent of a 15th-place finish away.

So while Penske may be satisfied with this race’s outcome, looking ahead too many people may chalk this one up as a head-scratcher. You should never leave the end of two appeals, plus the initial penalty process feeling like you don’t know enough about a case. That’s why, no matter what the verdict Tuesday it’s clear NASCAR has some work to do on the issue.

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