The first four race weekends of the 2017 NASCAR season have proven that you don’t have to be at a short track for tempers to flair, unless you count the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway.
Also, NASCAR seems to really be cracking down in the area of penalties, at least when it comes to inspection failures, etc. Two crew chiefs were suspended after the Phoenix race weekend — Paul Wolfe for team Penske and Rodney Childers from Stewart-Haas Racing. And that was just a couple weeks after one crew chief from each of NASCAR’s three national series were suspended following the race weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway for various offenses, and for Wolfe and Randall Burnett from JTG-Daugherty Racing, suspended after Atlanta, the suspensions have been for three weeks.
But while NASCAR has, seemingly, ruled with an iron fist when it comes to lug nuts, other post-race inspections, etc., the sanctioning body has taken more of a hands-off approach in terms of behavioral penalties, and I’m not so sure they’re making the right call, at least not in every situation.
I get that this is a new era with Monster Energy sponsoring the top series, and that sponsor has said that it wants drivers to show their emotions. Well, a few of them have definitely done that — enter Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon, especially.
I get that when dealing with drivers’ emotions and actions stemming from those emotions calls for subjective decisions, but I think NASCAR missed the ball at least once.
I’m not sure about what should or shouldn’t have been done regarding that scuffle between Busch, Joey Logano and members of Logano’s crew after the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Heck, I can’t even figure out if a punch connected. The reason I say that is because, in the recent past, NASCAR seemed to base penalties on whether or not a punch connected. Video of the incident seems to show a connecting punch from Busch to Logano. According to Busch, said punch connected, but according to Logano it didn’t.
But back to the whole new era thing and a sponsor asking that emotion be shown, and I’m okay with NASCAR taking a hands-off approach on this one.
Then there’s the Dillon, Cole Custer on-track incident from the Xfinity Series race last weekend at Phoenix. Dillon sure didn’t deny he hit Custer on purpose under caution as a move of retaliation. In the not too distant past, that’s also been a no-no. Matt Kenneth was suspended for two races because of it not so long ago, and a few years before that, Busch was parked for a Cup Series race after intentionally wrecking Ron Hornaday during a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race.
Even so, I wouldn’t have an issue with the no-call on the Dillon/Custer incident, because it happened at such a slow speed, so it wasn’t really a safety issue. Yeah, the Busch/Hornaday deal also happened under caution, but Busch hit Hornaday so hard that the impact, reportedly, broke the engine block in Hornaday’s truck. Plus, Hornaday was a championship contender late in the season.
But, I do have an issue with the Dillon no-call, solely because of something NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell said just the day prior to Dillon and Custer’s run-in. Here’s what he said in his exact words:
“We’re very clear that we’re not going to allow a car to be used as a weapon.”
Really?!? If you’re not going to allow something, shouldn’t a penalty be handed down when a competitor does something you don’t allow? I think so.
If what we saw late in the PIR Xfinity race wasn’t an example of using a car as a weapon, I don’t know what is.
Technically, NASCAR penalized Dillon, I guess. He was parked for the remainder of the race that, I think, had fewer than 10 laps remaining. Never mind that Dillon, likely, wouldn’t have returned to the race, anyway, due to the damage to his car. So, this penalty was more of a no-penalty, if you ask me.
I’m fine with “boys have at it” and drivers being allowed to show a certain amount of emotion, on track and off, TO A POINT. But I also think NASCAR should say what it means and mean what it says. On that one, I think O’Donnell has severely missed the ball.
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