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NASCAR: when exactly does creative engineering become cheating?

NASCAR Sprint All-Star RaceIf you’re a race fan, specifically, a NASCAR fan, unless you’ve been living under a rock or something the last few days, you’ve probably heard about the penalties handed down to Richard Childress Racing’s No. 31 Sprint Cup Series team. Those penalties were pretty hefty, including a $125,000 fine and six-race suspensions for crew chief Luke Lambert, a team engineer and tire specialist. There were also 75-point penalties for car owner Richard Childress and driver Ryan Newman.

Rumors had been circulating throughout the NASCAR garage for quite some time, going back to the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup, that some teams were engaging in “tire bleeding” — putting microscopic holes in tires, gradually releasing air, improving grip throughout tire runs.

Tires from several teams have been taken for third-party analysis after multiple races so far in 2015, but the No. 31 was the first to get the proverbial “wrist slap,” or I guess in this case, it may have been more like the proverbial spanking with a switch they were sent out to the front yard to find, if you catch my drift.

Prior to the penalties, a few folks from the garage made stern comments when asked about participation in the practice of tire bleeding. Comments from Denny Hamlin seemed to catch the most wind.

 

“Definitely no room for it (tire bleeding) in the sport; that’s for sure,” Hamlin said. “Hope they clamp down on that if they do find it, and if they find it multiple times with somebody, they should have a permanent vacation somewhere.”

 

The miscue, if you want to call it that, was a first such violation, that we know of, for the No. 31 team, so I guess it’s unknown whether or not a second offense would result in one of those Hamlin-prescribed permanent vacations.

After the penalty announcement Tuesday afternoon, it was no surprise that the talk on the various call-in shows on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Wednesday centered around tire bleeding and the penalties handed down to the No. 31 team.

Given Hamlin’s stern opinion, I guess I assumed a majority of fans’ opinions would follow a similar line. Boy, was I wrong.

I’ll break, here, to note that NASCAR didn’t specifically mention that RCR was guilty of “tire bleeding,” just that the No. 31′s tires from the March 22 race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., had been modified. But from all the talk of tire bleeding in recent weeks and the statement released by Richard Childress Racing after NASCAR’s penalty announcement specifically mentioning “tire bleeding,” I think most of us have at least assumed that tire bleeding was the crime committed.

Anyway, back on subject.

There were some fans who felt strongly that the No. 31 team should suffer severe punishments for its wrongdoing, but there was a large number of folks who took stances that included, “Well, that’s racing,” and “it’s not cheating unless you get caught.”

Well, the No. 31 team did get caught, so I guess the team cheated, even within that school of thought. But folks who held that belief, seemed to be okay with “tire bleeding,” because there was that chance that maybe they’d get away with it.

I have to say, the caller who appalled me was a man — don’t recall his name or where he was from — who told show host Dave Moody that he actually taught his children that it’s okay to “cheat if you don’t get caught.” Really, dude? Maybe that’s what’s wrong with the world today.

I admit that those traditional penalties normally handed down by NASCAR on Tuesdays don’t usually surprise me or get much of a reaction from me when they pertain to height requirements, improperly attached weights, etc. But anyone who’s been in racing any time at all knows about that holy trinity that’s not to be messed with — the engine, fuel and tires.

But why is that? Maybe it’s because those other things are parts of the cars that teams work with — the teams that build these cars, and the teams that, even if they buy or lease cars from other teams, set them up for qualifying and racing each weekend. That’s the only difference I can come up with. Still, why do we turn a blind eye to that monkey business? I admit, I’m guilty of not really thinking much about it.

Or is that just “creative engineering” and not really cheating? Something to ponder.

Maybe it’s because there’s that gray area when it comes to most of the car, but not with the engine, tires or fuel. Yeah, that must be it.

Anyway, I don’t think someone should be thrown out of the sport on the first offense, even when it comes to tire tampering, but I do agree with a stiff, harsh punishment, so the aforementioned punishment works for me. Try it again, though, and I think I may agree with a Hamlin-prescribed permanent vacation.

Here’s an online poll regarding the severity of the penalties.

Give us your take. Talk to us on Twitter @AutoRacingDaily or on Facebook (facebook.com/autorcngdaily). Amanda’s also on Twitter @NASCARexaminer and has a fan/like page on Facebook: NASCAR Examiner

Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR

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Posted by on April 2, 2015. Filed under Blog by Amanda Vincent,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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