As the 2013 NASCAR season approached the biggest news story, aside from the Danica Patrick/Ricky Stenhouse Jr. romance, was expected to be this new Gen-6 race car. And at first, it was, but the new car seems to have been overshadowed by this whole penalties controversy. Okay, so maybe controversy isn’t exactly the right word, but penalties this season have already ruffled more than a few feathers — all before the season is a third of the way completed.
NASCAR, apparently, decided to crack down dramatically on teams that show up at the race track with unapproved, or flat-out illegal, parts on their cars. Case in point — penalties recently handed down to both of Penske Racing’s Sprint Cup Series teams and Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 team.
That’s not really working out all that well for the sanctioning body, though, as both organizations have had their penalties reduced. Granted, the National Stock Car Appeals Panel upheld NASCAR’s penalties for Penske Racing, but then they were reduced by Chief Appelate Officer John Middlebrook. JGR didn’t even have to take its case all the way to Middlebrook to get a reduction of punishment.
Used to be, teams getting NASCAR-issued penalties overthrown or reduced were the rare exception, not the rule. Not this year. Maybe NASCAR has gone too far to an extreme– a distance the Appeals Panel and Middlebrook aren’t willing to go.
But those penalties aren’t where the criticism of NASCAR punishments in 2013 has stopped. There’s then this whole idea of penalizing drivers for their comments, and then not penalizing other drivers for other comments.
NASCAR has been, somewhat under the radar, penalizing drivers for negative comments the last few years, but for 2013, the sanctioning body agreed to begin publicly announcing such penalties. NASCAR then kind of shot itself in the foot, so to speak, by fining Denny Hamlin for a negative review of the then-current state of the Gen-6 car. And if you ask me, his comments weren’t really all that bad.
Soon after, NASCAR did an about-face and declined to penalize Brad Keselowski for negative comments relating to his Penske team’s aforementioned issue. That left many crying, “foul,” asking why Hamlin was penalized for his comments but Keselowski wasn’t. The criticism got so loud that NASCAR felt the need to release a statement in its own defense.
According to NASCAR, drivers are allowed to criticize NASCAR’s decision, but the sanctioning body would not tolerate criticism of the product. I think, when you get right down to it, NASCAR decisions are part of the product, or at least affect the product, but I guess I’m wrong there. From that announcement and who was penalized for what, I came to the conclusion that criticizing the car is a no-no; it’s just criticizing NASCAR officials’ decisions that’s okay.
Why am I bringing all this penalty stuff up again after discussing it not so long ago? Because Ryan Newman, after having Kurt Busch land on top of him in the closing laps at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway last Sunday, was critical of NASCAR seeming to be unable to keep the cars on the ground. He also criticized the decision to continue racing in dark and wet conditions. Here’s the gist of what he said:
“They can build safer racecars, they can build safer walls, but they can’t get their heads out of their asses far enough to keep them on the race track and that’s pretty disappointing, and I wanted to make sure I get that point across. You all can figure out who ‘they’ is. That’s no way to end a race. Just poor judgment. You got what you wanted. Poor judgment. Running in the dark, running in the rain.”
Okay, I can buy the decision to race in darkness and rain being a NASCAR decision, which, according to NASCAR’s defense of itself, making the criticism allowable. But complaining about the cars not staying on the ground is a criticism of the cars, isn’t it? So wouldn’t Newman’s complaint fall into the same category as Hamlin’s complaint that he was penalized for earlier in the year?
Apparently, not in NASCAR’s eyes; the sanctioning body stated that Newman wouldn’t be penalized. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying he should be. If we’re being honest, I don’t think Hamlin should’ve been, either.
Is this really about NASCAR penalizing drivers for criticizing the product but allowing criticism of NASCAR decisions, or is it more about NASCAR trying to save face — realizing that maybe Hamlin’s penalty was wrong and deciding not to make the same mistake again? You decide.
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