The gong show that is NASCAR these days continued Friday with a statement from the sanctioning body that Penske Racing and Front Row Racing had been put on probation until the end of the season for manipulating the results of the Sprint Cup race last Saturday at Richmond, Va.
After an investigation that took several days, they were found guilty of violating Section 12-1 of the rule book (actions detrimental to stock car racing).
Michael Waltrip Racing was fined $300,000, drivers lost points and suspensions were handed out for exactly the same offence.
Question: How come there were no fines for the two teams who were doing exactly the same thing as the one team: fixing it so that cars passed other cars in order to score points to make the Chase for the Championship?
In the same announcement, NASCAR said it would add another car to the Chase. Jeff Gordon will now be one of 13 drivers eligible to compete for the championship, joining Ryan Newman who was also added by NASCAR after it kicked out Martin Truex Jr.
Gordon, otherwise a great champion, was the sportsman who lay in wait for Clint Bowyer at Phoenix International Raceway last fall and wrecked him in front of the whole world, costing him a shot at the Sprint Cup.
Now, the addition of Gordon really came out of the blue. There was no doubt, after the Associated Press analyzed radio transmissions between Penske Racing and Front Row during the race last Saturday, that NASCAR was going to have to take some sort of action.
But a slap of the wrist, as compared to the hammer attack on Waltrip Racing, suggests to me that laywers were involved and the end result – which included the addition of Gordon – was because of a negotiation.
NASCAR also said there would be a meeting of everyone involved in Sprint Cup racing on Saturday morning and I expect Brian France to lay down the law. But that is not going to be enough.
This has been a huge public relations disaster for NASCAR. They have turned a blind eye toward this sort of thing for years – and even contributed to it on occasion (it’s no coincidence that fans have talked about a driver who pulled off a surprise victory as having gotten "the call) – and it’s blown right up in their face.
In the statement released Friday, it says that, "the integrity of our sport remains the cornerstone of NASCAR." And yet almost at the same time, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was quoted in a newspaper story as saying that the "shenanigans" that went on at Richmond have been going on for years.
Said Earnhardt: "Drivers like myself have created cautions that we needed. We've thrown stuff out of cars and spun cars out and what-have-you to get cautions for certain reasons. That’s nothing new."
So NASCAR suddenly got religion?
What really happened, of course, was the Twitterverse. When Bowyer spun out with eight laps to go at Richmond, it unleashed a torrent of rumour and speculation. This also was nothing new – again, fans have talked about this for years – but there's a big different between bench racing in a bar in Baltimore and something sent out on the World Wide Web.
Vice-presidents of marketing and chairmen of boards don't drink draft beer in taverns but they all have Twitter accounts and so when the explosion started after the race at Richmond, NASCAR was forced to act.
How it's going to handle things going forward will be – as Artie Johnson said on the old Laugh-In television program – very interesting. Every spin by every driver will now be scrutinized because the immediate question will be: did a teammate benefit? The timing of every pit stop will be questioned. And one false move in the last 10 laps of a race will be sure to result in an investigation.
NASCAR brought this on themselves. Everything from now on will have to be transparent, as a result.
They could start by conducting that "everybody-in-NASCAR" meeting Saturday morning on live television.
And at some point, they're going to have to explain why they nailed Michael Waltrip"s team with the biggest penalty in the history of NASCAR and then did next-to-nothing to two other teams they found guilty of the same crime.
- NORRIS McDONALD