NASCAR Cracking Down?

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There was a stunning revelation last week at Dover International Speedway. No, it wasn’t about what happened to the “Downs” in the track’s name, though that makes me wonder.

But we’re getting off the subject: stunning revelations. NASCAR president Mike Helton said there would be harsh penalties for rules violators.

What a shock. You mean to tell me NASCAR would actually start punishing folks for breaking the rules? No way!

The issue that brought this issue to light was Mark Martin’s illegal car in the Coca-Cola 600 last month. Martin’s car was too low. A violation of the rules, yes? Yes and no, according to NASCAR.

Yes, it was too low, which resulted in a $50,000 fine. That was bigger than the fine Matt Kenseth got for a similar violation at Rockingham earlier this year and bigger than past fines when cars were too low.

Remember, a car’s minimum height is checked in pre-race inspection, so it was legal before the race. Something happened during a race to make it too low. Crew guys will tell you that’s because of adjustments made during the race, wear of the tires and settling of the chassis.

So, no, it wasn’t really illegal, just slightly illegal. Yeah, and I’m kind of single. My sister-in-law is kind of pregnant.

Anyway, now NASCAR is REALLY going to punish the cheaters. Uh, huh. Sounds like a family trip somewhere, with Helton driving and the teams as kids in the back seat.

“Do I have to stop this car? If you kids don't quit cheating on the ride height, I'm going to paddle some behinds!”

“But, Mike, he cheated first!”

“I don't care who started it! I just want it to stop! Don’t make me come back there!”

And on and on and on and on … until the ride stops. Meanwhile, the kids in the back are still misbehaving – er, cheating.

In other sports, if you break the rules, you’re out. Hockey is the most wonderful example, if you ask me. Cross-check someone, and you get two minutes in a box to watch. Meanwhile, your team is one man down. Believe me, it’s much easier to score when you have five guys and the other team has four.

Hey, there’s an idea. If Robby Gordon punts somebody during the race, make him get out of the car and watch for five laps as everyone else races.

(I’m not picking on Gordon. If Jimmie Johnson or Tony Stewart or anyone roughs someone up, and NASCAR deems it to be unnecessary, punish those guys, too.)

What about if a tire changer leaves a lug nut off a wheel during a stop? Maybe NASCAR should make him sit out the next stop. Wouldn’t that be funny to see a tire changer running from the front to rear wheel on the right side, and then from the rear to front on the left? So much for 14-second pit stops.

But NASCAR doesn’t really work that way. There seems to be a hierarchy of sins. Funny, but I was taught that wrong was wrong. There was no such thing as sort of wrong. You know, the Catholic Church believes there are some sins worse than others, so maybe the religion of NASCAR believes the same way.

An eighth-of-an-inch too low? You go to Purgatory. Illegal fuel? You go to Hell.

Look, it’s really simple. Forget this competitive balance NASCAR pointlessly tries to maintain. If you cheat, you’re out. If the rulebook says you have to be 51 inches high and your car is 50 7/8ths inches high – tough. You get 43rd place.

I can understand mistakes, like a mistake on pit road. But that’s not the same as a blatant rules violation. Yeah, sure, the car can settle during a race. You can’t tell me, however, that if teams knew the penalty was going to be severe enough, they couldn’t make absolutely sure that car would be 51 inches after a race.

Winston Cup teams are going to get away with as much as they can. If they know NASCAR is only going to slap the back of their hands with a fine, you can bet the cars will get lower and lower.

But now, Helton said the penalties would be severe. What took so long?

“Mike, he’s on my side again!”

“You wait until your mother gets home!”

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2002

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