June 23, 2005 | 2:38 P.M. EST
There's been a lot of gray area in the NASCAR world the last few weeks including interpretation of the rulebook, cheating and the issue of fines and penalties causing much confusion around the garage area - and the media center.
Let's take for example this week's penalty against Kasey Kahne's team. Tommy Baldwin, crew chief for the No. 9 Dodge driven by Kahne, was fined $10,000 for an unapproved front air dam extension found before qualifying last weekend at Michigan. According to NASCAR, this was a violation of Section 12-4-1 (Actions detrimental to stock car racing) and Section 12-4-Q (parts and/or equipment that do not conform to NASCAR rules) of the NEXTEL Cup Series rulebook.
So far I understand. But then I got to thinking about some other similar infractions earlier this year.
Remember back in February when Kevin Harvick's crew chief Todd Berrier was fined and suspended for using an illegal fuel cell during qualifying at California Speedway. Berrier had it rigged to look as if he had a full load of fuel during qualifying. But NASCAR officials caught the illegal cell and Berrier sat out several races while Harvick was docked points and fined.
Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch were also penalized points and dollars at California when their cars were found to have spoiler infractions after the race.
At Daytona, Ricky Rudd and Robby Gordon both lost points and money for various infractions.
So my question is, if all of these infractions are considered to be cheating, why did Baldwin and Kahne get off so light. Isn't using an adjustable, unapproved front air dam cheating? And shouldn't the penalty fit the crime, which in NASCAR's case has been determined to be deducting points and money?
Then there is the issue of where the fine money finally goes. At the end of the year, NASCAR tallies all the cash that has been collected during the course of the season for various fines and penalties after it has shaken down these cheaters.
Now where do you think that money finally winds-up? Why right back in the hands of the guilty.
You see the fine fund is allocated right back to the competitors. So these guys are actually getting paid to cheat. Darrell Waltrip pointed out of FOX's telecast last weekend that Kurt Busch was fined more than $80,000 in 2004, yet at the end of the year his take of the fine pool was about $21k. And you thought crime didn't pay.
As usual there is a simple fix to both these problems.
First, penalties and fines should be consistent. If you're caught breaking the rules, the same points and dollars should be taken away. How can there be varying degrees of cheating? Either you're trying to bend the rules or you're not.
Finally, take all the fine money and give it to charity. The Victory Junction Gang, NASCAR Wive's Auxiliary, Leukemia Research Foundation....there's thousand of worthwhile charities this money could help. Don't give it back to the millionaires who broke the rules to begin with.
Consistency is the key. Set a standard and enforce it. The teams and drivers should accept nothing less.
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