Gas Pains

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Talk about fuel for the fire.

NASCAR has had its share of controversies over fuel the last several days.

Of course last week was the great Michael Waltrip illegal fuel mixture scandal, which resulted in fines, suspensions and penalties, but, oddly enough, found Waltrip eligible to race in the Daytona 500.

At the time, NASCAR promised a full investigation and a report on what exactly was the mystery substance found in the No. 55's tank during Daytona 500 qualifying inspection.

Now we'll never know.

The sanctioning body announced this week it would not release exactly what was found, leaving us all to wonder.

Waltrip and team vice president Ty Norris maintain their innocence and have given suspended crew chief David Hyder an opportunity to come clean on what was in the tank, with the promise of no termination.

But Hyder has so far resisted the offer, also maintaining his innocence.

So this cloud remains over Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota, Waltrip and the sport itself when it could easily be gone and forgotten.

We live in a society that is short on memory and long on forgiveness. But the parties have to come clean in order to reap those benefits.

So far, no one associated with this mess seems inclined to do so. Until then, the story lives on.

NASCAR's other fuel-related problem concerns Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick's new sponsor Shell/Pennzoil and the sport's official fuel supplier Sunoco.

Apparently Sunoco is none too pleased with the exposure its competitor received at Daytona, with Shell's logos all over Harvick's car and driver uniform.

Under the guidelines of Sunoco's exclusive deal with NASCAR, it owns the fuel category, similar to the way series title sponsor Sprint/NEXTEL has the cellular phone service category. These types of deals forbid competing companies from participating in the sport, to protect the heavy investments made by the official sanctioning body corporate partners.

But unless NASCAR is willing to better spread that wealth among the teams from these lucrative official sponsorship deals, how can it limit what sponsors get involved with individual organizations?

NASCAR likes to maintain that team owners and drivers are "independent contractors," which helps avoid tax, health benefits, pension funds and other messy situations.

If that's indeed the case, shouldn't teams be allowed to sell their sponsorship opportunities to any company willing to pony up the millions of dollars needed to run a NEXTEL Cup operation?

Harvick will run a smaller logo and Pennzoil, which as a motor oil doesn't interfere with any official NASCAR partner, will be the more prominent brand in the company's sponsorship of the RCR No. 29.

"Obviously we've got a lot of partners and constituencies in the garage area that are important to the entire industry, and when these things come up, we want to work through them as best we can," NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said.

As the cost of running a NEXTEL Cup team continues to rise, something tells me it's going to come up a lot more.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2007

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