Opinion: More Bark than Bite

NASCAR

In two days’ time the sanctioning body helplessly watched penalties and punishments previously handed out reduced and lightened by the appeals process.

There probably have been worse weeks to work in NASCAR’s competition department. But this past one has to rank pretty high on the list.

In two days’ time the sanctioning body helplessly watched penalties and punishments previously handed out reduced and lightened by the appeals process.

First what appeared to be an iron-clad case against Penske Racing’s use of illegal rear end suspensions at Texas Motor Speedway was amended by Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook.

Then came the second salvo when Joe Gibbs Racing received a major lift after a three person appeal committee significantly relaxed sanctions NASCAR hammered the team with for using a lighter than allowed engine connecting rod in Matt Kenseth’s Kansas race winning entry.

While officials put on a brave face, the pair of decisions has delivered a serious blow to NASCAR’s authority.

“This will not alter how we inspect engines,” said NASCAR’s Kerry Tharp. “It won't impact how we penalize people. We have to have teeth behind regulating sport.”

But how sharp are those teeth after this week’s turn of events?

NASCAR was certainly within its right to penalize JGR for the connecting rod issue. Regardless of where the motor comes from, in JGR’s case supplier Toyota Racing Development, it’s the team’s responsibility to present a legal engine.

TRD took the blame for the mistake, which is admirable. But that’s not the problem of the NASCAR inspection process. The engine wasn’t legal; pretty black and white.

If a customer gets food poisoning from a mushroom pizza he ate at a neighborhood pizzeria, isn’t the restaurant responsible for serving the questionable cuisine? It matters not whether the mushrooms come from an outside supplier rather than being home grown in the pie palace’s basement. The responsibility of serving eatable food lies with the restaurant.

So JGR’s defense the organization didn’t create the out of bounds engine and the mistake was not intended as a means of finding a competitive advantage simply does not hold water.

But NASCAR obviously went too far in the scope of the penalties as the appeals committee clearly demonstrated with its decision. The sanctioning body used a sledgehammer to kill a fly.

Rather than following through on its vow to keep ramping up penalties to keep teams in line and get their attention, perhaps the opposite approach is necessary.

JGR may have benefitted from the Wednesday’s amendment, but the team didn’t get off completely. Kenseth was still hit with a 12 point penalty, will lose crew chief Jason Ratcliff a race, owner and manufacturer points were erased and there’s still the matter of a $200,000 fine.

Had that been the original NASCAR sentence rather than the over the top response, perhaps this whole controversy – which has not put the sport in at all the best light - would have been a moot point.

It’s time NASCAR takes a hard look at just how it doles out justice and to what degree. While the sanctioning body has every right to enforce its rule book, the old school iron fist approach style just won’t work any longer.

The appeal process has made sure of it.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

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