NASCAR's Secret Fines a Bad Policy
A driver intentionally wrecking someone at 180 mph under NASCAR's "Boys Have It" doctrine is acceptable? But a driver criticizing the sport won't be tolerated?
That's what we're to believe following a report this week revealing that NASCAR has "secretly" fined at least two of the sport's star drivers for comments NASCAR believed compromised the integrity of the sport.
At last, NASCAR is drawing the line ... in invisible ink.
What's more disconcerting than NASCAR behaving like the KGB is the inherent distrust this situation creates. After decades of don't-ask-and-do-what-we-tell-you governance, NASCAR had finally turned the tide into full sporting credibility.
News that drivers risk discipline for speaking out unfortunately just gives more ammunition to the vocal group of conspiracy theorists -- those quick to insist that a "fix" was in when Richard Petty won his 200th victory on July 4, 1984, in front of President Reagan, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. won at Daytona this month driving a No. 3 car, or even Chip Ganassi's historic sweep this past weekend in Indianapolis.
It only encourages and invigorates those skeptics who wonder about all the mysterious "debris" cautions late in the race or how one team can be so dominant.
And that's too bad.
To its credit, NASCAR is owning up to the policy.
NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston, vigorously defending the sanctioning body, said the fines weren't being announced to keep from embarrassing the drivers' sponsors or team.
"We want the drivers to speak their minds and show emotion -- if we blow a call or make a mistake we should be criticized for it and we often are,'' Poston said Tuesday. "That's fine.
"But over the years, we have seen comments by drivers do serious damage to the sport -- and that means damage to every track promoter trying to sell tickets, every sponsor trying to promote their drivers and products and ultimately, the fan base.
"What are we to do?'' Poston continues. "No business owner would permit employees, vendors or partners to damage their business, nor can we.''
The point is well-taken. Certainly, most of us can't expect to badmouth or damage the reputation of our employer without some retribution.
But this is different.
These drivers are putting their lives on the line and while they are well-compensated, NASCAR is nothing without strong and interesting personalities and talented racers willing to put it all on the line for NASCAR's definition of a "good show.''
If a driver gets out of a wrecked car that's launched airborne or barrel-rolled through the infield or nearly hit spectators ... or lost a race on a questionable green-white-checkered call, he is going to be emotional and in-the-moment.
Carl Edwards, ironically, suggested that someone was going to get killed in a restrictor-plate race after he finished the 2009 Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway race in the frontstretch catch fence. Greg Biffle has expressed similar concern about racing at Pocono Raceway. Tony Stewart wondered if NASCAR was sometimes more akin to professional wrestling.
Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick have never been accused of holding back.
On top of that, NASCAR demands that that the 12 drivers leading in the points make themselves available for a no-holds-barred interview session every week.
Without a drivers' union to lobby on their behalf, drivers have to air their own grievances and concerns. It's their backside in the car.
Poston explained on a blog entitled "Working Together for the Good of the Sport" that NASCAR now holds "forums" with its drivers and teams and if there is a concern, that is the place for the driver to bring it up instead of taking a track or the sanctioning body to task in the media.
"We also used the forums to specifically address how to protect the brand and the subject of the fines -- overall there wasn't objection from the drivers and in fact, many agreed that we had to do it,'' Poston said.
Even if NASCAR is not revealing the names of the "guilty" drivers, it's reasonable to reveal at least what was said. What was considered as so egregious that it was punished more harshly than Edwards was when he intentionally wrecked Brad Keselowski at Atlanta and then Gateway.
It's understandable for NASCAR to run its business as it sees fit, but it should at least be transparent in doing so. No secret "comment police.''
What we see should be what exists. Or it's a slippery slope of credibility. What else happens behind the scenes that they aren't telling us?
It would be interesting to hear what the drivers think about all this, but ... none wanted to comment.