Writing a check for something without enough money in the account istechnically stealing. So is robbing a bank. But no one would think theydeserve the same level of punishment.
No one but NASCAR.
After the raceat Las Vegas Motor Speedway, NASCAR came up with almost identicalpenalties for a crewchief who tried to circumvent the rules for acompetitive advantage and for another whose car had a mechanical failurethat actually compromised its handling on race day.
The No. 29 crewchief drew a four-week suspension for altering a fueltank.
In the firstinstance, Todd Berrier was suspended for four weeks and fined $25,000for rigging the fuel cell in Kevin Harvick's car to indicate it was fullduring qualifying. Harvick lost 25 points.
Few people came to hisdefense, because the ploy was defenseless. It was especially foolishgiven the fact that under the new qualifying rules, Harvick wasguaranteed a spot in the field, and NASCAR pays no points for taking thepole.
It will be particularly embarrassing if Harvick misses the Chasefor the Championship by 24 points come September.
The No. 48 crewchief was penalized for a car that was determined to betoo low in post-race
In the second case,Chad Knaus was suspended for two weeks and also fined $25,000 wheninspectors found the roof height of Jimmie Johnson's car was a quarterinch too low during post-race inspection. The car fit all the templatesand measurements for height before the race.
Johnson said the rear ofthe car dropped down when the nut that retains the wedge bolt failed andthe bolt worked loose during the race. He said it was possible toclearly see where the bolt loosened up, allowing the chassis to drop.Dropping the rear of the car reduces airflow to the rear spoiler andmakes it less effective, in essence hurting the car's handling.
"We'vecut the spoilers off, and the whole goal is to pick the back of the carup," Johnson said. "Well, the back was low; it dropped the roof. Our carwas at a disadvantage.
"Our car was beyond legal. Even though it wasillegal after the race in the whole aero game that's played, our car wasat a disadvantage."
Jimmie Johnson's Las Vegas victory was allowed to stand, but hiscrewchief was suspended fo
Johnson, who won the race, was docked 25 points,sliding him from the lead to Second Place. NASCAR has vowed to crackdown on cheaters in Nextel Cup, Busch, and the Craftsman Truck Series.It began with fines and then went to docking drivers and owners points.Last year it added suspensions for the most serious of offenses.
On thesurface, all that sounds fine. But NASCAR's rule enforcement tends to bealong the lines of Star Chamber proceedings, with little informationoffered to explain the reasoning behind its decisions. NASCAR neverreleases details about the infractions, thus it paints allviolators--intentional and accidental--with the same broad brush.
"Everything we are going to say about it is in our announcement" is howone NASCAR public relations staff member explained it.
"Guys have justgot to stop playing games with the rules," NASCAR Vice President JimHunter said. "We've got to do whatever we have to do to protect theintegrity of this sport."
But critics contend that in the case of thepenalties against Johnson and Knaus, NASCAR let its persona of beingtough on crime outweigh common sense and fairness.
One wonders whatwould have happened to Mark Martin if his car had finished better than30th at Las Vegas and the same standard of rules enforcement had beenapplied. The rules say cars have to be powered by an American-made V-8.He finished Las Vegas with an ailing engine, and spark plugs in onlyseven cylinders.
NOTE: Hendrick Responds to Appeals Hearing On Suspensions
CONCORD, N.C. -- Team owner Rick Hendrick commented Wednesday on theresults of Tuesday's NASCAR appeals hearing, which rescinded thesuspensions of two Hendrick Motorsports crew chiefs, Chad Knaus, crewchief for the No. 48 car, and Alan Gustafson, crew chief for the No. 5car driven by Kyle Busch.
The No. 5 car was found to have quarter-panelheights too high, while the No. 48 car's roof was too low. Bothinfractions stemmed from post-race inspections following the March 13race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Gustafson and Knaus were originallysuspended by NASCAR.
"I appreciate NASCAR giving us the opportunity topresent the facts," Hendrick said. "From our perspective it's importanteveryone, especially our fans, know that we absolutely had no intentionof breaking any rules."
"This sport has a rule book for good reason, andit's vital it be enforced. As an owner, I know it's equally importantto have a just forum for teams and a fair system of checks and balances. We respect NASCAR's decision and look forward to carrying some momentuminto Bristol."