NASCAR is really in-credible. As in totally not credible any more. If anyone had doubts before, the sanctioning body led by Helton, Darby and cohorts’ antics in penalizing Clint Bowyer’s race-winning Cup car THREE DAYS after the New Hampshire race should firmly set those doubts to rest. Just when you think the folks that run this racing series can’t do anything more ludicrous, they absolutely top themselves. The #33 car that Bowyer drives, owned by Richard Childress, was inspected, as are all cars competing, before the weekend activities started, before qualifying inspection, before the race, and also AFTER THE RACE in post-race inspection. According to NASCAR officials, it passed inspection every time. Then, inexplicably, when the car was transported by NASCAR to be re-examined at the NASCAR R&D headquarters in Concord, NC it was deemed to have been ‘illegal’ because of less than 1/16th of an inch—roughly the thickness of a quarter—in the height of the rear panel, according to NASCAR’s templates. Never mind that the car had been pushed from the back by a wrecker, hit in the bumper by other drivers congratulating Bowyer on the win, and examined on the spot in New Hampshire, post-race. I guess if you keep examining something, determined to find a fault, sooner or later you will. Who did this benefit? That’s the question that needs to be addressed.
There are a multitude of problems with this entire scenario and the sudden interest by NASCAR in penalizing Bowyer’s team right after the very first “Chase” race. The prime issue, though, is the challenge to Richard Childress’ integrity and the integrity of his organization. Richard Childress is one of, if not THE most respected owners in racing. Along with Richard Petty and Joe Gibbs, he has a stellar reputation and has sustained this through his entire career in racing. Definitely an opposite to NASCAR’s favored Rick Hendrick, whose felony bribery conviction during the Honda bribery scandals of the late 1980’s have been subject to revisionist history in attempts to sweep the information under the rug and keep newer fans unaware of Hendrick’s illegal doings. If you can find a copy of the book, Arrogance and Accords: Inside the Honda Bribery Scandals, you will undoubtedly receive an eye-opening education about the vast sums of money involved (over $250 million back then—a vast sum now and an even vaster sum in the economy of that decade). It’s almost as though NASCAR has suddenly decided to sling mud at Childress in order to sully his stellar reputation. Childress’ storied career as a car owner and close friend of his driver, Dale Earnhardt is the stuff of racing history. The very best of racing history. For NASCAR to try and slime Childress in this manner is truly troubling, particularly when there is so little in NASCAR Cup racing to get excited about anymore. Fans are staying away in droves and many of us never thought you’d be able to walk up to the ticket window at Bristol on race day and get a good seat for that event. But, you can.
One thing that NASCAR has yet to explain is what possible ‘cheating’ advantage could have been gained by having the rear of the car off by 1/60,000.” Perhaps that is because there simply is no advantage whatsoever in this.
When one looks at all the empty grandstand seats, race after race, it has to beg the question as to Why are fans staying away and no longer avidly interested in the sport? We know NASCAR has been trying to figure this out by way of establishing their “fan council” – years ago, NASCAR was never worried about what the fans thought of their doings because every race was sold out a year or more in advance. And, the folks that run NASCAR just won’t admit that a vast majority of race fans do not like, support or have regard for the Hendrick drivers, particularly Jimmie Johnson. Johnson has never shown himself to be fan-friendly, and while he is a competent driver, his success is seen as a result of a combination of obscene amounts of money spent on cars and equipment, NASCAR’s sanctioning of his crew chief who has been penalized repeatedly over the years for many cheating infractions, and a “keep out of his way” dictate by NASCAR –particularly when it comes to the final countdown races in the Chase.
This is the perception of a wide majority of fans—and former fans who no longer pay prime dollars to buy tickets in a racing series which still seems to pander to the mega-rich. Particularly when they are worrying about how to buy groceries, pay the rent or buy schoolbooks for their kids while NASCAR crew chiefs, driver and owners are tooling around Lake Norman and building their multi-million dollar homes, buying planes and all the trappings of having ‘moved on up’ to the East Side. Just let a poor independent like a Jeremy Mayfield or a Carl Long who is hanging on by their shoelaces because they love the sport and want to race run afoul of NASCAR and they are unceremoniously booted out of the sport.
So, what’s behind this penalty? Figure it out. And when that trophy is handed to Johnson at Las Vegas, with his name likely already engraved on it as of September 2010, NASCAR will still be wondering why there are yet more empty seats next season. I call it the Earnhardt effect. Fans of Dale’s tried to stay interested but have gradually faded away because there is no one in the sport who can spark their passion and imagination like Dale did. At one time, Tony Stewart might have picked up the torch, but his alliance with Rick Hendrick has taken the luster off of that notion. As far as Dale Junior—from the moment he left his father’s company to go ride around in a race car for the one team owner that Dale Senior’s fans could not abide—his impact has lessened to the point where he is just another mediocre driver who happens to have a famous family name. It’s a shame, really. Hendrick lured Junior away under the pretext of helping him win championships. Only problem is, there can only be one champion each season, and Junior had to get in line behind Gordon and Johnson. By the time those two finally decide to hang it up, Junior’s time will have been long gone. One wonders who really convinced Dale Junior that he was better off away from DEI. It’s as if someone wanted to attempt to tear down Dale Senior’s legacy and keep DEI from succeeding.
No one likes a sport that is perceived to be weighted or ‘fixed’—and that perception has been tainting NASCAR’s top racing level for the past several years.
The only way NASCAR can remove the egg it has spread on its own face after this ‘penalty’ was imposed is to overturn it. And, sadly, even that might not be enough to put the credible back into the way they are running this sport.