Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dropping the Hammer

It took a day longer than expected, but NASCAR finally dolled out its punishments to Joe Gibbs Racing.

The No. 18 and No. 20 cars in the Nationwide Series were found to have magnets placed behind their accelerators after Saturday's race at Michigan International Speedway. While this wasn't a race violation, and both cars passed post-race inspection, the magnets were discovered when the cars were placed on the chassis dyno, which NASCAR used to monitor horsepower numbers.

With the magnets, the accelerators would not have gone all the way down, affecting the numbers NASCAR could compile. In essence, JGR officials hid some of their horsepower from NASCAR.

Horsepower among the Toyotas was already a contentious issue in the Nationwide Series, since before the race at O'Reilly Raceway Park, the Toyotas basically had 15 horsepower taken away. Toyota has won 15 of 25 races this season -- all but one coming from Joe Gibbs Racing.

The rule change was needless, essentially punishing Toyota -- and more specifically, JGR -- for excelling under the current rules package. Toyota worked its butt off to get the success it had, and rather than allowing Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge to catch up, NASCAR decided to take something away from Toyota.

That's not normally the way things work; years before, Chevrolet had a distinct advantage over Ford and Dodge in front end geometry. Rather than punish Chevy teams for their hard work, NASCAR merely gave Ford and Dodge an inch or two on their front noses in an effort to keep up.

I'm all for competitive balance, but taking something away from a team that excelled within the rules just seems ... petty.

Besides, if this was a Toyota thing, wouldn't all the other Toyota teams outside of JGR be running better?

But back to the punishments; drivers Tony Stewart and Joey Logano were docked 150 driver points, and car owner Joe Gibbs lost 150 owner points for each car. Seven JGR employees have been suspended indefinitely, including crew chiefs Dave Rogers and Jason Ratcliff.

Monetary fines were also levied, and everyone involved has been placed on probation for the remainder of the season.

The penalties are largely fair, and unprecedented in the Nationwide Series. Gibbs said in a statement that he would consider levying punishment beyond that which NASCAR handled, which leaves me to wonder who's going to wind up on the unemployment line before too much longer. If anyone gets fired, I don't see it happening immediately, lest it nullify NASCAR's punishment.

Hard to suspend someone who doesn't have a job.

My problem comes from the driver points. Why punish Stewart and Logano -- who aren't running full schedules -- for something they probably weren't aware of? I normally don't buy the "driver doesn't know" excuse, but considering this infraction had nothing to do with the race itself, I don't believe either Stewart of Logano knew of this -- and whoever did this probably wouldn't tell them, because the fewer people knew, the better.

In theory, anyway.

Gibbs said he would appeal the driver point penalties, based largely on that concept. He will accept the other penalties, and I think Gibbs is handling this situation the best possible way.

Though this rules infraction wasn't a case of actual cheating, it was more akin to obstruction of justice -- which one could argue was worse. NASCAR needed to obtain raw data for their own purposes, and JGR purposefully fed NASCAR false information -- likely in an attempt to hide horsepower it knew it wasn't supposed to have.

If I have to choose between cheating and feeding NASCAR false information, I'll take cheating every day of the week.

One last note ...

In the spirit of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Ryan McGee of wrote an interesting article about the prospect of auto racing in the Olympics. Check it out here -- fascinating stuff.

Could you imagine Jeff Gordon standing on the medal podium with a gold medal around his neck? I bet Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage could ....

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