Race Weekend Central

Racing To The Point: NASCAR Penalizing Itself For Inconsistent Rulings

Five expletives in one sentence. I wasn’t sure if the NASCAR race was still on or if FOX was showing an early presentation of “Hell’s Kitchen,” one where Chef Gordon Ramsey — Tony Stewart in this case — found out Joey Logano’s beef ravioli wasn’t fully cooked.

Stewart sure put on a post-race show at Fontana. It had all the same ingredients of the boxing match I watched on HBO on Friday night. Punches were thrown — or at least a water bottle — trash was talked and, in the end, the sore loser went on a profanity-laced tirade vowing for revenge.

If Denny Hamlin got fined $25,000 for saying the Gen-6 car needed a little work and Jeremy Clements got suspended for two weeks for a derogatory remark, imagine what NASCAR is going to do to Stewart. Suspend him eight races? Suspend him the whole season? Throw him out of the sport?

Wait, what? They did nothing?

Tony Stewart let loose an impressive string of expletives at Fontana last week and was penalized with… nothing. Why? NASCAR was in a good mood that day?

I wonder how Dale Earnhardt, Jr. felt about that. In 2004, Earnhardt Jr. said sh*t once during a post-race interview in Victory Lane after winning the fall race at Talladega. He was fined $10,000 for that small slip, and docked 25 points — which knocked Junior out of the Chase lead and put eventual champion Kurt Busch out front.

Compare that to 2013. In a fuming rage, Smoke let b*tch fly three times in a single sentence, during a post-race interview at Fontana — and he got away scot free.

What if Busch had done what Stewart did? Either Busch. My guess is they would’ve been fined and put on probation without any hesitation from the powers above. And why is that? Is it because Kurt and Kyle have troubled pasts? Well, so does Stewart. Conflict seems to follow in his path, too. Just ask Jeff Gordon, Robby Gordon, Elliott Sadler, David Gilliland, Juan Pablo Montoya, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and now Logano (I’m sure there are some I’m missing).

Why would NASCAR do nothing in this instance? This question falls in the same category as: Why do rhinos attack? What’s wrong with Charlie Sheen? Why is my girlfriend mad at me?

We could take a stab in the dark, but we just don’t know for sure. In NASCAR’s case, I guess it just depends on which way the wind is blowing on a given day. How else could this unparalleled lack of disciplinary consistency be explained?

It’s not just in the use of profanity, either. Kyle Busch was suspended from Sprint Cup in 2011 for intentionally wrecking Ron Hornaday, Jr. after the yellow flag flew in a Truck race at Texas. Yet Jeff Gordon pulled one of the most malicious wrecks — OK, probably the most malicious wreck — I’ve ever seen at the Sprint Cup race at Phoenix in 2012. The punishment? He was fined and put on probation for the final race of the season, a race he came back the following week and won.

Remember, the Gordon wreck was ugly. He turned left into Bowyer and drove him nose first into the outside wall. He took Bowyer out of the championship, destroyed bystanders Aric Almirola and Logano, plus put everybody’s health in danger.

But he’s Jeff Gordon, so any notion of a suspension was quickly thrown out the window, kind of like Carl Long’s racing career.

In 2009, Long was fined $200,000 — and effectively was thrown out of Sprint Cup — for showing up at the All-Star race with an engine that was 0.17 cubic inches over the regulation size. Meanwhile, Chad Knaus has been fined and suspended on four separate occasions since 2005. No fine even came close to $200,000 for trying to cheat the system with the five-time championship team.

It certainly seems to matter who you are. But Junior’s fine in 2004 shows that even those at the top aren’t completely immune all of the time — just some of it.

There’s no semblance of consistency, no “Let’s take a look and see what action we’ve taken in a similar situations?” It’s as if Brian France is in his office playing darts and each spot on the board stands for a different level of action. After Fontana, he just missed the board completely with his throw.

Every sports league deals with gray areas, especially when it comes to enforcing discipline. Major League Baseball struggled with it for a long time in the steroid era and the NFL is struggling to determine the difference between a legal hit and a hefty fine right now. These aren’t always easy decisions, but the key to staying credible with players/drivers and fans is to develop some kind of consistency over time. Fans should be able to guess what’s going to happen before it does.

If Derek Jeter tests positive for HGH, I know he is suspended for 50 games. If Cole Hamels intentionally throws a fastball at a batter’s head, I know he’ll at least be “missing” his next start. If Ed Reed makes a helmet-to-helmet hit, I know he is going to get fined about $20,000. But if Jimmie Johnson swears twice during a television interview at Martinsville, I don’t whether he’s going to get a pat on the back or a $100,000 fine and a 25-point deduction. I’d feel the same if he physically hit someone or used his car as a weapon.

No other sports league in America would get away with such an absurd disciplinary system without major backlash, but nearly everything is gray in NASCAR — and we’ve come to accept it. The decision not to issue a penalty last week proves that in 2013, NASCAR officials are still just making it up as they go along.

And it’s bullsh*t.

Contact Brett Poirier

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