This week’s Frontstretch debate question: recently there has been a plethora of talk surrounding encumbered wins in NASCAR. Most recently, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr.’s Camping World Truck Series win at Michigan was labeled as encumbered. Joey Logano’s win at Richmond earlier this season was also encumbered, meaning he can’t use that victory to qualify for the playoffs.
Should NASCAR take race victories away if the win is labeled as encumbered?
Cheaters Never Prosper
A wise man once said, “if you ain’t first, you’re last.”
Okay, well, he might not have been that wise. But he might have a point in this instance.
I’m sick and tired of all this talk about encumbered wins. I’m sick and tired of people calling them “cucumber” wins. But it’s also laughable, the fact that drivers, teams, fans and the like are teasing the formal term dubbed by NASCAR to call it a vegetable.
Because it’s a joke. I’ve had enough.
If a driver wins a race and fails post-race inspection, they should have the win stripped. They didn’t win fair and square.
I realize that sounds like something a elementary school kid would say, but maybe that’s what we (and NASCAR) need to do: dumb it down to the elementary level when it comes to this problem. Why is someone who is (according to the rulebook) cheating rewarded? It doesn’t make sense.
I know that the “reward” isn’t much, since the win isn’t able to be used to qualify for the playoffs, the crew chief is fined and suspended, there are various points penalties and the sanctioning body keeps a closer eye on you and your team once your win is encumbered.
But what precedent is this setting? What happens if the winner of the Daytona 500 has their win encumbered? Could you imagine the winner going across the country on all the different TV shows, radio shows and getting asked, “So did you actually win the race or no?”
That, my friends, is what we like to call a bad look.
I’m not old enough to remember when big Bill France once said that the fans deserve to know who the winner is when they leave the race track. But I am old enough to hear people talk about his words every time another one of these encumbered finishes come up again.
The biggest issue with this whole topic is timing. Taking a win away from the victor on a Wednesday, three (and sometimes four and five) days after the checkered flag flies is also a bad look. And it creates a tough divide.
Do you take the win away days after the race ends, or leave the rule like it is and let the winner keep the victory? Or do you institute different levels like NASCAR has done for the penalty infractions (L1, L2, etc.)? If the car fails the laser inspection section (LIS) by 1/32 of an inch or less, the driver keeps the win? Or if it’s a more egregious violation, the win is taken away?
A possible solution, albeit a not-well-thought-out and hypothetical one, is to have a brief whirlwind inspection after the race that takes a couple minutes at most. If that’s what NASCAR needs to do, thens so be it. Put the car on the inspection station for a few seconds, and when the NASCAR official gives the thumbs up, it’s a win. If there’s an issue, second-place (assuming they pass) gets the W.
Again, I know that’s super hypothetical and perhaps unrealistic. But I’m just tired of the word encumbered working its way into conversations of NASCAR fans daily, it seems. We deserve better. The fans deserve a clean, fair race with a clean, fair race winner.
Plus, who really likes cucumbers anyway? – Davey Segal
Don’t Strip the Winner After He’s Had His Chicken Dinner
NASCAR should never strip the winner of the race of their win and their trophy. If I had my way, I would also do away with encumbered wins as a whole.
The chief reason is that no one really knows for sure if whatever illegal modifications are on the car really gave the team that much of a performance advantage.
The most famous post-race inspection failure of the season is Joey Logano’s No. 22 failing after the spring race at Richmond Raceway. Logano won the race with an illegal modification. His teammate Brad Keselowski finished second and dominated much of the race before giving it up to his teammate late in the going.
Keselowski passed the post race inspection. Does that mean that Keselowski’s team also cheated, but did a better job of covering it up? Or does that mean that both of the Team Penske Fords were blazingly fast at Richmond in a legal manner and some fluke thing happened to Logano’s car to make it fail inspection?
The problem is that we will never know the answer to that question, and for that reason, it is an overreaction to strip the win.
What if a car that wins and a car that finishes 30th both fail the post-race inspection for having the exact same part out of line? Can we really believe at that point that the illegal measurement gave the winning car an advantage when it did not give an advantage to someone else?
It is no secret that teams push the limits on everything they can to get maximum speed out of a car, and sometimes they overstep those lines. Monetary fines and points deductions are a reasonable punishment for these instances.
Teams trying to get all they can out of a car is what makes NASCAR great. The sport was built off of brilliant minds such as Smokey Yunick.
No team is cheating beyond reason. It is not like MDM Motorsports and Darrell Wallace Jr. showed up with an IndyCar to beat the competitors in the Camping World Truck Series race at Michigan International Speedway. All of the cars go through inspection prior to qualifying and the race, so no illegal modifications are blatant cheating.
One thing to remember about NASCAR, and all sports, is that it is entertainment. People watch a race to see one person beat out 39 other competitors. The cathartic moment is being able to see the race winner celebrate with burnouts and Victory Lane celebrations. What is the point in watching if you can’t witness the winner’s raw emotion?
The penalty reports always come out in the middle of the week. If the race winner is stripped in the midweek and the win is awarded to someone else, then it robs viewers of the enjoyment of seeing the actual winner celebrate.
You can’t un-pour the champagne, undo the Victory Lap or un-burn the rubber.
If a team made it that far without being cracked down on for cheating, then they deserve to keep the win. NASCAR should watch that team with a magnifying glass the following week, but at that point, they earned the race win.
I believe everything I said is why NASCAR has held back from stripping race winners during the modern era for the most part, and I applaud the governing body for that.
It is the better call to not strip the win. NASCAR is still hearing about how it made a bad call at the end of the 1991 race at Sonoma Raceway, when Ricky Rudd had the win taken away for aggressive driving. That happened 26 years ago and many are still not over it.
Do not give into peer pressure, NASCAR. Keep doing what you have been doing for post race penalties. – Michael Massie
About the author
Davey is in his fifth season with Frontstretch and currently serves as a multimedia editor and reporter. He authors the "NASCAR Mailbox" column, spearheads the site's video content and hosts the Frontstretch Podcast weekly. He's covered the K&N Pro Series and ARCA extensively for NASCAR.com and currently serves as an associate producer for SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and production assistant for NBC Sports Washington. Follow him on Twitter @DaveyCenter.
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