I’m fast becoming a big fan of this NASCAR business, and although my fanaticism is in its infancy I’m getting a good understanding of the hype that surrounds the sport across the pond in America. It’s fascinating to witness the likes of American heroes Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jnr and Formula One refugee Juan Pablo Montoya coax two-tonnes of simplistic, rugged race cars around the enormous and impressive banked ovals of the States.
But something has shocked me in recent weeks that has made me question my faith in the sport.
The racing this season has been better than expected; from the opening 500-miler at Daytona to the recent short-track running at Richmond, the pack haven’t been separated by much and tempers have boiled over on a number of occasions – all for the benefit of the NASCAR show. The manufacturing powerhouses of Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota have proved to be equally competitive, as have NASCAR’s very own powerhouse teams such as Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports. I feel however, that recent penalties handed down from NASCAR to certain teams, drivers and crew members have been very much to the detriment of the sport. Penalties that seem disproportionate to the relatively minor misdemeanours.
Take Matt Kenseth for example; a visitor to victory lane in Kansas a few weeks ago, Kenseth was on a high until his car was found to have a connecting rod lighter than the minimum weight specified in the rule book. What is a relatively minor infringement in other forms of motor racing, provoked an onslaught of remarkably harsh penalties from NASCAR; 50 points docked from the driver, a six-week suspension and $200,000 fine levied against the crew chief, and the owner’s license frozen for six weeks.
Penalties befitting deliberate rule breaking, perhaps, but for an accidental technical infringement that, according to experts, should have actually hindered the car’s performance? I find it baffling.
Similarly outlandish penalties were recently handed to reigning champion Brad Keselowski and the Penske Racing team after their cars failed multiple inspections just minutes ahead of the race in Texas. Penske Racing drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano were docked 25 points each and crew members were handed a bevy of fines and suspensions as a result of having unapproved rear-end housing parts.
The hefty penalties have angered many members of NASCAR’s travelling circus and NASCAR need to proceed with caution if their justice system is to continue in this way; when NASCAR competitors and personnel begin to fall out with the sport, the fans won’t be too far behind in showing their displeasure.
I’ll continue to watch for the love of the racing, but as I fail to be unbiased, if similar injustice occurs to Jimmie Johnson, I may be forced to reconsider.