Recent comments made by NASCAR drivers continue to raise questions and cause controversy as the 2013 NASCAR season approaches its eleventh race this Saturday at Darlington Raceway. NASCAR’s response to a variety of hasty comments has raised questions about their consistency in handing out penalties. Though many claim that NASCAR has been inconsistent in handing out penalties for drivers’ comments that is not the case once you review the facts.
After being involved in a multi-car accident on lap 183 of the Aaron’s 499 Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet, Ryan Newman, lashed out at NASCAR. In an interview after leaving the infield care center Newman said, “I am doing this interview to let everybody know I’m alright. They can build safer race cars, they can build safer walls. But they can’t get their heads out of their asses far enough to keep them on the race track, and that’s pretty disappointing. I wanted to make sure I get that point across. Y’all can figure out who ‘they’ is. That’s no way to end a race. Our car was much better than that. That’s just poor judgment in restarting the race, poor judgment…I mean; you got what you wanted, but poor judgment and running in the dark and running in the rain. That’s it, thank you.”
Many people suspected that Newman would be fined for his outburst comparing it to the fines imposed on Denny Hamlin earlier this season after Hamlin criticized the new Generation 6 car. NASCAR ruled on Monday that Newman would not be fined for his critical post-race comments, even though they disagree with them.
NASCAR released a statement on Wednesday explaining why Newman was not fined for his comments made Sunday at Talladega. NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp stated, “We disagree with the comments that he made. He wasn’t critical of the racing product so therein lies the decision not to fine him. We did tell them they could challenge NASCAR, they could challenge the racing calls, certain calls that we made and that type of thing. We did tell them a couple of years back, hey, don’t take on the racing product, don’t disparage the racing. We believe (Newman) kind of pushed the edge on that in his comments. We disagree with his opinion. We disagree with the comments he made, but he wasn’t critical of the racing, he wasn’t critical of the racing product, so therein lies the decision not to fine him. We don’t agree with what he said, I’ll tell you that right now.”
After discovering that Newman would not be penalized, fans immediately took to Twitter questioning NASCAR’s consistency in handing out penalties for critical comments made by drivers. When you take a close look at NASCAR’s rulings in handling driver comments this season, they have been more than consistent. No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing driver, Matt Kenseth, and No. 2 Penske driver, Brad Keselowski, have also made questionable comments that did not result in fines.
After Kenseth’s race winning car from Kansas Motor Speedway was found to be in violation of the rule concerning with of the connecting rod, he said that the penalties NASCAR imposed on the team were “grossly unfair” and “borderline shameful.”
No. 2 Miller Lite Ford driver, Brad Keselowski, lashed out at NASCAR in a television interview after the NRA 500 when he and his No. 22 Penske teammate, Joey Lagano, failed prerace inspection at Texas Motor Speedway when their suspension systems and components were discovered to be illegal. Keselowski’s expletive filled interview said that the team was “unfairly targeted” during the previous week.
In an interview on FOX Business News, NASCAR CEO Brian France said that Brad Keselowski would not be fined for his outburst. France said, “That’s the beauty of NASCAR. We allow drivers to express themselves in that way even if they say things that we disagree with. I would certainly disagree with everything he said. But look, they are frustrated. This is the most intense racing in the world and not surprising that every once in a while that things don’t go your way and you just sort of blow off a lot of steam.”
When FOX anchor Dagen McDowell asked France to explain the difference between Keselowki’s comments and the comments that No. 11 Fed Express Express driver, Denny Hamlin made earlier in the season that landed him a $25,000 fine, France stated, “The line that we draw is you can’t criticize the racing product. You can criticize our decisions, you can criticize everything else, which is more than any other sport might allow. But just don’t go talking about our racing product isn’t the best in the world, because it is.”
Looking back at Hamlin’s comments after finishing third in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway from NASCAR’s perspective, one can clearly see that he overstepped the acceptable bounds by criticizing the NASCAR product. When Hamlin was asked on pit road how he like the new Gen 6 car, he said, “I don’t want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our generation five cars. This is more like what the generation five was at the beginning.”
NASCAR deemed Hamlin’s remarks as detrimental to stock car racing, saying that “while drivers get ample leeway in voicing their opinions when it comes to a wide range of aspects about the sport, the sanctioning body will not tolerate publicly made comments by its drivers that denigrate the racing product.” Hamlin’s penalty for denigrating the racing product as a $25,000 fine.
Despite NASCAR’s disagreement with the comments made by Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth, and Brad Keselowski, none of those drivers criticized the racing product. They criticized the NASCAR sanctioning body, and even though Newman “pushed the edge” in his comments he did not criticize the racing product. Therefore, he was not fined.
Investigation into the allegations that NASCAR has not been consistent when handing out penalties for driver comments proves that this ideology is false. This season NASCAR has consistently allowed drivers to criticize decisions and actions of the sanctioning body, but they have drawn the line when comments denigrate the racing product. The decision this week not to fine Stewart-Haas Racing driver, Ryan Newman, for his post-race comments continues NASCAR’s consistency in handing out penalties for driver comments.