By admin | June 12, 2011
By Richard Allen
For the first time in the 2011 season it appears as if NASCAR is in the position of having to impose a points penalty on a serious championship contender. After the 5 Hour Energy 500 at the Pocono Raceway on Sunday it was determined that the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driven by Kyle Busch came in under the allowable height tolerances on the left front of the car.
Reports have it that the left front fender was only 1/16 of an inch too low but NASCAR Director of Competition Robin Pemberton said, “It doesn’t matter, it was too low.” That statement is correct. It doesn’t matter how small the measurement, an infraction is an infraction.
So now that the infraction has been found, what is to be done?
Again, it doesn’t matter how small the amount, the car was out of the tolerances so there has to be a penalty. And, the penalty should be the same whether that measurement was 1/16 of and inch or greater. However, the penalty levied must be very carefully considered.
Over the most recent off season NASCAR announced a change in what had been a long time used points system. Not only did that system reduce the number of points awarded per race, it must also reduce the number of points taken away when a team is penalized.
So, with this first of all penalties under the new system for a Chase for the Championship contender, NASCAR must very carefully consider what they do. They are setting a precedent for something that will almost certainly happen again this season and beyond.
If the sanctioning body issues a penalty that is too harsh, and they later realize it is too harsh, they can not very well come back and lighten the penalty for the next driver and team. The same is true of issuing a penalty that may later prove to be too light. The next driver and team can’t be hit with a steeper penalty a few races from now.
After his 3rd place finish in Pocono, Busch is currently positioned 5th in the Sprint Cup standings, 25 points behind leader Carl Edwards. That is going to change, but by how much?
After the Camping World Truck Series race earlier this season in Charlotte, driver Ron Hornaday and his team were docked 25 points for using an unapproved gear ratio for that race. Twenty-five points is a very significant punishment and perhaps NASCAR was so harsh in that situation because there was either an obvious intent to break the rules or obvious incompetence, either of which has to be dealt with severely.
Consider that 25 points is more than half the total that can be scored by winning a NASCAR race. Rarely did NASCAR ever issue a penalty of more than half the total for winning under the old system. Typically when such heavy punishments were issued it was in cases where there was clear intent to break the rules.
In one of the more recent cases of a car’s body being out of sorts, Clint Bowyer and his Richard Childress Racing team were hit with a devastating 150 penalty after last year’s race in New Hampshire. The potential difference between that situation and this is that Bowyer’s team had been warned previously that their cars were getting too close to the allowable limits and yet they went ahead and stepped over the line.
The instance of Busch’s left front fender is almost certainly not such a situation, unless we find out later they had been previously warned. It is likely just a car that simply didn’t measure up after the race. That taken into consideration, this penalty must be carefully considered because it will set a new standard for punishments under this new points system. Too harsh or too light will not be easily adjusted later.
To just randomly throw out a number this coming Tuesday would not be the appropriate thing to do. Hopefully the leadership of NASCAR considered what they would do in such instances well before now.
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