For some reason, NASCAR continues to believe it can sneak secret fines under the noses of fans and media, penalizing drivers who dare speak an opinion that may be construed as damaging to the sport.
Image-sensitive officials don't want the fines to be public knowledge and instead hope the wallet-slaps are a deterrent to airing negative comments in the future. Brad Keselowski reportedly became the latest driver to discover that recently, when he was fined $25,000 for blasting NASCAR's move to electronic fuel injection.
But what NASCAR repeatedly fails to realize is the fines look far worse when issued secretly than if officials just made them public.
Other sports regularly fine competitors and owners for comments detrimental to the league. It happens. But those sports do so publicly, and there's so there's no hint of coverups or dastardly conspiracies to muzzle drivers.
NASCAR must be afraid public fines would make the sanctioning body appear it's talking out of both sides of its mouth.
On the one hand, NASCAR is constantly encouraging drivers to show more personality, be themselves and interact on Twitter. But then when a driver speaks an opinion that's inconsistent with the storyline NASCAR wants to tell fans, officials hit drivers where it really hurts – in their pockets.
Look at what happened to Denny Hamlin. Once NASCAR's best driver at social media interaction, Hamlin was fined $50,000 last season for comments made on Twitter, and his tweets have been less interesting and less frequent since then.
Ryan Newman was also secretly fined for comments NASCAR considered negative.
Let's hope Keselowski, who has taken over the Twitter king mantle from Hamlin, doesn't get neutered by this situation and suddenly become politically correct all the time.
But even if you disagree with the fines, you can't totally fault officials for wanting to protect their business interests. NASCAR literally cannot afford to have drivers teeing off on its partners and public relations initiatives, and so it reacts accordingly.
The bigger issue here is that it's done secretly. Many fans – possibly even a majority of them – believe there are secrets and conspiracies throughout NASCAR, from phantom debris cautions to policies favoring certain drivers over others.
Secret fines only provide more evidence to that end. After all, the first thought must be: Who else has been fined that we don't know about?
And what other clandestine policies are in effect that have not yet – or may never – come to light?
It's simply not productive to conduct business this way. Many drivers will be asked about secret fines in today's media sessions instead of the most exciting championship battle in years.
Is it worth it?