During NASCAR's rise in the first decade of this millenium, it seemed painfully obvious that officials in stock car racing's governing body wanted to model themselves after the NFL.
But that attitude – much like NASCAR's upward trend itself – is long gone. These days, NASCAR seems more anxious to copy the UFC.
Incredibly, series officials elected not to suspend team owner Richard Childress on Monday after he flat-out assaulted a star driver who was in no situation to fight back.
Childress took off his watch before he even approached Kyle Busch in the Truck Series garage at Kansas Speedway on Saturday – a sign of a premeditated attack – and began punching Busch while holding the driver in a headlock.
NASCAR called a news conference on Sunday to tell reporters it was taking what happened very seriously and emphasized that Busch did nothing wrong – nor did the driver do anything to provoke the attack. NASCAR even said it would have ejected the team owner from the track had another top official from his Richard Childress Racing organization been present to take his place.
Yet when NASCAR announced its penalty for Childress on Monday, it was completely toothless: A $150,000 fine for the mega-millionaire team owner (which is actually a donation to the NASCAR Foundation) and the typical meaningless "probation" for the remainder of the season.
We're not sure what exactly "probation" means for an owner who was already unlikely to assault anyone else in the coming months, but the safe bet is: Absolutely nothing.
The disturbing part about this "penalty" is that NASCAR, yet again, makes decisions that result in the sanctioning body appearing to be clueless, out of touch and biased toward certain individuals.
For the sake of NASCAR's public image, it would have been completely acceptable and understandable if officials had called Childress and said, "Look, Richard...we've got to sit you out for a couple weeks. Go take a vacation, relax and come back at the end of the month."
In that situation, most everyone would have been satisfied. It wouldn't have had any negative impact on the Richard Childress Racing teams (it's not like Childress works on the cars) and the penalty would have sent a message that there is a limit to NASCAR's controversial 'Boys, have at it' policy.
That limit, by the way, would be this: If you walk up to a driver and attack him, unprovoked, you're going to have to miss a couple races.
But apparently, that's really not such a bad thing.
As NASCAR fans know, the sanctioning body has suspended people for far less egregious offenses. Crew chiefs miss six weeks if their cars are built out of spec by the thickness of a feather; individuals can even be suspended indefinitely for misuse of a season credential.
NASCAR has no problem wielding its power when it wants to punish those who dare question its rules or authority.
When it comes to personal conduct, though, officials seem to go weak in the knees and fumble when faced with a chance to send a message.
Drunk driving? Sure, you can race this week. Going 128 mph in a 45 mph zone? Hey, not our business. Assault in the NASCAR garage? No biggie, just write us a check.
Look, if RCR driver Joey Coulter had wanted to kick Busch's butt for whatever happened between them on the track during Saturday's race, then so be it. Athletes fight other athletes in sports all the time.
But a team owner wanting a piece of Busch? NASCAR shouldn't permit that to happen – and likely wouldn't if it were someone aside from Childress.
If the assault was carried out by a lower-profile owner – one without the personal history with officials that Childress has – it would have unquestionably resulted in a suspension.
And what if Busch – who is on probation himself – would have returned Childress' blows and socked a 65-year-old man in the face?
NASCAR should have taken a step to send a message that physical confrontations can only be acceptable between two competitors; team owners, crewmen, family members and publicists cannot be allowed to attack a driver without serious repercussions.
Instead, NASCAR made it clear that being a member of the Good Ol' Boy network is still more important than upholding order in the garages, and that playing favorites remains the name of the game.