NASCAR’s reputation takes another hit with Kvapil arrest

John Harrelson

Following a series of unseemly events, NASCAR is facing an image problem.

Long priding itself as a family institution, NASCAR wanted to be seen as a slice of Americana where mom, dad and the kids could all be fans and not be concerned about the seediness that has consumed the stick-and-ball sports.

Unlike baseball, NASCAR hasn't seen performance enhancing drugs decimate what was once a storied record-book filled with magical numbers. Or had its moral compass called into question like the NFL, where the brutality that was long celebrated is now decried because of the stark realization of the consequences from repeated blows to the head.

"It’s not good for our sport, for sure … I’m sure there is a negative impact to a small degree."-Jimmie Johnson

NASCAR was supposed to be the wholesome alternative.

But recent events have begun to strip away that aura, giving NASCAR a proverbial black eye.

The most recent incident occurred Tuesday evening when Sprint Cup driver Travis Kvapil was arrested for misdemeanor assault and false imprisonment. The allegations are disturbing and include Kvapil dragging his wife by her hair into a bedroom and when she attempted to flee, the former Truck Series champion struck her with his hands and feet.

Kvapil was freed on bond Wednesday morning and one day later was at Charlotte Motor Speedway preparing for Saturday's Bank of America 500.

In a statement, NASCAR condemned Kvapil's alleged actions and said it was still gathering details, but in the meantime he would be permitted to compete at Charlotte.

The news of one of its drivers being arrested for domestic abuse is just the latest in what has become a rash of illicit behavior that has tarnished NASCAR's reputation.

A week ago, Nationwide Series driver Nelson Piquet was fined $10,000, placed on probation and ordered to seek sensitivity training after using a gay slur on social media. He was the second driver this season to be punished for using a derogatory word, though unlike Jeremy Clements, Piquet escaped a suspension.

Seemingly, a double standard now exists within NASCAR, where one word is deemed more inappropriate than another and thus not subject to suspension, despite both words being grossly offensive.

And then, of course, there was the largest cheating scandal in NASCAR history that took place last month in the regular season finale at Richmond International Raceway, of which the affects are still reverberating throughout the garage.

The aftermath has seen a high-profile sponsor in NAPA withdraw its support from Michael Waltrip Racing, and the company's future in NASCAR very much still in doubt. Another sponsor, 5-Hour Energy, has openly questioned the integrity of NASCAR officials.

Going back even further, there has been the continuous saga of Jeremy Mayfield, which includes him being indefinitely suspended after testing positive for methamphetamine along with his ongoing legal woes. And then there was the suspension of A.J. Allmendinger last summer after he failed a random NASCAR administered drug test.

At time when NASCAR's mainstream appeal is waning and sponsors are already leaving in droves, these incidents couldn't have come at a worse time.

"It's not good for our sport, for sure," Jimmie Johnson said Thursday at Charlotte. "I think that most realize that it's an individual situation and nothing to do with the team or the sponsor. It might shy a sponsor away from that particular organization or driver, but I would hope that it wouldn't impact any further than that.

"I guess there could be some repercussions there. ... It's not good press, so it can't be helpful by any means. And it is pretty rare. I think that's something that we all pride ourselves on that we don't have a lot of that drama in our sport. So, I'm sure there is a negative impact to a small degree."

This isn't a referendum on the decorum of drivers suggesting that NASCAR was once a sport filled with choir boys. After all, the origins of stock-car racing are vastly intertwined with bootlegging and men who fled from the federal officers during the week and then used those same cars to race on the local bullring on Sunday.

However, there is no denying that NASCAR's image is being rapidly tarnished, and that its efforts to be seen as apart from — and above — the scandal-plagued American sports scene are falling flat.

A sport that has long wanted to be considered on par with the NFL, NBA and other professional sports leagues has now done just that. Unfortunately, it's for all the wrong reasons.

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Kvapil's arrest another hit for NASCAR's reputation

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