The inconsistency of 'Actions Detrimental to Stock Car racing'

Jared C. Tilton

I don't want to write a formal column on the topic but I did want to share my thoughts on NASCAR's decision not to penalize Brad Keselowski for the critical comments levied towards the sanctioning body on Saturday following the NRA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

His rant was in response to NASCAR officials confiscating the rear ends to both Penske cars after a long prerace technical inspection that nearly made both drivers miss the start of the race. Joey Logano's car was even late to the grid and had to start at the rear of the field.

At the conclusion of the race, Keselowski told reporters that they had no idea what NASCAR had put his team through over the last seven days and that the league was targeting his no. 2 team in an absolutely shameful way.

"The things I've seen over the last seven days have me questioning everything I believe in and I'm not happy about it," Keselowski said.

While penalties for the technical infractions will likely come on Wednesday morning, NASCAR CEO Brian France said on Fox Business Channel Monday that he will not penalize Keselowski for speaking his mind.

"We're not (fining him), because that's the beauty of NASCAR: We do allow the drivers to express themselves in that way, even if they say things we disagree with," France told anchor Dagen McDowell. "I certainly would disagree with everything he said.

"They're frustrated. This is the most intense racing in the world and it's not surprising that every once in a while when things don't go your way, you just sort of blow off a lot of steam."

France went on to explain that NASCAR encourages freedom of speech more than any other professional sport but that they are forced to take action once drivers criticize the on-track product -- a response to the decision to fine Denny Hamlin $25,000 after his Phoenix criticisms.

"The line we draw is you can't criticize the racing product," France said. "You can criticize our decisions, you can criticize everything else - which is more than every other sport might allow - but just don't go talking about (how) our racing product isn't the best in the world, because it is."

This all falls under the mysterious but all-encompassing 'actions detrimental to stock car racing' and NASCAR's discretion when levying penalties is just plain inconsistent.

While France covered his tracks on Monday, recent history dictates that NASCAR will penalize drivers at different whims and without any consistent rhyme or reason. It's almost random. Take 'have at it boys," which is also policed under "actions detrimental," for example.

For years, those in the sport have tried to acquire a better understanding of what results in a penalty and what doesn't.
Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch can send a driverless car into pit wall without penalty but Busch sending Harvick's driver -- Ron Hornaday Jr. -- into the retaining wall under caution is a one-race suspension.

This would be fine if the latter part of the example wasn't appealed on Sunday when Hornaday himself crashed Darrell Wallace Jr. under the caution and received just a back-to-the-longest line penalty. (He was practically already there after the wreck anyway)

NASCAR insists that their drivers know where the uncrossable line is drawn but that's not true either -- at least to those that I've talked to over the past year. No one knows where that line is and it seems to be changing on a monthly basis.

In Major League Baseball, athletes know within a game or two just how long their suspension is going to be for a myriad of violations including beaned batters, bench-clearing brawls or making contact with an official.

NASCAR has no set parameters when it comes to accessing penalties and it makes understanding what is and isn't acceptable a little murky.

In giving the Sanctioning Body the benefit of the doubt, NASCAR has to protect the integrity of the sport. It's their most valuable asset and sometimes the definition of integrity evolves and transforms over the years.

And with that in mind, I just think it will be to the integrity of the sport's benefit if NASCAR makes a stronger point of streamlining its penalties over the next few months.

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