Black, White and Shades of NASCAR Gray

Jerry Markland

The penalties imposed on Penske Racing by NASCAR may seem excessive, when in fact it’s all part of a game that has been played many times before.

It was an unenviable position no motor sports governing body ever wants to find itself in. With the determination that the parts confiscated from Penske Racing and the cars of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano were indeed illegal, NASCAR was left with little choice but to issue some sort of punishment to its reigning champion.

In some eyes it was a decision that could cast a shadow over Keselowski's championship from the preceding year, and at the same time one that could easily give NASCAR, its participants and its champion black eyes.

Although on the surface the penalties may seem harsh, they are in fact not. A six-race suspension for three key personnel, the loss of 25 points and a $100,000 fine is now the standard for infractions deemed egregious.

As strange as it may seem, this is the modus operandi for NASCAR.

Ever since the first rule book was written, teams and crew chiefs have taken it upon themselves to exploit the loopholes. Whereas the sanctioning body sees things in black and white, crew chiefs work in the margins, the gray area if you will.

While it may seem like a contradiction, the best teams have always been the ones who push the rules to their furthest limits -- and occasionally past them. And the number of great teams that haven't crossed swords with NASCAR over a rules infraction is scant.

Even the "The King" himself, Richard Petty, has tangled with NASCAR inspectors.

Most notably, following his 198th career win, Petty's car was found with an oversized engine underneath the hood of the famous STP Pontiac along with left-side tires placed on the right side.

Both of these violations are big NASCAR no-nos.

Yet, per NASCAR's policy then -- and still now -- Petty was allowed to keep the victory. Instead he was penalized 104-points and fined $35,000, absolutely astronomical amounts both monetarily and points-wise in 1983.

Seen as one the most creative minds to ever sit atop a pit box, Ray Evernham had many run-ins with officials over what was legal and what was not. That knack for working in the gray area was passed on to his protégé Chad Knaus, whose rap sheet is as lengthy as his numerous triumphs.

But that's how NASCAR conducts its business. Crew chiefs find the ambiguity in the rule book; NASCAR decides when they've gone too far, cracks down and hands down sanctions.

And just as Petty, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson don't have asterisks beside their names for their crew chiefs' misdeeds, Keselowski won't have one either.

This was not NASCAR trying to send a message that tinkering with the Generation-6 car will elicit a response far greater than ever before. This was simply NASCAR following the script to a play that has already been performed countless times and is guaranteed to have future versions.

The next act of this play is Penske regrouping and seeing whether the organization can overcome what surely in the short-term are crippling penalties.

It is well documented how strong of a bond Keselowski had with his crew chief Paul Wolfe; a relationship on par with the chemistry Gordon had with Evernham and Johnson has with Knaus.

But for the next seven races -- six races that award points and one that does not -- Keselowski will be without the man who molded the No. 2 team into champions.

Keselowski was understandably irate with the process that unfolded Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway where parts and pieces were seized just hours before the start of the NRA 500.

However, being caught at an inopportune time is one of the risks associated with toeing the seemingly transparent line of what's legal and what's not. Any perceivable advantage a team has eventually will become unearthed, as nothing in the garage stays quiet forever.

Racing, particularly at its highest of levels, is a cutthroat business. It's a sport where you're only as good as your last race. With the costs to be competitive higher than ever before, the pressure to perform is immense.

It is a team's job to do whatever they can to find the edge needed to be competitive. If they step over the line, it's NASCAR's job to punish them accordingly. No different than any other sport.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

On Wednesday, NASCAR reacted.

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