Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Most Powerful Man In NASCAR

Brian France? Fiddlesticks.

Mike Helton? Heck no.

The most powerful man in NASCAR is named John Middlebrook, and most fans couldn’t pick him out of a police lineup.
Most powerful man in NASCAR.
After 49 years as a high-level executive at General Motors, Middlebrook was named Chief Appellate Officer of the National Stock Car Racing Commission in 2010, working for the lordly sum of $1 per year. He has presided over four appeals in that time; each time reducing penalties assessed by NASCAR to various drivers and teams. Tuesday’s decision was his boldest statement yet, overturning a veritable buffet of sanctions levied by NASCAR that was upheld unanimously just a week before by a three-member appeal panel -- against Hendrick Motorsports and crew chief Chad Knaus.

Middlebrook vetoed six-race suspensions for both Knaus and car chief Ron Malec. He erased 25-point penalties assessed to owner-of-record Jeff Gordon and driver Jimmie Johnson, instantly bumping the five-time Sprint Cup Series champion from 17th to 11th in points, just two markers out of the Top-10. Curiously, he stopped short of clearing Knaus’ punitive plate, leaving intact a $100,000 fine and placing him and Malek on probation until May 9.

Understandably, both Knaus and team owner Rick Hendrick hailed the decision. "I'm not surprised, but glad,” said Hendrick yesterday. “It just felt like, to me, it was the only way it could go.'' Hendrick also managed to stifle a smile while stating, “I would have liked to have had the fine gone, too, because there's no reason for any kind of penalty.”
Sources say Middlebrook pored over nearly two dozen photographs submitted by HMS in its defense, along with many pages of documentation and three affidavits; one of which was submitted by a NASCAR official. NASCAR also presented its side of the story; presumably the same evidence It used to curry a unanimous guilty verdict from panelists John Capels, Leo Mehl and Dean Pinilis just days before.

What did Middlebrook hear that the three-member panel did not? We’ll never know.

Hendrick, "Not surprised, but glad."
Capels, Mehl and Pinilis declined invitations to comment on Tuesday’s ruling, while Middlebrook’s written statement consisted strictly of “What I’ve done,” rather than “Why I did it.” NASCAR spokesperson Kerry Tharp insisted the sanctioning body made no mistakes at Daytona, adding, “I think our inspection process (has) worked very, very well in the garage area for many, many years. I think it's going to work well for many years to come.'' Those close to the sanctioning body, however, say officials were left dumbfounded by Tuesday’s unexpected reversal of fortune.

The reduction in penalties was the fourth mandated by Middlebrook in his brief tenure as head of NASCAR’s Appeals Board.  In 2010, he upheld a 150-point penalty levied against Clint Bowyer and Richard Childress Racing for post-race body infractions at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but cut crew chief Shane Wilson's $100,000 fine in half and trimmed suspensions for Wilson and car chief Chad Haney from six races to four. That same year, he halved a fine levied against Nationwide team owner Johnny Davis from $5,000 to $2,500, after Davis was involved in a post-race scuffle with a rival driver. Earlier this year, he erased the indefinite suspension levied against driver Peyton Sellers for an altercation with a NASCAR official at a short-track race.

In all four instances, those sanctions had been allowed to stand by the commission.

Last week, SPEED TV commentator Kyle Petty called NASCAR’s appeals process, “a crapshoot.” With a strict, by-the-book sanctioning body and an appeal board that rubber-stamps those penalties, only to see its decisions turned upside down in the end, the word, “crapshoot” certainly seems to apply.


  1. Anonymous3:15 PM

    NASCAR has long tried to be the #2 sport in America, behind only the NFL. Maybe they should take a page from the #1 guy overseeing the NFL on how to get a point across about shady non-sense!!! See: New Orleans Saints

  2. Got this comment from a very reliable source within the NASCAR world....

    "Rick Hendrick isn't just acquaintances with Middlebrook, they're buddies. According to the AP, Hendrick spoke at his retirement dinner."

  3. Anonymous3:54 PM

    "Crapshoot" you bet. An appeal to three, rolled over to one who throw's 2/3's out. This makes no sense and makes a mochary of the system. Who are you supposed to take seriously .... the original panel or Middlebrook. Right now I cannot take either. Kyle Petty's comment seemed crazy at the time, but maybe he does know something we didn't. NASCAR, with all the fantastic things it does has just come out looking stupid thanks to two decisions that are counter productive except maybe to Mr Hendrick.

  4. Maybe Carl Long should have went to him after NASCAR decided to completely destroy him over a blown engine he had purchased from another large team was fouund to be 1/16th of an inch oversized, perhaps caused by the expansion in the explosion. His fine was $200k he could NOT Afford and 12 weeks. Guess Mon ey and Friendship talks in Nascar.

  5. Anonymous7:19 PM

    Maybe Middlebrook looked at the facts of the case and was sending a message to both sides. To Hendrick -Watch yourselves and keep it in line. To NASCAR, when you want to fine a team and strip points from a driver, don't do the inspection visually. Take it through the process and put the templates on. If the post had not fit the templates, Hendrick wouldn't have had a leg to stand on. To some people, it seems like the comments Knaus made to Johnson last year in Talladega have not been forgotten and NASCAR tried to make an example of the team. They just forgot to get the supporting evidence needed and deemed that the car "looked" illegal. In the future -use the templates. Then we will all know if it is or is not illegal.

  6. Schreib8:20 PM

    I tried real real hard to overlook the Middlebrook/GM and Hendrick connections before the final appeal and ruling. I understand we'll never know, but in public opinion,especially when the person who has the final say is,well,silent, we can only connect the dots we have. In the rulebook, its either right or wrong. How does a monetary fine upheld but suspensions and points overturned seem fair and just to us NASCAR fans?

  7. Anonymous11:50 AM

    Well Mr. Moody what WAS the final verdict? Was the 48 "a little bit pregnant"? OR did the poor rabbit die? I can't quite figure out Mr. Middlebrook's message?? I really don't have a horse in the race I just can't figure out how you can be not guilty..kinda! OR guilty...but just a little bit??

  8. captneilf12:32 PM


    A thought.

    I would have each teams car presented for inspection on race day. This is after qualifying and testing. Any car that did not pass inspection would be disqualified on the spot, sent home, and they would lose a race, no appeals, end of story. I would consider confiscating any car that failed the inspection. At the end of the season auction off the confiscated cars and donate the money to charity.

    I don't think money fines is a deterrent to many teams but I suspect team sponsors would not appreciate losing a days advertising.

  9. Rick Reid7:55 PM

    I can only wonder how long Middlebrook will be doing the appeals.

  10. Anonymous10:32 AM

    Dear Dave,

    As I understand it this was a Pre-Race Visual Penalty without the use of any templates. A template should have been used and if the car failed it should not have been allowed to enter the race or practice until whatever variation was repaired to meet specifications. The only way any penalty should have been issued is if the car failed post race inspection. Otherwise there should have been no penalty.