Monday, March 27, 2017

COMMENTARY: Rulings Leave Drivers On Uncertain Ground

Less than two weeks ago, NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell appeared to lay down the law in the aftermath of a post-race skirmish between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

O’Donnell, the sport’s chief spokesman in times of strife and upheaval, warning that the sanctioning body would not tolerate any on-track retaliation and would react strongly to instances of drivers using their car as weapons.

Just days later, the sanctioning body failed to act when Austin Dillon did exactly that, squeezing Cole Custer’s car into the outside wall under caution at Phoenix Raceway after Custer inadvertently wrecked Dillon late in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race.

NASCAR parked Dillon for the remainder of the event – a token penalty, since his car was already too damaged to continue – then declined to assess any further sanctions or penalties.
“Don’t do it again,” was the official response. “Or else.”
That mixed message leaves drivers and fans to wonder exactly what is – and isn’t – allowed these days, especially in the aftermath of a similar no-call for the pit road imbroglio between Busch, Logano and their respective crews a week earlier.  
"Every situation is different" said O’Donnell last week, insisting that drivers know where the line lies between acceptable behavior and actionable offense.

Unfortunately, the drivers say they don’t.

Dillon wrecked Custer under caution
“I don't know that it gives us an answer of what we can or can't do,” said Ryan Newman, Dillon’s teammate at Richard Childress Racing. “You have to do what's best, and what's best is not always the same in everybody's eyes. Being aggressive -- whether it's with your race car or your hands -- doesn't always lead to the answer. But it sometimes gets your point across, and sometimes that's what's needed.”

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., also weighed-in on NASCAR’s response, saying, “It's not about trying to teach (Dillon) a lesson. It's really (about) what we are trying to tell everyone else, all the other drivers.
"I know NASCAR takes these guys into the haulers,” he added. “They have conversations with them and tell them what they expect in the future, But no one else is privy to that conversation. That is not sending the message to anyone, because we don't know what the message is.”
NASCAR has fined drivers for fighting in the past. They have also declined to do so.

NASCAR has fined drivers for intentionally damaging competitors’ cars -- under green or under caution – in the past. They have also declined to do so.

O'Donnell: "No two incidents are alike."
It’s all a matter of degree. And in the words of William Shakespeare, “There’s the rub.”
As is often the case, NASCAR finds itself in an untenable position. The sanctioning body is expected to rule consistently on a series of incidents – both on and off the race track – that vary wildly in both severity and circumstance. Fists are different than fenders, and high-speed takeouts are different than harmless bouts of post-race fender rubbing.

No two incidents are alike, and no written rule can cover the myriad ways that drivers express displeasure with each other.

“I don't particularly envy NASCAR's position,” said former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski last week. "There is something to be said for our responsibility in this sport to be role models, and I'm as guilty as anyone else of not doing the best job of that, sometimes.

"We're all trying to ask ourselves… 'What's too much emotion?' I'm not sure anyone has really got a great answer to that.”

Clearly, NASCAR cannot allow its garage area to degenerate into a 700-horsepower version of the OK Corral, with drivers and team members taking matters into their own hands with impunity. They also cannot afford to take the emotion out of the sport, however, turning speedways into Safe Zones where conflict and disagreement are strictly forbidden.

Somewhere in the middle lies a line between acceptable and unacceptable. Unfortunately, that line isn’t always straight.

"I got punched in the face and I still race hard," said Keselowski, harkening back to a 2014 dustup with Jeff Gordon that left him battered, bruised and unpenalized. "Everybody has got their own way of looking at it."
“There is a very fine line" said Dillon with a smile. "I have morals of my own. I try to stick by a moral code that my family brought me up by. Everybody makes mistakes and NASCAR did a good job being a father-like figure to me in this situation. They expected more out of me… (and) I need to handle the situation differently.
“I really don't know what to do,” he smiled. “I haven't gotten my UFC license yet.”

6 comments:

  1. As always NASCAR is being consistent at being inconsistent.

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  2. I think NASCAR really missed the mark on this one.

    Maybe if it had been two similarly experienced drivers from the same series then the lack of punishment likely fit the crime although Dillon still needs to be taken to the woodshed for exacting revenge under yellow with a race car.

    In this case NASCAR permits a cup series veteran to come down to visit the minor leagues and beat up a newbie of the series “rookie” for making a mistake that many of the more experienced drivers seem to be making on an almost weekly basis.

    If I were NASCAR, and likely a good thing I am not Mr. Dillon would be sitting out a year of the minor leagues and then maybe he would learn how to play properly in that sandbox

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    1. I don't know. As a veteran of this series, a newer veteran of the Cup series, it's hard to say. I agree something should have been done since it was under yellow, but what exactly, I'm not sure. I think his visit to the hauler may have actually gotten his attention. He didn't do it at speed so there wasn't any real damage (other than his car) or possible physical harm, so I guess maybe he got off lucky this time....but I hope NASCAR actually enforces their threat if it does happen again. Maybe best thing for Dillon to learn is to go talk to the man face to face after the race to vent his frustration, after all Cole is a rookie.

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    2. Agree 100% no more xracrs for him. That's altering the playoffs of the xfinity series.

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  3. The inconsistency of NASCAR in this area only hurts their integrity and does little to solve the issue.

    They really should take a look at adopting something similar to the NHL's Department of Player Safety and their method for handing out supplemental discipline.

    Have the driver council create a framework for what is acceptable behavior based upon the "driver's code." Then create department headed by a well-respected former driver or drivers who watch every race and hand out previously disclosed disciplinary measures.

    Of course it's impossible to remove "judgment calls" from this or any other system, but at least it will begin to see some consistency and trustworthiness being created.

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  4. The extracurricular stuff, I can let go. Fine Kyle Busch if you want to, but who cares - he didn't stink up the show. Austin Dillon stank up NASCAR's show during a live race. The closest comparison is Kyle Busch dropping down to run the Truck Series & putting Ron Hornaday in the wall under caution. Steve O'Donnell's a stand-up guy, so it's baffling why they swallowed their whistle on Austin Dillon. Makes everyone cry "FAVORITISM" for the family of Childress.

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