Commentary: IMHGO – In My Humble Gay Opinion…….
We all know the story about 12 angry men – what about 43 angry men – or at least 42 confused men and one confused woman.
The confusion that many fans and media members felt earlier this week when NASCAR Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook seems to be shared by many in the garage.
In case you’ve been living under a rock – let me offer a short recap. Actually, a short recap is all we have – as NASCAR has not, and will not, release the exact details of the infraction nor any of the evidence presented by either side in the appeals process.
The #48 was pulled out of the inspection line in Daytona and NASCAR ordered the team to cut “illegal” C-posts off the car. NASCAR then suspended Chad Knaus, fined him 100k and docked the team 25 driver and owner points.
Rick Hendrick and Chad Knaus insisted the car was legal, they had run it before without any indication from NASCAR that the car was askew, and most importantly that the part in question was never measured. The team told anyone that would listen they planned to appeal
NASCAR insisted the C-post was outside of their allowed tolerance and was ready to argue their point in the appeals process. In step one a three-member panel upheld the entire penalty – siding with NASCAR.
Rick Hendrick took his case to the final appeal – a one man show named John Middlebrook. After hearing what we can only presume is the same evidence from both sides… Middlebrook reversed all of the penalties except for the cash fine. The suspension was lifted and Jimmie Johnson got his points back.
So, if the three-member appeals panel sided with NASCAR – who did Middlebrook side with…… beats me! And therein lies the problem.
Was the part legal? NASCAR says no, Hendrick and Knaus say yes – and NASCAR’s version of the Supreme Court says “both.” By keeping the fine in place and reversing the suspension and points penalty – Middlebrook created more questions than he answered.
This confusion isn’t good for NASCAR.
Mike Helton held to the NASCAR line when he addressed the media at Auto Club Speedway. “Elements of the penalty were upheld based on parts of the car that did not conform to the rules,” Helton said on Friday. “The debate was how we reacted to it. That’s as much a bureaucratic decision as it is a competition decision.”
Essentially, Helton and NASCAR are saying that Middlebrook agreed with them that the part on the #48 was illegal but that the penalties they levied were too severe. Lacking any further explanation from NASCAR or Middlebrook – that is the only assumption I can draw….. and we all know what our Mothers told us about assuming.
But what else can we do? What else can the drivers do? They can’t figure it out any better than we can.
Kevin Harvick likened his reaction to the reversal to the one he had when he heard O.J. Simpson was acquitted. “It’s no different than watching a case like O.J. – and watching O.J. go free” Harvick said, “Watching that case, there’s no way you thought that was going to happen. Then you see the verdict. It’s very similar to that. You think something is cut-and-dry, and the next thing you know it’s not.”
Marty Smith from ESPN asked Mike Helton about the universal feeling of surprise when the ruling came down. The always on message Helton replied, “I’ll keep my personal reaction to myself, I’m the only one who will ever know it, but I got through that in about 30 seconds. We did what we felt was correct and our inspectors did their job. The appellate process is complete and we’ll go on down the road.”
So NASCAR is moving on – and Knaus and the #48 team feel vindicated. The only ones left flapping in the wind are the fans, the media and the other drivers in the garage. Lacking any statement from Middlebrook – we will never know how “illegal” that C-post really was.
Many of my friend who don’t like NASCAR often tell me think this sport is like wrestling. The confusion created by this penalty and its reversal give people like that ammunition for the shots they take at our sport.
Earlier this year NASCAR announced there would be no more “secret fines.” They realized that trying to keep fines a secret would never work in a world ruled by tweets and smart phones. Making these fines public was a good move by NASCAR – while everyone may not agree with the sanctioning body – keeping everything in the “light of day” – eliminates the argurments of those that call our sport theater.
NASCAR needs to take a play from its own playbook. No more secret fines is great…. let’s open up the entire appeals process for everyone to see.
One thing is for sure – when the #48 team shows up in Talladega, NASCAR officals will be staring closley at the car. Helton said if the same C-post shows up in Alabama that NASCAR will once again ask the #48 to cut it off the car.
Well that explains everything!