Record number of fines, suspensions handed out
In the process of NASCAR sending a stern message to its teams by coming down hard this season on rules violators, Jeff Gordon worries about the message being sent to those outside the sport.
Nine crew chiefs, including those of Hendrick Motorsports teammates Gordon (Steve Letarte) and Jimmie Johnson (Chad Knaus), have been penalized this season and NASCAR has been collecting fines and docking points at unprecedented levels.
Other than Michael Waltrip's car being found to have an illegal fuel additive before Daytona 500 qualifying, Gordon said the majority of infractions have fallen into categories not specifically covered in the rulebook.
"I know what the message is to us, but I'm not sure what message is being sent to sponsors and (disseminated by) the media," the four-time NASCAR champion said. "It's all labeled as cheating, and it's unfortunate when it's perceived and picked up that way. We have sponsors who don't understand why it's being put out there that way."
Johnson accepts the difficulty NASCAR faces in ensuring a level playing field but, like his teammate, worries that fans don't understand what is going on.
"I'm not saying we totally understand it, either," he said.
Gordon used the example of an NFL lineman who is flagged for holding. The referee steps off the penalty and the game resumes. "They don't call that offensive lineman a cheater," he said.
NASCAR president Mike Helton agreed that few violations involve blatant cheating and said that's a word the sanctioning body avoids when meting out penalties. As for the NFL analogy, Helton said NASCAR's equivalent is pit-road speeding and the other infractions it routinely deals with during the course of a race.
"The difference in our sport is the hardware," he said. "That's what we're talking about when it comes to penalties and suspensions. It's unfortunate it gets branded as cheating when it's more about people taking the rules too far. More at IndyStar