Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski with President Obama at the White House Tuesday. A photo op lost amid tragedy and controversy? (Photo:Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
So much for that White House-NASCAR-Brad Keselowski goodwill tour.
It wasn't looking good after Saturday night's pre-race inspection circus at Texas Motor Speedway.
Now, with Monday's Boston Marathon tragedy and Wednesday's U.S. Senate rejection of new gun laws, plus Roger Penske's Texas rules controversy, Keselowski's championship trip to the White House Tuesday has been all but lost in the furor.
NASCAR used the sledgehammer on Roger Penske's two teams, leaving Keselowski and Joey Logano without key crewmen for six weeks, pending appeals, and costing those two teams dearly in points, not to mention a pair of $100,000 fines.
Considering how NASCAR reacted -- or rather didn't react -- in a similar situation last summer with the Rick Hendrick teams, one significant question at the moment is the appearance of a NASCAR double-standard of justice.
While NASCAR actions against the Keselowski and Logano teams may be right according to the book, it would appear to demonstrate yet again that NASCAR execs either do not understand how the real world looks at this sport and its foibles and capriciousness, or simply don't care what anyone thinks of its judgments.
The NRA 500, just days before the key Congressional voting?
Maybe it would be kind just to call NASCAR officials 'tone deaf.'
Brad Keselowski (R) and crew chief Paul Wolfe. Wonder if Wolfe is wondering how Chad Knaus seems to get out of these jams? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
NASCAR had a no-call last year on Hendrick crew chief Chad Knaus and driver Jimmie Johnson for similar 'violations' of the 'spirit of the rules,' to use NASCAR's description of the Penske situation.
That no-call, on rules tweaks very similar to what the sanctioning body is charging the Penske men with, wasn't the only questionable NASCAR decision, where one team was penalized severely while a Hendrick team was let off virtually scot-free for the same 'offense.' The Jeff Gordon-Clint Bowyer-Phoenix controversy versus the Kyle Busch-Ron Hornaday- Texas controversy, one such example. Busch was suspended; Gordon got a slap on the wrist.
But then executives in this sport's sanctioning body have never let inconsistencies, or even common sense, stand in the way of a decision. Certainly NASCAR execs are not easily embarrassed.
The sport is still stinging from NASCAR's stunning $25,000 fine on Denny Hamlin a few weeks ago for mild criticism of the new 2013 stockers at Phoenix.
It is still quite curious that at Texas it took NASCAR officials at least three days, and several earlier inspections, before finding whatever rear end parts they didn't like. Did NASCAR inspectors really need to wait until only minutes before the start of the NRA 500 to pass judgment?
Under Bill France Sr. and son Bill France Jr. NASCAR was described as a 'benevolent dictatorship.' The 'benevolence' may be hard to see these days.
Martin Truex Jr., also hit hard by NASCAR penalties. Do NASCAR execs not realize how nonsensical some of their decisions may seem to those out in the real America? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Penske offered no comment on the NASCAR judgment but said he would appeal, meaning crew chief Paul Wolfe will again be atop Keselowski's pit box and crew chief Todd Gordon atop Logano's at least for this weekend's Kansas 400.
Keselowski, after rallying to finish ninth in the Texas NRA 500, after having to change rear ends, was caustic in comments about NASCAR. Keselowski, remember, has been fined by NASCAR several times for his comments over the past year or so...comments much milder than what he had to say in Fort Worth.
And Keselowski just got chewed out big-time by NASCAR CEO Brian France at Daytona merely for offering some of his views about the sport...which, as the sport's newest champion, would certainly seemly timely and appropriate.
France this time decided not to penalize Keselowski specifically for his Texas comments, though the suspension of his crew chief and engineering staff are certainly quite severe. The penalties, if upheld, as they almost certainly will be, could wind up costing both Keselowski and Logano shots at this year's championship. Penske's operation, though, is probably strong enough to survive.
It was a busy afternoon for NASCAR's judges Wednesday: they also hit Texas runner-up Martin Truex Jr. with a six-point penalty for his car being too low in post-race inspection, and Truck champion Ron Hornaday was hit with a $25,000 fine and 25-point penalty for wrecking Darrell Wallace Jr. under caution during the weekend's Rockingham NC Truck race.
Keselowski has already made his anger clear, calling NASCAR's actions "shameful," and said NASCAR officials had "targeted" the Penske teams for more than a week.
Logano, his new teammate, and off to a hot start this season, charged from last to fifth in the Texas 500. He says the Penske operation has "a lot of depth," and will find good men to run the two teams, if the NASCAR penalties are upheld.
"We can make adjustments to make sure we still run well," Logano said, with a nod toward Saturday's two top-10 runs. "We're proud of that effort in Texas, especially after all the adversity. It says a lot about our company."
"Yep, Brad. Think it's Miller Time, for both of us...." "Hey, Mr. President, want to take a break and come to a NASCAR race?" (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
The official pronouncements from Daytona:
"Paul Wolfe, crew chief for Brad Keselowski, and Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano, were each fined $100,000, suspended for six races, and placed on probation until Dec. 31. Both teams' car chiefs, Jerry Kelly and Raymond Fox, the teams' engineers, Brian Wilson and Samuel Stanley, along with team manager Travis Geisler, have also been suspended for six races and placed on probation until Dec. 31."
The two teams were each docked 25 driver championship points and 25 owner points.
"Both cars were found to be in violation of Sections 12-1; 12-4J and 20-12 (all suspension systems and components must be approved by NASCAR. Prior to being used in competition, all suspension systems and components must be submitted, in a completed form/assembly, to the office of the NASCAR Competition Administrator for consideration of approval and approved by NASCAR. Each such part may thereafter be used until NASCAR determines that such part is no longer eligible. All suspension fasteners and mounting hardware must be made of solid magnetic steel. All front end and rear end suspension mounts with mounting hardware assembled must have single round mounting holes that are the correct size for the fastener being used. All front end and rear end suspension mounts and mounting hardware must not allow movement or realignment of any suspension component beyond normal rotation or suspension travel.)"
Truex's car "was found to have violated Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing); 12-4J (any determination by NASCAR officials that the race equipment used in the event does not conform to NASCAR rules); and 20-12.8.1B (the car failed to meet the minimum front car heights during post-race inspection) of the 2013 rule book.
"As a result of this violation, crew chief Chad Johnston has been fined $25,000 and placed on NASCAR probation until June 5. The team has also been docked six championship driver (Martin Truex Jr.) and six championship owner (Michael Waltrip) points."
Waltrip himself issued a terse statement: "Michael Waltrip Racing is sensitive to working within the guidelines of NASCAR policy. This infraction clearly occurred as a result of a malfunction caused by race conditions. Therefore, we will not appeal. We thank NASCAR for providing a fair and equitable platform for all of its competitors and respect its decisions."
The Sprint Cup champ at the White House: Should have been a great marketing/PR pop for NASCAR stock car racing. Should have been..... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)