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NASCAR hits Earnhardt and Mears with penalties for Phoenix run-in....but more a slap on the wrist


"Junior's Rules," or the sense that Earnhardt gets breaks other drivers don't (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   Probation, for six races, that's the verdict from NASCAR executives after a few days reflection on the run-in between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Casey Mears at Phoenix in the final miles of Saturday's Phoenix 500.
   After first considering a 'no-call' on the issue, NASCAR announced Tuesday it would indeed issue a penalty on Earnhardt and Mears -- probation for the next six races, beginning with Sunday's Talladega 500.
   The official ruling was that the two "violated Section 12-4-A (actions detrimental to stock car racing; hitting another competitor’s car after the race had concluded) of the 2009 NASCAR rule book.
   "Probation," in the NASCAR world, is a very nebulous penalty – ostensibly it means that if either driver were to commit some similar action over the next six weeks that he would be hit with a more serious penalty. In fact, that only rarely happens; once, for example, a driver committing a second offense while on probation got only extended probation.
   Nevertheless, NASCAR's decision to issue an official penalty is embarrassment enough for the two, probably, and may fit the crime, which really wasn't all that much.
   Mears, in the final laps, ran into Earnhardt, in a battle deep in the pack. Both men were having bad nights on the track. Mears said he just slipped up in the corner and didn't mean to run into Earnhardt. However, Earnhardt took it differently and on the cool-down lap spun Mears, who retaliated with several post-race bumps of his own.
   If any of those post-race bumps had occurred on pit road, or where emergency crews were, NASCAR's penalties would certainly have been stiffer.
   Why would NASCAR change from Monday's planned 'no-call' to Tuesday's 'probation'?
   Possibly because of media reaction to an apparent double-standard of justice whenever Earnhardt is involved in a situation. Other drivers recently have been hit with more serious penalties for pretty much the same incidents. And when Earnhardt was going to be given a free-ride there were complaints from some that NASCAR was being lighter on Earnhardt simply because he was Dale Earnhardt Jr.
   Then again, skeptics might point to NASCAR's generally disappointing TV ratings this spring (the Nielsen overnight's for Phoenix were a very disappointing 3.3, far below the overnight's for that event last year) and suggest any controversy might be worth exploiting for one  more day.
    Actually what NASCAR should have done was immediately call the two drivers to the NASCAR hauler after the race for a quick, stern talking to, which would have made the point with the two drivers, the fans and the media.
   But drivers were in a major rush to leave the track after the race for the cross-country flight home.

Well, it is the Wild, Wild West.....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



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