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NASCAR: racin' or rasslin'....

  Brian France (R) and Mike Helton: The buck stops here. Does NASCAR play favorites when making decisions? Can NASCAR handle the heat from its calls in the Richard Childress-Kyle Busch altercation? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   POCONO, Pa.
   The joke last weekend at Kansas City,  following the headlock punches Richard Childress threw at Kyle Busch, was a good one: that Childress' cowboy boots are made from real cowboys.
   Yes, RC is old-school…right down to that spread up in Montana…and all those Boone and Crockett honors for gamesmanship out in the wild.
   This dog will bite.

   And maybe Busch simply aggravated the veteran car owner once too often.
   But now NASCAR executives themselves are feeling the heat: Is this racin' or rasslin'?
   NASCAR's response to Childress-Busch altercation hasn't exactly played very well around the country.
   Want to see how NASCAR's latest controversy is playing out in Los Angeles?
   Here's one take:    http://bit.ly/l4RSLk
   Remember LA is one of the biggest markets this sport plays in, and it's a tough market, and NASCAR just cut back from two Cup races there to one, and took that second race to Kansas City, site of last weekend's controversy.
   Wonder how anyone in New York City – just 90 minutes from this track -- can take this sport seriously.

   Did NASCAR officials just shoot themselves in the foot?
   Favoritism….inconsistency in judgments and decisions….secret penalties…
   Are some of these drivers on Double-Secret-Probation?
   It might all be rather humorous, if the credibility of this sport of stock car racing -- which in the eyes of some casual observers around the country may be generally on par with professional wrestling – weren't at issue again this week.
   Better put on your hardhat before taking a stroll around the NASCAR stock car garage. Looks like NASCAR has let this 'Boys, have at it' devolve to the next level down.
   Maybe it's time for NASCAR executives – read as the two men who make the calls, CEO Brian France and president Mike Helton – to consider whether or not this 'Boys, have at it' policy has simply been a failure.
   This game of 'secret NASCAR penalties' may be the final straw.
   Last summer's secret $50,000 penalties on Denny Hamlin (for questioning the timing of some caution flags) and Ryan Newman (for questioning safety at Talladega) were bad enough. But now it appears that NASCAR may have hit Newman with another secret $50,000 fine for punching out Juan Pablo Montoya in the NASCAR hauler at Darlington.
   NASCAR's 'Boys, have at it' didn't look too smart a year ago when Carl Edwards, in a fit of piqué, sent Brad Keselowski flipping and flying through the air at Atlanta, nearly into the grandstands – and NASCAR officials pretty much just shrugged their shoulders.
   It's been like that ever since…so much so that two-time champion Tony Stewart, just a couple weeks ago, after that Darlington altercation between Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, said in frustration that drivers simply didn't know where the lines were that NASCAR might be trying to draw in all this. Jimmie Johnson, the five-time champ agreed.
   Now the Childress-Kyle Busch fight at Kansas City.
   And wonder how NASCAR's television 'partners' will weigh in on all this?
   Fox just completed its part of the season, and now the baton has been passed to Turner for its six-week stand. TV broadcasters covering this sport are typically little more than highly-paid fanboys, some with questionable conflicts of interest (which they even brazenly wear on their TV shirts). One top TV man even had the temerity to chastise the sport's regular journalists for what he considered too critical coverage of the sport.
   However Turner's Kyle Petty and Wally Dallenbach are two of the more outspoken TV men covering NASCAR, so it should be quickly clear how Turner plans to handle this latest NASCAR controversy.
   Maybe it's time for whoever is running NASCAR's TV games to bring back the outspoken Jimmy Spencer for some honest analysis.
   Maybe it's time for team owner Joe Gibbs to weigh in here too.

    On top of all that, NASCAR has had three straight gas-mileage finishes the past two weeks. Instead of door-to-door slam-bang action, fans have watched drivers running out of gas in the closing laps at Charlotte, Chicago and Kansas City.
   And these next two events, here at Pocono Raceway and next week at Michigan International Speedway, are well-known for fuel-stretching finishes.
   It's all enough for some to worry if it's all just shaping up to  be a summer of discontent on the stock car tour.


   Over at Tony Stewart's, things don't appear to be going very well. Stewart, after dominating at Las Vegas in March, has been in a bad slump, though he ran well enough Sunday to have a shot at winning at Kansas, in a surprise.
   Last weekend Stewart complained his engines – leased from Rick Hendrick – weren't strong enough to battle Jack Roush's Fords. Stewart said he felt like he was "taking a knife to a gunfight."
   Next Stewart decided it was chassis and engineering issues that were the problem, and he promoted Matt Borland to take care of that stuff, and he dropped veteran Bobby Hutchens – the man who helped put together the new Stewart team over the past two years.
   And over in the Martin Truex-Michael Waltrip camp the scenario is much the same – crew chief Pat Tryson is out, and a new guy, head engineer Chad Johnston, will be running the show.

   This sports's Daytona bosses have been making some changes this season in marketing, and the most recent move is designed "to increase support for NASCAR's developmental racing series, both at the weekly racing and regional touring levels."
   That's good, because grassroots racing is the heartbeat of this sport.  
   However just what NASCAR is planning here is unclear.
   The sanctioning body is talking about "the creation of a consolidated intellectual property effort," whatever that means.
   Maybe that's for stronger promotion, under new guy Jim O'Connell, who just signed on. And maybe that means finding, or developing, stronger sponsor….
   NASCAR has added another new job, 'director of weekly and touring business development,' which will be Bob Duvall's. This looks, again, to be sponsorship-sales oriented.
   The two major sponsors of NASCAR's weekly series are Whelen Engineering and K&N Engineering.
   Another NASCAR marketing move: Kevin Nevalainen will now directly oversee all marketing, promotion and administration of the grassroots weekly racing programs, and Meghan Miley will run marketing, promotion and administration of the regional touring series.

   Looking for background on Richard Childress' Kansas City blowup, which cost him a $150,000 fine.
   Go back to Darlington last month, when Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick ran each other hard in the Southern 500.  Busch wound up hooking Harvick, in a hard crash; Harvick then went after Busch on pit road. Everyone wound up in the NASCAR hauler, where Childress made it clear he wouldn't take any more such antics from Busch.
   When Busch, pushed out of the way for fifth the last lap of the Kansas Truck race, brushed Joey Coulter's Truck – owned by Childress – to express his displeasure, in a rather mild-mannered move, really, Childress went ballistic.  
   That's not the first incident between Childress men and Joe Gibbs' men. Last summer at Dover Harvick and Denny Hamlin got into it.
   That followed Hamlin's complaint about Clint Bowyer's Cup car at Loudon, N.H., where winner Bowyer was hit with major penalties by NASCAR for chassis violations. Hamlin complained that Bowyer's chassis tricks were well-known in the garage. Now it seems that perhaps Hamlin had some inside information on all that, from a crewman hired away from Childress.
   Maybe Childress and Gibbs need a sit down.

   In other NASCAR news, it appears Sprint executives are ready to renew their sponsorship contract with NASCAR.
   The Kansas City-based company is eight years into its 10-year contract with Daytona, a sponsorship valued at about $75 million a year.
   NASCAR signed with Nextel when RJ Reynolds withdrew; Sprint then bought Nextel, and it reshuffled the full corporate lineup, so the Nextel men who did the deal with NASCAR were booted out.
   However the wild card to watch in whatever negotiations are going on here – AT&T, which is still highly interested in sponsoring NASCAR.
   At times on TV in fact, there have been so many AT&T commercials that it appears that company, not Sprint, has been sponsoring the series.
   NASCAR is likely to be looking at the series sponsorship and its relationship to TV contracts.


I don't understand the confusion

To me it seems pretty simple. What happens on the track is 'boys have at it'. What happens in the garage area NASCAR polices. What happens away from the track is the jurisdiction of sponsor's, team owners and local law enforcement.
When activities on the track lead to confrontations in the garage area or on pit road or when others safety is jeopardized NASCAR is going to hand out penalties.
I draw this conclusion based on NASCAR's reations to the different events that have occured. There really aren't any set of circumstances that were similar to one another and different penalties were handed out.
I think the penalty to Richard Childress is appropriate. He was fined. He is on probation and last week was effectively given a restraining order to stay away from the entire Gibbs team. I suspect that if Richard feels the need to further confront anyone in the Gibbs camp that a suspension will be forthcoming. I don't believe that a suspension would bother Richard all that much anyways as he has been known to take a month in the middle of the season to go off hunting in some exotic locale. I would assume if he were ever suspended he would do just that anyways. Given that this is a first offense for Richard no more punishment than what was handed out is necessary.(I can't think of any story I've ever heard that included Richard involved in this sort of action, and if there was it certainly isn't any time recent.)

I commend NASCAR for giving Ryan Newman a 'secret' penalty. According to Ryan, NASCAR has made it clear that you are free to speak your mind when in the NASCAR trailer and that the goings on in the trailer stay in the trailer. Hence, the 'secret' fine. If the fine was made public, than whatever happened in the trailer would be made public. As it stands, everything is just speculation. NASCAR can't make such things public because obviously it would violate their policy. We can be sure that such a policy exists because whenever an individual is called into the NASCAR trailer, there is never much comment on anything that was said other than generic responses.

it would seem pretty

it would seem pretty simple....but one question i have is that nascar suspended jimmy spencer for punching kurt busch in the michigan garage....
and i just dont like the idea of secret this and secret that. transparency should be the norm in this sport, so questions of credibility dont arise. yes, richard is not prone to this sort of stuff...and that could be a logical reason for leniency; but nascar should state that clearly. and judging from the reaction around the country that i've read, nascar's decision smacks too much of favoritism, an issue the sport's bosses have had to deal with over the years. i just wonder what is going on with joe gibbs himself; a car owner is responsible for his teams, and gibbs doesnt appear to be doing much on that front, from what i can see. and childress himself may be right in saying he was disappointed in nascar's handling of things in general with kyle busch.

Childress' Attitude

Richard Childress' ongoing attitude about this incident is more troubling than the incident itself. Becoming angry and doing something impulsive can happen to almost anyone. It can even simmer for a time, such as the time between the end of the race and the punching before happening. However, by the time you reach 65, you should have learned how to control that.

It appears Childress feels that he basically did the right thing, evidenced by his comment, "Hopefully Kyle (Busch) and myself will both end up learning something from this." Does he still feel that violence by an individual such as himself should be used to change the behavior of a driver in NASCAR? Does might make right? If a driver (or owner) is stronger or a better fighter than another driver, does that give him the right to threaten the weaker driver if he feels that weaker driver is racing him too aggressively?

When I was young, a few older, bigger kids would threaten any younger or smaller kids that would pull their flags when playing flag football. This appears to be the same direction we are headed in NASCAR. Some participants and fans are about the level of those kids in the schoolyard - Childress included. But NASCAR brought this on itself by refusing to set limits of its participants' behavior (Busch included).

Unfortunately, if Kyle does back down and does not agressively challenge Childress' drivers anymore (especially Harvick, who even complained about Jeff Burton racing him too hard), that will send a message to everyone that Childress' actions worked.

NASCAR is very competitive, and what works will be copied by others. The boundaries will also be eventually pushed as far as teams can get away with. There will probably be more physical intimidation coming to try to get a competitive advantage. Let's see where this all goes.

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