NASCAR & Cheating …

June 26, 2007 |

Throughout the sport’s storied history, NASCAR has had to deal with “rule bending” and “gray areas” on a weekly basis. Dating back to the original races on the beach at Daytona, teams have consistently searched for more speed, even if it meant doing something unethical or illegal. The pressure to win is real …. and it forces teams to make some difficult, character-compromising calls.

Have all NASCAR teams cheated? Sure. Where do you think the old phrase, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying” originated? I think it’s purely plausible to assume that when technology, geometry, physics and aerodynamic architecture are factors, competitors are going to seek an edge …. beyond the ability of the athlete. Did I just lose you? Exactly …. that’s why these engineers try new concepts or ideas; figuring they’ll confuse everybody with “complex math and science.”

Do I think Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are capable of doing things the “Average Joe” can’t do, behind a wheel? Absolutely. You can’t teach “guts” or “reactive abilities.” However, don’t be misled by crediting a racecar driver with all the glory, or all the blame. The guys who build and design the cars are every bit as responsible …. and they’re the one’s that cheat.

This past week, the cars of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson failed a pre-practice/qualification inspection, early Friday morning. Specifically, the front fenders on the cars did not adhere to NASCAR’s mandate, from an aerodynamic perspective. For those of you who don’t know, Gordon and Johnson are teammates and the same team of engineers constructs their cars.

The guys ultimately responsible are the “crew chiefs.” They’re basically in charge of the car …. regardless of the infraction. They make every call and they’re the ones that fall. Steve Letarte, Jeff Gordon’s crew chief, is gonna be suspended today. He really has no past record of “cheating” and will probably be kicked to the curb for about 6 weeks.

Chad Knaus, Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief, is in a different situation. This incident marks the 7th time he’s been sanctioned for rule-breaking. He’s gonna get it …. and get it good. I’d bet he might be done for the season. What else do you do to a guy who’s disobeyed the rule book a half-dozen times? I sense NASCAR will be heavy handed with Knaus, today.

Another fabled NASCAR line is “It ain’t cheating, unless you get caught.” Honestly, I think NASCAR is trying to escape this informal belief/image …. along with confederate flags and the customary beer guzzling fanatic. NASCAR has become prime time. They’ve invited Hollywood into their circle …. and the celebs are crazy about it. They celebrate their championship week in Manhattan …. with a ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria. This sport has evolved.

Cheating is rooted in illegitimacy. Look at baseball and performance enhancing drugs. When you cheat, the intention really is to “enhance performance,” right? In it’s history, NASCAR has been careful to learn from the sins and misgivings of other sports. They’re not the dumb hicks some would believe. There’s no “drivers union” or tolerance for unlawful behavior. If a NASCAR driver gets arrested …. the court system is gonna be the least of his worries. This sport is extremely observant and sensitive of its image.

We’ll see an example of their guarded sensitivity, later today. Heads are on the block and heads are gonna roll. For NASCAR, it’s become very simple …. “don’t cheat.” Chad Knaus needs to get this through his thick skull …. or he’ll be turning wrenches in the IRL.

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