NASCAR Brass Institutes New Rules To Protect Against Future Race Manipulation
NASCAR on Saturday unveiled a "new set of rules it hopes will restore some of the trust lost by its fans and even some participants" following the recent controversy over race manipulation, according to Jim Utter of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. The new rules, which were presented at a closed-door meeting, took effect with yesterday’s Sprint Cup Series race at Chicagoland Speedway. NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France said, "At the center of that meeting was what our expectations were going forward, and those expectations are that a driver and a team give 100-percent effort, their best effort, to complete a race and race as hard as they possibly can. We addressed team rules, and a variety of other things, all designed to do what our fans expect, and that means that [their] driver and their team give 100 percent to finish as high up in a given race as possible." A new rule has been "immediately added to the NASCAR rulebook and reads in part, 'Any competitor who takes action with the intent to artificially alter the finishing positions of the event or encourages, persuades or induces others to artificially alter the finishing position of the event shall be subject to a penalty from NASCAR.'" Examples of unacceptable actions include "offering a position on the track in exchange for favor or material benefit and vice versa; directing a driver to give up a position to the benefit of another driver; intentionally causing a caution; intentionally wrecking a competitor; and intentionally pitting to gain an advantage for another competitor." All digital communications "between team spotters and crews is banned." All communication with drivers and spotters "must now be analog." NASCAR also will "install a camera on each spotter stand" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 9/15).
LAYING DOWN THE LAW: In Toronto, Dean McNulty cited a source as saying that France at the meeting "read the riot act saying NASCAR would come down hard -- including expulsion from the sport -- for any action by teams or individuals that would alter the outcome of any race." France also reportedly "read media excerpts to the gathering that denigrated the sport." He specifically "cited an NBC Nightly News report that referred to the Richmond race as 'rigged'" (TORONTO SUN, 9/14). NASCAR President Mike Helton said the meeting was an "open dialogue back and forth" (ESPN.com, 9/14). ESPN.com's Ed Hinton wrote NASCAR "did what had to be done under the chaotic circumstances, and what had to be done in this day and time, and Helton pointed out that NASCAR has done the same under different circumstances in the past" (ESPN.com, 9/13).
TEACHING MOMENT: Helton yesterday said NASCAR's actions "all came as an effort to define the moment, correct whatever we needed to correct in the moment and then deal with what difference it makes going forward." Helton said of whether the league considered penalizing driver Clint Bowyer enough to take him out of the Chase field, "The circumstances in their totality around the team led us to react at a team-level basis and in doing so reacting to each team in the organization on the same basis." Helton said of the meeting with drivers and rules changes, "This is one of those moments ... where we've created a situation that's new to our sport based on the evolution of what historically has been okay." He added, "The extreme of what happened Saturday night led us to draw the line in the sand ... (and) the rule we introduced yesterday was to say, 'Here's what we expect of you, here's what is okay, here's what clearly is not okay and some of what used to be okay is not okay'" ("NASCAR Countdown," ESPN, 9/15).
QUICK FIX? YAHOO SPORTS' Nick Bromberg wrote France's decision on Friday to add Jeff Gordon as the 13th driver in the Chase for the Sprint Cup field was "revisionist history." The attempt to fix what happened at Richmond Int'l Raceway was "the lowest point in the sport's history." NASCAR in issuing new rules was looking for "higher ground." But "instead of finding a bluff, it got lost." There is "absolutely no way to track what teams aren't running 100 percent, and then clear it with the list of caveats that NASCAR provided" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/14). SPORTS ON EARTH's Matt Crossman wrote NASCAR "promised to crack down" on the manipulation that marred the Richmond race, but "only NASCAR would pledge to strictly enforce rules on Saturday when its very chairman made one up on Friday." Crossman: "Still, as much grief as NASCAR gets for the inconsistent way it polices its sandbox, the sport's blindfolded dart-thrower approach to rules and enforcement is part of its charm. And there's no such thing as a rule that teams won't exploit or try to get around" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 9/15). In Daytona Beach, Ken Willis wrote racing organizations like NASCAR "must appeal to folks who watch sporting competition and assume, you know, it's really a competition and everyone is in it for themselves." Willis: "So 'fixing' the chase, after the fact, was the common-sense move for NASCAR" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 9/15).
GOT AWAY WITH IT: The CHARLOTTE OBSERVER's Utter wrote, "There remains a lot of resentment and anger from fans and even those with the sport." A "large part of the reason is this: This entire controversy began by taking a second look at a spin by one driver -- Clint Bowyer -- and that driver can still win the series championship this season." Nobody "blinks an eye at Bowyer's spin with seven laps remaining ... and this past week -- and all the bad feelings that came with it -- never unfolds as it did." There is "something inherently unfair about that" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 9/15).
LUCKY 13: Utter in a front-page piece reported France "on his own authority" added Gordon to the Chase field. France said of the decision, "It is an unprecedented and extraordinary thing, but it’s also an unprecedented and extraordinary set of circumstances that unfolded in multiple different ways on Saturday night. We believe this was the right outcome to protect the integrity ... of NASCAR" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 9/14). The AP's Jenna Fryer reported Gordon was "pleased with the ruling, but uncomfortable with the way the week developed." Gordon: ''To see our integrity questioned is very upsetting to me, and I think we, along with NASCAR, have to solve this. I wish it had not happened under these circumstances" (AP, 9/14). In Charlotte, Scott Fowler wrote the decision to add Gordon "won’t solve all the racing problems that have come to light in the last week," but it was "correct." It was "a good thing at the end of a bad week" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 9/14). However, USA TODAY's Chris Jenkins wrote the "unorthodox nature of NASCAR's rulings -- officials essentially added an extra playoff spot, to Gordon's benefit, two days before the playoffs started -- left some questioning the sport's integrity" (USATODAY.com, 9/14).
LEGITIMACY AT STAKE: In Charlotte, Perlmutt & Utter in a front-page piece wrote under the header, "NASCAR's Big Crisis: Is Racing Real?" The governing body "suddenly finds itself defending its integrity." NASCAR’s "biggest questions from fans and sponsors: Is the drama on the track real racing? Or is it scripted like professional wrestling?" This is NASCAR’s "first big scandal" since it "instituted its championship-deciding format 10 years ago." Now NASCAR "faces more than questions from fans." NASCAR, which has "suffered declining attendance and fan interest in recent years, must also relieve concerns among sponsors who fund the sport and its teams." But former SMI President & CEO Humpy Wheeler said that NASCAR is "doing a better job at catching cheaters with advanced technology that can police teams, and nationally televised races that keep the spotlight on every turn" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 9/15).