To paraphrase famed physicist Albert Einstein, nothing is more destructive of respect for a racing series than adopting rules which cannot be enforced.
NASCAR finds itself in that silly situation after introducing an edict on the weekend that penalizes drivers who do not "race at 100 per cent of their ability with the goal of achieving their best possible finishing position in an event."
How the series will enforce this rule is anyone's guess, but NASCAR also noted in its explanation that judging whether or not a driver goes all out is solely at its discretion. If that doesn't open a proverbial can of worms, it's only because even invertebrates are smart enough not to go anywhere near this one.
"Well, you know, obviously there's some subjectivity that's involved in that, and we know that," said NASCAR chairman Brian France in announcing the 100 per cent rule on Saturday.
"And so we'll make our best determination with the circumstances that may surround something that may look suspicious, and we'll take all of it into consideration."
With those words France made it official: No racing fan can ever criticize any other series for doing something stupid because NASCAR raised the bar way too high. Heck, even NASCAR itself highlighted how completely inane its new rule is when it explained a change in its restart procedure a day later: That move was brought about — read carefully here — because the series thought it was better to remove subjectivity from the equation.
“It needs to be in the hands of the drivers who decides these races for the most part, not the tower (meaning race control) when it comes down to those calls,” Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition, told reporters in Chicago where Joe Gibbs driver Matt Kenseth took the first Chase win in a race that took 10 hours to complete due to rain delays.
In essence, NASCAR is adopting a “subjectivity if necessary, but not necessarily subjectivity” attitude when it comes to its rules.
Worse yet, like when Formula One banned team orders after the 2002 season, the 100 per cent rule will lead to drivers lying about their performances and getting on the radio complaining about "brake problems" or "handling issues" before allowing a teammate to get past for a bonus point.
In addition, has anyone in the NASCAR brain trust considered the normal procedure in plate races, where drivers routinely dog it because they want to hang back from the pack in a effort to avoid trouble before making a run in the final stages?
The 100 per cent decree announced on Saturday was the response from NASCAR to the manipulation in the final regular season race, which would ultimately set the 10-race Chase for the Cup field that decides the 2013 champion. The scandal rocked the series last week after team orders came into play in the 26th race at the Richmond International Speedway on Sept. 7.
It all started with a spin by Michael Waltrip Racing's (MWR) Clint Bowyer with seven laps to go in Richmond, which brought out a caution. Bowyer's actions set in motion a series of events that ultimately put Stewart-Haas driver Ryan Newman out of a Chase berth. The events included a pitstop by another MWR driver Brian Vickers that dropped him down the leaderboard and allowed his teammate Martin Truex Jr. to gain additional points.
Newman was leading when Bowyer spun and would have made the Chase had he taken the chequered flag. Instead, he was out and MWR's Martin Truex Jr. was in, while a by-product of the whole thing was that four-time NASCAR Cup champion Jeff Gordon of the Hendrick team lost his spot to Penske's Joey Logano.
Later in the week, it came to light that there were also discussions during the race between Penske squad and David Gilliland's team to let Logano pass the Front Row Motorsports driver late in the race to earn extra points in his bid to make the Chase, although circumstance meant the favour was not needed.
Acting like this was the first time in the history of NASCAR that teammates had tried to help each other, the series docked all three MWR cars 50 driver and 50 owner points, and the team was fined $300,000. Ty Norris, MWR competition director, was also suspended indefinitely.
The points hit put Truex Jr. out of the Chase and Newman back in, while both Front Row and Penske were placed on NASCAR probation until the end of the year for actions detrimental to stock car racing.
Most incredibly of all, NASCAR decided to add Gordon as the 13th car in the Chase field that is limited to 12 by its own rules.
"We believe in looking at all of it that there were too many things that altered the event and gave an unfair disadvantage to Jeff and his team, who would have qualified, and I have the authority to do that," France explained Friday.
"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 and we believe this was the right outcome to protect the integrity, which is our number one goal of NASCAR."
Only problem is that in ignoring its own rules, NASCAR's 2013 Chase for the Cup now has zero credibility and no integrity. A legitimate series in any sport simply does not make up rules as it goes along and even worse, retroactively change them to suit its needs. At least now nobody in NASCAR's Florida headquarters can ever again wonder why some race fans compare the stock car series to the World Wrestling Entertainment.
Imagine if the National Hockey League booted one team out of the Stanley Cup playoffs in favour of a team that missed the cut by one point due to a disallowed goal? Or if the NHL decided that a couple other teams really deserved to make the playoffs and arbitrarily increased the number of post-season berths to 18.
Unfortunately, underlying all of NASCAR's integrity issues is the simple fact that it is the author of its own misfortune. NASCAR has a long history of closing its eyes and letting things go while tacitly condoning the "if you aren't cheating, you aren't trying" attitude for the sake of entertainment, and it finally caught up with the series.
This is a series where drivers have been known to toss foam out of their cockpit to bring about a needed caution for debris, where it's expected that officials will throw mystery yellows to bunch up the field late in races, where cars routinely drive into rivals without fear of any punishment or meaningful penalty, and where competitors do not get stripped of wins when they are caught cheating.
But it's perfectly okay to penalize Front Row and Penske for thinking about doing something untoward.
Then again that kind of thought police penalty can't be too far-fetched, since NASCAR must have a couple of psychics on staff. How else will decide whether or not a driver was trying hard enough?
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