NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France aired quite a bit of interesting information in his annual preseason radio appearance Tuesday night on the Motor Racing Network. In addition to addressing the Busch trial, he also reiterated that criticizing NASCAR's racing product will (still) not be tolerated.
France had this to say on drivers who feel like they might want to dog on the cars, the Chase for the Sprint Cup or any other part of the racing that NASCAR puts on, as transcribed by Fox Sports:
We try to give the most latitude of any sport in terms of what our drivers or other participants say.
Where we take objection is when there is, even is, and most of the time this is inadvertent, but every once in a while there are comments derogatory towards the racing product. When that happens, we have to draw a line.
This "latitude," I don't think he knows what that means. I mean, have you heard the criticism drivers publicly air about other series? Everything from the driver ranking system to decisions to hold races themselves goes under fire if a driver elsewhere is unhappy.
I'd like to say those series are better for it, but hey, change happens slowly. It took years of drivers picking away at safety issues, for example, before motorsports got to be the relatively safe affair it is today.
NASCAR's big issue is with drivers criticizing the product: as in, the quality of the racing on track. Criticizing other drivers is fair game, if not encouraged. But criticize anything the series as a whole is doing, and you'll face the same fines that Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin faced in 2013 over critical remarks made about the Gen-6 cars.
Hamlin claimed that the car, which had been touted as being easier to drive as its predecessor, was not as great as the NASCAR marketing department made it out to be. Here's the quote that landed him in hot water with NASCAR's powers-that-be, as printed by Fox Sports:
I don't want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our Gen-5 cars. This is more like what the Generation 5 was at the beginning. The teams hadn't figured out how to get the aero balance right.
Right now, you just run single-file and you cannot get around the guy in front of you. You would have placed me in 20th place with 30 laps to go, I would have stayed there — I wouldn't have moved up. It's just one of those things where track position is everything.
This seemingly benign comment—a clear case of a driver blaming his car for a third-place finish if there ever was one—netted Hamlin a $25,000 fine under Section 12-1 of the NASCAR rules. Section 12-1 deals with "actions detrimental to stock car racing."
Dude just pulled a, well, a racing driver, and blamed his car for a meh race result. I'm pretty sure that's what Hamlin is: a racing driver. Ain't nobody wanna own up to a third place finish when they think performance of the car (read: not performance of the driver) is to blame instead. Given that this comment came in the early days of the Gen-6 cars, he was probably right that they weren't entirely sorted yet.
When compared to all of the criticism surrounding (related product!) IMSA's integration of the Daytona Prototype and LMP2 classes for the first year of the United SportsCar series, for example, Hamlin's comment looks extraordinarily tame. I mean, no one had any qualms about criticizing how that series was run in its first year, and it looks like 2015 will run a lot smoother because of it. People berated IMSA for their late release of regulations and a testing schedule that wasn't bumped back to accommodate for said lateness. Michael Shank went so far as to call the testing schedule "a futile exercise."
Thing is, there are some issues with NASCAR's racing product. The regular season points structure is set up in a way that doesn't adequately reward consistent winners, as we saw this year with a zero-win driver making it through to the playoff-style Chase for the Sprint Cup. One point over the next guy for the win plus a token "bonus point" for a leading lap really isn't enough to separate first place from everybody else in the regular season points.
And you know what? If something stinks about the car, the structure of the racing, or anything NASCAR-run at all, I'd rather hear drivers talk about it than give their usual PRbot spiel to the media. Part of NASCAR's big appeal is the drivers' willingness to let loose and be human. They should be allowed to do that in regards to the racing product, too.
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