Many felt as if Brad Keselowski's $50,000 fine and four-race probation were ridiculously low penalties for all of the chaos he sparked after the race a couple weeks ago. So, let's take a look at some alternate penalties from other series that might actually have some teeth.
Post-race shenanigans are all but expected in NASCAR. Rule #1: keep your helmet on when someone's shouting at you in pit lane. No one wants the drivers to be emotionless robots, so a little pushin' and shovin' really isn't so bad as long as nobody gets hurt. It's when it involves dangerous behavior with the car when NASCAR steps in.
For example, Matt Kenseth didn't get a penalty for jumping Keselowski after the race to, ahem, "discuss" (heatedly, with a headlock) the incident where Keselowski rammed his car in pit lane. Tony Stewart, on the other hand, got slapped with a $25,000 fine and a four-race probation for backing into Keselowski's car in retaliation for Keselowski rear-ending him as everyone was pulling in after the race.
Whether you think there should be an unsportsmanlike contact fine or penalty for causing post-race fracas is another matter. If you start intentionally throwing around a car in an unsafe manner, that's a huge problem. Unsafe driving should have more severe consequences if that's something they'd like to discourage in the future.
Now that Keselowski won at Talledega, pulling him up from the bottom of the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings onto advancing to the next round, OOH GIRL. The angry just got angrier.
The penalties that have the biggest bite are those that affect the actual racing in some way. Fines for major, well-funded teams just get a chuckle and "that's cute."
So, what kinds of penalties might actually discourage drivers from pulling unsafe shenanigans in the car? Let's take a look.
In many forms of motorsport, rules broken during or after one race send you back a certain number of spots in the next one. Formula One does this a lot, more often for changing components on the car between races. Lose your temper and whack into your competitors in pit lane? You get to start from the back.
Why it could work: Makes it harder to win the next race. For those in the Chase, dropping back in relation to your competitors is particularly bad juju. Every point counts unless you can eke out a win.
Vehicular Redecoration Penalties
Here's one taken from the 24 Hours of LeMons, but I feel like it would be applicable to actions that put other drivers and crewmembers at risk in NASCAR as well. For example, this fellow was caught speeding in the paddock, so he was forced to spend some time during the race writing "I Kill Pedestrians" on his roof in Easy Cheese.
There are so many variations of this penalty that the worst offenders could get more detailed, extensive and permanent decorations.
Why it could work: Everyone knows how important sponsors are to winning the Try The New Spooky Green Cheesy Poofs 400 Presented By New Coke. Being forced to cover up sponsor decals with other works of art affects sponsor visibility. PenisPills.net won't be pleased for their sponsorship to be hiding under a highly detailed illustration of the Austin America's hydrolastic suspension.
Art-based penalties for particularly heinous offenses could be served during the race itself, directly forcing a driver to spend valuable race time diagramming every sewer line in Nashville on his hood.
Race Weekend Community Service Penalties
What better way for a racer to make up for actions that put others in danger than to serve the racing community in some capacity? Although this is a photo of the brilliant Flying Sausage Motorsports team serving up bribery brats at LeMons, their costumes gave me an idea. A racer who's done screwed up in a giant hot dog costume would have made the perfect emcee for the Martinsville Hot Dog Eating Contest—particularly if doing so ate into practice or qualifying time.
Why it could work: Community service may be a vital part of serving your people, but it's also a bit of a timesuck. The severity of the offense could directly correspond to when the penalty is served. Minor tap on the cool-down lap? You'll probably eat up some previously-scheduled team- or sponsor-mandated funtime. Screw up really bad and you'll be slinging hot dogs during the race.
Knuckle-Busting Repair Penalties
Somewhere, someone has a Subaru that needs new spark plugs, a Boxster in need of an oil pan gasket or a 300ZX in need of...well, anything is pretty hard on that car. We might as well get a fellow driving enthusiast (who let their temper get away from them in the car) to help them out with this.
Why it could work: Like the community service option, it eats time. Lots of time. Unfortunately, this would do little to calm anyone's temper, but the level of madness involved in, say, a 944 clutch job, would be a pretty compelling reason to behave and avoid the penalty.
"Top Gear" and other purveyors of car challenges have been using the idea of a penalty car for years. It's always a car that you won't enjoy driving or that isn't well suited to the challenge at hand.
NASCAR's diversion from being actual "race on Sunday, sell on Monday" stock cars present a unique penalty car opportunity. Drive like too much of a dangerous knob and you'll get put in the rental-spec street version of your racecar, with the only modifications being those necessary for racing safety. No car is perhaps more different than its street counterpart than a NASCAR Camry is from the floaty, numb Camry street car. None. Zero. Zilch. Ever. (Okay, the i-Miev Evolution may be a solid contender, too.)
Why it could work: This would directly affect a driver's ability to win. You'll think twice before making questionable decisions in your car if the alternative gets you put in a car that isn't specifically designed for racing.
Tea Time With Fluffy Bunny Penalties
Every little girl in the known universe knows that the perfect calming activity when you're feeling mad is a fancy tea party! Anyone caught in an ill-advised display of vehicular macho gets to spend part of their race time sitting down to have tea with an assortment of adorable bunny rabbits.
Why it could work: Possibly humiliating (but probably not—I mean, it's an honor to give Fluffy a hug) and directly affects a driver's chances to win. Spending race time making sure a Puffalump has enough sugar in their tea puts any racer behind in the standings.
Paddock-Wide Apology Penalties
This, by far is my favorite idea (even more so than tea with Fluffy). If your irresponsible rage puts everyone in the paddock in danger, the best course of action would involve an apology. Saran wrap yourself to the top of your vehicle and make sure the entire paddock knows you're sorry about your unsportsmanlike driving.
Why it could work: This penalty definitely works on public humiliation whenever the 24 Hours of LeMons whips it out. Also, it eats time. Every lap around the paddock saying how bad you feel for doing burnouts in the garage is a lap not made around the racetrack.
Clearly, it's too late in the season to write in a bunch of new penalties. Unless you want to give NASCAR a reason to purchase Fusions in bulk from Enterprise or start investing in pallets of Easy Cheese, my suggestion is to always keep other drivers and crew in mind whenever you're in the car.
Have a good ol' shout about it once you're out of the vehicle, and leave the cars be.
Photo credit: Getty Images (F1, Camrys)