Thursday, March 1, 2012

NASCAR has a cheating problem

If Roy Williams were to be caught five times committing significant violations at the University of North Carolina, the NCAA would feel obligated to tell his basketball team they wouldn't be going to the NCAA tournament for a while. When track athletes and cyclists are caught doping, they're stripped of titles and banned from competition.

Punishment in sport is a tricky endeavor - part deterrent for athletes, part salve for fans. Even in sports where cheating is acknowledged as an everybody-does-it reality, punishment gives fans the appearance of integrity, the sense that their sport's field is level because the possibility exists that cheaters will suffer real consequences.

Yet NASCAR, in a puzzling cycle, continues to allow one of its best teams to violate the rules without significant penalty. It's a troubling pattern for a sport that perpetually fights to convince fans outside Charlotte and the South that it's worthy of their investment.

This week, NASCAR suspended and fined Chad Knaus, crew chief of the No. 48 team, and docked driver Jimmie Johnson 25 points for unapproved modifications made to the car's C-posts, contoured sheet metal stretching from the roof to the rear edge of the window openings, the Observer's Jim Utter reports. The No. 48, which was allowed to race in Daytona after the cheating was discovered, also will be allowed to compete in NASCAR's "playoffs" - the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

NASCAR thinks it has found the right seam with its discipline. Knaus gets fined some big bucks - $100,000 - and misses six races. The 25-point penalty nudges Johnson and the No. 48 team to the back of the pack in their chase for the title. So someone gets punished hard, but not really the driver or the team.

Most sports fans sees right through this, of course, especially given the regularity with which Knaus has been nabbed. It's almost impossible now to conclude that the 48 won five NASCAR championships without the benefit of cheating. And while the culture inside and out of NASCAR garages has forever been "it ain't cheatin' if you don't get caught," if it still ain't punished when you do get caught, what are you left with?

I've been in enough NASCAR garages in my previous life as a sportswriter in Alabama to know that some drivers and team officials ask this question, too. They know that some of the fans who joined their sport during NASCAR's surge in the 1990s carried a different expectation of how competition is supposed to work. NASCAR still struggles with this - how to reconcile its devil-may-care charm with the sophistication that audiences outside its base expect.

The simple solution that came from a couple of those garages: Slap a cheating team hard. Let a driver and his team race all season, but ban his team from the "playoff chase," and you'll slow the cheating down. It's what the NCAA has done recently with some top programs and coaches, including Ohio State's Jim Tressel. Major League Baseball, which instituted a tough drug program in the face of a steroid crisis, didn't flinch this year from trying to deliver a 50-game suspension to one of its top stars, Milwaukee's Ryan Braun.

Will those punishments stop cheating in their respective sports? Of course not. But they'll allow fans to at least believe there is integrity in the outcome - that unlike some, their sport is actually sporting.

Peter St. Onge

56 comments:

Anonymous said...

How is this any different than using steroids or HGH in baseball? Johnson's entire run has to be considered tainted.

Anonymous said...

Hendrick Teams all are suspect but it doesn't help Dale Jr.....who has earned the award, the next "Kyle Petty"

Anonymous said...

See the problem is, Rick does sooooomuch in Sharlott that he is well loved and thought of and Nascar is a little bit scared of him.

Jeff Gordon is his best driver.....Jr. just brings in t shirt sales.....

Redlight said...

Pete: I never pictured you in a the racing garage--you've got some bona fides I wasn't aware of.

My point is this: any good crew chief should stretch the rules.If he gets caught, he has to pay the price----that's just part of the job.

Anonymous said...

Just curious.

If I showed up with my 1969 GTO and presented it for inspection would NASCAR fine me $100,000 or would they just tell me I can't race it and send me home?

Why is this any different?

Failing to pass a PRErace inspection is not cheating any more than failing to qualify is.

NASCAR has gone crazy since Brian took over.

Anonymous said...

Give me a break You have a reporter who has no clue where the infraction was as the area is between a template as their are templates every 8 inches on the car. It was a discretionary call on Nascars part for the violation.
With these type of rules Nascar has made a IROC Series of the Sprint cup.Nascar should build and have a drawing on who gets what car every week.
No longer racing.

Anonymous said...

"they managed to win five championships without cheating"?
Really????? Wanna buy some ocean front property in Gafney?

Anonymous said...

Funny how the CO ignores Dean Smith's and Roy Williams' decades of cheating by enrolling fake "studetns". The UNC-CH football team is only copying the actions of the basketball team.

Anonymous said...

Really Peter? Go back to writing your normal garbage, you don't know what you're talking about.

Anonymous said...

Do fans really expect a sport that was spawned from running illegal liquor to be "fair"? Cheating is part of the sport...

Rob said...

How about having a reporter actually detail or explain how they were cheating? Other than saying, "unapproved modifications made to the car's C-posts, countered sheet metal stretching from the roof to the rear edge of the window openings."

A- People know what a C-post is.
B- I think you mean contoured and not countered.
C- How was it cheating and how would it have helped them? How much were they out of the box?

No-one is outraged because no-one has reported on it in a manner that would cause outrage.

Greg said...

Cheating is not part of this sport, not saying that it never was but that’s not the current facts. Finding and maximizing the "grey areas" that’s a different story but downright cheating no how no way....as for those of you that proclaim to hate this sport please do us all a favor, use the remote in your hand, or the knob on your radio, or the mouse on your computer and change what you are looking at, watching or listening too and stop the complaining! I've been a fan of this sport for over 30yrs and in my mind it gets better each year...

Anonymous said...

Every needs to remember, this is a sport, but one that is heavely controled by the sponsers who give millions to have their name on the car. How do you punish that?

Anonymous said...

Are you referring to the team owned by a convicted felon? Or the other team owned by a convicted felon that won last year's championship?

Steve E. said...

Hendrick Motorsports learned from the master. Hendrick was sentenced for mail fraud in Dec. 1997. Later pardoned by the greatest cheater of all (Bill Clinton).Guess what’s not in the NASCAR history book!

Anonymous said...

Any one want to bet that RH doesn't pay CK's "fine"?????

Anonymous said...

You're clueless on this topic Peter. Saying the 48 team cheated in preinspection is like saying LeBron James traveled in pregame warmups.

NASCAR is just desperately trying to make sure someone other than the 48 or HMS wins the title, so they game the system to penalize the best teams. instead of adding 50 lbs to the 48, they make something up.

How much penalty Barry Bonds pay? He's still the home run champ, right? And we know he cheated.

J said...

NASCAR has a number of issues. Let me offer my view on some of them.

1) The France family. From "Big Bill" to Bill Jr. to Brian and his sister Lesa, every decision made in the last 60 years has been made so that the message the public receives is, "My name is ___ France. I AM THE BOSS! ABSOLUTELY NO ONE IS TO QUESTION MY AUTHORITY ON ANY ISSUE, DECISION OR STATEMENT, FOR ANY REASON, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE!" You'd like to think they might make a decision or two for the betterment of the sport. If they do anything that does improve the sport, that's icing on the cake, as long as you understand who the boss is.

2) Inconsistency in application of discipline. This current issue with the 48 team is an example - 25 points can be easily made up over 25 races, and Knaus will not pay the fine (Hendrick Motorsports will). But Clint Boyer wins the first race of the 2010 Chase, then in post-race inspection, his car sits too low, by the thickness of a quarter. NASCAR penalizes him ALL of the points he earned winning the race, making it nearly a mathematical impossibility to win the title. Years earlier, they penalize Dale Jr. 50 points for cussing in the post-race interview. In effect, NASCAR said, "You won the race, but as far as points go, you finished 6th because you cussed into a mic after the race." Go ahead and try to imagine the reaction if the Jets beat the Steelers in a wild-card game and Roger Goddell strips them of the win and gives it to the Steelers when Rex Ryan cusses in the post-game interview.

3) Due to #1 above, they refuse to admit mistakes. Do you want to know the real reason why Dale Earnhardt is dead? It's those stupid restrictor plates. When Bill Elliott went over 212 mph in qualifying in a 1988 race at Taledega, they panicked and put these plates on to reduce speeds. This setup keeps cars in huge packs, and all it takes is a tiny nudge to send a car into a potentially fatal crash. So what else could be done? Jack the spoiler up and upset the handling so that the cars go slower and actual driving talent is required to keep the car straight. How about rebuilding the tracks (Daytona and Taladega) so that they are 2 miles with significantly reduced banking? But, all of that would amount to the France family admitting they made a mistake in 1988, and they're not about to do that, no matter how many people get killed.

5) Changing rules and setup on different makes from week to week. The first time one make sweeps the top 3 spots of a race and another make is simultaneously shut out of the top 10, they'll change the makeup of those 2 makes to "level the playing field." NASCAR is the only sport worse than the NBA about having different rules for different classes of competitors.

Anonymous said...

Think about Richard Petty and the late Dale Senior. It's hard to believe they won seven titles without some cheating going on. So now everyone wants to crucify JJ and suspect he was cheating to win five consecutive. You still have to be a good driver to complete the races to win championships.

Anonymous said...

Nothing to see here. Everyone knows that NASCAR is rigged and scripted

Hoagie58 said...

I'd say starting the season 23 point in the hole is a pretty significant penalty. I am in NO way a JJ supporter, but I feel the punishment HE received is ample and significant. Now, Chad Knaus on the other hand- he deserves a lifetime ban. 5 flagrant violations should be enough to get his @ss bounced for good.

Anonymous said...

St Onge writing about NASCAR is akin to Rosie O'Donald writing about healthy eating or Michelle Obama writing about racial harmony.

Anonymous said...

Who can tell? Ask Michael Vick.

Anonymous said...

your an idiot, Jimmie and Chad don't cheat they follow the rules and summit a car for pre race inspection the purpose is to bring the Greatest down to not so great level to have a level playing field you are not so bright reporter because good reporters would get proof before putting out their own ignorance Nascar doesn't want Jimmie to win every Championship so they make up lies other drivers have teams not running for championships to wreck the #48 as happen this last weekend.

Anonymous said...

I would like to know how many other teams cars did not pass the first inspection, and got to race, without being fined? I don't think he should be fined at all. They(NASCAR) didn't like what they saw,the 48 team fixed the problem, then passed inspection. Should be--end of sentence

Anonymous said...

One thing to know about NASCAR fans... they don't care about cheating if it's their driver doing it.
Personally, I gave up on NASCAR long ago when it got boring. Race tracks, cars, and drivers all look alike and the telecasts are more about interviews and trick camera shots shots than actually watching a race.
25 points at the start of the year is nothing. A team can make that up in three races. Chad Knauss should have been told he was done after his first multi-month ban. Johnson can talk all he wants to about not knowing but to me, all he is doing is adding lying to his sins. If the 48 were not owned by Hendricks and Gordon, there is no way they would get away with this year after year.

Anonymous said...

Technically, I believe the car was legal, as it fit all the templates. NASCAR just didn't like "how it looked". I am not a JJ fan, but technically, the car was legal according to the templates.

Anonymous said...

I say if they are caught being illegal then they show have to pack there stuff up and head home. Let the send a message to the teams. M&M had no problem pulling the sponsorship from Gibbs becuase of kyle's actions. But then again Carl Edwards did it to Brad and got away with it. So all in all NASCAS is screwed up. If you are there flavor of the month you got it made.

Anonymous said...

lol LOVE some of these comments! This (so called) sport has become a joke. It's all about money - not racing - which is really sad. Sad I put so much of my money in Frances' dirty pockets.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with most of what's in this article. This is not like baseball steroids at all...you can't un-inject steroids from a player but you can rebuild and replace c-posts. The infraction was caught before the 48 car even hit the track and isn't this what the inspections process is here for anyway? I'm also not buying the link to Basketball either...just not the same. PS...I'm a Tony Stewart fan and you can't call Johnson's title run tainted b/c every car goes through the same inspections process.

Anonymous said...

In 2007 when there was illegal modification to the 24 and the 48, they impounded the car and didn't let either of the teams practice, this was pre race inspection. It didn't fit the template. No one on the 24 or 48 could touch the car. The same can be said in 2006, which also got a suspension. They didn't. When MWR messed with the engine back in 2007, they took the engine, they had to change the engine, Mikey didn't get to practice that day either, his crew chief was fined, points were taken, and got suspended....seeing the pattern here?

But this year...Nascar looks at it "I don't like it" Doesn't even put it under the template, and as them cut out the C-posts and we submit it for inspection THAT day. They didn't impound the car, they didn't send them home for the day. Just like Nascar lets the other teams do on certain parts of that might not fit or doesn't look right. They don't get fined, they don't suspensions, they don't get points taken, but the 48 does? Tell me where exactly is that fair? If that car was illegal, they would have taken it. And those C-Posts were given to the teams by the manufactor, also heard that other teams kinda looked like that too...however when that car was taken to the R&D center before it even left for Daytona, it passed. ...Nascar felt like the 48 got away with something last year when they couldn't find anything on it after that whole Dega thing when the car PAST prerace, prequalifying and PASSED postrace, postqualifying inspections. It even PASSED at the R&D center. Its the same car...so they are going to make an example out of the 48.

I don't get how prerace or pre qualifying inspection gets stiffer penalites then someone who passed the pre race or pre qualifying inspections only to fail post race/qualifying inspection. To me that means they want you to make that car is legal, but then well...after the race...its not. That is flat out cheating. When a car has never been on the track, you stopped it from happening. That's like stopping a kid from taking candy from the store, you prevented a bad action. That's why there is prerace and prequalifying inspection so you know all cars are legal. But if that car doesn't come back legal, then well....I think you have a cheating problem.

Anonymous said...

Pre-race inspection. What is purpose if not to let a team know more work is needed. Not a 48 fan but believe this is one of those "making an example of you" because you showed us up.

Anonymous said...

Why was it considered cheating when they made a modification and then nascar didn't like it? So thats why they have a pre race inspection so the teams will know if something they did is not right. Or is that just too simple?

Anonymous said...

Ugh. I liked this 'sport' for a brief while. Now I am disillusioned. It is a grown up version of teachers pet. Each race it changes. Like whomever you wish, but level fair penalties across the board. Texas

Steve said...

Anybody remember a few years ago at Daytona/Talladega when there were atleast 10-15 cars per race reworking there bodies to pass prerace inspection?

If they can fix it at the track there should be no fines. I don't care if its carl edwards, jimmie johnson, kyle bush etc.

The guy who wrote this story has no clue what he is talking about!

Jim said...

This is sorta like the Southern Baptist Convention issuing a statement on "The State of Judaism in Contemporary America".

Anonymous said...

NASCAR just doesn't want 5 time Champ Jimmie back on top. Pretty simple. Their afraid they'll lose some fans WHEN he wins again. Which he will. Hendrick Motorsports is the best team by far.

Keith Murray said...

Absolutely 100% wrong on this. There are hundreds of ways that a team can be "out of bounds" on the templates, chassis, engine, etc. That fact can be seen when you consider that the car in question passed inspection 16 times last year according to Hendrick. You can hate on the 48 team all you want, but you have to face facts. Saying this is a cut and dry situation that deserves harsh punishment is not valid. There are way too many possibilities for something to be awry to paint with such a broad brush. And I'm sure Johnson fans are happy that Knaus pushes to get every advantage and as close to the line as possible.

Anonymous said...

Democrats have a cheating problem but you never see anything about that in the CO

Anonymous said...

To quote Jr Johnson, "if it ain't in the rule book, it is legal".

After reading your article, you qualify for the worst auto sports reporter award, right along with the former reporter from the Winston Salem Journal, Mike Mulhern. Neither of you have a clue. Go back to reporting on girls volleyball or marble matches

Anonymous said...

Once a cheater always a cheater!

Anonymous said...

OK explain to me why this writer is the worst ever just by telling the facts? Remember fall Dega race where he(cheatin chad) told jimmie if you win the race wreck the back of the car? The 48 team are cheaters plain and simple!

Steven Levine said...

To hold the NCAA up as a virtuous proponent of sports integrity undercuts your argument from the start. Is there a bigger hypocrite in sports than the NCAA? (I recommend reading this article if you haven't alredy done so: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/10/the-shame-of-college-sports/8643/. It's long, but well worth the time commitment.)

NASCAR is a technologically dependent sport. It is the job of the crew chief to manipulate that technology to his team's benefit. This includes innovation, which necessitates pushing the boundaries. Some times those boundaries will be violated.

And, yes, "cheating" is part of NASCAR's culture. While the sanctioning body might want to leave that aspect of the sport in the past, they can't escape the legacy of guys like Smokey Yunick. This is a fight they will always have to wage.

Anonymous said...

For someone who is supposedly a motorsports journalist, the author of this piece is clearly ignorant of how the game is played and how the rules are written and enforced. First of all, every car on the grid is illegal, depending on how NASCAR chooses to interpret its own purposely vague rulebook. Of course, Robby Gordon's and Joe Nemechek's cars won't be found illegal, because neither of them is a threat to win. (Or a threat to win a sixth championship.) Second, it is THE JOB of the crew chief and car chief to push the envelope and explore the boundaries of the gray areas in the rules--and the rules, in most cases, are nothing but gray areas. The race team never knows how far NASCAR is going to let them push the envelope until NASCAR says "Sorry, boys, you went too far." And here's a fine and a suspension." But the fact that NASCAR says "We're not going to allow this" doesn't mean the team was cheating; it means they were doing their job. This is nothing at all like a cyclist using performance-enhancing drugs. This is like an umpire telling George Brett he had "too much" pine tar on his bat--even though the rules don't say anything about how much is too much.

josty24 said...

Nothing new here. NASCAR execs need to fine teams more heavy instead of points/financial ways. Keep them out of several races or not let them compete in the Sprint Championships. That should get rid of bad apples in the sport.

Modified7 said...

My take on all this so called cheating? First, Ever since the beginning of any competitive competition there is always avenues to get the edge on your competitors. There are rules and guidelines and in most cases the rules will be aheard to, but the guidlines will always be stretched. All competitors look for any area where they can work to find an advantage. Thats not cheating! It is wrong to call it cheating. Every race car ever built has all tried to stretch the guidlines. The best way to for an advantage is where the rulemakers are not looking. If any competitor finds that advantage, it is called engineering masterpiece. If the other competitors find out about it, they start doing the same. Then you have to look somewhere else to get another advantage. The NASCAR garage is full of very smart engineers and they all are looking for the ultimate advantage.

Anonymous said...

Other sports punish cheaters more than NASCAR? Are you kidding? How many yellow flags are there in an average football game? How many instances of holding don't even get a yellow flag? Brushback pitches in baseball aren't even recognized as illegal. That's all that the #48 team did. Just an offsides infraction that was punished far more severely than a comparable football or baseball infraction would have been.

Cotton

Anonymous said...

Ah Gee they FINALL:Y did something to the POOR #48 team. Chad is a CHEAT , provede that lasdt year wehen he told Jimmy to back it INTO THE WALL if he won the RACE.


Look what they did to Carl Long a few years ago for having an old WORN out engine that was out of SPEC, not too many CRIED in his defence not even the outfit he leased it from.

EVERNHAM and GORDON did a lot of shifty stuff , remember the car from the WINSTON that they were told to MAKE vanish after the race.

oldirtracker said...

What rock did you crawl out from under to write this article. how could you be writing for the Charlotte Observer and have no knowledge of Sprint Cup Racing and its history and also totally ignore the facts in the case. This car was run 4 other times in this configuration and inspected every time. Nascar took no template measurements but stated it just did not look right. I sincerely believe that Nascar will have enough sense on this one to reverse its decision on appeal, and you will be able to crawl back under your rock and cover professional pickleball or something you may have a little bit of knowledge about.

Billy Delyon said...

And who the fock are you? You do realize that those exact C-Posts raced in 4 plate races last season, why suddenly without ever even lowering the Template on the car, did John Darby visually "noticed them as he was walking by", yeah ok... By the way you also realize the Template would have fit exactly as its supposed to also right? Because the place of the modification was in the "grey" area of the car...
If you don't know what the "grey? area is, you really shouldn't write about NASCAR...
Seems to me like someone has a heavy anti NASCAR bias Pete, maybe you shouldn't write about this sport any more, you don't have a clue Tossah...

Anonymous said...

Billy should apply for a job with Hendricks, you sound alot like Chad having to stick up for the 48 team yet again cause you got caught cheating yet AGAIN!

Anonymous said...

Much as I love Racing, this is the troube with NASCAR, too many rules. In the earlier days of racing, it was what one person knew that the others didn't. In other words "Reverse Engineering","What they don't do is as important as what they do". Today it is all about two drivers hooking up and pushing each other with the, "Draft" and not who can make a car go faster than the other team and the driver being able to make it happen with what he knows.

Anonymous said...

Much as I love Racing, this is the troube with NASCAR, too many rules. In the earlier days of racing, it was what one person knew that the others didn't. In other words "Reverse Engineering","What they don't do is as important as what they do". Today it is all about two drivers hooking up and pushing each other with the, "Draft" and not who can make a car go faster than the other team and the driver being able to make it happen with what he knows.

Anonymous said...

Much as I love Racing, this is the troube with NASCAR, too many rules. In the earlier days of racing, it was what one person knew that the others didn't. In other words "Reverse Engineering","What they don't do is as important as what they do". Today it is all about two drivers hooking up and pushing each other with the, "Draft" and not who can make a car go faster than the other team and the driver being able to make it happen with what he knows.

RJ said...

If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying.

Jim Morgan said...

Well - Reading all the "Cheating is NASCAR's culture" and "It ain't cheating if you don't get caught" comments, it continues to prove the backwoods redneck culture of this sport. Take all regulations out and let them run their cars around the track however they want.