NASCAR CEO Brian France, President Mike Helton and VP of Competition Robin Pemberton. (Getty)
All 43 teams must drive hard.
That's what NASCAR told the Sprint Cup Series field today in a closed door meeting in response to the race manipulation allegations at Richmond that have sent the sanctioning body retreating and reacting in unprecedented ways.
On Monday, NASCAR penalized the teams of Michael Waltrip Racing 50 points apiece for ensuring that Martin Truex Jr., one of its three drivers, made the Chase for the Sprint Cup. With the penalty, Truex was subsequently eliminated from the Chase. On Wednesday, allegations surfaced that Joey Logano's No. 22 team had worked a deal to get around the No. 38 car and David Gilliland for position late in the race to ensure that Logano made the Chase.
Logano kept his spot in the Chase, and on Friday, NASCAR took the incredible step of adding Jeff Gordon as a 13th driver to its playoffs. As colleague Jay Busbee noted, the revisionist history in an attempt to fix what happened Saturday night was the lowest point in the sport's history. And that's not hyperbole.
And when you're in such a valley, you know that there's got to be higher ground somewhere. But you're also not sure how deep the valley is. NASCAR went wandering around on Saturday, but instead of finding a bluff, it got lost.
The closed door meeting with the Sprint Cup field Saturday lasted 17 minutes. According to NASCAR officials, it was an open dialogue. In a press conference afterwards, Brian France, Mike Helton and Robin Pemberton enforced that all teams must run to "100 percent of their ability" and outlined what is and isn't acceptable.
Asking teams to run as hard as they can to ensure that they finish in the best possible position is an idea that's fantastic in theory. But, this isn't a theory. This is 43 cars, all with varying motives at varying points racing each other at high speeds. Chaos theory is about the only theory that comes close.
There's absolutely no way to track what teams aren't running 100 percent, and then clear it with the list of caveats that NASCAR provided, like "contact with an opponent" or an alternate pit strategy. Because of the thousands of variables within a lap of a NASCAR race, it's akin to measuring intangibles. Which, as we all know, can't be defined.
But wait, here comes the kicker. By France's own admission, this new policy involves subjectivity on the part of NASCAR. And, according to Mike Helton, the enforcement of any violations of the 100 percent rule are up to NASCAR's discretion.
In essence, nothing has changed. The sanctioning body's posturing of the last week is an admitted reaction to help save the credibility of the sport, which it says was challenged at Richmond. That admission is fine, however, the continued action of NASCAR to address said credibility issues only continues to enhance them.
Before Saturday, NASCAR showed subjectivity at its own discretion, first leaving Gordon out of the Chase when penalizing MWR and then suddenly adding him in on Friday simply because France had the authority to do so. The cliche that two wrongs don't make a right may be entirely overused, but man, it's an appropriate analogy.
This latest action, in the form of a rule that will be titled 12.4-L or close to it in the rulebook, is simply ink to point to if the sanctioning body ever deems a penalty is necessary. And while that's a novel step, it's no more than that. The concept of subjectivity at NASCAR's discretion has been a cornerstone of the sport, much like France said Saturday that teams giving their all was. There's just now another rule confirming what we've known all along. It's NASCAR's show, and you better hope that discretion isn't used against you.
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