November 18, 2011
Even though the first three didn't stay very "secret" for very long, NASCAR has apparently tried a fourth secret fine.
According to an Associated Press report, Brad Keselowski was fined $25,000 last week for making comments about NASCAR's move to electronic fuel injection at a fan forum at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The fine is believed to be $25,000.
"We're not doing this because it's better for the teams," Keselowski said last week during an appearance at the NASCAR Hall of Fame . "I don't think we're really going to save any gas. It's a media circus, trying to make you guys happy so you write good stories. It gives them something to promote. We're always looking for something to promote, but the honest answer is it does nothing for the sport except cost the team owners money.
"Cars on the street are injected with real electronics, not a throttle body (like in NASCAR). So we've managed to go from 50-year-old technology to 35-year-old technology. I don't see what the big deal is."
While Keselowski's point may be perfectly valid, the point is not that NASCAR disagreed. It's that they disagreed and disciplined in the way that they've disciplined three known times in the past 18 months: via a secret fine.
So, for the third instance, one simple question looms: Why?
Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin were fined in 2010 (Hamlin for comments on Twitter about cautions and Newman for comments about Talladega) and Newman was fined earlier this season for allegedly punching Juan Pablo Montoya in the NASCAR hauler when the two met to settle their differences from the spring Richmond race. Just like Keselowski's, reports of the fines surfaces shortly after they were issued and the impending reactions were overwhelmingly negative.
Those negative reactions aren't about the outcome. We are used to and, for the most part, accept that fines are part of professional sports. Leagues aren't democracies. But NASCAR could take a lesson from other sports and institute a similar process and make all fines public knowledge at the time of issue. We don't find out in week 10 that an NFL player was fined in week 5 for an illegal hit. And we can pretty well document all the times that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has been fined for his comments about the NBA.
Does the need for supposed secrecy come from the fact that the actions and comments being fined aren't necessarily against any rules? When a car fails technical inspection, NASCAR typically issues a statement detailing the penalties on the Tuesday after the race. Those penalties almost always include a fine. And that fine is totaled in the statement.
In the report that came out revealing the secret fines of Hamlin and Newman, a NASCAR spokesman said that any action taken by the sanctioning body is "focused on actions or comments that materially damage the sport." Can't the case be made that a rule violation materially damages the sport as much or more than comments about the racing at Talladega or about electronic fuel injection? Is the sole difference that there are no stated rules against speech while there are against the size of a restrictor plate or angle of a car's spoiler? We don't know.
If NASCAR had learned anything from the three previous instances that secret fines don't say secret very long, it would have announced Keselowski's penalty as soon as possible. Instead, the report of the fine was made public on the day that the Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards had their championship press conference. What a contrast.
Just like with Hamlin and Newman, NASCAR didn't directly acknowledge Keselowski and any fine, with NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp saying that the sanctioning body "handled it accordingly" in its conversation with Keselowski. That's a practice that causes more consternation that soothing. Plus, Keselowski is one of the best young drivers in the sport and already one of its most outspoken on many issues. Remember all the grief that Jimmie Johnson has (wrongly) taken over the years for being too "vanilla?" Think of how quickly "secret" financial penalties for perceived over-the-line statements could potentially vanillaize drivers.
Like it or not, many still have trust issues with NASCAR as a sanctioning body (see: Kyle Busch v. Brian Vickers). Without clear guidelines for what constitutes what and if a fine was really issued or not, those trust issues and the question of "why?" will linger, no matter how great Sunday's race and championship battle at Homestead is.
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