I asked if anyone cared that the crew chief for Nextel Cup champion Jimmie Johnson had been suspended for six weeks this season for rule violations. Considering it was his fourth suspension in six years, it was anything but an aberration.
The emails flooded in, and so here is a pre-Thanksgiving, NASCAR People's Voice to hash it out.
As always with these things, have a point, stick to the point and include a full name and town to get printed.
Now, on to the People's Voice.
NASCAR ("Skating away," November 18, 2007)
Your article was spot on! I have said around the office that Chad was up to his old tricks if not Jimmie, though I am sure that Jimmie just looked the other way. NASCAR needs to be more stern with teams and ignore the money involved. I really wonder how this is going to affect Dale Jr. long-term. My bet is that it will hurt him in the end. You are who you hang around!
Powder Springs, Ga.
I hope you're just as critical of what happens in other sports – for example, a basketball who player pushes off to get a clear shot or a baseball pitcher who throws a wet pitch or a lineman who holds to protect his quarterback. A good crew chief is always looking for an advantage or he's not winning. You must be new to NASCAR.
This is a common defense and one that Jeff Gordon has used, but it doesn't wash. Speeding on pit road is akin to pushing off or holding. The penalties are relatively minor. NASCAR sat Chad Knaus for six weeks (1/6 of the season), docked Johnson 100 driver points and fined them $100,000. That is a monster penalty. They certainly don't consider it minor, so why does everyone else?
Virtually any non-Hendrick fan is upset about Chad Knaus and his continuous cheating. I agree that interpreting the gray area of the rules is part of racing. I disagree that blatant cheating is accepted by fans or competitors. For Chad Knaus and any other habitual rule breakers, NASCAR needs to start sitting the driver for a race. I believe you'd see a change in behavior very quickly.
I guess I'm old school. I liked it better before there was such an emphasis on the rules and trying to make all the cars alike. Watching David Pearson do what these young guns are doing today, but wearing jeans, a tee shirt, and wing tips during the race – now that was racing.
Your article about Chad Knaus cheating is exactly why you should stick to writing solely about other sports. I'm not even a Jimmie Johnson fan and yet your article pissed me off.
I'm sorry, but I always said if you are smart enough to find a loophole that improves your car, then go for it. It's not like they're buying these parts on an illegal black market in a dark alley. This is why NASCAR teams hire people with engineering degrees – if your crew isn't thinking this way, then you don't have a good crew. If you know and understand your car so well that you know if you tilt a window X amount of degrees or tweak the suspension 1/16 of an inch in order to get better aerodynamics, then you should be rewarded for being an engineering genius.
I think the NASCAR scribes that look the other way or attribute this behavior to a carryover from the old days of the illegal moonshine runners only add to this "no remorse over getting caught cheating" attitude. So you won a championship, but what did you compromise in order to win it? Regardless of what NASCAR promotes or how many championships Hendrick teams win, sadly many will forever perceive Latarte, Knaus and Hendrick as cheaters.
Midwest City, Okla.
Here's where I think the media plays a part. First off, despite the growth in coverage (at least in some areas) the sport still lags way behind other major sports. There are still so many major newspapers and media outlets who ignore it and virtually no general columnists – who can write opinion – who go anywhere near it.
At the Homestead-Miami race, I saw only two out-of-market papers with general columnists (Charlotte and Atlanta). There wasn't any other general sports columnist from a major Web site. No radio guys and little TV. This is unscientific and anecdotal and there may have been others, but I couldn't have missed many. For the championship event, this is incredibly small.
As a result, I think controversy and scandal and all of the stuff that gets churned up by a big media presence just washes away. It's not so much the people who cover the sport regularly (I think they do a fine job) but the people who don't.
In any other major sport, this would have been the story of the weekend.
Once a cheater always a cheater. How can they look at people? Boy, if that would have been Tony and Zippy they would have been barred from NASCAR forever! Oh, I keep forgetting Jeff and Jimmie are NASCAR's and Helton's golden boys. Yet they wonder why ticket sales and TV rating are down.
Denham Springs, La.
I feel that your comparison of Chad Knaus's indiscretions (if you want to call them that) to scandals in other sports is somewhat ludicrous. If anything NASCAR is stricter on their athletes and coaches than any other sport, and that's the only reason Chad was ever suspended in the first place.
It's not as if he was spying on the other garages for information (a la Belichick) or using nitrous in Jimmie's cars or an illegal fuel (a la the countless doping scandals such as Barry Bonds or Marion Jones).
Brandon D. Newton
Cape Coral, Fla.
If Brian France really wanted to redeem himself from all of his blunders that he made en route to ruining NASCAR, he would have banned Knaus for life, and parked the No. 48 as well.
I completely agree with you. Being caught the first time is your warning. If you are caught cheating again, you should be suspended for the rest of the year. That means no communication at all.
Do I think that something fishy is going on in the Hendrick camp? Yes. Why does NASCAR put up with it? They can only answer, but I am sure Hendrick has a lot of pull.
Mary Gayle Borraga
Waaa, waaa, waaa, waaa. Cry me another one. You must be an Earnhardt fan. We'll see if he can "Earn" some of his fan base next year, won't we? Chad is not the only one to have had the hand slap from NASCAR this year. They have all taken their penalties and some have been able to come back and win. I am not a Jimmie fan, either, but your column sounded like sour grapes to me.
I have been an avid NASCAR fan since 1990, but with six hours of pre-race coverage, the Car of Tomorrow, the same person or team winning week after week as well as the horrible Chase format, NASCAR has become a snoozefest.
The teaser for your article asked "Does anyone care" in reference to Chad Knaus. I do. I liked the 48 at first, but when he lost no points for the back windshield cheating last year and Knaus was so matter-of-fact and arrogant and Johnson said his win was for "all the 48 haters" (where did that come from?), I cannot stand either one.
Being both a NASCAR and Hendrick fan, I do not believe that this could be considered any sort of cheating. There are so many gray areas in the NASCAR rule book that it's almost easier to understand cricket. Hendrick strives to be the best and always pushes the envelope in new ways to go faster. It's what any good team has to do to win races where the cars are so closely matched. These gray areas sometimes are considered red and sometimes green. Either way, Johnson always raced in a car inspected and approved by NASCAR. He raced an amazing Chase and deserves the win.
East Troy, Wis.
I would like to say thank you for your story. You have said, in a sugar-coated way, what a lot of us die-hard fans that are not complete idiots have been screaming all year long. It doesn't matter who your driver is, you cannot tell me that Hendrick has not found a way to cheat. There is no way they can do that well week in and week out. This whole thing really pisses me off, and the worst part is NASCAR does not care.
I will make two predictions:
1. I bet that Dale Jr. has a win and one of his best years in 2008. Thank Hendrick ahead of time.
2. I am betting that if NASCAR thinks for one minute that we die-hard fans will not turn off NASCAR for any other sport, then just keep pushing our buttons and see. Just ask the Dixie Chickies.
When they start bringing up the Dixie Chicks, I'm out.