Time to act

Jerry Bonkowski
Yahoo! Sports

Want to stop cheating in NASCAR? We should look back to our childhoods for inspiration.

If we did something wrong, our parents would punish us by taking away privileges. For the more serious offenses, our butts would be tanned or our mouths washed out with soap.

In NASCAR, if you do something wrong, you get called into the sanctioning body's rolling office at the race track for admonishment.

Yet like a little boy caught red-handed in the cookie jar, after acting repentant in front of high-ranking NASCAR officials, the guilty party slinks away with a spanked look – only to break into a big smile when he is far enough away knowing that he beat the system once again.

It's a game that gets played out several times each year, and the outcome invariably remains the same: penalize someone for an infraction, and more often than not you're going to see them again sooner or later for another transgression.

Look at Todd Berrier, crew chief for Kevin Harvick. He was suspended for four races early last season for cheating only to be nailed again later in the year. Did he learn his lesson? Obviously not if he was penalized a second time.

Then there is Jimmie Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus, who will miss the first four races this season for cheating during pole qualifying for the Daytona 500. When he returns at Bristol next month, he'll be on probation for the remainder of the year.

But will that stop Knaus from "creative interpretation" or "working in a grey area" again? If you think so, I have oceanfront property in Nebraska I'd like to sell you.

So why doesn't NASCAR chairman Brian France act like the father of a kid who does something wrong when it comes to cheating in NASCAR? The reason is the same one that I've heard for more than 20 years: "Because it's always been that way."

That's the reason why NASCAR can't change? Tradition? And a bad one at that?

France has gone to great extremes to change the sport in other ways, to make it as full of parity as possible.

We have templates that are designed to make sure all cars are virtually identical.

We also have prerace and postrace inspections – like the nearly three-hour meticulous examination done to Johnson's Daytona 500-winning car following Sunday's race – to make sure no one tries to pull a fast one.

But those continue to be nothing more than band-aids to the overall problem of cheating.

So let's rip that band-aid off. If it results in bleeding, so be it.

If France wants to build a legacy that will one day define the kind of leader he truly was, he needs to step up and issue an immediate edict that cheating will be dealt with in the most severe manner.

No longer should teams be allowed to be penalized $10,000, $20,000 or even $50,000, or docked 25 or 50 points in the standings. With overall team budgets closing in on $20 million a year, those paltry fines or lost points are simply the cost of doing business.

If this was any other profession in the real world, Knaus, Johnson, team owner Rick Hendrick and the rest of the No. 48 team would be seriously vilified, if not fired.

So why can't NASCAR do the same? If a team is caught intentionally cheating – and I'm not talking about an honest mistake made every now and then, but if they're dead-to-the-wall guilty – give them a punishment that is more appropriate for the crime.

Banish them for one year, minimum. The whole team, from tire changer to team owner. No racing, no points and no income.

And if a team that has been found guilty once is subsequently nailed again after it returns to competition, banish the entire organization for five years. No teams, no cars, no drivers, no nothing.

Some team owners agree with such a concept – including Chip Ganassi, who says he'd rather be honest and not win than cheat to win.

"I'm sure Chad [Knaus] is a nice guy and I've got a lot of respect for Mr. Hendrick and his organization, but you know what? They ought to throw cheaters out," Ganassi told the Gaston Gazette of Gastonia, N.C. "If I have to get to the front by being outside the rules, I'm not interested."

What is troubling is that by not stepping in and pushing their weight around, major companies like Lowe's Home Improvement stores that sponsor high-profile teams such as Johnson's indirectly condone cheating. That's certainly not good business, and it reflects poorly all the way to the top in company chairman Bob Niblock.

Maybe Niblock should do something similar to what rival Home Depot did to Tony Stewart in 2002 and put Knaus and the rest of the No. 48 team on its own suspension or probation. The company even could consider not paying Hendrick its monthly sponsorship installment.

If France doesn't get tough now, all his other accomplishments will be judged insignificant, as he'll forever be remembered most for how soft he was on cheating. That's a pretty poor legacy.

Ganassi put it best when he told the Gazette, "They say there's no rule written for that [cheating]. Well, there weren't a lot of rules written in the Ten Commandments, either, but I think everybody sort of understood the gist of them and what they meant."

Except maybe for NASCAR crew chiefs like Knaus and Berrier.

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