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Random Lugnuts: NASCAR's Backwards Punishment

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  NASCAR, Carl Edwards
What is Random Lugnuts?  It's random bits of stock car racing commentary written on an irregular basis by an irregular racing fan.  The name is a reference to the lugnuts that go flying off a car during a pit stop:  you never know where they are going to go, what they're going to do when they get there, they can be annoying, they're often useless after a race, and every once in a while someone gets hit and they don't know exactly where it came from.
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Random Lugnuts: NASCAR's Backwards Punishment

Bill Crittenden
March 6, 2008

Thank you, NASCAR.

Of course, I'm referring to the penalty on the #99 team, whose crew is run by Bob Osborne and whose car is driven by Carl Edwards.  You see, I'm always looking for good topics to write about, and NASCAR handed me plenty to write about.

Recently, Carl Edwards and crew receieved a 100 point penalty (and will not receieve the 10 bonus points for the win if he reaches the Chase), the team was fined $100,000 and crew chief Bob Osborne was placed on 6 week suspension.

The team believes a bolt failed on the oil reservoir cover, which if true, means any incidental increase in performance (potentially more downforce due to air flowing through the engine bay) was entirely accidental.

Roush Fenway President Geoff Smith said of a potential appeal, "We are not yet sure if we will be participating in a 16th-century exercise in the judicial system. It's a tough business for any race team to have to pledge $100,000, 100 points and a six-race crew chief suspension as an indemnity payment to NASCAR against a promise forced from us by NASCAR that no bolt will ever fail its purpose under race conditions."

Now, here's where it gets sticky.  Should a team be penalized for an accidental part failure that causes a car to not pass postrace inspection?  Accidental part failures happen all the time, from blown engines to popped tires, and I doubt any of the vehicles those failures happen to would pass a postrace inspection in the condition in which they're towed back to the garage.

Put this way, I agree with Mr. Smith.  100 points, $100,000 and a six-race crew chief suspension is a high price to pay for an accidental part failure.  What makes the situation so odd is that parts failures usually keep cars out of Victory Lane, not help them get into it.  Usually, a DNF in the record books and having to haul a broken car back to North Carolina for expensive repairs is penalty enough.

But, in all fairness, if the car did have a performance advantage, it should not have won the race.  It doesn't matter how the advantage was gained, on purpose or not, if NASCAR can determine that the car handled better with the oil tank cover off then the win should have been taken away.  After all, this is the sport that spawned the phrase, "if you ain't cheatin' you ain't tryin'," and we've seen before the old standby excuse of, "we were only testing with that illegal part, we didn't mean to try and get it past inspection, we just forgot to replace it before we brought it to the track."

If NASCAR wants to be completely even and fair to all teams, they need to remove intent completely from the discussion.  Fail an inspection, and pay the price.  And that's what they did here.

Except, that the penalty was handed down the same day one was altered for Robby Gordon.  They called his case "an extraordinary and unusual set of circumstances."  NASCAR has established the precedent that fines and penalties are flexible based on circumstances, such as intent and whether or not a competitive advantage was gained.

But what price did the 99 team pay?  Nothing in the news reports said that the penalties were on top of losing the points and money earned in the race.  So, as near as I can tell the team earned $425,675 and 195 points, from which the penalties were deducted, leaving them with more money than the second place team (by over $73,000) and one more point than 23rd place.  They lost the 10 bonus points for the Chase and their crew chief for 6 weeks, but keep the record of the win and the trophy.  That's a very weak penalty.

I'm going to say that NASCAR got it completely backwards.  What was not needed here was a punishment handed down from NASCAR for what looks to be an accidental part failure, but instead a simple revision of the race standings to reflect that Carl Edwards' car should not have won the race due to failed postrace inspection.  That is, of course, why they're called "unofficial" standings until after the inspections.

Moving the 99 car down in the results chart would probably mean a bigger loss in points than 100, and definitely a much bigger loss in money than $100,000, but then the penalty would not be warranted and Bob Osborne could stay with his team to check his bolts and make sure the car stays together at Atlanta.  It's perhaps a steeper price to pay than the penalty NASCAR handed down, but no worse than had his failed part been a right front Goodyear, and it would have sent a much better, fairer and clearer message than the one they did in this "an extraordinary and unusual set of circumstances," hopefully much more strongly discouraging other teams from seeing this weak penalty and deciding it's worth the risk in helping parts on their cars "accidentally" fail.

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