Paris got a worse punishment than Busch
June 9, 2007
Well, NASCAR finally passed sentence Friday on last Sunday’s transgressions by Nextel Cup’s answer to Paris Hilton, Kurt Busch.
Much to the dismay of many fans and competitors Busch was not suspended, but instead was handed a $100,000 fine and loss of 100 points, along with probation until the end of the year. Once again, NASCAR’s inconsistency in levying punishment has been called into question.
It was noted that 100 points and $100,000 was the identical fine levied on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team for unapproved wing brackets on their Car of Tomorrow entry a couple of weeks ago. Compare that infraction to Busch’s reckless and deliberate actions in pit lane that jeopardized one of Tony Stewart’s crewmen, and it’s like handing out the same punishment for overtime parking or assault with a deadly weapon.
Back in the old days, NASCAR had a much better way of handling things. Somebody like big Buddy Baker would take Busch out behind the grandstand and “reason” with him until he saw the error of his ways. Usually by the time the bruises faded, the offender had a much better attitude on the track.
These days, NASCAR is afraid of upsetting a sponsor like Miller Light by taking its car out of a race or two, so Busch gets a relative slap on the wrist. Never mind that Michael Waltrip’s NAPA sponsor has been noticeably missing from the bulk of the races so far this year, due to NASCAR’s curious qualifying rules that don’t put the fastest 43 cars on any given weekend into the race. But I digress.
The bottom line is that money fines aren’t going to get anyone’s attention, and it appears that taking away points doesn’t get the job done either. NASCAR would be well advised to start handing out suspensions, not only of drivers but of whole teams.
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That would accomplish two things: first, people would actually consider the consequences of cheating or pulling bonehead stunts like Busch’s; second, it would open up a slot for some of the teams that have been struggling to get into the field this season. Admittedly the second item is ancillary to the first one, but those teams would be happy to take any break they can get.
Of course, all the goings-on at Dover were overshadowed by the passing of Bill France Jr. on the same day the rain-delayed Nextel Cup race was run. France was one of the true giants of the sport, guiding NASCAR from an obscure and poorly financed subset of motorsports to the powerful 600 pound gorilla of racing that it has become.
Although France has been out of the day to day operations of NASCAR for several years, he remained as Chairman while handing over the reins to his children and trusted long-time employees like Mike Helton. There is nothing more that I can say about Big Bill that hasn’t been written or broadcast a hundred times this past week.
I was privileged to meet him briefly at one of the early Cup races at Sears Point years ago, and it was immediately apparent that he was The Man in charge. Everybody, from the car owners to the drivers and crews to the ink-stained wretches in the press room, treated him with the utmost respect, because he had earned it.
All three major NASCAR divisions will honor Bill France Jr. this weekend with special decals on the Craftsman Trucks, Busch Series, and Nextel Cup cars. The black, oval shaped decal reads, “WCF Pioneer, Innovator, Friend 1933-2007.”
Today is another one of those Sundays, with overlapping races, that will have me running from TV to VCR to DVR to catch all the action. Not only does Nextel Cup race at Pocono at 11 a.m. today, but the Canadian Formula 1 race begins an hour earlier at 10 am, and the Champ Car race from Portland starts at 1 p.m., just about half to two-thirds of the way through the NASCAR race. It’s enough to drive a dedicated race fan to drink. Speaking of which, yes, I’ll have another beer.