In the recent past, NASCAR has taken some very controversial stances when it comes to their weekly racing and sanctioning of competitors when rules have been broken. Or, in many cases, lack of sanctioning. For something called a “sanctioning body”, NASCAR does very little to offer tracks and members any benefits on the competition side. Sure, they have a rulebook … that after last week’s statement is apparently optional to follow. Or enforce. Or even care about at all.

Other major weekly sanctioning bodies across the country (particularly in dirt) take responsibility for their tracks’ rules. Member tracks run the same rules across the same classes. Tech inspectors are trained by the sanctioning body and if, heaven forbid, an issue arises, the home office looks at the issue and addresses it if needed. If a track official made the wrong call, the home office will reverse it. If a decision needs to be made on any other sanctioning issue such as rules or their enforcement, the home office bears the load on its shoulders and relieves member tracks of the burden.

Go to any NASCAR-sanctioned weekly track and find a place where cars and divisions are exactly similar. They aren’t. One may have different weights, or a different allowance for tread width or some type of engine allocation to “equalize” competition such as carburetor sizes or restrictor plates. And that’s just around the Southeast. In the upper Midwest, outlaw late models are the premier NASCAR class. On the west coast, the “West Coast Late Model” is the premier class, a hybrid of former NASCAR Tour cars and oddball rules for various components. In the Midwest, Deep South and Northeast, Modifieds and Super Late Models rule the roost. In the Mid-Atlantic, Late Model Stocks reign supreme.

So if I’m an average Joe fan, going to a “NASCAR Home Track” track means a completely different racing product and experience for me compared to average John in a different region. So, unlike any other NASCAR-sanctioned division, it’s a hodgepodge of dumb luck that keeps the ship afloat in the short track sanctioning department of Daytona’s headquarters. Seriously, what do you get for the thousands of dollars of money you pay to NASCAR as a track, a competitor, and ultimately a fan?

After last week, apparently NASCAR provides their member tracks the following: A few paid-for billboards, a couple of fancy caution lights every year, and a neat name they can market with. Nevermind the fact that the NASCAR track in County A may have completely different rules and procedures, hell even a completely different surface, from the NASCAR track 12 miles away in County B. That’s great for branding and consistency isn’t it?

Let’s take a look at how racing would look at NASCAR’s top level, the Sprint Cup Series, if it followed the same rules as the NASCAR Home Tracks of the Whelen All-American Series. To quote a famous talk radio host, it’s time to illustrate absurdity by being absurd. Here we go.

Multiple Parties at Odds over Rightful Sprint Cup Champion

LAS VEGAS, NV (November 28, 2018) — Two weeks after the season finale, NASCAR still has yet to determine who has claimed its biggest prize, the Sprint Cup Series Championship.

Following the championship event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, track owner Bruton Smith disqualified race winner Jimmie Johnson after his SMI-based tech crew determined the No. 48’s shocks did not meet the rules set forth for the event. Hendrick Motorsports has filed an appeal with NASCAR.

“NASCAR has a rule in the Sprint Cup Series rulebook regarding the maximum amount of time, 90 seconds, the shocks must take to rebound a total of six inches,” said an SMI spokesperson. “When we host our races, we don’t use the Sprint Cup rulebook because our fans prefer to see drivers moving around the racetrack fighting for control of their racecars. Our rule is six inches in 60 seconds. According to our house-trained tech crew, the 48 car’s shock did not meet the specifications outlined in the rule and was thus disqualified when the shock extended in 62.5 seconds after three different tests.”

Hendrick Motorsports, after appealing the decision to NASCAR, issued a statement which said, in part, “Our shocks fell well within the bounds of the NASCAR rulebook. At any other race during the season, our shocks would have been deemed legal. This move by Bruton Smith and SMI to manipulate the championship for Danica Patrick is coerced, illegitimate and contrived and we will fight this until the end. We believe we rightfully captured our tenth series championship for the No. 48 car and trust NASCAR will make the right decision for the good of the sport.”

NASCAR is expected to issue a decision regarding the appeal no later than Christmas.

NASCAR Issues Decision on Sprint Cup Championship Controversy

DAYTONA BEACH, FL (Dec. 7, 2018) – Following four weeks of silence, NASCAR issued a statement today that ultimately gave the Sprint Cup Series championship to Danica Patrick and sparked a slew of controversy that has the entire sport of auto racing in turmoil.

In short, NASCAR’s statement has effectively opened the Pandora’s Box of rule interpretation and threatens the well-being, even the very existence of the series.

“NASCAR sanctions the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) which features world class racing at world class facilities, broadcast internationally every week from February to November,” the statement read. “NASCAR provides and makes available various competition-related resources to all NSCS track operators, including a rulebook to help maintain the orderly conduct of an event at a sanctioned facility, inspectors to tech the racing machines, officials to run events and media partnerships to help tracks grow and maximize their investments.

Jimmie-1“All tracks have the option of utilizing some or all of NASCAR’s proposed rules and/or publishing and enacting their own rules developed by their local Race and/or Competition Director,” the written correspondence continued. “Tracks may consult with NASCAR when issuing a penalty, but NASCAR approval of a track penalty is not required. While a track may also request that NASCAR issue a penalty, and NASCAR maintains full authority to do so against any NASCAR Member in its discretion, NASCAR encourages each NSCS track operator to administer the enforcement of all applicable rules and related penalties independently, especially with respect to issues arising out of technical inspection or other incidents occurring at-track. Penalties handed down by a NSCS track are not eligible for appeal with NASCAR or the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Competition Administrator since they were not issued directly by NASCAR. Any penalty decision by a NSCS track operator is considered final by NASCAR.”

As expected, Hendrick Motorsports issued an extremely out-of-character statement to our representatives this afternoon. Judging by the wording, this incident may have severe consequences for the sport.

“It is no secret that Hendrick Motorsports works to find every edge available within the rules in order to maximize our performance,” the response read. “But when the rules change from race to race, week to week, track to track, and even hour to hour, it is impossible for our teams to keep up with these changes and be competitive. If this is how NASCAR wants to run their organization, then we will run our race team accordingly. This is a leap backwards into the 1940s when one person collected the money for the event and left the promoters on an island to enforce whatever ragtag rules they may or may not have had. This is exactly what NASCAR was established to prevent and we will not stand for it. Our partner relationships and race teams are indefinitely on hiatus until we establish a path where we want to continue to compete.”

Hendrick Motorsports went on to say that they would regularly appeal the ruling, but since “NASCAR has made it clear that a bunch of good ol’ boys hired by” a track owner were now given the final say, any work to appeal the penalty, in their eyes, would be fruitless.

The decision has affirmed Danica Patrick as the 2018 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, the first time a woman has claimed the title in the nearly 70 years the sanctioning body has been in existence. The new championship also ended Johnson’s most recent championship streak at three consecutive titles, preventing him from achieving double-digit success in the title category.

Bruton Smith, nor officials from SMI, were available for comment at press time. An SMI official did say that the organization would have some type of announcement regarding the future of NASCAR-sanctioned events at their tracks within the near future.

SMI Commits to Running IndyCars for 2019 NASCAR Sprint Cup Events

CHARLOTTE, NC (Dec. 10, 2018) – Speedway Motorsports, Inc., announced a complete rule package for their 2019 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event dates that would apply to all tracks. Despite a struggling relationship with the actual Verizon IndyCar Series, SMI has announced that all NASCAR-sanctioned races will be run under Verizon IndyCar Series rules including construction and technical specifications for the cars themselves.

The appearance of IndyCar machines are vastly different than the traditional stock cars that have competed in NASCAR sanctioned events for nearly the past seven decades. However, citing recent NASCAR rule enforcements, SMI saw the opportunity to improve the sport in their view and acted upon it.

“When NASCAR opened up the rules to allow us as track promoters to make them, enforce them, and adjust accordingly for what we felt was right, it really gave us the chance to right a lot of wrongs we felt the other races were exhibiting,” said a representative from Speedway Motorsports. “After the Las Vegas ruling where NASCAR upheld our differing rules from the other tracks, we talked with them and they had no problems with us running completely different racecars, rules, or anything else. It was expressed to us that as long as we held up our end of the sanctioning agreement, we were free to do as we pleased and what we felt was right for our tracks. We considered covering all of our speedways with dirt as opposed to the car change, but we determined this would be a more cost-effective measure for us, more fan friendly, and create better excitement and racing for the fans.”

Needless to say, reactions were mixed across the board and will have deep-reaching consequences when trying to grow the sport further than its already massive footprint. Teams, drivers and other tracks reacted to the announcement this morning with various opinions.

“I think this is a great idea for tracks and drivers because it plays to their strengths,” said newly-crowned NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Danica Patrick. “As a driver, I will focus much more on the IndyCar style races than the stock car races. Y’know, I would nothing more than to win another race in an IndyCar, even if it’s not IndyCar sanctioned. I’ve been told that Indianapolis wants to, y’know, adopt a similar set of rules so I may have a shot to win an open wheel race again at the Brickyard.”

Known in the past as “The Mayor,” driver-turned-analyst Jeff Burton had a varying opinion on the new announcement from SMI. Always an advocate for common sense rules, Burton was incensed at the announcement.

“How can we, almost in 2020, take multiple types of racecars and call them all by the same name? This is ludicrous!,” said the Virginia native. “We’ve worked for 70 years to brand NASCAR as ‘stock car’ racing and these things aren’t anywhere close to a stock car. Sure, we’ve had high tech machines for years, but they at least looked like a showroom car. IndyCars aren’t even close, we even call them a different name. So, to a fan, what are these races going to be? Are they IndyCar or NASCAR? Nowhere and no way is this good for anyone. NASCAR needs to put their foot down and stop this madness before it gets further out of control than it already is. What’s next, tracks will let us run cars from the parking lot with the IndyCars when we don’t have a full field so they can claim capacity car count? Absolutely ridiculous.”

Although there was visual unrest within the ranks of the organization’s highest offices, NASCAR’s publicly issued statement seemed to indicate that the organization has no problem with the direction this most recent announcement has taken the sport.

“All tracks have the option of publishing and enacting rules developed by their local Race and/or Competition Director.  Such ‘Local Track Rules’ take precedent over any conflicts with the NASCAR-issued NSCS rulebook, unless otherwise required by NASCAR,” the statement read. “Local Track Rules are enacted and enforced at the sole discretion of the track operator or its authorized representative and Track Officials. NASCAR and each NSCS-sanctioned track also have independent authority to issue penalties in accordance with the NASCAR Rules and/or their own Local Track Rules. Tracks may consult with NASCAR when issuing a track penalty, but NASCAR approval of a track-issued penalty is not required.”

The catalyst for this entire debacle, Hendrick Motorsports, also issued a statement in regards to these new rules. It appears Jimmie Johnson’s title run will stop at nine career titles with the organization unless something substantial changes very soon.

Danica-1“For over three decades, Hendrick Motorsports has been a mainstay at the front of the field at every NASCAR race,” the written release read. “After the announcement by Speedway Motorsports, we have been forced to recoil our NASCAR program into running stock car events only. This means we will miss events most important to our organization such as Charlotte, Bristol and Las Vegas. We will be unable to run for the series championship and will compete only in select events that we and our partners decides fits our program best.  We will announce those events at a later date, but our new focus will be solely on the Daytona 500 every year despite the other great events we have been excluded from by the lack of rules enforcement and uniformity that a sanctioning body such as NASCAR should uphold. We are very disappointed with this course of action but we must do what is right for Hendrick Motorsports and what is right for our sponsors, partners, employees and teams.”

Though an official statement has not been issued, the only independently-owned track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, Pocono Raceway, has been rumored to be adopting its own rule change to winged sprint car style racing vehicles. In private conversations, track officials have argued that those types of cars are popular among fans in the northeast and would also allow an improvement to the shows at “The Tricky Triangle.” Officials also believe, reportedly, it would allow other drivers from the region to compete in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races if they were to meet the approval process, thus increasing fan interest.

At this time, NASCAR is not expected to issue any type of injunctions to prevent their sanctioned tracks from splintering the sanctioning body’s premier series. As the 2019 season approaches, many industry experts expect the Florida-based organization to act in some capacity. Those same experts have also predicted that, similar to how NASCAR’s brand of weekly racing vanished after 2016 due to wide variance in racecar specifications, rules enforcement and general disinterest by the parent company, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be extinct by 2025 if the current trend continues.

So there we go. Absurd, isn’t it? Hilarious even, right? So what separates the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series from the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. Both claim to have a sanctioning body (NASCAR) that is in charge of rules, procedures and other parts of the racing product. Both have racers who deserve consistency and a give-a-damn attitude from the powers that be. Yet one division is too worried about measuring racecars to the .0001-inch while the other can’t even be bothered to check a part against a rulebook that the sanctioning body issues in order to be sure the racers (and ultimately the fans) are getting a fair shake.

No wonder NASCAR’s weekly program is dying and so many tracks are either going outlaw or to rival sanctions. No wonder people constantly bitch about the local track politics. And it’s no wonder all those people go elsewhere to find their entertainment because we don’t give a damn about how things go at the most rudimentary level, just so long as we get our sanctioning fee and our partners get a few billboards up at the tracks as we promised. Shame. What a shame.

High school football isn’t faltering. Neither is college hockey. Little league baseball is doing just fine and so are many other sports. They’re the building blocks and the foundation of those sports’ highest levels with well-organized, respected, rule-enforcing sanctioning bodies. So if we have a poor foundation in racing, is it any wonder the structure is wobbling at the top?

Someone — whether it’s NASCAR, ARCA or John Doe — could do well to establish a TRUE weekly sanctioning body for weekly pavement racing. Write uniform rules for ALL divisions, not just the premier ones. Stick to them and enforce them equally across tracks. Give racers a true chain of command. And work on behalf of the racers to create a few marquee events to make them feel special. Don’t let the participants (tracks) dictate what you do with your business (sanctioning). Get their feedback, sure, but don’t let the inmates run the asylum. We’ve tried that for a few decades and it hasn’t worked well. If someone would just do all of the aforementioned things, tracks would be clamoring to become a NASCAR sanctioned facility, as wouldl competitors to become an organization member.

But that would all make sense. And as we’ve seen from this illustration, the status quo of the last few years certainly does NOT make sense. So why change course now? We can already see the iceberg. Let’s go down with the ship!