- Terry Blount, ESPN Staff Writer
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR officials believe they got tough with the rule-breakers on Tuesday. They mean business.
It's a NASCAR version of throwing the book at them five days before the Daytona 500.
It's not enough. There is only one way to stop the cheaters: Kick them out of a race.
Sit out an event and you'll get some real rehabilitation. It's a guaranteed cheat-stopper. If you can't play by the rules, you can't play. Period.
"We haven't gotten there yet," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's director of competition. "The crew chiefs are the ones responsible for the people and their equipment. But we will keep elevating this when time comes to raise it up."
The time is now.
Tuesday's decisions are meant to prove to all the Nextel Cup teams that NASCAR no longer will put up with the violations.
But all four teams and drivers still will race in the 500 on Sunday. All four still can win the Daytona 500 and earn more than $1.5 million. That $50,000 crew chiefs Robbie Reiser (for Kenseth) and Kenny Francis (for Kahne) were docked won't seem so bad if that happens.
We saw last season what effect suspending crew chief Chad Knaus had on Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Chevy.
Knaus was suspended for four races before the Daytona 500. It was for illegal aerodynamic changes, the same type of thing these fours teams were caught doing.
But Johnson still won the race and went on to claim the 2006 championship.
Ouch! That hurt. Along with your penalty, here are the keys to the city of Daytona Beach.
Johnson didn't receive a points penalty last year, so Kenseth's and Kahne's 50-point pop looks like a big step up.
Not really. It's doubtful 50 points will keep either driver out of the 12-man Chase. And the Chase order now is set by wins, not points, so who cares?
The 25-point hit for Sadler and Riggs only matters if it's the difference in making the Chase. It could happen, but probably won't.
But the fear of missing a race would change the thought process for every team.
No one would risk sitting one out. Well, almost no one. Only a team that feels it has little chance of making the field would risk cheating to try to get in.
For the majority of teams, missing an event would have devastating consequences. Any contending team would severely damage its chances of making the Chase if it didn't compete in an event.
And how would you explain it to your sponsors? No doubt the company with its name on your hood would want a rebate for the race you missed.
Let's check the arithmetic: If a company is paying $15 million a year as a primary sponsor, that's about $416,666.66 per race.
Talk about a fine that would get your attention.
The sponsors are a big reason NASCAR won't go this far. Sponsors are the lifeblood of the sport.
NASCAR chairman Brian France said Tuesday that more than 100 Fortune 500 companies are involved in the sport. The corporate world is investing billions of dollars in NASCAR.
Racing teams couldn't exist without them. Mandating a punishment that would keep a sponsor off the track isn't in NASCAR's best interest.
Or is it? Isn't it better for the sport to appear free of impropriety? Couldn't the sponsors use that with customers by saying, "We're here because NASCAR believes in integrity."
NASCAR officials could tell every team sponsor at the start of a season, if a team is caught with a flagrant violation of the rules, it will hold that team out of that race.
A sponsor could write into a team's contract that a rebate was forthcoming if the team didn't compete in an event because of a NASCAR penalty.
But sponsors aren't the biggest reason this won't happen. It's you. It's the fans. Can you imagine the reaction if Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Chevy were given a red card for the Daytona 500?
The ensuing riot would require the entire Florida National Guard to restore order. At least half of those 200,000 paying customers would ask for their money back.
The crazy thing is, why risk a penalty get the pole at Daytona? All four cars have a guaranteed spot in the field.
And the only positions set during qualifying for the Daytona 500 are the front row. Unless your alteration guarantees you the first or second best lap of the day, why do it?
Because they can. They know NASCAR isn't going to throw them out.
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.