Welcome to NASCAR's bizarro world of crime and punishment
It was a banner week for NASCAR in the penalty department. Logic and reason simply took a holiday, writes Terry Blount.
Updated: March 7, 2008, 2:35 PM ETBy Terry Blount | ESPN.com
HAMPTON, Ga. -- No doubt Carl Edwards didn't see it coming. Not like this. Not the dreaded double-100 lashing (100 points, 100 grand) and crew chief banishment NASCAR strapped on the No. 99 Ford team this week.Edwards knew a penalty was headed his way. But as a guy who matriculated at the University of Missouri, his smarts had to tell him a lighter sentence would ensue.Therein lies the lesson: Never assume anything in NASCAR's bizarro world of law and order.Hopefully, the sordid saga of the missing and loose oil tank lids is over. This thing was either the worst example of copycat cheating or a clear class-action case for faulty-part victimization.Five Nationwide teams had the loose top on the oil reservoir at Daytona. The lid was completely off after Edwards won the Cup race at Las Vegas.Supposedly, this situation helps with air flow and adds a little downforce. Of course, all these teams claimed innocence. No surprise there.But results of the appeals process this week was a hodgepodge of inconsistent justice. Logic and reason took a holiday.Rusty Wallace's Nationwide team got complete redemption. Others got their oil-lid penalties reduced and one had to swallow the entire NASCAR penalty potion.We're left to believe that a little cap and bolt can be either a legitimate flaw, a careless mistake by a team or a hidden agenda to outright cheat.Then we have Nosegate with Robby Gordon. His double-100 slap from NASCAR had the oddest appellate revision of all. The three-man panel ruled to rescind Gordon's 100-point penalty, but increase the fine to $150,000.You're still guilty, but we like you. Gordon has a full-time sponsor in Jim Beam. A lot of teams are looking for sponsors, so NASCAR doesn't want to run one off.
The change moved Gordon up 16 spots (37th to 21st) and comfortably inside the magic top 35. Gordon had said he might take his ball and go home if the penalty kept him outside the top 35 and eliminated his guaranteed spot in the field.Gordon's team had the wrong nose on the car, but Dodge gave it to him. Because Dodge likely will pay the fine, maybe the court was sticking it to them. Who knows?At least the National Stock Car Racing Commission, formerly known as NASCAR's yes men, showed they have some independence. For years, this body was viewed as a kangaroo court that usually rubber-stamped any NASCAR penalty.So where does all this leave Edwards? Considering the revised rulings the court handed down this week, trying its luck with an appeal seems reasonable for Roush Fenway Racing.RFR elected to have crew chief Bob Osborne begin his six-race suspension this weekend, so the team has nothing to lose in appealing NASCAR's ruling.Chief engineer Chris Andrews takes over in the interim on top of the 99 pit box. But he also will get help from team GM Robbie Reiser, back where he really wants to be -- on pit road.Edwards remains in capable hands, and his winning ways could continue. Atlanta Motor Speedway is his favorite track and the only place where he's won twice.
The 100-point pop dropped Edwards from first to seventh in the standings. The severity of the punishment didn't seem to fit with the trend of the week, but it sure kept NASCAR in the news.Not much happens on a Wednesday of most weeks in the Cup season, but the harsh nature of the Edwards penalty put NASCAR front and center in sports sections and on Web sites.So bad news was good news, at least for NASCAR's midweek coverage.
After seeing the other oil-lid liberators get some love in their appeals, maybe NASCAR officials deliberately dropped the hammer on Edwards.Even if it's reduced, this sanction remains a biggie. If it's upheld, it still means little three races into the season. Edwards will make the Chase despite the 100-point deduction.It's the other little slap that could hurt more down the road. Edwards won't get the 10 bonus points for the Vegas victory if he makes the Chase.
Each win in the regular season is worth 10 extra points to start the Chase, so this is as close as NASCAR gets to taking away a victory.The first Chase in 2004 is the only one that was decided by fewer than 10 points. Kurt Busch edged Jimmie Johnson by eight markers.The average margin of victory at the end of the Chase is 44 points. Edwards fell just 35 points shy in 2005, so losing by fewer than 10 is a realistic possibility.But Johnson's No. 48 Chevy team received an identical double-100 penalty last season at Sonoma. He didn't get the 10-point Chase penalty, not that it mattered. He won the title by 77 points.Another little history lesson for Edwards.Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.