Sunday, March 10, 2013

Has NASCAR Entered a ‘Fine’ Mess with Hamlin Penalty?

Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images

When it comes to a national stock car organization, NASCAR is the only game in North America. At the top of the motorsport world in the United States (and closely residing at the top of the world), the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is the destination where many drivers want to compete. Attracting large crowds and thereby big sponsorship dollars, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is a sports venue that also gains considerable media attention. The sharp sixth-generation stock car design (known casually as the Gen 6) has been a major grab for attention as the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season began in Daytona.

Through decades, a number of charismatic drivers were credited for bringing personality to the sport. Supportive of the sport of NASCAR, there have been moments where drivers or other figures have vocalized displeasure for rules and circumstances. Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and in recent years Tony Stewart were some of the more memorable contributors to rich characters in NASCAR. Before becoming the 2002 NASCAR Cup Series champion (repeating the feat two times since), Stewart was known for candid remarks calling out tire supplier Goodyear and one infamous moment where is got into a confrontation with a photographer. Tony Stewart would also voice a grievance for NASCAR mandating head and neck support systems in 2001. While Stewart’s personality has cooled from its firey drive could be the result of being a series champion and, now a car owner, the overall attitude in the garage has been muffled by a more aggressive policing for what is said by members of the sport of NASCAR.

Since the start of the 2000s however, NASCAR is effective in self-promoting itself negotiating its television contracts and other broadcast. Wanting to make sure the sport of stock car racing receives the same creditability as other entrenched organization such as Major League Baseball or the National Football League, NASCAR has been playing a balancing act ensuring personalities will promote the sport but remain distinct. A few seasons ago, NASCAR promoted a “Have at it Boys!” mentality in the Sprint Cup Series signalling the sanctioning body wanted to encourage drivers to freely express their winning desire without fear of judgement over race confrontation. Limited mostly to “on-race day activity”, the policy would be contrasted by another set of rules that would oppose the nature of the “Have at it Boys!” cause. Since 2010, some reporters took notice at a process where NASCAR was fining drivers in a less-than public fashion for personal conduct matters. Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman were among some receiving so-called “secret fines” for actions NASCAR deemed negative to the sport. On Thursday, the “secret fine” has turned very publicized when NASCAR slammed the driver of the #11 FedEx Toyota Camry Denny Hamlin with a $25,000 penalty for comments made regarding the new race car specifications labelled under the “Gen 6 car”.

NASCAR Quotes believed to be linked to the NASCAR fine against Denny Hamlin were posted by in a SpeedTV article by Mike Hembree originating from last weekend‘s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway. “I don't want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our Generation-Five (Car of Tomorrow) cars. This is more like what the Generation-Five was at the beginning. The teams hadn’t figured out how to get the aero balance right. Right now, you just run single-file, and you cannot get around the guy in front of you. You would have placed me in 20th-place with 30 (laps) to go, I would have stayed there. I wouldn't have moved up. It's just one of those things where track position is everything.”, was an excerpt of Hamlin’s comments. Denny Hamlin’s comments also decried the use of Goodyear tires he says are too hard to race comfortably at Phoenix International Raceway.

Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Denny Hamlin‘s penalty in this young 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season results from Section 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing) of the NASCAR Rulebook. A purposely-vague section in the rather mystic rulebook of the powerful sport, Section 12-1 had been used to penalize misbehaviour of drivers and other team members involved in the stock car racing organization. In a recently dramatic use in 2011, Section 12-1 gave the sanctioning body to park Kyle Busch for the fall NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup at Texas Motor Speedway.

This is the second known occasion where Hamlin has been hit with a penalty for remarks made around or about NASCAR. In 2010, Denny Hamlin was fined for apparently posting comments on Twitter questioning a debris caution during a Chicagoland Speedway NASCAR Nationwide Series event. Hamlin received a $50,000 on that occasion.

Issuing the recent fine, NASCAR called Denny Hamlin‘s comments as, “disparaging remarks about the on-track racing” in their media release. NASCAR suggested that the making opinions of the Gen 6 car public “denigrate the racing product.” Criticism by competitors was not always deemed a finable offence. Until the introduction of common vehicle measurements in 2003, disputes regarding race cars were part of weekly discussions on and off the track. Especially through the 1990s, it was commonplace for teams of certain manufacturers to publicly protest to being at an unfair advantage in comparison to another car make. With Chevrolet, Ford and Pontiac race cars making up the NASCAR Cup Series garage, there was always an argument to add spoiler, remove spoiler or change some dimension to “level the playing field”. This lobbying created contentious fights whenever a driver or two of a single auto brand won. These battles over NASCAR Cup car rule changes were loud and very public. Ultimately, the basis of every NASCAR stock car created since (including the current Gen 6 vehicle) were forged from the extensive, never-ending complaints from drivers, teams and even fans tiring of any perceived inequality in the series.

In the 2007 season, the introduction of the so-called Car of Tomorrow (or COT) was inaugurated into NASCAR Sprint Cup competition with its own share of criticism. Winning the first race with the new spec stock car at the spring Bristol race, Kyle Busch said flatly the car “sucks”. Living up to its promise for being a step-up for safety over the previous race vehicle specifications, the COT’s target for reducing competition costs have not been realized or promises for improved racing. Visually, the COT cars appeared and behaved more like oversized golf carts than stock car vehicles. Perhaps thanks to open complaints about the COT race car, changes resulted such as the wildly unpopular rear wing giving way to a more conventional spoiler. In fact, the Gen 6 body styles were likely influenced heavily by the debate arising publicly about the COT.

Attempting to control the message of the sport by fining a driver, NASCAR’s choice to levy a fine against Denny Hamlin has largely backfired against the sanctioning body. A majority of NASCAR fans have even pledged support behind Denny Hamlin whether or not stood behind the driver in series. At the Las Vegas event this weekend, one fan in the garage area held a sign reading “Free Speech”. On message boards, resounding praise is behind Hamlin who has since Thursday announced he is appealing the penalty. As the “secret fines” are now readily known, fans also remember other moments where similar and more pointed comments were made without action from NASCAR.

Listening to driver interviews during the early part of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway round, it is clear the message has been crystal clear that NASCAR is suppressing such “disparaging” comments about anything negative. Attempts by some members of the media to test drivers’ opinions on the Gen 6 car has been answered like a pre-written statement calling track conditions and other variables as factors for race competition. Two retired stock car drivers who were known for ruffling feathers during their time as NASCAR stars, presented interesting comments. “I’m going to stand behind Denny on this one. Just because it’s NASCAR’s ball and their ballpark and they make the rules doesn’t necessarily mean that there can be censorship, and there appears to be a lot of censorship in this fine.,” said Kyle Petty in a SpeedTV-posted article supporting Hamlin. Well-known son of Richard Petty, Kyle in his time ran a black “protest car” following the Coca-Cola 600 race where he was penalized for rough driving. On the other side of the argument, 84-time Cup Series winner turned NASCAR on Fox personality Darrell Waltrip likened the NASCAR fine to penalties in other sports. On Twitter, Waltrip wrote, “other leagues fine coaches and players for complaining about officiating and league officials, why should NASCAR be any different?” Several tweets replied to Darrell Waltrip noting this Hamlin’s penalty was not a matter of deputing officiating but rather the equipment used to play the sport. Denny Hamlin’s comments compare to noting an under-inflated basketball or sloppy ice conditions at a hockey arena if the cooling equipment failed.

In regards to the Gen 6 car, it will probably be a mere matter of time when drivers, teams as well as the sanctioning body realize how to make the Chevrolet SS and Ford Fusion race cars a more exciting vehicle in competition. They look wonderful but even the fans are under-whelmed by the overall racing product for the moment with the Gen 6. True NASCAR fans understand that and have not seen Denny Hamlin’s comments as anything other than honesty confirming suspicions. Most people prefer an honest answer to “spin”. NASCAR’s attempt to control the message of the sport is an overreaction and sends a less than honourable statement on how they are overstepping bounds for healthy competition.

In this case in issuing a fine to Denny Hamlin, NASCAR could be the one guilty party for performing actions detrimental to stock car racing.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

2002 Molson Indy Toronto

Chris Nagy Jul07 2002 Toronto Indy Race da Matta celebrates poleChris Nagy Jul07 2002 Toronto Indy Race da MattaChris Nagy Jul07 2002 Toronto Indy Race photo 1Chris Nagy Jul07 2002 Toronto Indy Race photo 2Chris Nagy jul07_02 Mario DomínguezChris Nagy Jul07_08 2002 Toronto Indy 33 tagliani

2002 Molson Indy Toronto, a set on Flickr.

Collecting a great amount of automotive and motorsport-related images for over a decade, I have had some regret that I have not found an opportunity to share many of my favourate moments. While I included numerous images in my articles, other great pictures (or least images I felt happy to snap) never fit a story I have written.

In attempt to share my vast portfolio of photos, I have created a Flickr account where I'm in the process of adding some of my better pictures as several events. This assortment was taken at the 2002 Molson Indy of Toronto. Snapped with my first digital camera (a 1.3 megapxiel HP device), these images are also a product of someone who was still developing his photographic skills.