Good Ol' Boys - NASCAR

The Penalty Box
By Doug Belliveau
September 14, 2000

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The familiar DuPont Rainbow car rolls out of the garage.

Okay, here we go again. It's like watching a rerun episode of L.A. Law. Or maybe it's more like an episode of Ally McBeal. Once again someone was accused of not following the strict rules written and enforced by NASCAR. The swift "trial" is over, and the defendants, Jeff Gordon and his crew chief Robbie Loomis, are determined to be guilty as charged. The crime involved a violation of the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup Series rulebook, Section 12-4-Q, which states: "Any determination by NASCAR Officials that the parts and/or equipment used in the Event do not conform... or have not been approved by NASCAR...".

In this court case, the specific equipment referred to is the intake manifold used on the winning number 24 Chevrolet during the Richmond race. "The General Motors intake manifold that the #24 team used during Saturday night's race in Richmond has not been approved," said Mike Helton, NASCAR's Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. "The GM part number on the casting was the same, however, a different material was used which altered the properties of the casting. "The changed casting was not resubmitted by GM for NASCAR's approval in accordance with our procedures."

Jeff Gordon talks with his team members

The court handed down its sentence. Gordon's driver points and Hendrick's owner points were reduced by 100 each. In addition, the crew chief was fined $25,000. However, Gordon retains his win at Richmond. This decision by NASCAR seems to thrill many race fans, many of which have despised Gordon since he dominated Winston Cup in the mid to late 1990's. Some people enjoy kicking a person when they're down.

I agree that NASCAR has to enforce their rules. If not, teams could obtain unfair advantages and the carefully protected level playing field could be tilted. But did anyone gain the upper hand because of this recent violation? Hendrick Motorsports responded, "GM engineers believe that the intake manifold conforms to all NASCAR rules according to approved templates, gauges and other measuring devices. Hendrick Motorsports engineers have tested the part and determined that it in no way affected horsepower output. There was no attempt to conceal the part, which we have been running since April. It also passed post-race inspection in Charlotte for two of our cars. Hendrick Motorsports has a strict policy that our people abide by the rules. There certainly was no attempt by us to gain an unfair advantage with a part available to, and in fact used by, other teams, and we feel confident this ruling will be reversed on appeal."

This just seems to be a case of sending someone to the penalty box for the sake of enforcing the letter of the law, and not the intent of the law. If the unapproved part did not affect the performance of the engine, then why is Gordon and his owner being penalized 100 points? If the unapproved part did improve the performance of the engine, then why is Gordon allowed to retain his victory? If the manufacturer supplied the engine with this unapproved manifold, should they be penalized as well?

Gordon and Hendrick Motorsports plan to appeal NASCAR's penalty

Hendrick intends on appealing this decision. "We have notified NASCAR that we will appeal the penalty imposed on the No. 24 team following our victory Saturday night in Richmond. Not only do we feel a full hearing on the facts will exonerate our team from any intentional wrong doing, but it will remove any cloud of suspicion cast over a great victory."

Good for you, Mr. Hendrick. Let's get court back in session and get to the bottom of this case.

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