Friday, July 30, 2010

Your Turn: Secret Driver Fines

This is a special edition of "Your Turn." The idea is to allow comments on the recently reported issue of secret fines imposed on top NASCAR drivers.

AP reporter Jenna Fryer offered the original story of NASCAR fining at least two drivers this season for comments it felt were detrimental to the sport. In one case, the fine was said to be as much as 50 thousand dollars. This set-off a firestorm of controversy for a variety of reasons.

Here is a group of stories on this topic from a cross-section of NASCAR reporters and bloggers. The list begins with Fryer's original story. Click on the title to read the story.

"NASCAR Gets Tougher To Protect Its Brand" from AP reporter Jenna Fryer.

"NASCAR's Secret Fines A Bad Policy" from AOL Senior Motorsports writer Holly Cain.

"NASCAR’s Gone All Commie On Us And Junk" by NASCAR writer Greg Engle.

"NASCAR Looks To Silence Drivers Critical Of The Sport" by Tom Bowles of Sports Illustrated.

"NASCAR: Come Clean About Secret Penalty Box" by Jim Utter of The Charlotte Observer.

"Secret Fines For Drivers Who Speak Out Signals A Setback For NASCAR" from SBNation motorsports reporter Jeff Gluck.

Professional sports from Major League Baseball to the NFL have a definition and policy that deals with conduct by active athletes, coaches and owners that is deemed detrimental to the sport. Fines, probation and suspension are all part of that policy. So are player unions, collective bargaining agreements and public disclosure of all penalties and fines.

One issue to keep in mind in this discussion is that no football game has ever been stopped and possession given to the losing team because the NFL decided the score was too lopsided. No Major League Baseball team was suddenly given four outs in an inning by the umpire to make the game more exciting.

This season NASCAR has repeatedly stopped the racing action late in events by putting out the caution flag. This has been a topic that has aggravated drivers and owners, especially when what appeared to be the natural outcome of the event was altered. Criticism of NASCAR this season has often been aimed in this direction.

Sprint Cup Series owner Michael Waltrip was vocal in saying NASCAR is correct in calling these "TV timeouts." Waltrip said purposeful late race cautions should be welcomed by the fans. Waltrip stated on Twitter that fans who spent the time and money to come to the races deserved an exciting finish.

SBNation's Jeff Gluck said he is in favor of NASCAR "tightening things up" at the end of the races. If cars are damaged in subsequent wrecks, that is just the price teams pay for playing at the Sprint Cup Series level. "It just adds drama," said Gluck on Twitter.

NASCAR has steadfastly refused to acknowledge that it has ever called a caution period for anything other than a dangerous condition on the racetrack. This sentiment had been backed-up by veteran TV and radio personalities. The issue does not exist to some in this group. Those who dare to discuss it are openly branded as disloyal.

Into this environment strolls the Sprint Cup Series drivers. Normally prepped by public relations managers, the drivers have one big problem. Eventually, they must actually spend some time racing. The result of that is sometimes raw emotion overflows and the resulting statements do not get run through the PR blender.

After fighting for hours to get an advantage on the track, drivers must deal with the fact that NASCAR may choose to alter the outcome by halting the action and calling a "TV timeout." Mark Martin uses an old school term when this happens. He calls them "show cautions."

NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston's statement made a lot of sense. He said NASCAR needs a mechanism to control public statements by high-profile personalities in the sport that are clearly detrimental. Unfortunately, Poston did not address the issue of NASCAR playing an active role in causing those statements through its own actions.

ESPN and several other media sources have named Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman as drivers fined this season. Ultimately, the names don't really matter.

In order for NASCAR to get back on track it must treat the races with the same sense of fair play that fans expect from the NFL and Major Leage Baseball. Only when a level playing field is maintained can NASCAR fairly penalize a "player" for speaking out in anger. Pocono this weekend should be a very good test of this issue.

Certainly, there are other whispers being heard. What else is NASCAR doing in secret? Why didn't NASCAR just disclose the fines originally? What specific comments triggered these fines? Why did NASCAR warn drivers in the pre-season on this topic?

Ultimately, in a week when Jack Roush was involved in an airplane crash, Gateway Raceway withdrew from NASCAR and Scott Wimmer's house burned down, this buzz about secret fines will pass. We will use Thursday to get your opinion and then move on to Pocono and Iowa topics for the weekend.

To offer your comments on NASCAR's secret fines and the media uncovering this topic, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, we do not tolerate profanity or hateful speech. Please keep that in mind when posting.

Thanks for stopping by The Daly Planet for this special edition of "Your Turn." We return to TV and media topics on Friday.