NASCAR

Want to play in the gray? You'll pay

Crew members work on the #2 Miller Lite Ford of Brad Keselowski
Crews work on Penske Racing's No. 2 and No. 22 cars in the garage area.
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Jeff Hammond

Jeff Hammond is a former NASCAR crew chief who led Darrell Waltrip to two of his three Sprint Cup championships. The duo also teamed up to win the 1989 Daytona 500. Prior to that, Hammond was the jackman for Cale Yarborough for all three of his Cup championships. He has 43 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief. Follow him on Twitter.

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It has been a week since the severe penalties were handed down by NASCAR on the No. 2 and No. 22 cars of Penske Racing. I think some of the interesting twists have been the comments made by driver of the No. 2 car, Brad Keselowski, along with owner Roger Penske.

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Keselowski said that the parts and components were shown to NASCAR beforehand and he feels the Penske teams weren’t given a fair shake when the parts were taken back from them. Then you have his owner, Roger Penske, saying they were working in a gray area.

The gray area comment is an interesting choice of words because if you go back to 2007, when NASCAR introduced the Car of Tomorrow, NASCAR officials were very up front in saying there was no longer any gray area, with everything now being black and white.

If you go and read the penalty notice, the way it is worded comes from the NASCAR rule book itself. Even if the parts were submitted, were they submitted in their entirety? That is stated very clearly in the rule book. "In its entirety" means when it was all bolted together. Did it meet NASCAR’s specifications then?

There is another line and paragraph that says these parts are not to be movable. If the parts move, well, that’s a rules violation. And if there were slots in the holes that were supposed to be round, well, that’s yet another violation.

What I find interesting is what I am seeing and reading from the penalty. I don’t see what Penske Racing figures is unfair to them. Maybe the appeal has to deal more with the total amount of people who were singled out. I don’t know.

NASCAR’s thinking is pretty clear. If you go against the rules that are in black and white, all those people involved in the decision-making process to circumvent the rules will pay the price. In this case, I think, that is the point that NASCAR is trying to drive home. It’s not just the crew chief or the car chief. That decision goes deeper than that and involves others, and those others also should pay the penalty equally.

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If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying. But you might get one of the all-time biggest punishments.

NASCAR believes the engineers who helped come up with it and make it happen, plus a competition director or team manager are all a part of it and they should shoulder the burden of the penalty equally. NASCAR wants the message to be delivered loud and delivered clear to every team out there: This is not going to be tolerated.

I normally want to err on the side of the competitors, but I have come to understand that when a rule book is issued today, it is black and white and it carries huge liabilities with it for those who don’t follow the proper procedures.

I, for one, always enjoyed the gray area. But in today’s NASCAR, I have come to learn there is no gray area. If it’s not addressed in the rule book, then you probably don’t need to be doing it. If you aren’t willing to share it with NASCAR first, then you know you are getting ready to do something that they probably are going to frown upon.

The sport of NASCAR today is not the same sport I grew up with and made my living in. It, like everything else, has evolved. This is a different NASCAR than that the older generation of drivers and crews are used to. The challenge for any team and any competitor is making sure you are clear of risk/reward when you step off into challenging that rule book today.

Now, back in the day, we always used to laugh about the fact we weren’t rule breakers, but that we were rule makers. In today’s NASCAR, if you want to be a rule maker by being a rule breaker, well, folks, you are going to pay a heavy, heavy penalty.

That’s not to say I agree with it. But, as we like to say, this is the hand you are dealt and you’ll have to play with. I think this week will be very interesting to see how the appeal board looks at this Penske Racing case. I am really, really curious to see if the appeal board still believes in a gray area within the NASCAR rules or, more likely, this is now a black-and-white sport.

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