Here is what a weekend of NASCAR racing at Kansas Speedway has taught us:
Drivers who use profanity on live TV broadcasts are penalized by NASCAR. Or not.
Drivers must maintain a reasonable speed under caution or they will loss their position on the track. Or not.
The first lead-lap car to cross the finish line completing the designated race distance is the winner. Or not.
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But the arbitrary silliness that is the NASCAR rules wasn’t invented this past weekend. We have these favorites to recall:
A driver who passes for position by going under the yellow line at Daytona or Talladega will be black-flagged. Or not.
Drivers who wreck other drivers while the race is under caution will be penalized. Or not.
A team can only use one engine per weekend or it receives a penalty. Or not.
The recent trend in expanding the “exceptions” to what have been otherwise considered hard and fast rules in NASCAR is alarming for one very important reason: Rules full of exceptions are no rules at all.
I am reminded of one of my favorite movies, “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Several times during the movie we are told about the rules of the “pirates’ code.” Yet when the pirates need to break the code, they simply reply, “Well, they were really only guidelines anyway.”
Does NASCAR even have guidelines any more? Can any one race official – let alone a fan – really be expected to keep track of all of NASCAR rules and the laundry list of exceptions carved out for each one?
NASCAR has prided itself over the years with its ability to deal with each situation individually, preferring not to impose blanket and uniform punishments. In other words, it wishes to operate in the gray area.
But in the world of sports – where winners and losers are determined by how well they play the game and its set of rules – do gray areas really have a place?
Yes, if everything is black and white there are going to be times players will appear to be treated unnecessarily harshly or appear to get an unfair advantage. But by the same argument, everyone who plays the game knows that one day in that situation that same pendulum could swing toward them.
Let us take just the finish of Sunday’s race. For whatever reason, Greg Biffle – who was the leader under caution as he was completing the final lap – elected to slow and pull briefly off the track. The pace car passed him. Rather then follow Biffle, the second and third place drivers – then Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson – followed the pace car (which the rules require by the way).
The result was Clint Bowyer crossing the finish line first, Jimmie Johnson second and by the time Biffle got moving again, he was third.
Now NASCAR officials and some media members think there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Well, I know this: Over 90,000 fans in attendance at Kansas Speedway and millions more on TV saw a car other than Biffle’s cross the finish line first on the last lap of the race. Days later, fans and media are still arguing over who really won the race.
There were two great NASCAR races at Kansas over the weekend. The sad thing is all the talk this week will be about a penalty in the Busch race announced four hours after the race ended and a finish in the Cup race where the winner crossed the finish line third among lead-lap cars.
Remember, NASCAR and others believe there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
That, to me, is the most serious problem of all.