Monday, July 26, 2010

Fines and Punishment

So much going on within the world of racing, I'll offer up my thoughts here. First to NASCAR.

On Monday, the Associated Press reported that NASCAR had fined two of its more popular drivers for criticisms made of NASCAR. One of the drivers was hit with a tag of $50,000 for running off at the mouth.

NASCAR is NOT identifying the drivers, so as to not embarrass that driver, or the driver's sponsors.

Once upon a time, NASCAR told the drivers, to basically shut up and drive. Stop griping, just do your job. This was during the time when the Car of Tomorrow had a wing, and was very difficult for the drivers to drive, and the teams to prepare. Between then and now, NASCAR has changed the COT by bringing back the spoiler. Drivers seem a little happier with the car now.

Then in January, NASCAR told the drivers the "have at it, boys." Be self-policing on the track. NASCAR has done a pretty good job of allowing that to take place, however, when they have had to step in, they have done a soft-shoe to get into place. A harsher approach would have been more effective. At the same time, they said they want the drivers to be more colorful and expressive. Less corporate.

Now, after that directive, NASCAR has stepped in and fined two of them. You can't have ti both ways. You cant' tell drivers to speak their minds, and then fine them for doing just that. Either they can speak freely without fear of punishment, or you bottle them up. The punishments to the drivers sends a very mixed message. I understand NASCAR's reason for protecting the brand, and making sure its best foot is forward. Mixed messages only bring in confusion, not clarity.

Years ago, when I covered the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, team captain Ron Francis was asked a question about officiating after a game (questions that were warranted given the way the game was officiated), and his response was priceless. He said (paraphrasing here), that he finds it funny that he lives in a country that protects the right to free speech, but can't tell truth when answering a question about the refs.

Same deal for NASCAR, it appears.

Shifting gears to the recently completed Tour de France, a story crossed the news wires on Monday regarding Lance Armstrong's team possibly being punished for wearing unapproved uniforms for the final stage of the 3-week long event. The jerseys in question were all black, with a number 28 on the back, signifying the 28 million people battling cancer. Tour officials made Armstrong's Radio Shack team change into their other uniforms, causing a 20-minute delay in the final stage.

Tour officials look like the bad guys here. The International Cycling Union said they were disappointed that the team did not coordinate the switch with Tour officials prior to the stage. Does anyone honestly think the Tour would have allowed Lance and his team to do so? I am of the belief that Armstrong isn't well-liked by the Tour de France, even though he is a 7-time champion of the event. Too many people believe Lance cheated, by using performance enhancing drugs.

Bottom line is, Armstrong, nor any of his teammates were a threat to win the yellow jersey as the overall Tour victor. This was nothing, and the ICU are now turning this into an investigation about improper jerseys. This is the same thing as when Peyton Manning asked the NFL is he could wear black high top shoes to honor the passing of Colts legend Johnny Unitas. The NFL said no, he could not. Sometimes it is better to beg forgiveness, than ask permission.

I know they should have asked, however, does the Tour need to step in and look like a group of uncaring jokers?

Mike Solarte

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