Not Fine with Me!

C’mon NASCAR – I keep trying to defend you and you keep making it hard for me.

@jeff_gluck reports that @nateryan told Brian France that NASCAR seems like

“…an autocratic regime that doles out punishment in a capricious manner.”

While I agree with those sentiments entirely, a slightly different word comes to my mind:  “chicken%$!#”

Seriously… what other sport has a secret rule book and issues secret fines?  (I’ve called this a “speach limit” elsewhere.)

Let’s look at another case of a driver making pretty strong comments to see how NASCAR might have handled the Keselowski incident.  Tony Stewart has made a number of very pointed criticisms of  Goodyear’s tires.  In some cases (Indy), the criticism was right on target.  After others (Atlanta 2008), it was perhaps not as much.  Stewart said:

“If I were Goodyear, I’d be very embarrassed about the tire they brought this weekend…If they can’t do better than that, pull out of the sport. I guarantee you that Hoosier or Firestone could do a better job than that…I guess that’s why they (Goodyear) got run out of Formula One, the IRL, CART and USAC, you name it.”

Goodyear’s response (in part):

“We believe that our engineering, research and tire development is second to none. We accept that drivers will have their own opinions about our tires. NASCAR president Mike Helton told us Monday that NASCAR is very grateful for the commitment Goodyear has made on behalf of building a good and safe product for our competitors, including this past weekend at Atlanta. NASCAR stands by our relationship and is proud to have Goodyear as a partner.”

“…we would like to correct an erroneous comment made by Tony Stewart. Goodyear decided to leave other racing series only because of the escalating costs of competition in those series. At least one other tire maker has done the same. For Goodyear, the enormous investment required to compete in those other forms of racing far outweighed the benefits derived from our participation. We see tremendous benefits in our 54-year relationship with NASCAR as the organization’s longest continuing supplier. We remain fully committed to, and are proud of, our relationship with NASCAR.”

Even NASCAR’s response was measured.  Mike Helton went on Stewart’s radio show and discussed the issue openly with Stewart. He said what many of us were already thinking:

“Tony, we’re all well aware of your opinion and your right to express your opinion, albeit, I think maybe a little bit too strong in this case.”

Goodyear invited Stewart to tour their tire-making factory and talk with the engineers who design the tires.  After that visit, Stewart moderated his comments and admitted that Goodyear is making their best effort with a difficult problem – while still noting that they don’t always (in his opinion) get it right.

After the tire debacle at Indy, who did Goodyear invite to help test the re-designed tires?  Tony Stewart.  It’s one thing if the people who are always happy with you say good things.  It really says something when your worst critic says you’re doing better.

I understand entirely NASCAR’s unwillingness to have the integrity of their officiating called into question.  That’s the analogy of telling the umpire he’s blind or cussing out the tennis line judge.  It’s poor sportsmanship.  The sanctioning body has the right to defend the integrity of the sport.  If they feel like a fine is the only way to do that, OK, but be upfront about it.

My problem with the Keselowski situation is that there is a fine line between “protecting the integrity of the sport” and forcing people to blindly toe the party line.  NASCAR suffers repeatedly from trying to be absolutely perfect instead of just acknowledging reality.  Reality isn’t bad.

Is corn-derived E15 a reasonable fuel choice to use on the track for this day and age?  Sure.

Is corn-derived E15 the fuel of the future and the solution to all our future energy woes?  Nope – and thankfully, NASCRA has started backing off the blind rhetoric – they’ve recently discussed  looking toward a future time when cellulosic ethanol (ethanol produced from fibrous, non-edible plant matter like corncobs, stalks, switchgrass, etc.) is ready to be used in racing.  It’s not ready right now, but the move to E15 is laying the groundwork for cellulosic E85.  Baby steps are perfectly acceptable — like the new EFI system.

Is a throttle-body EFI system at all comparable to the technology in the cars you and I drive?  Not at all. Is it a significant advance over the carburetor?  Yep. Is EFI going to save a lot of fuel?  No, not really.  Is it going to save the teams money?  Definitely not.  Does it move NASCAR closer to the cars their manufacturers are trying to sell?  It does.

Is it perfect?  No.

Is that OK?  Yes.

Brad Keselowski, the most recent secret finee, was tagged for his recent comments about electronic fuel injection.  (A story broken by Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press – a grad of WVU!.)

“I’m not a big fan of it at all. Carburetor technology is 50 years old but is very simple. The benefit of a carburetor is that it’s very, very easy to police. That’s why NASCAR stuck with that,” he had added. “They’ve been pressured into switching it through the green initiatives. In reality it’s no more efficient than what we have, and it costs a lot more.”

“We’re not doing this because it’s better for the teams.  I don’t think we’re really going to save any gas. It’s a media circus, trying to make you guys happy so you write good stories. It gives them something to promote. We’re always looking for something to promote, but the honest answer is it does nothing for the sport except cost the team owners money.

“Cars on the street are injected with real electronics, not a throttle body (like in NASCAR). So we’ve managed to go from 50-year-old technology to 35-year-old technology. I don’t see what the big deal is.”

So here’s how NASCAR might have responded (if I had been in charge of PR for the day):

“We appreciate Brad Keselowski’s apprehensive feelings about switching to electronic fuel injection.  Many people have negative initial reactions to any type of change.  We look forward to hearing his comments after he has a chance to actually use the system in a few races.  We expect 2012 to be an exciting, competitive season.

“But we must disagree with his assertions that the switch to EFI was motivated by trying to get good publicity, to save the teams money, or pressure from ‘green initiatives’.  NASCAR has a large number of constituencies we try to satisfy:  fans, manufacturers, sponsors, media partners, and drivers among them.  Like most businesses in this country, we’re doing our best to understand how we can contribute to making the country less dependent on foreign energy sources and more energy efficient in general.  The new EFI system is one more step in that direction.

“We realize that it is costing teams additional money in unusable inventory, purchasing new parts and training people – but that is part of the constantly changing nature of motorsports.  We are doing our best to phase in changes and work with the teams to minimize the financial impact as much as possible.

“As for the suggestion of pressure from the ‘green initiatives’, NASCAR has been recycling oil and automotive fluids at the track for a very long time.  Our newer programs (like track-based materials recycling) are being implemented because NASCAR believes in doing the right thing by our fans, our sponsors and our environment.

“While we respect all our participants’ rights to express their opinions, we hope they will do so in a responsible and constructive manner and work with us to make this a better sport for everyone.”

Physicists tend not to be the most subtle of people.  But I think the above does a pretty good job of suggesting that Keselowski’s comments were just plain uninformed without name calling or secret monetary fines that only make it hard for people like me to defend them.

You need only listen to SiriusXM NASCAR radio for a little while to know that there are always going to be people who are unwilling (or unable) to follow a logical argument and who will stick to their opinions even in the face of outright contradictory evidence.  Nothing NASCAR says or does – fines or statements – is going to change their minds.  But there are also a lot of people who will respond to a well-intentioned appeal to reason.

And now y’all know why I’ll never get a job in public relations!







  1. Well put! NASCAR as the sanctioning body could learn a lot from you! When will we hear you on Sirius Speedway again Diandra? Thanks for you insight and knowledge! Very helpful!

    Tom D.

  2. au contraire, Dr Dinadra, Your suggestion of what NASCAR should have said in response to Brad Keselowski’s EFI comments read like they came from a very experienced PR advisor! Looking forward to hearing you on Sirius Speedway with the Godfather and Angie!

    Dave M

  3. I’m of two minds on competitors criticizing NASCAR. On one hand we don’t want drivers afraid to speak their mind. I always preferred Darrell’s comments as a driver to Jeff Gordon’s (though Gordo is becoming more vocal in the past few years). On the other hand, I don’t think it serves the sport to be made to look bad in front of it’s fans and the media.

    So, I guess, the question is “What should NASCAR do about it?”. Ignore it? Issue fines? Respond as in Diandra’s example?

    If it were me, I’d probably meet privately with the critical driver and explain how his/her words are hurting the sport and if they felt things were going in the wrong direction, to please ask for a meeting to air his/her grievances.

    Then, again, as a fan, I do enjoy hearing what the drivers think as it often represents what the fans are thinking, giving us a “vicarious” voice.

  4. What they should have done is put out a statement like the one you wrote and fined him publicly. Other sports do it and the fan base doesn’t have issue with it. They just understand that it’s part of the sport and move on.

    He said nothing wrong until he started talking about it being a publicity move. Frankly he went a little too far and the fine was deserved, but the fact that Nascar likes to hide these things makes it all look shady.

    You just don’t question the integrity of the sanctioning body, which is what he did, but they sure aren’t helping themselves by secretly fining people.

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