NASCAR Teams Are Bending the Rules

by Eric Gilmore

Major League Baseball has a highly publicized steroid problem. The athletes’ choice to inject illegal substances compromises what had been termed a ‘gentlemen’s game.’ Congress got involved and now media outlets salivate at any more news.

While the media is focused on baseball and Barry Bonds, another sport has a secret problem. That is, if you consider NASCAR a sport. No, drivers aren’t cheating their bodies, but more so the entire system. More like, disregarding the rules.

Compromising NASCAR’s guidelines is not uncommon. Even if NASCAR does change their laws more than hotel bedding, no one really cares. Why?

Look at Saturday’s headlines involving Richard “Slugger” Labbe, crew chief of Dale Jarrett, who drives for Robert Yates Racing. NASCAR confiscated an illegal sway bar on Jarrett’s Ford No. 88 before the start of last Saturday night’s race in Richmond, Va. The sanctioning body then suspended Labbe for four races, fined him $25,000 and docked 25 points from Jarrett’s total.

The sway bar, also called an “antiroll bar,” counteracts the rolling force of the car body through the turns. Any alterations made to it would likely be in an effort to help the car’s agility through the corners.

Robert Yates, who had made a promise in Feb. that any employee associated with his company that was caught bending the rule, would be fired. Labbe is still employed after Yates turned down his resignation offer. And while Labbe is appealing NASCAR’s ruling, he’s still allowed to man Jarrett’s pit box.

Chad Knaus, crew chief for Jimmie Johnson’s Lowe’s No. 48 Chevrolet, was suspended when Johnson’s crew was found to have illegal equipment after qualifying for the Daytona 500. As a result, his crew chief, Chad Knaus received the same penalty levied on Labbe. Johnson still won the Daytona 500 and subsequently won recently at Talladega, the other super speedway..

Matt Kenseth has been flagged three separate times this season for car parts, components and/or equipment that didn’t jived with NASCAR’s rules. During Friday’s Busch race, Buschwhacker Carl Edwards was suspended for unapproved changes. And those guys are considered the few ‘gentlemen.’ Hello fans, are we seeing a pattern?

Cheating is part of the game. And in sport, cheating isn’t playing fair. Yet no one is punishing the teams enough to deter the teams from continuing their actions. Deducting 25 points and $25,000 fines is chump change to multi-car teams with million dollar budgets.

Like MLB, NASCAR has probably reined the majority of violators. However, with such a competitive sport, winning can come at any cost. And if NASCAR can’t fix the problem, the reward is worth more than the cost.

Event One

Casual fans don’t realize how much support staff is necessary to put on an event such as the Darlington race this weekend. So next time, thank the man on the elevator who is sacrificing his time to work the game. The same goes for the event staff, the security, the parking people, janitors, caterers and any other member helping fan’s enjoyment of an athletic event.

Message Board

I feel the need to weigh in on the message board saga. Every party is at fault. We, media members (myself included) have been too sensitive in a relatively small-market like Greenville. We have chosen a public image and whether comments are flattering or downright vulgar, we need to not pay them mind.

Too many media members and fans believe that the message board is a state-of-the-union address for how many Pirate fans feel. I’m on the thought that there is what former President Nixon termed a silent majority. Many people browse the sites, but very few actually post.

As for the posters, many are true Pirate fans, but many are also hypocrites. Many times, I’ve received an e-mail wishing that I’d never write another column again and that I’m a shame to the profession. That’s fine, but don’t praise me two months later when I write an article that you adore.

The media’s job is to tell the truth. That’s whether fans want to hear it or not. If you don’t like what we think, say or write, then tell us. But don’t flame our names with conjecture when very few people know the actual facts.

Josh Spence is a helluva play-by-play guy. I’m not defending Spence because he is my co-host on Sportsline or because he’s my friend. I for one can see the huge strides that he has made in his three short years as the baseball voice. He has a way to go and he’ll admit that, but I enjoy listening to his calls.

Finally, the message boards need to be ignored. No media members should ever post on them or address what is being said. President Bush continues to ignore the terrorists so desperate for attention. Is it the same parallel? Of course not, but the only way for the posters to go away is to ignore them; pure and simple.

Eric Gilmore