Hopefully, we’ll soon see John Middlebrook on top of a pit box at a NASCAR track, sitting behind Rick Hendrick. It’ll be a fitting place, since Middlebrook was in Hendrick’s back pocket in March.
That’s when Middlebrook, the former GM executive turned NASCAR chief appellate officer, rescinded just about all of the penalties assessed against Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, for illegal modifications to the car at Daytona, and gave as a justification, um, nothing.
That in part is NASCAR’s fault. In a criminal appeal, a judge can’t just say the perp gets a new trial. He has to have an explanation spelled out. NASCAR should have a similar protocol.
Then again, NASCAR has to trust its arbitrator not to make a decision that makes the sport look more rigged than Richard Petty’s engine at Charlotte in 1983.
Major League Baseball faced a similar situation recently, as arbitrator Shyam Das overturned Ryan Braun’s 50-game performance enhancement suspension on what can best be termed a technicality.
Major League baseball subsequently told Das to go to hell, but to stop at the unemployment line first. Yes, they fired his you know what, and it became public earlier this week.
On the surface, it may seem vindictive and hypocritical. Part of having a judge is dealing with judgments you don’t like. Problem is, when those judgments have the potential to ruin any trust fans have that your sport is being competed in fairly and can’t be justified in any substantive way, you can’t just throw up your hands.
Major League Baseball and the players association collectively bargained that either side could fire the arbitrator. NASCAR doesn’t even have to fall back on such a clause. They can just fire and hire whoever they want.
NASCAR knew Middlebrook was a former GM exec, the same company that heavily backs Hendrick’s team. He was put in that position because NASCAR thought he could be non-partisan if put in that situation.
And guess what? He screwed NASCAR eight ways to Sunday.
For that, NASCAR needs to take a lesson and fire him. Publicly belittle him if need be. Folks, we have a sport to save, and that sport needs sponsorship that’s brutally hard to find. If anything threatens the trust that could bring said marketing dollars, then yes, martial law should be enforced. I hate Sprint Cup drivers in the Camping World Truck Series. But if they’ll save Rockingham Speedway, then I’m for Kasey Kahne and any other driver coming in and stealing money from the full-time Truck efforts to bring ticket sales and TV ratings.
Don’t worry, NASCAR. Middlebrook, who had a $1 salary in his NASCAR role, will be fine. He can take a consultant role at Hendrick Motorsports.
They can backdate his hiring to March.
Follow Josh Stewart on Twitter @JoshNASCARWWE