We’re heading to New Hampshire this weekend, the place where Clint Bowyer’s season came to die last year.
Everyone knows the story. He won the Chase opener, then got nailed by NASCAR for his back end being just outside engineering tolerance. Richard Childress Racing claimed the tow truck that pushed a gas-less Bowyer into Victory Lane caused the variance, and went as far as to stage a reenactment. No dice. Bowyer was docked 150 points, and it was all over.
At the time I wrote a blog item that suggested General Mills, the parent company of Cheerios, should take the matter to court. One, Bowyer passed the initial postrace inspection at the track. Two, the company lost significant ability to monetize the win through marketing opportunities after spending tens of millions over the years to get its first Cup win that day.
Bowyer returns to New England fighting not just for his Chase life, but for his future with a championship-caliber team. Bowyer and Childress can’t sign a new deal because the sponsorship money isn’t there yet. (We’ve seen what happens when Childress tries to run an underfunded fourth team before — Casey Mears and the underwhelming Jack Daniel’s sponsorship — and it isn’t pretty.)
Lots of companies are cutting back these days, but you can’t blame General Mills if they’re feeling some extra apprehension after last year’s mess.
NASCAR has to keep the playing field even. But it also has to avoid chasing high-dollar sponsors away because their successes get marginalized.
Maybe that’s why you saw the end result of Kyle Busch getting nailed after the Pocono race for having a car that was, in NASCAR’s words, “outside the tolerances.” (NASCAR even found this violation while they were still at the track, BTW.)
And yet, Busch was penalized only six points, the equivalent of about 25 under last year’s points system. On top of that, crew chief Dave Rogers wasn’t even put on probation, which is significant because the following week all three JGR teams were cited for unapproved oil pans at Michigan.
Think about this for a second. Rogers was penalized two weeks in a row and, yet, wasn’t suspended for even one race. A few years ago they would’ve given Chad Knaus the chair for similar shenanigans.
It would be nice to think that NASCAR is getting a little soft to appease a fan base that’s tired of NASCAR playing Big Brother. But it’s more likely that the governing body is looking way above the fans, to those corporate boxes towering over the rank-and-file.
Those who make NASCAR go — Fortune 500 companies — have quietly decreed that “Boys, have at it” be extended to the crew chiefs.
And what they want, they get.