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Woody: Cheaters Shouldn’t Keep Their Trophies

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 16 2010

The Sprint Cup should go to the best driver and best team, not to the best cheaters. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Reggie Buch this week returned his 2005 Heisman Trophy after admitting that he won it while violating NCAA rules during his playing days at USC.

Bush said his actions “stained the dignity of the award.”

Good for Reggie. It’s refreshing to see a pro athlete with a conscience and a sense of shame these days.

Maybe NASCAR will follow Bush’s lead and in the future vacate the championship of any team/driver who won it during a season in which they were caught cheating.

I realize that it’s difficult to compare stock car racing to other sports because the rules in racing tend to be vague. Racers don’t even like to use the term “cheating.” They’re just bending the rules. You know, fudging a bit.

Some of the old-timers used to say “If you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin’.”

Cheating – stealing races and prize money from fellow drivers – is pretty funny, huh?

NASCAR seems to think so, based on its wink-and-grin enforcement. A team cheats its way to a multi-million-dollar championship and NASCAR fines it a few bucks and takes away the crew chief’s play-time for a weekend.

I’m not advocating hanging for jay-walking. If some back-of-the-pack team is struggling to survive and gets caught with an unapproved lug nut, that’s one thing. It’s not OK, but at least you can understand why it tried something in an act of desperation.

Besides, those teams aren’t racing for championships; they’re just trying to get by.

What’s not OK – what’s despicable and unjustifiable – is when a rich, powerful team blatantly cheats. It already has every advantage – money, resources, the most talented drivers and the best personnel. Why cheat? Why not race fair? Why steal candy when you own a candy store?

I’m not proposing that any driver pull a Reggie and abdicate any past championship won during a season in which his team broke the rules. That would be almost impossible because of NASCAR’s historically vague definition of cheating.

What I AM advocating is NASCAR tighten up its definition so that it’s clear enough for even a crew chief to understand. Then put all teams on notice, starting with Sunday’s race at New Hampshire: Any team guilty of a major infraction will be declared ineligible for that season’s championship.

What’s the definition of “major?”

“Major” is anything that a team does deliberately and knowingly against the rules to gain an advantage.

It’s not complicated. Just as Reggie Buch knew he was violating NCAA rules when he accepted improper benefits, NASCAR team owners and crew chiefs know what they’re allowed to do and not do.

I don’t buy the suggestion that a big-time team with troops of trained technicians can “accidentally cheat.” A team earning millions of dollars a year can afford a rule book and hire someone smart enough to read it.

If a driver or a team ever has to forfeit a championship for cheating, I suggest leaving their name in the record book for that particular season. But include a big, glaring asterisk beside it: “Title Vacated for Cheating.”

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 16 2010