So, What Exactly Just Happened Here?
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Suddenly, with the release of a really, really vague statement by stock-car racing’s chief appellate officer, the No. 48 team of Hendrick Motorsports moved from starring role to bit player in the young 2012 season’s biggest controversy.
Taking the team’s place at ground zero of the controversy are the egg-faced trinity of NASCAR, a three-judge appeals panel and John Middlebrook, the aforementioned chief appellate officer.
One member of that group has got some ’splainin’ to do. Because right now, all of that group has a major credibility problem.
The HMS team of Jimmie Johnson moved to the forefront of the controversy during Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway in February. Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet failed a pre-practice inspection as NASCAR officials found what they insisted were illegal C-posts (the rear-most posts between the roof of the car and the body of the car).
So egregious was the infraction that the HMS was nuked: Loss of 25 driver points for Johnson; loss of 25 owner points for Jeff Gordon; six-race suspensions for crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec; $100,000 fine for Knaus.
NASCAR grabbed and hustled the parts in question back to its multi-million-dollar, high-tech research and development center in North Carolina and subjected them to further, intense scrutiny. Oh yeah, the officials said, those C-posts were nasty-bad.
The folks at Hendrick did not agree and appealed to the three-judge panel. Oh yeah, the panel insisted, e-gre-geous.
The penalties, among the most severe ever meted out by NASCAR, were backed by the panel. Horrible dang C-posts was the message. NASCAR was absolutely correct in putting a public pounding on HMS.
Still not satisfied that they got a fair shake, the people at Hendrick logged their one, last appeal. That with Middlebrook a week ago.
On Tuesday, Middlebrook made his decision: Nothing wrong with the C-posts. Say what?
Yep, Johnson and Hendrick were given all of their points back, Knaus and Malec were cleared to remain on the job. Bizarrely, the fine against Knaus stood.
And fans and the media are left to ponder: What the heck just happened?
Did NASCAR screw up in assessing the penalties in the first place? Was the C-post cool all the time? Was it pretty close to being cool all the time and if that was the case, why whack the HMS team with a crippling gut shot? Were NASCAR officials making an example out of the Hendrick 48 team and a crafty crew chief who has given the series fits in the past?
And what is up with the three-judge panel? That panel, put together by something called the National Stock Car Racing Commission, stressed what a thorough job it had done in its review of the facts. But that group has long been viewed as a rubber stamp for NASCAR. It has almost never over-ruled a NASCAR penalty and it remains a tad on the secret-society side. That reputation of being a lap dog to the folks in Daytona Beach will be burnished to a high gloss by events surrounding 48-gate.
Or was it Middlebrook who should be doing the explaining. He is a former executive at General Motors, the company which makes Chevrolets, which happens to be the type of car HMS puts on the track. Middlebrook and Mr. Hendrick go way back. Should Middlebrook have recused himself from hearing a very important appeal from his old friends? Would Jack Roush or Roger Penske or Joe Gibbs gotten similar last-minute reprieves? In three previous rulings, he had rescinded but not overturned entire penalties.
The thing is, we will never know what happened behind the curtain.
All are able and willing and already well on their way to sweeping it all aside by saying things like: what’s over is over and time to put this behind us and move on. Middlebrook, reportedly, will say nothing at all.
But this situation demands an explanation. A detailed one. The business owes it to its customers. Customers who spend large sums of money on the product. They deserve to know that what they are watching is not rancid.
They deserve to know why an organization that was sentence to be hung by the neck until competitively crippled is now walking the streets once again.
Right now, say, would be a great time for an explanation.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at email@example.com Comments