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Woody: Justice Not Served in Long Case

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 23 2009
Carl Long's driving career may be over in NASCAR. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Carl Long's driving career may be over in NASCAR. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer

There used to be a joke in college football: Every time Oklahoma got caught cheating the NCAA would put Western Kentucky on probation.

The point being: The NCAA would throw the book at a nobody while letting a big-time (and cash cow) program slide.

Methinks I smell a similar odor wafting from the NASCAR principal’s office.

Last week NASCAR meted out some of the harshest penalties in the sport’s history – and also some of the most absurd.

It hammered Carl Long for having an illegal engine in the Sprint Showdown. Long was suspended for the next 12 Sprint Cup races.

His crew chief Charles Swing was fined $200,000, the biggest fine in NASCAR history.

When I read the story I kept looking for the punch line. OK, I’ll bite – what’s the joke?

Apparently NASCAR’s not kidding, although the penalty is most certainly a joke.

First of all, the “illegal engine” was used in a meaningless special event, not even a points race. The mighty motor lasted all of three laps before it blew, and Long won a grand total of $5,000.

Who does NASCAR think its kidding? Carl Long couldn’t win a race with two illegal engines.

Long also was docked 200 owner points – another record, another travesty. The infraction – minor as it was — didn’t occur in a points race, so why the points penalty?

Long is a journeyman driver trying to hang on by his fingernails. NASCAR just clipped his nails. Long’s career is probably over.

And a $200,000 fine for his crew chief? Incredible.

Look, I like NASCAR. I’ve always felt that in general it does a good job of policing the sport. I have long-time friends who help run the organization.

Having said that, this Carl Long deal is a total miscarriage of garage justice. NASCAR gave the guy the death penalty for jay-waking on a deserted street.

I’ve held off on writing this to try to figure out some rationale for what NASCAR did, and I can’t. It hammed a nobody while in the past allowing its big-name stars a relative free pass.

Richard Petty was once caught with an over-sized engine – after winning a race. Petty was fined (not nearly as severely as Long’s crew chief) but he wasn’t suspended. NASCAR even allowed him to keep the win!

And what about Chad Knaus, Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief and a repeat offender who – when not on repeated probation for cheating – guided Johnson to three straight championships? Knaus got a wrist slap, Johnson and Hendrick got three championships.

The superstars get rich and the nobodys get ripped.

I’ve covered racing for 40 years and throughout that time I’ve steadfastly defended NASCAR from critics who claim it plays favorites. I’d always thought – and written – that every driver received equal treatment regardless of whether his name is Petty, Gordon, Earnhardt or, well, Long.

It pains me to admit I’ve changed my mind. I think NASCAR hammed Carl Long because he’s an expendable driver who is being used to send a message: don’t get caught cheating.

If Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team had been caught with that same engine in the all-star event, I don’t believe Junior would have been kicked out of the next 12 races.

A record fine and a record points penalty for a no-name outfit that couldn’t last four laps in a sideshow race. Way to go NASCAR – you’ve really cleaned up the sport.

I’m anxious to see if NASCAR is equally tough the next time a team owned by somebody named Gibbs or Hendrick is caught cheating.

I think we all know the answer to that: if you’re a star driver or owner you don’t have to worry if you get caught.

NASCAR will simply hang another nobody and allow its cheating superstars to race merrily along. 

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 23 2009
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