One problem NASCAR has dealt with over the years is inconsistency when it comes to handing down penalties. In an effort to add more transparency to the process, the sanctioning body will use a new punishment system instead of handling each case on an individual basis.
As the 2014 season comes into focus—the Daytona 500 is less than three weeks away—NASCAR announced its tiered "Deterrence System." It will be used to place every infraction into one of six categories and then use the connected punishment.
David Caraviello of NASCAR.com passed along comments about the system from NASCAR's executive vice president for racing operations, Steve O'Donnell. He said the effort is being made to ensure every driver is treated fairly and can easily understand any assessed penalty:
It's never our intent to penalize, but in order to keep the playing field fair for everyone, we recognize that strong rules need to be in place. We certainly believe we've done a good job governing the sport in the past, but always believe we can get better and benefit everyone involved, especially as we went out and talked to the industry. The new Deterrence System is going to provide a clear path for our competitors to fully understand the boundaries while shoring up some gray areas which may have been in existence, again, all in an effort to be as transparent as possible.
The system begins with a warning. From there, there are six levels of technical infractions, which are laid out from the least serious (P1) to a major infraction (P6).
P1 is for minor issues, and the penalties match that. They range from being moved to the end of the line in pit selection and reductions in pre-race track time to community service.
Starting with P2 there's a complete breakdown for points, fines, suspensions, probation and potential additions based on the post-race inspection. For tiers P2 and P3 it allows for a combination of any or all punishments. Once it reaches P4, all connected penalties will be assessed.
Here's how the chart breaks down for 2014:
|2014 NASCAR Deterrence System|
|Level||Points||Fine||Suspension (CC)||Probation (CC)||Post-Race|
|P2||10||$10-25K||1+ race||End Year/6 Mo.||n/a|
|P3||15||$20-50K||1+ race||End Year/6 Mo.||n/a|
|P4||25||$40-70K||3 races||End Year/6 Mo.||Pts./Fine|
|P5||50||$75-125K||6 races||End Year/6 Mo.||Pts./Fine|
|P6||150||$150-200K||6 races||End Year/6 Mo.||Full loss|
|NASCAR.com; CC - Crew Chief|
All points lost include both owner and driver. The probation period can include the crew chief and any other members of the team suspended for a given matter.
P5 could include the loss of benefits from a car's starting or finishing position. That becomes a definite part of a P6 punishment, which also includes a loss of OEM points for the event in question.
The new system also includes an updated appeals process.
The report from Caraviello on NASCAR.com lays it out as a 10-step process, broken down into two separate five-step appeals. If the driver wins the first, NASCAR must accept the result, but the driver can try again with the Final Appeals Officer. Bryan Moss was selected to fill that role.
Jeff Gluck of USA Today provides more information about this facet of the new system:
The sanctioning body also found its credibility questioned during the appeals process, when panel members with clear conflicts of interest were asked to decide whether a team's sanctions would be reduced. Track operators will no longer be part of the three-member appeals panel in order to alleviate that conflict.
And on several occasions over the past couple seasons, NASCAR was left with egg on its face when Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook reduced or overturned five of six cases he heard.
NASCAR hopes the new appeals format is more streamlined to prevent such issues moving forward.
Ultimately, the easier the penalty and appeals systems are to understand for both teams and fans, the less controversy there should be when it comes to handing down punishment. Aside from things like fine amounts, everything is laid out in stone from the outset of the new season.
The success of the "Deterrence System" probably won't be known for a couple months, if not the whole season. But on the surface it's a good effort by NASCAR to get everything onto a single scale from which the discipline can be handed out in a uniform manner.
It likely won't be long before the system is put to the test. Daytona is right around the corner.