Does NASCAR Favor Certain Drivers?

Michael Guadalupe@The_GuadaFeatured ColumnistMarch 31, 2013

FONTANA, CA - MARCH 23:  Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, sits in his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 23, 2013 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Tony Stewart recently went on a swearing-filled rant after the NASCAR race in Fontana, and it seemed like the driver was setting himself up to be fined.

Several days after the race, though, NASCAR has come out and said that no action will be taken against Smoke.

NASCAR not penalizing Stewart makes the organization seem like it plays favorites with certain drivers.

Would Kurt Busch have gotten off so easily if he had done something like what Smoke did?

Even a couple of weeks ago, Denny Hamlin saw himself being fined after he spoke out about a dislike for the new Gen-6 car.

Would NASCAR take similar actions if a driver like Dale Earnhardt Jr. felt the way Hamlin did?

NASCAR also gives attention to certain drivers over others.  Fans hear a lot about Danica Patrick, but outside of Daytona, Patrick has had horrible finishes so far this season.  Why then, does the sport seem to favor talking about her more than other drivers who are having a much better season than hers?

NASCAR, of course, will never admit to favoring some drivers over others, but as it cherry-picks who to fine and who to give more attention to, it seems like the organization is playing favorites.

Good Publicity vs. Bad Publicity

When it comes to what drivers say and do in NASCAR, there's good publicity, and then there's bad publicity.  

Tony Stewart going on a rant about Joey Logano, and even physically going after the driver when the race was over, is essentially good publicity for NASCAR.  

Letting drivers "have at it" is what fans want.

But is it acceptable for a driver like Smoke to always be able to say and do what he wants, without getting fined, as long as it makes the sport exciting?

Not all drivers can get away with doing whatever they want like Smoke has over the last year.  Kurt Busch, for example, found himself suspended when he threatened a reporter last season.

What Busch said was no worse than Stewart's rant last Sunday, and besides for Busch being on probation, the only difference between what the drivers did was who the comments were directed to.

It doesn't look good for NASCAR when a driver threatens a reporter like Busch did, but the scuffle between Logano and Smoke makes the sport exciting.

Should Smoke have been fined for his rant last Sunday?  That’s still up for debate, but if NASCAR decides to punish one driver for threatening someone on air, shouldn’t the same rules apply to everyone else?

If one driver says something and gets in trouble, another driver who acts in a similar way needs to also be punished, regardless of whether it makes a good headline for NASCAR.

Difference of Opinion

NASCAR recently showed its over-protective hand when it decided to fine Denny Hamlin.  Hamlin didn't care for the Gen-6 race car and was quoted after the Phoenix race by ESPN.com as saying:

I don't want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our Gen-5 cars. This is more like what the Generation 5 was at the beginning. The teams hadn't figured out how to get the aero balance right. Right now, you just run single-file and you cannot get around the guy in front of you. You would have placed me in 20th place with 30 [laps] to go, I would have stayed there -- I wouldn't have moved up. It's just one of those things where track position is everything.

Was NASCAR justified in fining Hamlin because he decided to voice his opinion?  Or was NASCAR simply overreacting?  Drivers are praised and put in the spotlight when they say positive things about the new cars, but if a driver has an opinion that's not like the rest, clearly NASCAR has a problem with it.

Hamlin later told Nate Ryan of USA Today, "If I was Jeff Gordon or Tony (Stewart), Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. or any Hendrick driver, they would have had a conversation on me before (the fine). I feel like had I been somebody else, the outcome may have been different."

Does Hamlin have a point?  If Gordon or Dale Jr. spoke out against the new car, would NASCAR react the same way? 

Drivers should be allowed to voice reasonable opinions without needing to worry about NASCAR getting involved.

The Spotlight Problem

As mentioned before, NASCAR basis its reactions off of the publicity they will get.  So when Danica Patrick decided to join the Sprint Cup Series full time, NASCAR supported her.

Danica was all over NASCAR’s coverage before Daytona and remains part of the coverage week after week, regardless of how many drivers in the sport are performing better than she is.

NASCAR pushes Patrick to be on television more because of the attention she brings to the sport, which boosted the Daytona 500 ratings this year.

With Danica in the spotlight, though, she seemingly gets away with things more than other drivers do.

From dumping Sam Hornish Jr. into the wall after the Talladega Nationwide race was over, to trying to take out Landon Cassill during the Kansas race of the Sprint Cup Series, it seemed like Danica could do no wrong last season.

Those actions could have easily gotten another driver put on prohibition, but because of the spotlight Danica is in, she was treated differently.

Kyle Busch, for example, sent Ron Hornaday into the wall during the caution lap of a 2011 Camping World Truck Series race and was parked by NASCAR for the rest of the race weekend.

Shouldn’t Danica have been punished then for what she did to Hornish Jr. last year?

NASCAR might act like it plays favorites, but in reality, it’s based more on how the driver's actions will affect the sport.

Stewart’s actions last week made NASCAR exciting.  Hamlin bashing the Gen-6 potentially hurts how fans may perceive the new car.

And Danica being put in the spotlight has helped NASCAR gain a huge amount of attention this season.

In the end, NASCAR favors the drivers that help the sport, and those who bring more positive attention to stock car racing.


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