Whatever Happened To: Innocent Until Proven Guilty?

Sal Sigala Jr.Senior Analyst IOctober 8, 2009

LOUDON, NH - SEPTEMBER 20:  Jimmie Johnson (L) and crew chief Chad Knaus (R) stand beside the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 20, 2009 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

As the chase for the Sprint cup championship continues to heat up, so do the story lines that continue to follow each team as they prepare each week to not only do battle with one another, but the sanctioning body as well.

As with all sports, there are rules put into place to keep a level playing field as level, while at the same time giving that sport a sense of integrity.

Due to the old saying, “Rules are meant to be broken,” that the governing bodies spend so much time making sure that these rules are adhered to.

They the extra mile to make sure that each team, or individual, has an equal opportunity to excel in whatever sport it may be.

In this context many teams and athletes have taken the initiative to bend the rules, while using them for their own advantage to gain the upper hand on the competition.

These practices have always drawn special attention from fans; most of which comes from our own curiosity to see if and when they will be caught.

Fans not only look to see if they get caught, but they also look at the penalties handed down and the severity of them.

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With any sport, as there are those teams or individuals that the fans feel get special treatment, their assumptions are usually based on how much of an asset they are to that sport.

That doesn't seem to be the case, and this became evident when one of Major League Baseball’s biggest stars, Manny Ramirez, sat down for 50 games because he tested positive for a banned substance.

Not only did it cost Ramirez millions of dollars, but it also cost the Dodgers in extra revenue as well as the league.

The biggest blow that came out of this was another black stain on the sport, since he is not the first high profile player to ever get caught using a banned substance.

How easy would it have been for MLB to sweep the whole incident under the rug, in the hope that the sport wouldn't be tarnished anymore than it already has been?

Incidents such as this can be attributed to the amount of money that’s involved, which essentially comes from the star power, when a player can excel above his fellow competitors.

Banned substances can make a huge difference in the performance of an athlete in many sports and NASCAR is not immune from such practices. After all, they have their own version of how a team can enhance the performance of their athlete.

In NASCAR’s case, the athlete just happens to be a very sophisticated piece of equipment, known as a race car.

NASCAR has its own version of bending the rules that are called grey areas.

A grey area, in essence, is the same as an athlete taking something to enhance their performance. It’s still a game of cat and mouse, with the athlete or team trying to see just how much they can get away with, before eventually being caught.

These types of “bending of the rules” have been going on since the first car took to the track some 60 years ago. It can easily be reverted to a team doing what they feel they have to do in order to get that extra advantage.

NASCAR is doing all they can to keep a level playing field. This is especially seen in the number of teams have been caught crossing that line since the C.O.T. was first brought into the series.

When you take a closer look at how many ways there are to hide the obvious-especially with the thousands of parts that go into building a race car-NASCAR has done a good job in keeping teams under a watchful eye while knowing exactly what to look for.

Unlike other sports where you have numerous star players, that come from the 30 plus teams depending on which sport it is.

In those sports in the region of 60 to 100 players generate the bulk of the revenue, which makes it a little easier to stay out under the radar.

Unlike NASCAR, who has a handful of teams and drivers, it comes down to having that star power, which makes it even more appealing to either keep that status or to try and reach it if they are not already there.

It’s because of our own human competitive nature, that some will go to great lengths to reach that plateau while pushing the envelope whenever the situation arises.

So what is so wrong with NASCAR warning a team that they are close to crossing that fine line, as NASCAR did after inspecting the No.48, and the No.5 car after the race in Dover?

"Don’t put it so close that your head’s in the guillotine and somebody is holding a lighter on the rope,” said John Darby. The Director of Competition for the Sprint Cup Series spoke these words when No.48 and No.5 cars came close to failing a post race inspection.

What NASCAR did by confronting the two teams should have sent out a warning that they are watching, and that no team is beyond getting penalized which we has seen not only No. 48 get penalized, but also other teams as well.

Instead, it took on a life of its own, with the assumption that once again Chad Knaus is up to his old tricks, especially since his track record is not one without a blemish or two.

You would have thought that after this statement from Darby, all speculation would have been put to rest.

“Both cars passed inspection, or we would be having a whole different conversation with this,” said Darby.

When a warning is issued, it is neither condemning a team for illegalities, nor is it sending a message to fans that they are being scrutinized for one reason or another. Darby made that very clear.

NASCAR did what they felt was the right thing to do in their own eyes. Looking at the bigger picture, maybe they were trying to retain some sort of integrity within the sport?

When you cruise around NASCAR social sites and read some of the stuff being written not only about the sport, but about HMS as a team, it probably gets annoying at times.

The majority of it is written from the side of the neck, with a lot of personal, factless, and personal opinions that bear no truth to the matter.

So maybe its time to put all of this to rest. NASCAR once again took the No. 48, No. 5, and No. 2 cars along with the race winner back to the NASCAR Research and Development center to make sure that they are all complying.

As with previous results, they are good to continue in their quest for the Sprint Cup Championship.

So it’s safe to say that NASCAR has again shown they are on top of what goes on around the various facilities, where these highly sophisticated pieces of machinery are built.

Even though the eyes of the fans will continue to surround the success that the No. 48 is having, in a negative way, Chad Knaus couldn’t have defended himself with a better statement than this.

“If we were cheating, I wouldn’t be standing here today, I’d be back in Charlotte,” said Johnson crew chief Chad Knaus. “The cars were legal. That’s the thing everybody has to understand. It’s turned into a bigger issue than what it really should.”