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NASCAR losing some fights

Wednesday, May. 08, 2013

Is there an open revolt in NASCAR?

The sanctioning body took a pair of hits this week – one quite large – as it saw a slew of penalties it assessed to Sprint Cup teams for rules violations get reduced or eliminated on appeal.

In fairness, neither Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook nor the three-member panel of the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel said NASCAR was wrong to penalize Penske Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.

But the two decisions – particularly the Gibbs one – show that even in a deck stacked largely in its favor, NASCAR does not always have the winning hand.

Middlebrook cut in half the suspensions of seven Penske team members while letting points penalties and fines remain for the teams of drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.

Since Middlebrook’s position was created in 2010, he has consistently slapped NASCAR’s enforcement hand when it comes to the penalties it assesses.

On Wednesday, the three-member appeals panel – which completely upholds NASCAR’s penalties more than 70 percent of the time – unanimously removed the sting out of what was precedent-setting penalties against JGR for an engine violation.

The appeals panel’s decision generally is predictably favorable to NASCAR, in part because the panel’s membership is made up of numerous people who have made a living from the sport.

In fact, twice the panel increased NASCAR’s penalties, which it has the power to do.

Taken separately, the decisions this week would appear mere bumps in the road. Taken together, they seem to signal something more.

There seems a far more openness of late not just in questioning NASCAR’s decision-making, but in the willingness of participants to step in and curtail the sanctioning body’s authoritative reach.

Will it last? It’s hard to say.

Honestly, NASCAR has the power to alter the process anyway it sees fit, since it did create it.

How far it will go to maintain its control will be interesting to watch during the coming weeks.

Notes

Plan to party at Coke 600

Reigning Cup series champion Keselowski will join Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne, legends Bobby and Donnie Allison and team owner Joe Gibbs on May 26 at an infield Pit Party sponsored by the NASCAR Hall of Fame at the Coca-Cola 600.

The Hall’s Pit Party will take place on pit road from 12:30 to 4:15 p.m. before the season’s longest race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The party will feature driver appearances, live music from national recording artist Benton Blount, concessions, racing displays and more. Access to the Pit Party is included with the purchase of a pit pass or a driver introduction pass.

In addition to the fan forums, the party will feature vintage military vehicles and displays from the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

Pit passes are $100 for adults, $50 for ages 14-18 and free for those younger than 13 with a paying adult. Driver introduction passes are $150 for adults and $75 for those age 13 and younger. Pit passes must be purchased in addition to a race ticket. Call 800-455-3267 for more information.

Awards banquet date set

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards – the annual culmination of Champion’s Week – will be at the Wynn Las Vegas for the fifth consecutive year. This year’s show will be Friday, Dec. 6.

From 1981 until 2008, NASCAR held its year-ending premier series awards show in New York. Starting in 2009, the awards banquet has been in Las Vegas.

Michigan test planned

Cup drivers Kurt Busch and Trevor Bayne will test Tuesday and Wednesday at Michigan International Speedway. The Turn 1 grandstands will be open each day for fans.

Next race

Southern 500

Where: Darlington (S.C.) Raceway

When: 6:45 p.m. Saturday

TV: Fox

Radio: Motor Racing Network

Last year’s winner: Jimmie Johnson

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