One reason for building the Car of Tomorrow was to cut costs; another was to simplify the inspection process. All the cars would fit to one template, and NASCAR would no longer need to adjust the fitting multiple times before each race. NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France also promised to make the rules clearer, or at least less confusing in 2008.
So far, the sanctioning body’s new methods are making things more difficult. Along with pre- and post-race scrutiny there are multiple penalties and fines, and suspensions are being levied nonstop, drawing media attention away from the races as never before.
Last season NASCAR lowered the boom on teams that tampered with the COT in the smallest way, issuing harsh penalties for even the slightest infraction. Most of the failed inspections concerned altered parts and additions that did nothing to boost the car’s performance. Uniformity was all the rage, and there were no exceptions.
There seems to be more ambiguity this year. At Las Vegas, Carl Edwards had a runaway tire during a key pit stop in the late stages of his March 2 win. Instead of giving Edwards the usual one-lap penalty, NASCAR forgave the mishap. A TV cameraman had interfered with a crew member and caused a wheel to roll off on pit road, where it could have obstructed another pit crew or caused a wreck. Edwards was allowed to restart in third position because it wasn’t his team’s fault, although the cameraman was where he should have been and is not responsible for loose equipment.
Robby Gordon applied similar logic when his team installed a wrong front bumper cover prior to the Daytona 500. The prototype nose came straight from the Dodge warehouse, fit the inspection template, never made it to the track and would not have helped the No. 7 Dodge go faster. And it wasn’t his fault. Nevertheless, NASCAR took away 100 driver and 100 owner points and fined crew chief Frank Kerr for a questionable violation.
After considering Gordon’s appeal, NASCAR reinstated both the driver and owner points but added to the original fine. Everything was okay, but it wasn’t okay.
In Edwards’ case, there have been numerous instances where penalties for rollaway tires were enforced no matter the cause, leaving some to wonder if Edwards was given special treatment at Las Vegas. Had he been Robby Gordon, would he have been sent to the rear? It’s a fair question.
Edwards won the UAW-Dodge 400 even though his car was not, as it turned out, up-to-standard. The No. 99 Ford passed post-race inspection according to NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston, yet Edwards was docked 100 driver points because the lid to his car’s oil tank was missing. An open oil tank allows better airflow and reduces the normal amount of drag-a decided advantage during a high speed race. He was allowed to keep the win, but not his brief lead in the driver standings. Had NASCAR taken away his Vegas win, runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr. would be handed a roundabout victory, his first in nearly two years but an anticlimax with no fanfare for the sport’s top figure.
In the likely event that Edwards qualifies for the 2008 Chase, he won’t get the 10 bonus points awarded for each win and used for determining the Chase’s seeding order.
NASCAR’s unofficial policy on not reversing wins has been consistent through the years; although Lee Petty was declared by panel to be the first Daytona 500 winner in 1959 three days after Johnny Beauchamp had celebrated in Victory Lane. There is precedent.