Small Teams Get Hit Hardest


In today’s NASCAR, it is all about the “Big Four”(Hendrick, Roush, Chilldress, and Gibbs). These four teams have a proverbial stranglehold on the sport. When one of these teams is “caught cheating”(namely failing NASCAR inspection), it’s no big deal. If one of these teams attempts to gain a competitive edge illegally, and is, in NASCAR’s book, caught cheating, they may lose a few  points, and the crew chiefs may get fined a few thousand dollars. No big deal, they’ll just gain it all back when they run in the top 5 the next week.

In the meantime, there are roughly 8 mediocre teams simply trying to keep up with the “Big Four”. If they are “caught cheating”, it is a big deal. When these mediocre teams are “caught cheating”, the points deductions and fines set them back even further behind the “Big Four”. In some cases, such as Martin Truex Jr.’s and Brian Vickers’ cases a year ago, getting “caught cheating” can ruin these teams’ whole year.

Then you have the 15-or-so small teams. These teams are not competitive. They do not have much money. Heck, they do not even build their own cars. When these teams’ cars go through inspection, they are holding their breath, praying that whoever they may have bought their parts or car from built it right. Praying that, whoever put the car together didn’t mess up on any of the measurements.

But sometimes, their cars fail inspection. In which case, they are “caught cheating”, even despite the fact that they made no effort whatsoever to gain a competitive advantage.

When these teams’ cars fail inspection, they are the ones who are hit hardest. Though they may get the same penalties that the “Big Four” get, they hurt 1,000,000 times more. Remember, these teams do not have much money. So while a $100,000 fine may not mean very much to the “Big Four”, a fine like that could break one of these small teams.

On Saturday, Carl Long’s #46 car failed inspection. It was not revealed whether or not it failed pre-race or post-race inspection. But it was found that Long’s engine was .17 cubic inches too big. As a result, NASCAR penalized Long and his team by suspending the whole operation for 12 races, and Long’s crew chief was fined an unprecedented $200,000, all over .17 cubic inches. By the way, Long’s engine didn’t last but 3 laps, and he finished dead last in a race that didn’t even count.

To my knowledge, Long’s crew chief does not even make $200,000 a year. Long is lucky if he even qualifies for a single Cup event during the year, so the operation surely cannot afford to pay his fine for him. According to Long, every dime anybody on that team makes goes back into the race team just so they can race. So the team may not have any money at all, and now they have to find a way to pay an already-filthy-rich organization $200,000.

Unfortunately, things like this happen way more often than people can imagine. Though, not to this extent. In the NASCAR Nationwide Series, 6 underfunded teams have already been fined almost $30,000 collectively in 2009. The most unfortunate thing about this is the fact that they are getting penalized, and they have done nothing wrong. Remember, these teams do not build their own cars. They are trusting somebody else to build the cars for them. And yet, NASCAR comes down so hard on them, that it almost breaks them.

And the crew chiefs get hit the worst. They are the ones who have to pay the fine. And when you don’t happen to have 200 grand in your pocket to dish out, it can really get to you. On Monday, Long’s crew chief was admitted into a Georgia hospital with heart problems. Gosh, I hope NASCAR is happy.

What makes no sense to me is why NASCAR even bothers to penalize the small teams. Are they really even competitive when they do “cheat”? No. It’s like revoking a little kid’s allowance because he stole a dollar out of the bank while playing Monopoly, while his much older brother has $2,000 more and owns Boardwalk and Park Place. Why even bother? It didn’t have any effect on the game. And, by the way, as in Long’s case, the game didn’t even count for anything.

What NASCAR is too power-blinded to see here also is that, if these small teams really are trying to cheat, they are so far behind the big teams, and they are trying to call for help. But NASCAR won’t give them any. NASCAR wants the sport to be so “competitive”, and yet they won’t do anything to give these small teams a fair shot. And when the small teams attempt to help themselves in the only way they feel is possible(“cheating”), NASCAR comes down on them so hard that it nearly breaks them.

When it comes to penalties, the small teams seem to get hit hardest