Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
There are three golden rules in NASCAR. Three golden rules that not even Brian France himself would ever change and that’s truly saying something. Those three rules relate to the three things that drivers and teams know that they should never mess with; the engine, the fuel and the tires. NASCAR is about pushing the envelope and finding the grey area in order to gain an advantage. However, when it comes to the engine, fuel and tires there simply isn’t a gray area.
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Earlier this week Ryan Newman and the No. 31 team were penalized by NASCAR after it was discovered that they tampered with their tires in Fontana. The tampering in question is that the team poked holes into the tires in an effort to allow them to bleed air pressure while running on the track. The average NASCAR fan might question why this is a big deal or an advantage. After all, aren’t holes in your tires the last thing that a driver would want during a race?
Fox NASCAR analyst Larry McReynolds recently spoke via a Fox Sports press release about what bleeding the tire pressure does to help improve a car out on the track.
"Bleeding air out of the tires helps the performance of the car over the course of a run at any size track. If you bleed air off, you don’t have to start as low on air pressure. Air pressure builds over the course of a run due to heat. As pressure builds up, performance starts to suffer. There is an optimum air pressure at which the cars perform, and if teams can bleed air off of the tires, they come closer to accomplishing that optimum pressure."
The one thing that is clear in this situation is that the No. 31 team cheated. There really isn’t anyway to get around that. Not only did the No. 31 cheat but they cheated in such a way that many others wouldn’t even dare to attempt. Cheating is cheating and it’s hard to argue that one type of cheating is worse than another type but in this situation I think you could attempt to make that argument.
There is no science behind poking holes in tires and then running them on a track with 42 other drivers. There isn’t any data to compare it to and there aren’t any notes or information from other places to exchange on the matter. Other penalties/issues in 2015 have come when drivers have been caught flaring their side skirts, messing with their suspension and not having the proper heat shield. Flaring your side skirts and tinkering with your suspension are measured and calculated acts. Teams know what the result is going to be of doing such things and then they just hope that they aren’t going to be
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Poking holes in your tires is not the same.
The No. 31 team had no real way of knowing how their tires were going to react in race conditions. The team had no true way of knowing how far they could push those tires to get the result that they wanted without compromising the tire itself. Yes, the team knew that bleeding air pressure would benefit the car but that’s all that they knew for certain. Next you have to wonder whether or not Newman knew about it. One would have to assume that he did, however it’s not certain at this time. NASCAR docked Newman 75 points but that was the result of it being a P5 infraction not because they felt he knew about it or was a part of it. If Newman knew about it that means he was willing to cheat and potentially put himself in danger just to get an edge. If Newman didn’t know about it that means the team was willing to put Newman in danger to get an edge.
Is either one really better than the other?
Moreover, it wasn’t just Newman that could have been put into a bad spot. If Newman lost a tire because of the holes that the team put into it he would have wrecked. What if Newman collected other drivers when he wrecked? What if another driver got injured in said wreck? NASCAR has enough inherent risks as it is, there is zero need to add to those risks. The No. 31 team made the conscience decision to add to those risks by putting the No. 31 car on the track with holes in its tires.
Last week Denny Hamlin was asked about teams and tire tampering. Hamlin made it clear that he believes any teams that would do that don’t deserve to stay in the sport. Maybe Hamlin was onto something there? It’s easy to look at this situation and chalk it up to another team simply trying to push the envelope. The reason it’s so easy to do that is because none of the negative stuff that could have happened took place. Newman didn’t wreck, the team didn’t poke too many holes to the point where it compromised a tire, nobody else was negatively affected by their cheating.
Should the situation be viewed differently just because Newman and his team pulled it off? I don’t think so.