NASCAR Not in the Intent Business

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

When Kevin Harvick whooped up on the entire field at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he left many crying foul. It wasn’t necessarily the dominant performance he put in, leading 214 of 267 laps, that had people steamed. It was the car itself. There was something glaringly obvious about the #4 Ford for the Stewart-Haas Team that didn’t sit right. It was obvious enough that Chase Elliott felt compelled to comment on it during the race via team radio. It was the rear roof and top of the rear window.

The two part were clearly sunken in when the car was under load and at top speed, leading some to believe that it could have been an unfair benefit to the Bakersfield, California native. NASCAR agreed and slapped the team with L1 level fines this week. Crew chief Rodney Childers was hit with a $50,000 fine, car chief Robert Smith was suspended for two races and the team was stripped of 20 owner points, as well as 20 driver points.

The team claims a window support brace had broken during the race, leaving the critical area of the car sagging. Many fans aren’t buying it, and feel that it was intentional, or at best that it was rigged to fail at some point during the race. I’m inclined to dismiss this theory, if nothing but for the fact that these guys are smart, and if they were going to cheat (let’s be clear, I’m not saying cheating doesn’t go on, I mean come on, we all know it does) they likely wouldn’t have been so obvious about it. Make no mistake, it was OBVIOUS!

Whether you think Stewart-Haas Racing was cheating or if it was just “one of those things” that happen is irrelevant. The only thing that truly matters is: was the car in accordance with the rule book when it went through post-race inspection? NASCAR says no. Case closed.

It is not, nor should it be, NASCAR’s position to analyze intent. When that process starts, it’s a very slippery slope that no one really wants to go down. The system would become a laughing stock of the sports world, and NASCAR would struggle with credibility (which it already has a problem with in many fans view, no need to make it worse). Once a car enters the proverbial “Room of Doom” (NASCAR’s much dreaded inspection station) intent needs to be left at the door. Either the car is per the rule book, or it’s not, it really is that simple.

So, yes, Kevin Harvick and his team deserved the penalties they got. It doesn’t mean that they intentionally did anything wrong (or it could mean that they did), it just means that the car was not jiving with the rules at the time of the inspection. There is no need to analyze it any deeper than that.

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