CONCORD, N.C. – Smack dab in the middle of perhaps the most important Chase for the Sprint Cup to date, NASCAR finds itself in a situation where it’s damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t.
With so much riding on the new elimination-style Chase format, should NASCAR penalize Brad Keselowski for his actions at Charlotte, knowing full well that if it does, it will effectively eliminate Keselowski from the Chase?
By intentionally running into Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart, Keselowski made his own bed. And now it’s up to NASCAR to decide if it needs to change the linens as a result.
Whatever decision NASCAR ultimately comes to – to penalize Keselowski or not – will be met with criticism.
If the sanctioning body does nothing, it will likely draw huge criticism from fans. For if Keselowski can get away with what he did, what other drivers will throw all caution to the wind in the remaining five Chase races?
If that were to occur, we would likely see the Chase quickly go from high drama to outright mayhem.
Surely, that’s not what NASCAR wants.
At the same time, many fans will argue that Keselowski definitely needs to be punished, if for nothing else but to send a message that such actions will not be tolerated going forward.
But then there’s the other side of the potential punishment coin.
If NASCAR were to penalize Keselowski the usual standard of 25 points, doing so would all but eliminate him from any chance of reaching the Eliminator Round – unless he pulls a Hail Mary win out of his back pocket at Talladega.
Do the math: Keselowski is ranked 10th of the 12 drivers left in the Chase, 50 points behind series leader and teammate Joey Logano and 19 points behind the guy who is in eighth place and on the elimination bubble, Kasey Kahne.
If NASCAR were to slap Keselowski with a 25-point fine, he would have to win Talladega. If he were to finish with a top-five, let’s say, he’d have to hope the other 38 drivers behind him on the racetrack get caught up in the biggest one of Big Ones at the unpredictable wildcard track.
Impossible? No. Unlikely? Most definitely yes.
But that puts NASCAR in a bind of the opposite extreme: If it penalizes Keselowski, all but ending his Chase advancement chances, fan criticism will likely be equally as loud in support of the 2012 series champ as it would be against him if NASCAR does nothing at all.
Or, the sanctioning body could suspend Keselowski for Talladega as punishment, but that too would result in his elimination from advancing to the next round of the Chase.
This is without question, a classic Catch 22 that NASCAR finds itself in.
Or, maybe we should just call it a Catch 2 because that’s Keselowski’s car number.
NASCAR wants fans to tune in to the rest of the Chase, if not go out to the five remaining races on the schedule in person.
It also wants to see drama and human emotion that fans eat up like ice cream and apple pie.
But what can be done, especially when there are more than enough examples of past indiscretions and precedent that brought about NASCAR’s wrath:
- Jeff Gordon was penalized 25 points and fined $100,000 for intentionally wrecking Clint Bowyer at Phoenix in the second-to-last race of the 2012 Chase. Gordon’s actions ultimately cost Bowyer one last shot at the championship the following week in the season finale at Homestead.
- Even though it wasn’t in the Chase, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick were penalized 25 points for their Darlington demolition derby on pit road in 2011, much like what Keselowski did Saturday night in Charlotte.
- The younger Busch brother was also suspended for one race in the 2011 Chase when he intentionally drove Ron Hornaday Jr.’s truck into the wall, effectively ending Hornaday’s Camping World Truck Series championship hopes as a result.
There’s no question that NASCAR has to do something with Keselowski, but what?
Sure, it could penalize him with the catch all infraction, Section 12-4-A of the NASCAR Rule Book, citing “Actions Detrimental to Stock Car Racing.”
But maybe this will also prompt NASCAR to come up with a new rule that might be a bit more appropriate in cases such as this:
“Forcing NASCAR Into a Corner Due to a Driver’s Own Stupidity.”
Yep, Keselowski certainly merits that, for sure.
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