When Does 'Interpretation' Become 'Cheating'?

When Chad Knaus was suspended for four races at the beginning of the season, Robert Yates was one of his harshest critics. The crew chief of the #48 team was tagged for an illegal modification to the car during preparations for the Daytona 500, and NASCAR acted swiftly. But Yates didn't think it was strong enough.

"If there is language in the rule book about not doing that particular thing, then he ought to have to go race the Talladega short track the rest of his life," Yates said in February. "If the language covers that areaÉ he should be gone forever. That's just stealing.''

Yates even went on to say that if an employee of one of his own teams was caught intentionally cheating, that employee would be fired.

Now, 10 races later, Yates may be in that exact situation.

Following the Saturday night race at Richmond, The #88 UPS car driven by Dale Jarrett failed inspection by NASCAR officials, who discovered an illegally mounted sway bar. The alteration of the sway bar would likely be in an effort to improve the car's agility when turning through the corners. The infraction was enough to earn driver Dale Jarrett a 25 point penalty, dropping him from 11th to 12th in the standings. Owner Robert Yates also received a 25 point penalty. Crew chief Richard "Slugger" Labbe was slapped with a $25,000 fine as well as a four race suspension.

So does Yates stand by his earlier statements, and fire his crew chief?

Not at this time. Yates said that the violation was "not intentional". He explained that, "in this case, we interpreted the rules differently from NASCAR" and plans to appeal the fines and point deductions. He did go on to say that if the appeal committee believes the altercation was intentional, they will "accept those terms."

Would that mean he would then fire Labbe, as he stated earlier in the season? Or were the words he spoke in reaction to the situation with Chad Knaus only words?

Perhaps there is a big difference between "intentional" and "unintentional", but how does an owner know the truth? And should it make a difference to NASCAR officials? At what point is an altercation to equipment simply a different "interpretation" and when is it "cheating"? Should the penalties be different one way or the other?

Think back to the Olympics a few short months ago. A US Skelaton champion was not allowed to compete because he failed a drug test. How did the drug get into his system? He was using a hair restoration product that happened to contain a substance banned by the Olympic Committee. Did he intentionally take performance enhancing drugs? No. Was he punished as if it was intentional? Yes. It's a simple case of "did he or did he not break the rule?"

NASCAR should be no different. If you break a rule, it shouldn't matter if it was intentional or not. If you broke the rule, you broke the rule.

And if an owner is going to say that NASCAR should penalize a certain way when someone breaks a rule, that should apply to his own team members as well.

Published on May 11, 2006 in