A Question Of Language

This week, NASCAR officials upheld the fines and suspensions levied against the #88 team for their rules infraction at Richmond. But crew chief Slugger Labbe still doesn't agree with the decision.

He has compared his rules violation to that of the #48 team during Daytona preparations, when Jimmie Johnson's crew chief was similarly suspended for four races.

He said that Knaus got the same penalty for flagrantly bending the rules while he simply pushed a gray area that wasn't clearly defined in the rulebook. I have to wonderŠ what's the difference?

Maybe Labbe uses a different dictionary than I do. Or maybe there's some mysterious "NASCAR Crew Chief to English" translation that I'm missing. But, what's the difference between "bending the rules" and "pushing a gray area"? To me, those are two different ways of saying the same thing.

He did use the word "flagrant" when speaking of Chad Knaus' Daytona violation, so perhaps that's supposed to be the difference between the two situations. But how do you "flagrantly" bend the rule. To me, "flagrant" would imply going way beyond bending rules. You'd have to be blatantly breaking them.

And according to Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's VP for competition, what Labbe did was no better. "He's just wrong." he said. "It was flagrant."

Labbe did make a good argument about the timing of when the violations were discovered. According to his account, the illegal modification he made was discovered during inspection, and he didn't "try to hide anything", while Chad Knaus made illegal modifications after the car was inspected. But does it really make a difference? An illegal modification is still an illegal modification no matter when it's done.

If you go by Labbe's statements, his violation was less egregious because if he were "pushing a gray area" too far, it would be discovered during the inspection process, and could be changed to make it legal. But Knaus waited until after inspection, so he was obviously trying to hide it. But, the cars are inspected again after the race, so there's no way it would not be found. So, the two situations are still the sameŠ an illegal modification was made that was discovered by NASCAR officials during an inspection.

As for "trying to hide" something, isn't that what every crew does? Maybe not necessarily from NASCAR officials, but anything you can do to give your team an advantage you're going to try and hide from your competitors. You certainly aren't going to show your rivals what to do to help their cars.

So it all seems to come down to language. What's the difference between "bending the rules" and "pushing a gray area"? What is considered "flagrant"? When is something being done to "hide" it from NASCAR? These all seem to be judgement calls, and NASCAR officials are the ones who have to make those calls. In this case, they made a call. It was appealed, and reviewed. And the call remained unchanged.

At that point, no matter what language you use to describe the violation, the punishment isn't going to be altered.

Published on May 23, 2006 in