HOMESTEAD, Fla. — NASCAR chairman Brian France defended the policy of fining drivers who make critical comments about the series, and said Friday he saw no benefit in making those penalties public.
The Associated Press on Thursday reported Brad Keselowski was fined $25,000 for critical comments made last week about NASCAR’s move to fuel injection next season. It marks at least four times in two years drivers have been fined for comments and NASCAR has not announced them.
This latest incident has overshadowed NASCAR’s championship weekend, which was being celebrated for the tremendous title fight between Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart before word of Keselowski’s fine spread.
“When you cross a line that denigrates the direction of the sport or the quality of the racing, we’re not going to accept that. Not going to accept it,” France said. “Happy to have any other criticism, any other complaint, happy to hear them all. If I own a restaurant and I say you know what, the food in my restaurant is not very good, we’re not going to accept it. It’s as simple as that.”
But he didn’t offer a clear reason why NASCAR doesn’t announce the fines.
“What would be the benefit? The drivers know exactly what we’re after,” he said. “They know exactly what we expect out of them and when they don’t handle that, the only way we can control that is, obviously, a fining system.”
The NBA and NFL both fine coaches and players for critical comments about the league and officiating, but NASCAR for a long time had no such policy. That’s changed in recent years as NASCAR toughened up when drivers made comments that could potentially damage the brand.
Denny Hamlin was fined last year for questioning on Twitter the legitimacy of debris cautions, and Ryan Newman has drawn two fines — one for complaining about racing at Talladega, another for an incident with Juan Pablo Montoya inside the NASCAR hauler at Darlington this year.
NASCAR did not publicize any of them, but the AP learned of all four. Asked Friday if there were others, France didn’t answer.
“There could be. That’s why they’re private, right?” he asked.
Pressed repeatedly on the issue, which on Friday clearly overshadowed NASCAR’s three title races, France seemed to get exasperated as he explained the policy will be reconsidered.
“Look, don’t panic over this,” he said. “We’ll look at it over the offseason. If we need to change it, we’ll change it. Not a big deal.”
Fans, though, do believe it’s a big deal and have often complained that NASCAR makes arbitrary rulings, makes things up to fit the situation and plays favorites. So when word comes out that the sanctioning body did something in secret, fans hold it as proof series leaders aren’t always operating above board.
France dismissed the notion.
“Sort of this idea that there are a bunch of things going on behind the curtain — we’ve never been more transparent,” he said.
Hamlin admitted Friday his fine last year curbed his participation on Twitter and his willingness to be outspoken,
“I stopped quite a bit when I did get fined, and anybody would in that situation,” Hamlin said. “So, yeah, you reserve your comments to outside of the sport, talking about your day. It definitely changed the way I use my Twitter account. I’m not going to keep getting fined.
“I for sure want to go out there and speak my mind on some things I do and don’t agree with, but I am not going to just keep hacking up a fine every time I have an opinion.”
Newman said NASCAR walks a fine line in monitoring driver comments.
“I think it is a good thing that NASCAR manages that, I think it is a good thing that they do it the way they do,” Newman said. “It is not anything that is fun to talk about or any part of it that we need to go into any deeper, but it is tough to speak your piece sometimes when your piece is not what some people want to hear.
“I’m sure you could go talk to every driver out there, where they wanted to say something at one point and they decided not to … there’s things that I’ve heard people say that I questioned. There’s things that I’ve said that I don’t think should have ever been an issue but they were.
“It’s not black and white, it’s not cut and dry. It’s not that simple. Period.”
It’s not clear how this latest fine will affect Keselowski, who has developed into one of NASCAR’s most outspoken drivers.
He got himself into trouble last week during an appearance at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, when he called next year’s move to fuel injection “a disaster.”
“We’re not doing this because it’s better for the teams,” Keselowski said. “I don’t think we’re really going to save any gas. It’s a media circus, trying to make you guys happy so you write good stories. It gives them something to promote. We’re always looking for something to promote, but the honest answer is it does nothing for the sport except cost the team owners money.
“Cars on the street are injected with real electronics, not a throttle body (like in NASCAR). So we’ve managed to go from 50-year-old technology to 35-year-old technology. I don’t see what the big deal is.”