NASCAR completed its smackdown on Jimmie Johnson crew chief Chad Knaus on Monday fining him $25,000 and ordering him to stay home for the next three races. Knaus was asked to leave Daytona last week when NASCAR discovered some illegal modifications to Johnson's car. It was not the first time Knaus has been caught for cheating. Knaus, in an interview broadcast last night on ESPN seems unrepentant. When asked if what he had done was cheating, Knaus deflected the question and asserted that they were pushing the edges of the guidelines and they were no different than anyone else. Of course he also played the "NASCAR is picking on us because we are so good" card indicating that if they were 25th every week such modifications would have been ignored.
Well of course they would not be as hard on someone who finished 25th. If you are cheating and still finish 25th, then what more can NASCAR do to you other than suspend your crew chief. Of course that team should also be penalized on an equal basis as well as a team which finished 1st. Maybe Knaus needs to realize that NASCAR is hard on his team because he is a repeat cheater and let's not mince words or couch terms here, this is cheating. NASCAR has rules and guidelines like any other sport. If you break said rules then it is illegal and you have assumed an advantage that no one else has. One key difference between NASCAR and other sports is the importance of the cars being totally equal. By definition all players in other sports are not equal and subsequently in NASCAR all drivers are not equal. However, by definition the cars in NASCAR are supposed to be equal. This is why NASCAR makes adjustments to the different makes of cars mid-season to ensure no one has an unfair advantage. If a crew chief breaks the rules and gives the driver an extra fuel cell(which Knaus did at Las Vegas last season) or alters the windshield to created better aerodynamics it is cheating.
Of course I believe that NASCAR contributes to the cheating culture in the way they administer punishments. Knaus asserted that everyone else is doing the same thing by pushing the line on what is legal and NASCAR is ultimately to blame for creating that environment. The penalties for infractions such as the ones Knaus has committed are simply not a deterrent. Take the NBA for example. Last season when Indiana's Ron Artest went into the stands and engaged in a fight with a fan, the NBA Commissioner David Stern suspended him for 68 games. Now is there any doubt you will not see a repeat of that incident* again in the NBA? Major League Baseball banned Pete Rose for life for betting on baseball because it threatened the integrity of the game. How many incidents of players betting on baseball have you heard of in the last 17 years? If NASCAR believes in the integrity of its sports and truly desires put an end to this constant undermining of the rules then they would do things like take way the points from the driver or go as far as to disqualify the car from the race altogether. How much cheating would go on if the owner and sponsor starting losing money because the car was in the garage instead of on the track? How willing would driver be to go along with this stuff if they dropped out of The Chase for the Nextel Cup because their crew chief made some modification? Money and winning talk and if you start messing with those two components, I am sure you would see behavior in the garage change for the better. For whatever reason NASCAR is afraid to come down in a manner which will give these crew chiefs pause when they begin circumventing the rules.
That being said, someone needs to clue Chad Knaus in on something very important: He is a cheater, he did something illegal, and he should be thankful David Stern is not the commissioner of NASCAR.
*Author's Note: Earlier this season the New York Knicks' Antonio Davis entered the stands when he thought someone was harassing his wife. As it turns out his wife was doing more of the harassing that the fan. Of course Davis was unaware of this and was suspended 5 games by Stern for entering the stand. This obviously is a different kind of incident than the one we saw last season in Detroit.