Ownership rules might cross the line

ON MOTOR SPORTS

Auto Racing

March 18, 2001|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Some are bothered that NASCAR allows a team owner to own more than one team.

Until last Sunday, I wasn't bothered by that.

The ownership issue in NASCAR that bothered me most was the one that allows a driver competing for one car owner to own teams he is competing against.

But after last Sunday's race, with all the safety issues still raging, there are these two ownership issues with which to quarrel.

Last Sunday in Atlanta, Jeff Gordon lost a lap when he ran out of gas. With less than 100 laps to the finish, a caution flag came out, and Jerry Nadeau, the race leader at the time and a Gordon teammate in the Rick Hendrick stable, was told to slow down and allow Gordon to make up the lost lap.

Gordon was not on Nadeau's bumper at the time. In fact, he was so far behind that even the Fox commentators laughed about how Nadeau had to brake hard to allow Gordon to make up the distance.

I have a problem with that.

I suspect Nadeau might, too.

For years now, ever since the two-plus team concept has come into fashion, owners and drivers have insisted the teamwork ends when the racing begins. But that's not how it always looks, and certainly, it wasn't that way Sunday.

Fairness is an issue.

Nowhere else in pro sports can you find a franchise owner who owns more than one franchise in the same sport. But in Winston Cup racing, you certainly can.

The Roush Teams. The Gibbs Teams. The Childress Teams. The Yates Teams. The Evernham Teams. The Hendrick Teams. And that's more than a quarter of the weekly lineup.

And then there is the concept of a driver owning teams he is competing against.

The late Dale Earnhardt was one. Mark Martin and Kyle Petty are in that group.

Knowing those three men, and their competitive natures, their ownership of other cars didn't worry me. But the potential for trouble did.

In the aftermath of Earnhardt's death, reports quoting car owner Jack Roush as saying he was listening on the radio as Earnhardt was giving his drivers - eventual Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip and his son Dale Jr., who finished second - directions on where to run on the track during the race, only adds to my discomfort.

I really don't have a problem with teammates throwing a block on another driver to help a teammate to win a race. I do have a problem with teammates giving away track positions.

I don't have a problem with a driver, whose car isn't capable of winning, moving over to let his teammate make an easier pass.

But they are fine lines, difficult for even the most skilled to negotiate or manage.

The questions the two-ownership concepts raise and the potential they present for mischief are great.

So many scenarios could lead to charges of collusion that it is incredible that any of these multi-car ownerships are allowed.

What if Gordon had won Sunday? Could rookie Kevin Harvick have screamed that the Hendrick teams cheated? As it was, Gordon's finishing second gave him the lead in the points race.

What if it comes down to the last race of the season and, let's say, Gordon wins the race and will clinch the title if say, Dale Jarrett, who is second in the points race, finishes no better than 16th. What if Jarrett is running 16th on the last lap, but the driver in 15th is his teammate Ricky Rudd. Rudd may be a quarter lap ahead of him, and if he continues full throttle to the finish line, there is no way Jarrett can overtake him. But Rudd suddenly slows down, Jarrett passes for 15th and wins the title.

But would Jarrett really win the title or would he have stolen it by collusion? And that scenario is just one possibility.

Maybe none of the men involved will give in to the devil. But last Sunday, Nadeau stomped on his brakes to let his teammate back on the lead lap. It's one thing to speculate that teammates are blocking for each other. It's another to know they gave away track position.

Nadeau let Gordon pass him.

NASCAR should react. If multi-car teams and drivers owning other competing cars are going to remain the norm, then the sanctioning body should take steps to ensure fairness. In a situation like the one last Sunday, both Nadeau and Gordon should have been disqualified. It's harsh. But integrity is the cornerstone of competition.

There should be penalties intended to stop obvious on-track favors that have the potential to taint victories and future championships. And the car owners and competitors should know those penalties will be enforced.

Nuts and bolts

Potomac Speedway in Budds Creek is to hold an open practice session today. From 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., all five of its divisions - the Budweiser Super Late Models, the Bell Motor Company Late Models, the Coors Light Pure-Street Stocks, the Mac Tools Four-Cylinders and the Cliff's Heating and Air conditioning Enduro/Hobby Class - will see track time. Grandstand admission is free, and pit passes cost $10. The track's season opener is scheduled for Saturday. Gates will open that day at 4:30 p.m. with racing beginning at 6 p.m. For more information, call the track at 301-884-4624.

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