HOMESTEAD, Fla. - This week's news of NASCAR fining Brad Keselowski for critical comments he made regarding fuel injection last week has set off another controversial firestorm inside the sport.
NASCAR CEO Brian France addressed the issue during his media availability Friday afternoon at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Keselowski was reportedly fined $25,000 for his strong views opposing NASCAR's move to fuel injection for next year's Sprint Cup Series.
But NASCAR never issued a public statement in the aftermath of the disciplinary action and until an Associated Press story broke on Thursday the situation was not known.
The issue has raised the question of whether there have been other "secret fines" handed out over a variety of issues.
"There could be," France said. "That's why they're private, right? Well, let me tell you what we've done in the last couple of years. In the last couple of years we've taken a position that drivers are going to be able to speak their mind and criticize the sport way more than any other sport would allow. So let's start with that.
"However, there have to be some limits. We thought those limits were being exceeded in the last couple of years because you can't denigrate the sport. You just can't do that. We're not going to accept that."
France reiterated his belief that the sanctioning body was perfectly within its right to defend itself from criticism and remarks made by its athletes that could put the sport in a bad light.
"Let me say one other portion of this," France said. "They are perfectly fine to criticize anything we do, any call we make. They can say they don't like it, they disagree with it. We didn't make the right call. That's fine. But we're not going to let anyone denigrate the sport, and that's going to continue.
"Whether we make the fines public or private, we didn't see a benefit to making them public. If there is some benefit to that, we'll take a look at it. But that is the reasoning behind the penalties."
Other sports leagues regularly fine athletes, coaches or participants for critical remarks or actions that question integrity or credibility. The NBA and NFL in particular have shown no hesitation to punish those who call out poor officiating, decision making or make any other comment or action that harm the sport's image.
That is perfectly within their right as is it in NASCAR's.
However while its counterparts make any such decisions public knowledge, NASCAR continues to operate in a shroud of secrecy which does much more harm to its image.
When that concept was brought to France's attention he didn't agree and tried to downplay the entire turn of events.
"The way we looked at it, what would be the benefit? The drivers know exactly what we're after," France said of tehe policy to not announce such fines as the one handed to Keselowski. "We have these annual meetings with them, right? And then we have semi-annual meetings with them, and we meet with them every weekend at the track. We have formal meetings in the off-season.
"So they know exactly what we expect out of them. When they don't handle that, the only way we can control that is obviously a fining system. But look, don't panic over this. We'll look at it in the off-season, if we need to change it, we'll change it. Not a big deal."
But it's a giant deal.
The more transparent the sport can be the more its credibility is built. There are conspiracy theorists and many who believe "Black Helicopters" are a regular part of the NASCAR world and these clandestine actions only perpetuate those claims.
France would not rule out a potential policy change going forward but also did not back down from NASCAR continuing to defend itself from detrimental comments.
"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," he said. "Not going to accept it.
"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."
Right now the whole ordeal has left a bad taste in my mouth.
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