OPINION: Would NASCAR Have Fined Benny Jackawallawitz?

By Jerry Jordan, Editor

It’s as if the “crybabies” of the world have taken control of NASCAR and holding the sanctioning body hostage – forcing them to do their bidding and punish those they don’t like. That’s the only other way I can put it after the ridiculous fine Kyle Busch was given for exiting the track this past weekend at Darlington Raceway in a badly damaged racecar.

Busch had just been in an on-track incident with Austin Dillon. He went to his pit and the decision was made to bring his Toyota Camry behind the wall. He hit the first cutout he saw and made a sharp left after leaving his pit box. It is something that happens with drivers in nearly every race.

Cue the Busch-hating fans now:

“There were cones there.”

“He shouldn’t have turned.”

“He was going too fast.”

“He’s a jerk.”

“He’s gonna kill someone.”

“NASCAR doesn’t care.”

Blah, blah, blah. If you want to entertain yourself for hours with “educated” fans giving their “professional” viewpoints on what happened, Twitter and Facebook will take you down a very long, dark hole.

Before I move on, let me point out that NASCAR is probably the most safety-conscious organization in professional sports. They have spent millions of dollars to ensure fans, crew members and drivers avoid injury. After all, these are 3,400-pound cars going 200 mph and protecting lives is more important than any trophy. So, when so-called fans say, “NASCAR doesn’t care” it is an immediate red flag for me.

Yes, there were cones there. They were there for timing and scoring not to prevent a driver from getting to the garage. But this was Kyle Busch and he has to play by different rules. It just so happened that in the passthrough were a couple of crew members, a NASCAR official and some security workers, whose job is to stand there and alert people to stay out of the gap and give warnings when cars are coming through.

From what I saw, the system worked. In fact, more often than not, it works every time. But Busch isn’t the first driver to come off the track and head to the garage in that manner. Not only that, he clearly hit the brakes giving those in the way a chance to make a quick exit. I have watched the video frame-by-frame.

Following the incident, NASCAR gave no indication there would be a penalty.

Then, on Tuesday morning, during an interview on SiriusXM NASCAR, Scott Miller, NASCAR Executive Vice President of Competition said, “It was a situation that could have been bad. Fortunately, nobody got hit or anything like that. It all worked out but putting people in harm’s way for no reason is something we take seriously.”

I want to point out that Scott Miller is a great guy and his job is to review situations like this. Why? So, people don’t get hurt, which as he admitted, they didn’t. But remember, Kyle Busch was driving so the haters hold him to a different standard.

Between Sunday night and Tuesday morning, the Busch-haters had an entire day and night to rally their troops and launch continuous social media attacks against NASCAR and its management team for “doing nothing” or “ignoring safety.” Busch needed to be “suspended” from the racing or even worse “banned” from the sport, according to some “fans.” The haters wanted his head served up to them on a sheet metal platter and NASCAR gave in to their demands.

I want to blame NASCAR but in fairness, they were in a Catch 22. There was no way to win, so NASCAR did the easiest thing it could and fined Busch $50,000. It was a solution that allowed the haters to claim victory, vilify their enemy and provide some cover for the sanctioning body. Sure, Busch gets tagged in the wallet but the money goes to charity, so maybe he can use it as a tax write-off.

In reviewing Busch’s departure from the track, I still don’t think he did anything different than other drivers in the past. While I have never been hit, there have been many “close calls” in my 20-year career of covering NASCAR where a car exiting the track came uncomfortably close to me. The racetrack is where Kyle Busch and 39 other drivers work, it’s their office and we all need to respect that.

“Keep your head on a swivel,” is an often-heard phrase by fans, media and competitors alike, especially when referencing pit road or the garage area of a racetrack.

Not so long ago, NASCAR was billed as a “death-defying” sport of man against machine and fans were given fair warning that being in the stands or on pit road during a race could be hazardous to their health. They were told that during a race, bad things can happen and quick decisions are made, which could bring a car or car parts directly into their path.

Putting all of those warnings aside, I still believe that because his name is “Busch” it was easier for NASCAR to lower the hammer and make an example of him. Maybe, if “Kyle Busch from Las Vegas, Nevada” was a backmarker named “Benny Jackawallawitz from Monowi, Nebraska” he wouldn’t have to shell out $50,000 just because some fans think he is a jerk for winning too much and he lets the haters know they are Number 1.

It appears we must now move towards putting rubber baby buggy bumpers around the cars and insulate fans with bubble wrap when they reserve their tickets for events. Because of this, I propose a new rule that every fan must adhere to when attending a NASCAR race. We will call it, The Ron White Heightened State of Awareness Rule. Why? Because he sums up safety fairly succinctly.

“Go find a helmet, put on the damn helmet.”

Simply put, take some responsibility for yourselves. If you are in the pits, or on pit road, you need to be doubly sure that you are watching out for something crazy to happen. Whether it is a driver exiting the track at a high rate of speed or a car careening out of control, any number of other dangerous events may unfold. I was once almost hit with a tie-rod end that came off Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car at Dover International Speedway. Thankfully, the catchfence deflected it away from my face. So, realize this, while it is rare, you could be injured or even killed at a racetrack. It didn’t happen here and it hasn’t happened in a long time at a NASCAR race but it could happen. Stop blaming others and do what you can to ensure your own safety. Kyle Busch was never out of control when he turned into the pits.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Benny Jackawallawitz is a fictional person I created and declared a resident of the least-populated town in America. I hope the town’s only resident, Elsie Eiler, doesn’t mind the company.

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