Upon Further Review: Auto Club Speedway

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What are the consequences of exercising freedom of speech under NASCAR’s new guidelines for behavior?

NASCAR further will define those parameters by how it reacts to what was said and tweeted this past weekend by competitors.

About a month after NASCAR specified behavioral punishment for any competitor, a crew chief and the reigning Sprint Cup champion acted in ways that could lead to NASCAR penalties this week.

Upset with NASCAR for not throwing a caution on the last lap of Saturday’s Xfinity race when his right-front tire blew as he led, Kyle Busch let his feelings be known on the team radio.

Fox Sports 1 aired Busch’s rant on his radio after the race:  “Debris all over the race track and they don’t throw a yellow. I’m just so pleased with you NASCAR. Thanks. You all are awesome. Fixing races.’’

That’s his right to say that, but NASCAR could say it’s not Busch’s right to say that in a forum — on the radio — where fans and others can hear it.

NASCAR officials have said they understand when competitors disagree with a call. Where series officials get upset is when a competitor attacks the sport’s credibility. Busch’s comment of “fixing races’’ could lead to a fine.

Section 12.8.1.b of the Sprint Cup Rule Book states that a competitor could be fined between $10,000 – $50,000 and/or placed on probation for: “Disparaging the sport and/or NASCAR’s leadership.’’

Section 12.8.1.f states that the factors NASCAR may consider when reviewing a matter might include:

  • When and where the incident occurred
  • The perceivable or potential ramifications to others and/or to the sport
  • Member’s past history
  • Any extenuating circumstances

Another test could come with a tweet Cole Pearn sent after Sunday’s Sprint Cup race. He and Martin Truex Jr. were not happy with the how Joey Logano raced Truex with about 50 laps to go. Logano’s actions led to Truex hitting the wall.

Logano radioed his spotter and took the blame, telling him to pass it along to Truex. Logano and Truex met briefly after the race and Logano again took responsibility in interviews afterward.

Even so, Truex saw a top-five finish turn into a season-worst 32nd-place finish. Truex told Motor Racing Network afterward he would “race (Logano) differently from now on.’’

Pearn tweeted his displeasure. A few hours later, Pearn issued an apology for “being over the line’’ with the comment.

Section 12.8.d in the Sprint Cup Rule Book states that “NASCAR expects Members to police their own behavior, attempt to resolve disputes with other Members, and generally act as a role model representing the sport. … a Member’s action or omission may give rise for the need for NASCAR to step in, review the matter, and if necessary take action to maintain the fairness of Competition and/or the integrity of the sport.’’

Section 12.8.e in the Sprint Cup Rule Book states that “NASCAR Members shall not make or cause to be made a public statement and/or communication that criticizes, ridicules, or otherwise disparages another person based upon that person’s race, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, age, or handicapping condition.’’

Is Pearn a role model as a crew chief for a team that won a race last year and nearly won this year’s Daytona 500? Was his tweet offensive enough to lead to a NASCAR penalty? Also consider that Pearn is on probation through Dec. 31 for a roof-flap violation at Daytona and served a one-race suspension for a different roof-flap issue at Atlanta.

— Several drivers scored their best finishes of the season Sunday at Auto Club. They included:

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (fifth), Chase Elliott (sixth), A.J. Allmendinger (eighth), Jamie McMurray (10th), Brian Scott (12th), Brian Vickers (13th), Paul Menard (15th, ties best finish), Landon Cassill (16th), Casey Mears (17th) and Clint Bowyer (18th).

Jimmie Johnson’s victory Sunday was his second of the season. It’s the earliest in a year that he’s won two races since 2010 when he won twice in the first three races. Johnson now has 15 multi-win seasons, passing Jeff Gordon for No. 2 on the all-time list. Richard Petty holds the record with 18 multi-win seasons.

Kevin Harvick placed second on Sunday and is the only Cup driver to score a top-10 finish in each of the first five races of the season. Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch each had done it the first four races. Kyle Busch finished 25th after a tire went down two laps from the scheduled end while he was running second. Kurt Busch struggled throughout the weekend and finished 30th in a backup car.

— Chase Elliott’s three top-10 finishes in the first five races already rank in the best seasons among recent rookie-of-the-year winners. Only one rookie of the year since 2007 had more than three top-10 finishes in their first Cup season (Kyle Larson had eight top-10s when he won the award in 2014).