By Jenna Fryer
The Associated Press
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ryan Newman had to open his checkbook the last time he spoke out at Talladega.
Fed up about the style of racing, he said in 2010 fans shouldn’t even bother going to the track. He was punished with a secret fine that didn’t come to light for months, and the true amount has never been revealed.
But it’s precedent that could cost him following his strong rebuke of NASCAR on live television Sunday.
Newman, no stranger to harrowing accidents at restrictor-plate tracks, had just witnessed Kurt Busch’s car barrel-roll on top of his at the end of a long and dreary day. The closing laps of a Talladega race are frantic by nature, and on Sunday it was wet and cold and getting darker by the second when the 12-car accident erupted on the backstretch with six laps remaining.
Newman was as frustrated as anybody would be after a 3,400-pound car had just landed on top of their hood.
But he was also fed up.
So he stepped up to the live television camera and let it all out.
“They can build safer race cars, they can build safer walls. But they can’t get their heads out of their (expletive) far enough to keep them on the race track, and that’s pretty disappointing,” Newman said. “I wanted to make sure I get that point across. Y’all can figure out who ‘they’ is.”
He continued on to criticize NASCAR for restarting the race with 10 laps remaining despite the looming darkness. Rain had forced a three hour, 36 minute delay midway through the race and Talladega doesn’t have lights.
“That’s no way to end a race. That’s just poor judgment in restarting the race, poor judgment,” Newman said. “I mean, you got what you wanted, but poor judgment and running in the dark and running in the rain. That’s it, thank you.”
Logic would say those comments are going to cost Newman some cold, hard cash this week.
Only logic doesn’t apply anymore and NASCAR’s decisions seem to be changing on a daily basis.
Remember, it was just two months ago that Denny Hamlin was slapped with a $25,000 fine for the fairly mild assessment that NASCAR’s new car at Phoenix “did not race as good as our generation five cars. This is more like what the generation five was at the beginning.”
Roughly six weeks later, defending champion Brad Keselowski escaped punishment for essentially accusing NASCAR of unfairly targeting his team after inspectors confiscated parts from both Penske Racing cars before the Texas race. “The things I’ve seen over the last seven days have me questioning everything that I believe in, and I’m not happy about it. I feel like we’ve been targeted over the last seven days more than I’ve ever seen a team targeted,” he said.
NASCAR also let Keselowski slide in February when he made wide-ranging and critical comments about the direction of the sport in a USA Today profile. He was, however, summoned to a meeting at NASCAR headquarters with chairman Brian France and International Speedway Corp. chairwoman Lesa France Kennedy.
France has attempted to put boundaries on what drivers can and can’t say, and the new car and the quality of racing are out of bounds.
“I have been crystal clear in the meetings with all of the drivers and all of the owners about the fact that we are going to give them more opportunities to criticize more things than any other professional sport in America,” France told The Associated Press after Hamlin’s fine. “Having said that, there is one line that we are not going to tolerate and that’s going to be criticizing the quality of the racing product in any way, form or fashion.
“No other professional sport lets you have at it, criticize anything, criticize me personally, calls we make, decisions we make, because those are judgment calls that we make week in and week out. The other sports don’t allow that — they look at it as infringement on the integrity of the officials. But we allow that, and only want them to be careful on one topic.”
Under those guidelines, Kasey Kahne is safe.
Kahne is the driver who reminded everyone on Saturday that NASCAR is terribly inconsistent in calling the last lap of races. An accident behind the leaders on the last lap of the Nationwide Series race at Talladega brought out the yellow flag that gave Regan Smith the win, but Kahne would have gone to Victory Lane had NASCAR let the drivers race to the finish line.
“I was really surprised they threw that caution, so many times they wouldn’t in that situation,” Kahne said. “NASCAR always switches it up, you never know what’s going to happen.”
Criticism of a call. Allowed. Move along, Kasey.
Newman? Eeek. That one is trickier. Everything he said is technically allowable under France’s guidelines, and after all the incidents Newman has experienced at plate tracks, his comments might even be justifiable.
But he had a message he wanted to deliver in front of a live television audience. It was a similar message to the one IndyCar’s Will Power was trying to deliver with his two-handed obscene gesture at race control in 2011.
Now we see if NASCAR is going to take it or shrug it off.
NASCAR has been heavy-handed the last month with technical penalties, and senior management has a busy week of appeals. Penske Racing goes before chief appellate officer John Middlebrook on Tuesday to argue its $200,000 in fines and suspension of seven crew members for the Texas inspection. Then on Wednesday, Joe Gibbs Racing begins the appeals process when it goes before the three-member committee seeking relief from the severe penalties NASCAR levied for a rod three grams too light in Matt Kenseth’s race-winning engine at Kansas.
There’s been sympathy in the garage for JGR — and that’s fairly unheard of in this cutthroat series — because the NASCAR penalties against the team were so harsh even though the infraction was manufacturer Toyota’s fault and did not create a competitive advantage.
But again, it’s a case of NASCAR having the power to rule as it pleases. And now Newman waits to see which way the wind is blowing.