Here's a perfect concept for a NASCAR-themed reality show:
Let's call it "NASCAR Family Feud." The premise is simple: Every week, a NASCAR driver or prominent owner gets into some contentious squabble. In the real world, NASCAR officials usually have the last word on any issue.
But not on NASCAR Family Feud. Viewers will hear arguments on both sides before casting their votes via phone calls, texts or the Internet. The decision of the people is final.
Yes, it's a bit wacky and can lead to inconsistencies on the right amount of pain and punishment, but it's not much different from the inconsistencies on the right amount of pain and punishment in the NASCAR rulebook.
It seems as if it's written on the fly, week by week, all circumstantial. But it certainly keeps everyone engaged and entertained.
This week's drama featured NASCAR Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook reducing penalties levied against the Penske Racing team during a final appeal hearing on Tuesday. These postscripts are now the norm for the NASCAR Nation.
Ask Denny Hamlin, who got popped $25,000 for making derogatory comments about the new Gen 6 cars earlier this season. Will Ryan Newman get slapped with a similar fine for his tirade after Kurt Busch's car landed on top of his hood at Talladega?
"They can't get their heads out of their [butts] far enough to keep them on the race track, and that's pretty disappointing," Newman said Sunday. "I wanted to make sure I get that point across. Y'all can figure out who 'they' is."
"They" would be the NASCAR hierarchy, which can't seem to catch a break in its week-to-week conflict with its drivers and owners. Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Hamlin are among the drivers who have not escaped NASCAR's wrath this season, and have the fines and lost points to prove it.
The problem starts and ends with consistency, and gray areas that aren't defined clearly.
The Nationwide Series race this past weekend at Talladega ended under caution during a frantic scramble on the last lap, giving Regan Smith the victory instead of Kasey Kahne. But NASCAR didn't throw a caution under similar circumstances in the 2007 Daytona 500, allowing Kevin Harvick to beat Mark Martin.
And then there was the decision to restart the Sprint Cup race after a 3-hour, 36-minute delay on Sunday. True, weather is a great and unpredictable variable, and NASCAR probably would have taken grief if it hadn't re-started the race.
But besides the inconvenience factor, there's an added element of danger on a track that's primed for flying sheet metal. (See Busch/Newman pileup.)
"I wish the pace car could have shut off those yellow lights because it was kind of blinding," Carl Edwards said, reflecting on moments before the final re-start with two laps remaining after the melee that took out Busch, Newman and others. "I was trying to look other places so I wouldn't get blinded by the lights.
"I was really grateful personally that NASCAR let us run that green-white-checkered. It had to be a tough call for NASCAR but we could see well enough. ... I wish you had heart monitors on all the drivers out there. As it gets closer to the end of the race, it just gets crazy. It's an insane event, and I thought everybody did a pretty good job."
Expect NASCAR to continue making all of its decisions a la carte.
And expect for continued controversy. That's just the reality of it all.
Penske penalty reduced
Penske Racing dodged a significant blow Tuesday when NASCAR's chief appellate officer reduced penalties that were levied at Texas Motor Speedway on April 13.
John Middlebrook allowed points deductions and fines to stand against defending Cup champion Brad Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano but cut suspensions for key personnel in the Penske group from six weeks to two Cup races, plus the non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race in Charlotte.
Penalties were reduced for Keselowski's crew chief Paul Wolfe, car chief Jerry Kelley and engineer Brian Wilson. Logano crew chief Todd Gordon, car chief Raymond Fox III and engineer Samuel Stanley also had their penalties reduced.
"The process was fair and equitable," team owner Roger Penske told reporters on Tuesday. "The most important thing is this is over."
"The key thing is to have our people back at the racetrack operating in full control. To me that's most important. If we're going to win and be a leader and win the championship again, we have plenty of time to do that. So to me, I just want to move on. This has been a good process. I've learned a lot and I'm sure the team has."
Keselowski's and Logano's teams were found to have illegal suspensions during prerace inspection at Texas.
Middlebrook's decision came six days after the commission's three-member panel overruled Penske's first appeal.
After all the commotion with the NRA sponsorship in Texas, NASCAR has found a less polarizing sponsor for this month's Sprint All-Star Race and Coca-Cola 600.
Don't we all love toilet paper?
Charmin has signed a deal with Charlotte Motor Speedway to sponsor the two NASCAR events, among the most popular in the long seasonal grind. The deal will also allow Procter & Gamble to promote its toilet-paper products — Charmin Ultra Strong — with billboard-sized exterior banners along the track.
The banners will feature the backside of men's white briefs with tire skid marks down them.
As if Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy didn't have enough NASCAR material to work with already.
The brand's creative agency, Publicis Kaplan Thaler, relishes the irreverent approach. It recently touted its relationship with Charmin in Ad Age by saying, "We think about poop and toilet paper all day, every day. And we love it."
Jeff Gordon will make his 700th consecutive Cup start when he races at Darlington Saturday night. "I've been fortunate to race this long and have the type of career I've had," Gordon said. "It's really cool to see that this will be my 700th start, but it's not something I really paid attention to. It's hard to believe I've run that many — especially consecutively."
Gordon has three poles and 21 top-10s in 32 starts at Darlington. He also leads active drivers in wins (seven) plus 18 top-5s and 1,720 laps led — 903 laps more than any other driver.