Down in Daytona Beach this past weekend, NASCAR had one of its most exciting and controversial weekends ever. Kevin Harvick won the Daytona 500 by two one-hundredths of a second, one of the closest finishes since electronic scoring began, to edge out one of NASCAR's favorite sons, Mark Martin. As the two raced neck-and-neck to the finish they left behind 48 laps full of crashes and fiery wrecks which claimed the cars of several drivers.
The big story of the race, however, was the cheating scandal that began earlier in the week. On Tuesday, Feb. 13, officials doing inspections of racecars during qualifying races found multiple violations in several drivers' cars, including an unidentified fuel additive in Michael Waltrip's car, for which NASCAR docked him 100 championship points. Also, crew chief David Hyder and competition director Bobby Kennedy were suspended indefinitely for the violation and Hyder was fined $100,000.
Other violations over the past week include a panel of driver Jeff Gordon's car that was measured to be an inch too low. While to a casual fan this may seem insignificant, the added aerodynamic effect at close to 200 mph can be the difference in a tight race. NASCAR officials stressed that, unlike other drivers, Gordon's violation was not intentional and was most likely the result of mechanical error.
Altogether five crew chiefs and one competition director from several teams were suspended for various lengths of time and fined thousands of dollars. While all these violations and underhanded dealings may seem shocking, this is by no means out of the ordinary for NASCAR, whose drivers' reputation for doing everything and anything to get an edge dates back to the organization's founding as bootleggers in the rural South in the early 20th century. The common saying in the garages is "if you ain't cheating, you ain't trying."
In the age of corporate sponsorship and multi-billion dollar revenues, NASCAR has been forced to clean up its "win at any cost image." There has been a general zero tolerance policy on cheating for decades. However, in the past few years officials have cracked down to keep up with the new technology and measures of getting around the rules. NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said late last week, "'cheating' is an ugly word and nothing good comes of it." This may be true but it's highly doubtful that it will stop drivers and teams from pushing the envelope on what's fair and what's not.