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Constructive IndyCar Criticism: The NASCAR Way

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Helio Castroneves, seen here pondering the great wisdom of IndyCar race control after the Honda Indy Edmonton. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Helio Castroneves, seen here pondering the great wisdom of IndyCar race control after the Honda Indy Edmonton. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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As usual, anytime the IZOD IndyCar Series has something that gains them publicity and/or notoriety, NASCAR has to come along and upstage them.

In the wake of last weekend's Honda Indy Edmonton that featured a controversial "regifting" of the winner's trophy to Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves nearly becoming pulpier than a bowl of oatmeal at the giant hands of Security Chief Charles Burns, the Associated Press reported early this week that NASCAR has fined two drivers - apparently, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin - for comments made that, according to NASCAR, were detrimental to the sport.

I can only imagine how frustrated the IndyCar cognoscenti were by NASCAR stealing the spotlight again - even though it was stealing a spotlight made of embarrassment and the mental image of a monkey seducing a football.

Timing aside, this is an interesting dilemma for NASCAR. On the one hand, they want the drivers to mix it up more on the track (to wit, their policy of "Have At It, Boys!" which is great so long as those "having at it" don't get each other T-boned at the end of a race, whereupon NASCAR actually penalizes them for "having at it"... you follow so far?). They also want the drivers to be opinionated and trash-talking like those fine fellows at WWE so that they don't appear bland, vanilla and corporate-shill-ish on camera.

On the other, NASCAR doesn't like their drivers to say anything that might make the sanction appear to be a group of money-hungry greedheads whose appetite for ratings points and newsworthy events goes so far as to rig the competition to make it more exciting than it would be on its own.

So, from what I understand, NASCAR has taken to issuing fines in the area of my entire yearly salary to drivers whose opinions (which NASCAR is allegedly keen to protect under the First Amendment) become criticisms (which NASCAR is allegedly keen to squash outright in direct violation of the First Amendment).

Now, whichever side you fall on in the debate about whether NASCAR should be playing the "free speech" police is not germane to this article. Our fellow blog at NASCAR Ranting and Raving and Jeff Gluck, who manages the NASCAR portal, have the situation far better covered than we could here at POV.

But it made me curious about what would happen if IndyCar took a page from NASCAR's internal playbook (that most elusive and subjective of documents - if, in fact, it IS a document, considering that there is so much more to the NASCAR rulebook than what's typed on the pages... but I digress). How would it look, I wonder?

For one thing, the Twitter War from Toronto would look more like this:
@tomasscheckter: Alas and alack. The misfortunes of contact upon the racing pitch! A pox upon contact!

@tagliani: O dear friend @tomasscheckter, let us mend our broken fences and praise IndyCar as all good drivers should.

@ryanbriscoe6: Oy oy oy, wot a great mate is @grahamrahal! I wanted to go home early from Toronto anyway! Thx for the help m8!

@grahamrahal: I'm just glad it worked out for you because I would never want to disparage you or your darling wife!

@NicoleMBriscoe: WTF? What is this ridiculousness? That's not what happened at all-- <TWITTER ACCOUNT SUSPENDED, FINE ISSUED>

And the ICONIC announcement? Fuggedaboutit!

From Marshall Pruett's article "Puppy Dogs and Unicorns that Poop Butterflies":

"Is there anything more sublime than a brilliantly-executed homage to reality television involving the wonderful and crucial products provided by series sponsor Verizon Wireless? I say, YES! To wit, the spectacular hologrammatic image of the future of our blessed series... rotating like a succulent roast turkey on a spit, whetting our appetites for the tastiness of the upcoming Safety Cell! Thanksgiving, indeed!

"For how can such plans fail? The genius of ICONIC and their decisions makes the likelihood - no, the CERTAINTY - of generous manufacturer involvement in both the engine and chassis departments two years from now something to... well, shall I say worship? I shall! Genius it certainly is, and nothing in my years of experience could possibly make me think otherwise!"

I probably don't have to mention that the postscript of the Honda Indy Edmonton would have featured Helio trying to do the foxtrot with Security Chief Charles instead of him - unwisely - trying to wrestle with the guy.

Yes, things would certainly be different in our IndyCar world if fines came down for comments or conduct that tarnished the image of the sport. Instead of criticism, we'd see bland statements that completely gloss over the critical issues that face IndyCar racing. In place of a constructive debate that held up transparency as a virtue, we would see the illusion of lockstep agreement on everything. And without dissenting voices we would see the series slowly wither and die on the vine.

Hmmm. Why, I wonder, did I get a sense of deja-vu just now?