NASCAR: Smith criticizes the sport
CONCORD ó NASCAR has a “town hall meeting” scheduled with its drivers next week.
The sport’s longtime rival, Bruton Smith, held one of his own over the weekend.
Smith, the outspoken, multimillionaire chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc., ripped NASCAR for choosing not to disclose the banned substance involved in driver Jeremy Mayfield’s suspension, for dropping record penalties on underfunded driver Carl Long and for the kind of racing created with the Car of Tomorrow.
Smith also criticized two former Kentucky Speedway owners who refuse to drop an antitrust lawsuit against NASCAR. Their decision has delayed the track from getting a Sprint Cup race.
“I have tried everything to get that done,” Smith said in a wide-ranging, 40-minute interview session at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. “I’ve tried to actually shame them into it because they have a moral responsibility because the state of Kentucky spent $96 million there and assisted on building that speedway. So there’s 96 million reasons right there why they ought to drop that lawsuit. But it’s still there.”
Smith, whose company owns eight NASCAR-sanctioned tracks, was on hand to talk about the 50-year anniversary of the Coca-Cola 600. But he wasted little time taking the sanctioning body, the same one that helped build his fortune, to task on several hot topics.
He questioned the way NASCAR handled Mayfield’s situation. Mayfield was suspended indefinitely over a positive random test that remains clouded in secrecy. He was the first driver to be suspended under NASCAR’s new random testing policy, toughened up for this season after former driver Aaron Fike admitted using heroin, even on days he raced.
“I think we need some clarity on this,” Smith said. “NASCAR, in my opinion, should come forth and say what the substance is. Why do we want all this secrecy behind it? I don’t think you progress by being that secretive about something.”
The 81-year-old Smith was even more critical of Long’s suspension. Long was suspended 12 races and docked 200 points for having a slightly oversized engine at Lowe’s last weekend. His crew chief also was fined $200,000. But if a crew chief can’t pay a fine in NASCAR, it defaults to the team owner, which is Long and his wife. The record penalties could mean the end of Long’s low-budget team.
“Why would you fine this man $200,000 for an engine that’s a little bit over?” Smith said. “We’ve seen that so many times. What is it proving? I don’t know who made that decision. … In my opinion, they’re dead wrong. Some of the things that NASCAR can do can disrupt and ruin a person’s reputation, ruin their career. Two hundred thousand dollars? I’ve seen in the past where your engine may be a little bit over and maybe they take the engine.”
Long said there’s no chance he can pay the fine, and the suspension would prevent him from working his full-time job with another Cup team. Long appealed the penalties, allowing him to work until his June 2 hearing.
“I don’t know Carl Long, but there’s an injustice done there,” Smith said. “I hope he wins his appeal. He can’t race for 12 weeks? That’s so cruel to try to ruin this man. That would absolutely financially ruin him, and it’s just not right. I think you can prove your point a better way than that.”
Smith didn’t stop there, either.
He complained about NASCAR’s bulkier car that has been blamed for less-than-stellar racing the last two years. He also suggested this year’s testing ban has handcuffed teams and prevented them from finding solutions to the car’s handling woes.
“Sometimes we forget these fans,” Smith said. “When NASCAR does something that is so far out … NASCAR loses a lot of fans when that happens. That’s something you wouldn’t think would happen in this country. It’s too dictatorial and it’s not good. We don’t need to be making enemies. We need to make friends. We need to be fan-friendly.”
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