NASCAR Needs Stronger Penalties

NASCAR Needs Stronger Penalties
Kevin Harvick will go to the Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend with a new crew chief - Scott Miller. The driver's regular crew chief, Todd Berrier, is sitting out this race as the first of a four-week suspension handed down by race officials for installing an illegal fuel cell for qualifying in Las Vegas.

Berrier was unrepentant about his actions, stating at the time: "If I had to do it again, I'd still play it to try to get away with it, because I know how I got caught." On top of the suspension Berrier was handed a $25,000 fine, Harvick lost 25 series points, and team owner Richard Childress also lost 25 owner points.

Childress is appealing the decision, but believes that even if he wins Berrier will have to serve some form of suspension. As such Harvick, who won his first Cup race at Atlanta in only his second race in the series, is assumed to have a good working ability at the track and will feel Berrier's loss less there than at other tracks.

Berrier's replacement Miller is a former Cup winning crew chief, and his most recent win was at Darlington in 2003 with Ricky Craven. Miller is already team manager on the car, and his experience should cover the gap more than adequately.

Given this, and that fellow suspendees Chad Knaus (Jimmie Johnson - 2 weeks) and Alan Gustafson (Kyle Busch - 2 weeks) have been allowed to race in Atlanta while an appeal against their suspension is pending, it is easy to ask if the penalties handed down by NASCAR are harsh enough to stop cheating.

"I've got three drivers who would trade $25,000, 25 points and a suspension for a win," three car team boss Chip Ganassi noted. "You want to stop cheating? Take the wins away."

It's hard to imagine cars coming first and second in any other races series being able to retain their results if the cars were later found to have been illegal. Unfortunately NASCAR has been traditionally wary of changing race results after the event, and that stand doesn't look like changing in light of last week's events.

NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter acknowledged the problem, stating: "It is not fair to the fans or to the cars that are legal for a victory to be tainted. We've tried money and we've tried points and nothing works. Hopefully the light will go by some crew chiefs taking a vacation, and we won't have to do anything else.

"But if we have to consider further action, we will."

With race officials spending more time than ever inspecting the cars, it's only a matter of time before the next cheat is caught. Time will tell if NASCAR is prepared to do more than talk tough.

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