Fed up about the style of racing, he said in 2010 that fans shouldn’t even bother going to the track. He was punished with a secret fine that didn’t come to light for months, and the true amount has never been revealed.
But it’s precedent that could again cost him after his strong rebuke of NASCAR on live television Sunday.
Newman, no stranger to harrowing accidents at restrictor-plate tracks, had just seen Kurt Busch’s car barrel-roll on top of his at the end of a long, dreary day. The closing laps of a Talladega race are frantic by nature, and Sunday was wet and cold and getting darker by the second when the 12-car accident erupted on the backstretch with six laps remaining.
Newman was as frustrated as anybody would be after a 3,400-pound car had just landed on top of his hood. But he was also fed up.
So he stepped up to the live TV camera and let it out: “They can build safer race cars, they can build safer walls. But they can’t get their heads out of their (expletive) far enough to keep them on the race track, and that’s pretty disappointing. I wanted to make sure I get that point across. Y’all can figure out who ‘they’ is.”
He continued to criticize NASCAR for restarting the race with 10 laps remaining despite looming darkness. Rain had forced a three-hour, 36-minute delay midway through the race and Talladega doesn’t have lights.
“That’s no way to end a race. That’s just poor judgment in restarting the race, poor judgment,” Newman said. “I mean, you got what you wanted, but poor judgment and running in the dark and running in the rain. That’s it, thank you.”
Logic would say those comments are going to cost Newman some cold, hard cash.
NASCAR chairman Brian France has attempted to put boundaries on what drivers can say, and the new car and the quality of racing are out of bounds.
“I have been crystal clear in the meetings with all of the drivers and all of the owners about the fact that we are going to give them more opportunities to criticize more things than any other professional sport in America,” he said in March. “Having said that, there is one line that we are not going to tolerate and that’s going to be criticizing the quality of the racing product in any way, form or fashion.
“No other professional sport lets you have at it, criticize anything, criticize me personally, calls we make, decisions we make. … But we allow that, and only want them to be careful on one topic.”
Everything Newman said is technically allowable under France’s guidelines, and his comments might be justifiable. But he had a message he wanted to deliver to a live audience.
Now we’ll see if NASCAR is going to take it or shrug it off.
NASCAR has been heavy-handed the last month with technical penalties, and senior management has a busy week of appeals. Penske Racing goes before chief appellate officer John Middlebrook on Tuesday to argue its $200,000 in fines and suspension of seven crew members for the Texas inspection. Then on Wednesday, Joe Gibbs Racing begins the appeals process when it goes before the three-member committee seeking relief from the severe penalties NASCAR levied for a rod three grams too light in Matt Kenseth’s race-winning engine at Kansas.
There’s been sympathy in the garage for JGR – and that’s fairly unheard of in this cutthroat series – because the NASCAR penalties against the team were so harsh even though the infraction was manufacturer Toyota’s fault and did not create a competitive advantage.
But again, it’s a case of NASCAR having the power to rule as it pleases. And now Newman waits to see which way the wind is blowing.