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Winston Cup Series

Friday, March 7

NASCAR could use a few loose cannons
By Bill Whitehead
Scripps Howard News Service

How much does an expletive uttered in the heat of NASCAR battle cost? Just ask driver Mike Wallace.

The St. Louis native found out the hard way what was acceptable and what wasn't in the Busch Series race at Rockingham, N.C., on a windy, cool Monday morning makeup race that was more noted for Wallace's indiscretion than Jamie McMurray's sheer domination of the 200-mile race.

Mike, who holds the dreaded Jan Brady position in the trio of racing Wallace brothers, was extremely upset with driver Shane Hmiel after contact between the two knocked them out the Busch Series' second race of the year.

And the two held a spirited, toe-to-toe discussion to resolve the issue.

But it wasn't "Rusty, Rusty, Rusty'' that Wallace was complaining about in Jan-like whine before a national audience as he walked past Hmiel's pit area. Instead, the 43-year-old said to sophomore Hmiel, "What's the matter, Shane? Can't drive the %&@$?''

Now, if that word were accepted in Scrabble, the 12-letter noun would be a great play, especially if you could get the "M'' or the "K'' on a triple letter score square, but NASCAR frowns on such language, particular when it refers to itself as a family-oriented sport and TV microphones catch the obscenity and blare it across the country to everyone.

OK, so not everyone was watching. In fact, since it was on cable at 10 a.m. at Rockingham, it's probably safer to say no one was watching, which calls forth the old "If a tree falls in the forest, does anyone hear it?'' debate.

Rockingham is home to the Richmond County Raiders, one of the nation's premier high school football programs. I would dare say the Busch race was run in front of half the average crowd of a Friday night Raiders' home game.

But rules are rules, and Wallace clearly broke one -- regardless of who was listening. If you have your NASCAR Busch rulebook handy, it falls under Section 12-4-A, which details "actions detrimental to stock car racing."

For the infraction, Wallace received a $3,000 fine, saying he was "sabotaged'' from behind by the cameraman. In the rest of his interviews, Wallace conducted himself coolly and obscenity-free.

Last year Chad Knaus, Jimmie Johnson's crew chief, received a $5,000 fine for using an expletive in a direct interview at Dover, clearly a more egregious offense since it cost him a whole two grand more than Wallace. It's the difference, probably, between manslaughter and murder.

It's really great that NASCAR's making the sport as spotless and antiseptic as a race shop's floor, but it needs to be careful in the precedents it sets. After all, when Dale Jarrett made a backhanded, finger-up gesture to a passing Steve Park -- albeit from a distant FOX camera angle -- ol' DW said the UPS driver was "just telling Park that he's No. 1."

Is that an offense that's worth a fine? And what would Jarrett's fine be as it compares to Wallace's and Knaus'? $1,500? $250? How about actually having to drive the big brown truck at Atlanta?

These are just words or expressions conferred in the heat of the moment in a tough working environment.

It's unlikely you'd say them to your co-worker, but it's also unlikely your co-worker is shoving you out of your cubicle at 170 mph.

NASCAR should just let these drivers vent and burn off a little steam, because settling it with a few colorful words is a lot better than settling it on the track.

(Bill Whitehead covers NASCAR for Scripps Treasure Coast (Fla.) Newspapers)

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