Is it easy to cheat in NASCAR?

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Increased enforcement and an expanding rulebook have made the word cheater common around the NASCAR track.
Increased enforcement and an expanding rulebook have made the word cheater common around the NASCAR track.
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NASCAR was pretty rough and tumble in the early years, but nowadays, things are a bit different. Perhaps the biggest causative factor is money. Stock car racing is big business these days and sponsors don't like to hear bad publicity about their teams -- nor do teams want to lose their sponsors. When NASCAR tried to change stock car culture by cracking down whenever teams toed the line, some say they made things worse. Now, teams are being labeled cheaters in the news all the time, even though many of them maintain they did nothing of the sort. In the process of trying to clean up its image by taking a hard line on cheating, NASCAR seems to have actually done the opposite in many people's opinions [sources: Hinton, Honeycutt].

­With the advent of the cookie-cutter Car of Tomorrow -- now the required race car model for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series -- and a whole slew of new construction specifications and rules to go with it, crew chiefs are finding themselves pretty limited when they're looking for ways to enhance their cars. And often when they do manage to find a loophole, NASCAR officials are quick to cry cheating, whereas many of the competitors think the word is too harsh for the work they do. After all, the goal is to win the race -- if flaring out the fenders isn't specifically prohibited in the rulebook and it gives them a slight speed increase, why shouldn't they make the modification? Unfortunately for them, NASCAR doesn't see it that way.

Similarly, NASCAR has been dishing out some serious penalties to teams who try to pull the wool over their eyes, and in some cases teams are even penalized when a car is altered in the course of the race in a way that causes it to fail the post-race inspection. And we're not talking chump change here; fines have crept up past the $100,000 mark and suspensions have stretched to over a month. But that's not even the worst of it [source: Blount]. Teams are also being docked points -- lots of points. Recently, two teams each lost 150, which is equal to the points awarded for a sixth-place finish and can cause a team to tumble down in the rankings [source: NASCAR].

The bottom line? Stiffer penalties don't necessarily mean it's harder to cheat; it's just harder to deal with getting caught. But with the increase in rules it's much easier to get caught. On one hand, some people say trying every trick in the book is still going to happen, certain aspects of it might become more toned down to decrease the likelihood of a crackdown. On the other hand, while some teams are starting to rethink the practice of bending the rules, others have no hesitation in keeping with tradition, even when it comes to flat-out cheating. For example, some illegally fabricate the metal of their cars to make them lighter, others rig the fuel tank to appear full so they can go faster during qualifying -- whatever it takes.

­So the question of whether it's easy to cheat at NASCAR really depends on a number of factors. Namely, what exactly is the issue, how attentive is the inspector and how blatant is the violation? And don't forget, much of the issue involves what an individual considers cheating. Some examples of cheating are pretty obvious while others are more subtle or accidental. On the next page, you'll find more great NASCAR links -- along with some that might interest any non-NASCAR fans as well.

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