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Friday, November 18, 2011
Keselowski crosses secret fine line


HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Brad Keselowski jokingly was told he would hear from NASCAR when he took a negative shot at the governing body's planned move to fuel injection following a recent question and answer fan session at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in North Carolina.

At worst, it was suggested that the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge would be a random selection for further inspection the rest of the season the way Jimmie Johnson's car has been since his crew chief was caught suggesting that the five-time champion intentionally damage the back of the car if it won at Talladega.

Unfortunately, Keselowski did get a call.

And a $25,000 fine.

Make that a "secret" fine.

So NASCAR wants drivers to be more personable and speak their minds, but only as long as it's not something that chairman Brian France says denigrates the sport. It's happened four times that we know of over the past year, including a $50,000 slap on the wrist last year to Denny Hamlin when he referred to a phantom debris caution on Twitter.

I understand NASCAR has to have some control over what's said. Other sports fine athletes when they are critical about officiating because it is a slap at the integrity of the sport.

What Keselowski said did no harm to the sport. It simply was a matter of opinion on fuel injection, that it won't make a significant improvement on fuel mileage, that it will cost owners more money at a time when owners are scraping for every penny.

He added that cars on the street are "injected with real electronics, not a throttle body [like in NASCAR]."

"So we've managed to go from 50-year-old technology to 35-year-old technology," Keselowski said. "I don't see what the big deal is."

What Hamlin said was like a shot at officiating. What Keselowski said was like a shot at the Car of Tomorrow, which at least half the garage has done. Sure, he might have said it less harshly and deserved a "wish you hadn't said that" speech, but a fine was unnecessary.

That it was secret -- word of the fine leaked out on social media -- only created the impression that NASCAR officials have other secrets they're not telling, which France insisted isn't true.

"Look, don't panic over this," France said. "We'll look at it in the offseason, if we need to change it, we'll change it. Not a big deal."

It is a big deal because it confuses all the more what drivers can and can't say.

"Hell, I don't know," Keselowski said when asked if he understood the limits. "I ain't got all the answers. You tell me."

To Keselowski's credit, he accepted NASCAR's fine without complaint. He actually said he deserved it, not so much for what he said but because he's gotten away with worse without a fine.

What's clear to Keselowski and all of us is NASCAR is a dictatorship, which it has to be in order to be successful. Keselowski actually likes France's comparison of the sport to a restaurant -- that if the food isn't good, nobody is going to eat it.

But even in this dictatorship, there should be more room to express opinion without paying a price.

Keselowski explained this by using his own restaurant analogy, saying that he always asks the waitress what she wouldn't recommend to see if he can trust what she recommends.

"You only trust the person if they can admit they have one item on the menu that is not quite so good," Keselowski said.

Nice.

Let's hope Keselowski continues to stand up to the governing body -- that this incident doesn't force him to retreat from social media the way Hamlin admits he did after his fine.