Where's the line? We're still not sure

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Don't cross the line -- if you can find it, that is.

NASCAR chairman Brian France insisted Friday that every driver knows exactly where the line is and how to avoid crossing it, whether it's what they do on the track or what they say off of it.

Hmmm? Kyle Busch apparently didn't know where the line was two weeks ago when he intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday Jr. under caution in a Camping World Truck Series race. And Brad Keselowski
definitely didn't know where it was when he complained about the cost of electronic fuel injection.

Busch was parked for the weekend, including the Sprint Cup Series race at Texas. He was fined $50,000 and lost his sponsor (M&M's) for the final two races.

Keselowski reportedly was fined $25,000 (privately) by NASCAR for his opinion on fuel injection.

Busch got what he deserved. Keselowski got the shaft.

Whether you agree or disagree isn't really the issue. It's "the line," which France believes is clear as a homemade mojito in South Florida.

Well, that imaginary line's clarity is more like a dirty martini to many drivers.

"The drivers may walk around and say it's not clear, but they know where the line is," France said. "We have conversations with them about it all the time. The idea that they do not know where the line is, that's not true and not accurate."

Try telling that to Ryan Newman. He entered the Homestead-Miami Speedway media center Friday moments after France left.

So I told him that France believes they all know where the line is for unacceptable actions on the track and off of it.

"I don't think it's fair to say we all know where the line is," Newman said. "It's not a black-and-white line. There is some sense of confusion. It there wasn't, we wouldn't see some of the things we've seen out here.

"We don't want to get penalized and lose money. We're not that dumb. If everybody knew the line, we wouldn't have some of these problems. We know the area, but we don't know the line."

You have to wonder whether Newman just crossed the line with those comments. Unless he tells us later, we won't know because NASCAR opts to fine drivers secretly for what it deems "no-no" comments.

Maybe Brian Vickers knows where the line is on the track. He wrecked Matt Kenseth this past week at Phoenix, ramming into the back of Kenseth's car in an obvious retaliation move, then claimed innocence.

No action was taken. In NASCAR's view, that didn't cross the line.

"That doesn't mean we didn't think the line was close [to being crossed],'' France said. "We will have conversations with both Brian and Matt regarding what happened, starting back at Martinsville. There was a lot of contact, which is normal.

"But there is a line, and the drivers know where the line is. If they are guessing about it, we are happy to walk them through it."

That will be a long walk with some drivers. Trying to walk reporters through it Friday proved impossible and, at times, a little contentious.

Take the Keselowski fine, for example. Keselowski simply said he thought the switch to EFI was too expensive for the teams right now. Jamie Allison, the director of Ford Racing, said almost the same thing.

So one reporter asked France whether Allison would be fined.

"Jamie Allison doesn't participate in NASCAR," France said. "That's … come on."

France does these state-of-the-sport Q&As every year at Homestead, which usually is his opportunity to say positive things about NASCAR.

He had good things to emphasize about 2011 -- such as 18 different winners in Cup and the closest title battle ever in the Chase finale with Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart only three points apart. But France seemed a little surprised that the majority of questions dealt with this ambiguous line NASCAR has for punishment.

"Look, don't panic over this thing," France said about the policy of unannounced fines for inappropriate comments. "We'll look at it in the offseason. If we need to change it, we'll change it. It's no big deal."

Public or private, where's the line? That's the big deal. What's acceptable and unacceptable for drivers in a car or in an interview, in NASCAR's view?

"I think I know the line, but that doesn't mean I know if I will get fined," Jeff Gordon said Friday. "For me, there are boundaries you can step over that are detrimental to the sport. I know when I walk away if something might get me in trouble.

"But I don't really think about what NASCAR is going to do. I think about how it will affect me in the future with another driver."

Maybe that's the correct way to go about it. Make your own judgment where the line is and hope NASCAR doesn't disagree. If it does, you may not like the interpretation.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.