Some things never change, or at least never seem to change, and so it was comforting to see Tony Stewart, ahead of his return to the race car, say something that got the NASCAR poobahs all wound up.
Fined Smoke $35,000, NASCAR did, for making the simple, common sense observation that allowing race cars to roll out of the pits with only four of five lugnuts tightened was, you know, kinda stupid.
That's been the substantive effect of NASCAR loosening the scrutiny on tightened lugnuts, not one of the poobahs' better decisions. It is, in fact ... well, kinda stupid.
And so Smoke said as much, per usual. And NASCAR, per usual, got in his pocket, a nice (if tone deaf) little welcome back present. And things never change, things never change.
Except this time, the serfs revolted.
For one of the rare times in memory, the NASCAR Driver Council released a statement in support of Stewart, and pledged to pay his fine. Because, well, Stewart's right. Slacking off on the lugnuts thing imperils both drivers and fans, and should be nipped posthaste.
Plus, he's Tony Stewart, not Joe Bob Fieldfiller. His opinion should count for something -- and when asked for it, he should be allowed to be express it without NASCAR muzzling him or lifting his wallet.
"It really has nothing to do with lug nuts or no lug nuts or anything like that," driver spokesman Denny Hamlin explained. "It's more so the drivers believe that they have the right to express their opinion, especially when asked in an interview. We try to do our best to give honest answers, and sometimes those aren't always the best thing.
"We just think that there should be a little bit of leniency there for someone who knows a lot about our sport and has been in our sport for a long time. This was a way for us to send a message back to NASCAR that we believe we should have the right to speak our opinion."
He's right, of course. If NASCAR's going to put these guys in front of the media to push the product, they should be allowed to do so honestly. Does it really serve the product for them to do otherwise? To either talk around or duck questions because answering them might cost them? How does that advance NASCAR's brand, unless the brand it wants to advance includes a silhouette of the Kremlin in it?
Transparency is always a better sell than a cover-up, especially a clumsily executed cover-up. And if you're going to fine drivers for criticizing NASCAR, that's the direction you're going. And it makes zero sense, because allowing drivers to criticize their ruling body does absolutely nothing to harm the ruling body's credibility, no matter what the ruling body thinks.
Indeed, it likely enhances its credibility, because the ruling body is then seen as open and adaptive. And how is that not a more preferable image?