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Back when I was at the track regularly, when I offered my solutions to NASCAR’s problems from time to time, an exasperated official would give me a condescending look and ask, “Do you think you could do any better?”

Then I would get the official double-exasperated by saying something like, “Not me, in particular. I think most anybody could.”

The conversation usually ended right about then.

A few of my opinions have wound up becoming reality. At least five years after I wrote a column calling for NASCAR to use muscle cars – Mustangs, Camaros, Challengers – in the then-Busch Series, it happened.

Most of the time, people -- be they officials, writers, TV and radio guys and gals, or fans – nod their heads with a blank look in their eyes, and then, if I watch them, they walk away shaking their heads as they tell someone else about it. I can’t seem to get my point across.

At the moment, though, I’m flummoxed. I’m buffaloed. I’m discombobulated.

Three of NASCAR’s Monster Energy Cup Series races have been “encumbered.” The winners are winners, but they’re not.

At other places, such as dictionaries, encumber means: (1.) restrict or burden (someone or something) in such a way that free action or movement is difficult, as in, “she was encumbered by her heavy skirts,” (2.) saddle (a person or estate) with a debt or mortgage, or (3.) fill or block up (a place).

I don’t know what NASCAR is doing, but none of those is it.

As best I can figure, these are “tainted” victories. Taint means “contaminate or pollute something,” or, in relation to what the Lords of Daytona Beach are doing, “affect with a bad or undesirable quality.”

[Insert driver and/or team] has been very bad.

A win is a win is not as much of a win but still is a win. Technically.

I have a generational problem. In my youth, one of the principles of sport was defined by a man named Al Davis, who, at various times, coached, ran and owned a team known mostly as the Oakland but were, for a while, the Los Angeles Raiders. They appear to be headed now to Las Vegas, which is the perfect place for them.

“Just win, baby.”

In those barbaric times, it was the job of the officials to decide whether or not a football had enough air in it, and if the ref said okay, it was okay. If a pitcher named Gaylord Perry could throw a spitball without the umpires catching him, he could throw a spitball. In those days of moral depravity, had a video surfaced of a NASCAR crewman slipping a strip of tape on the back of the car in such a way that might create a wee bit more downforce, most people watching the video would’ve said, “That was pretty slick.”

Sports has grown more moralistic. I’m half expecting Hendrick Motorsports to announce it has hired its own ethicist.

In any competitive endeavor, participants will seek an advantage, and if they can’t exploit a rule, they will stretch it. It may be in recruiting, equipment, fuel, or … even … income taxes.

Sports used to be rife with charming rogues. NASCAR is trying to put them out of business one $10,000 lugnut at a time. In order to dispel the notion that there are outlaws, the effect has been to turn half the sport’s drivers, owners and crewmen into them.

I do not have a solution. I’m torn between the belief that cheating cannot be condoned and the suspicion that policing to the ultimate degree makes everyone a cheater.

The late Tim Wilson had a comedy routine in which he went to a bank where balance inquiries resulted in $3 service charges.

“How much money I got in the bank?”

“Thirty-six dollars.”

“How much?”

“Thirty-three dollars.”

“In other words, ma’am, if I ask you 11 more times how much money I got, I ain’t got no money!”


The question is whether NASCAR has become Lieutenant Columbo or Barney Fife.