By Jerry Bonkowski
Like many, I was cheering for the little guy, the underdog on Tuesday. Unfortunately, Carl Long received nothing but jeers that day when he appealed his record fine and suspension to the National Stock Car Racing Commission.
The Commission denied Long's bid to be reinstated from a 12-race, 200-point penalty for having an oversized engine during a NON-POINTS race, last month's Sprint Showdown, part of the Sprint All-Star Race weekend.
The Commission also denied appeals by Long's wife (12 races, 200 points, as well) and crew chief Charles Swing, who is also suspended for 12 races, plus must also pay a $200,000 fine for the infraction.
All because the motor in Long's No. 46 Dodge was 0.17 of an inch over prescribed dimensions. When was the last time you measured 0.17 of an inch? It's not very big, is it?
This is a perfect example of punishment not fitting the crime. But instead of having guts, the Commission did what it usually does: it stood in lockstep formation with NASCAR and the penalties were upheld.
Oh, and by the way, while the Commission told Long he was off the hook for having to pay Swing's fine, there's a little Catch-22 situation as a result: Swing cannot receive proper credentials to work in NASCAR until he pays the fine. Even if he declares personal bankruptcy, which has been rumored is a possibility, Swing will likely never be able to earn a living in NASCAR until every last penny is paid, according to Long.
"At the end of year, though, they're still sitting there with their hands out," Long told ESPN.com. "So my crew chief still doesn't get his 2010 license if it hasn't been paid."
I've heard of Mafia juice loan sharks with more compassion than NASCAR in this instance.
Oh, one other thing: Long is allowed to race or work in the lower levels of NASCAR – essentially any series, including Nationwide and Camping World Trucks – except Sprint Cup. There's only one problem with that: Long's full-time Monday-through-Friday day job is with Front Row Racing, which is a Sprint Cup team.
So, not only do Long and Swing get screwed on the front end, they also get screwed on the back end. Not only can't they race any longer, NASCAR has essentially put them both out of jobs.
Try explaining that down at the unemployment line.
I'm sorry, but what NASCAR did first, and which the Commission has upheld, is just not right. If the engine size was markedly exaggerated, yes, I would agree to a hefty punishment.
But, come on, 0.17 of an inch? I'd be willing to bet Brian France has a toenail that's longer than that.
Later Tuesday, after the futility of the appeal finally sank in, Long unloaded his frustration to ESPN.com:
"Big Bill [France, NASCAR founder] and Bill Jr. ruled the sport like a father -- at the end of the day they took care of their family," Long said. "These guys don't care. They don't have any heart. Basically, it seems like they don't care about the sport, they just want to make a dollar. I truly have a sour taste of the management in our sport. They've forgotten the roots of how this sport was created, and who are the people buying the tickets, sitting in the stands. The people in the stands are me."
Given how many fans over the last few years have felt ignored by the sanctioning body, now Long knows all too well what they're feeling like – and why so many of them have turned their backs on the sport.
At a time when the sport has lost nearly a quarter of its TV audience and roughly 20 percent of its at-track audience, what NASCAR needs is to show forgiveness. After all, feel-good stories are much more popular than stories about bullies that want it their way and only their way – yet another example of how NASCAR continues just not getting it.