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The 2022 NASCAR season concludes today with the Championship 4 Cup Series race in Phoenix. While it’s been a successful season for the sport as far as entertaining racing across all three series and overall fan turnout, the sanctioning body has struggled mightily to find any consistency when it comes to rulings. 

This week during the State of the Sport address in Phoenix before the championship races, NASCAR COO Steve O’Donnell joined president Steve Phelps for a session with the media and talked about some of those questionable calls/non-calls made throughout the year. 

Unsurprisingly, when asked about a recent incident a week ago in the Xfinity Series when Austin Hill punched Myatt Snider, O’Donnell’s comments conflicted with what he had said just days before and exposed the bigger issue that has dogged NASCAR for years and why so many fans have trouble trusting the governing body and its decisions.   

Steve O’Donnell addresses Austin Hill punching Myatt Snider 

Following last weekend’s race at Martinsville, Xfinity Series drivers Austin Hill and Myatt Snider got into a confrontation on pit road where the Richard Childress Racing driver violently punched Snider and knocked him down to the ground. 

During an appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio earlier this week, O’Donnell was asked about the incident. 

“I think pushing and shoving, in my opinion is one thing, and what you saw there crosses the line no matter what the circumstances are,” O’Donnell said. “I think that’s something that we’re going to have to look into further because there’s drivers getting into it, and that may be a little too far in my opinion.”

In Tuesday’s penalty report, Hill’s name was not on it. 

O’Donnell explains why no penalty issued

NASCAR COO Steve O'Donnell talks to media
NASCAR COO Steve O’Donnell speaks to the media during the NASCAR annual State of the Sport address at Phoenix Raceway on November 04, 2022. | Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Later in the week, O’Donnell visited with the media in Phoenix alongside president Steve Phelps in his annual State of the Sport address and was asked about NASCAR’s position on driver-to-driver conflicts. 

“We’ve been very vocal. We don’t want to see anyone using their car as a weapon on the track. That’s No. 1,” O’Donnell said. “And the drivers have been vocal in saying, ‘Let us handle our business ourselves.’ With that comes a balance, though. 

“I think you saw that balance last week. I would say that’s right at the line, if not crossing the line, in terms of the Xfinity Series. If you look at how we have officiated those calls this year, we have not issued any penalties.”

Moments later, another reporter brought up O’Donnell’s comments from earlier in the week on SiriusXM about Hill’s punch being over the line, mentioned that NASCAR declined to penalize the driver, and asked how fans should interpret it all.

“I did say that on the radio and when we got together and looked at the team and how we had officiated this year, we hadn’t reacted, and so we looked at it as, yes, probably crosses the line, but in terms of calls been made and who has been fined, who had points taken away, we hadn’t done anything,” he said. “So we elected, right or wrong, to move forward, get through this year and then look to make a rule change.” 

NASCAR ignored precedents with Bubba Wallace


Denny Hamlin Recently Called Out NASCAR for Frustrating Decisions, and Bubba Wallace Penalty Validates What He Had to Say

O’Donnell admitted Hill’s actions crossed the line, but NASCAR opted not to penalize him based on how it had reacted and ruled on similar situations this year. In other words, it used precedent. 

Just over two weeks ago, O’Donnell had this to say following the announcement of Bubba Wallace’s punishment for his move with Kyle Larson at Las Vegas. 

“As we look at the sport and where we are today and where we want to draw that line going forward, we thought that definitely crossed the line and that’s what we focused on in terms of making this call.

“I know fans and people like to compare the what-ifs or what happened in the past. For us, this was a reaction based on what took place Sunday and what we don’t want to see going forward in races that take place from the competitors. And want to draw that line and be as clear as we can for our competitors of where we stand.”

So NASCAR decided to use precedent in the past for Hill’s punch with Snider while ignoring any precedent in the past for Wallace’s penalty, even admitting that the 23XI Racing driver’s punishment was solely based on his on-track actions and not confronting Larson and shoving him multiple times on the infield, or ignoring the direction of an official. 

If NASCAR wants to continue growing its fanbase, it better improve the officiating because if there’s one thing that will scare potential fans away from following, it’s trust. And right now, it’s hard to blame any fans for not trusting the governing body because of its haphazard decision-making that occurs on an all-too-often basis.

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