NASCAR is to stop issuing 'secret' fines to competitors and will in future make all penalties public, series organisers confirmed today.
The practice of secret fines had been much criticised, as it appeared that competitors including Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman had been fined large amounts for being critical of some aspect of the running of the sport - amounting to a 'gagging order'.
But on Wednesday, NASCAR issued a statement that said that they "will no longer issue fines that are undisclosed."
The statement continued: "While there are always sensitivities related to sponsor relationships and other leagues may continue issuing disclosed and undisclosed fines, NASCAR has decided that all fines moving forward will be made public after the competitor or organisation that has been penalised has been informed."
NASCAR said that they had reached the decision after looking at the issue "from every angle and gathered feedback from the industry." The decision would be reviewed again at the end of the 2012 season, NASCAR chairman Brian France added.
France had agreed to review the matter after the end of the 2011 season, following revelations that Brad Beselowski was the most recent known recipient
of a rumoured $25,000 secret fine for making critical comments of NASCAR's decision to introduce electronic fuel injection (EFI) in 2012, which he had called "a pain in the ass".
“[Drivers] are perfectly fine to criticize anything we do, any call we make,” France had said when challenged. “They can say they don't like it, they disagree with it. We didn't make the right call. That's fine. But we're not going to let anyone denigrate the sport, and that's going to continue."
Although other major US professional sports organisations typically disclose fines handed out to competitors, France had seemed surprised that there had been any significant concern over NASCAR's former handling of secret fines.
"Whether we make the fines public or private, we didn't see a benefit to making them public," he had continued. "If there is some benefit to that, we'll take a look at it."
Fan and media opinion has been strongly in favour of abolishing secret fines and for making all penalties public in future, and France has now accepted the need for change.
In 2010, Hamlin is said to have been fined for implying that NASCAR occasionally used debris cautions to close up races at key moments in order to make them more exciting, while Newman was reportedly fined for criticising the style of racing at Talladega Superspeedway after a major wreck.
Newman was also rumoured to have been fined another $50,000 for allegedly throwing a punch at Juan Pablo Montoya in the NASCAR hauler at Darlington in June last year, during a meeting intended to sort out an escalating on-track feud between the two. According to the reports, Newman was handed the fine in order to persuade Montoya not to take public legal action against Newman, but neither driver have themselves ever confirmed or commented on the events.