If there is one thing that can be said about NASCAR, it is that they are not in a big hurry to do things. The introduction of the new drug policy after years of high profile incidents comes just in time for the start of the 2009 season. While the changes are certainly necessary and a long time coming, I and everyone else is wondering right now what, if any, affect they will have.
As David Poole pointed out in his blog post on Saturday, NASCAR loves control perhaps more than anything else. With this new policy they have left themselves more than enough room to dismiss issues that may come up. Just because an illegal or questionable substance shows up on a drug test, does not mean NASCAR will necessarily suspend or ban a driver (or crew member/official) or even issue penalties. Quite frankly, if this should happen there is a great chance we will never know. Granted there are legitimate medications that a person could be using that are none of my business, however if that is the case, I would hope NASCAR would already know about them.
The greatest affect this will have is on the over-the-wall crew guys. While most large teams already have drug testing in place, many smaller organizations do not. I know of small teams in the past who started drug testing and had to fire half of their workforce because they tested positive. Now this is certainly not the rule, and generally the most serious drug being used was marijuana, but it does happen and I would guess probably will happen with this new testing.
Beyond the preseason testing that will be taking place are the random tests that NASCAR says will occur every week throughout each of the series. This is, in my mind, the most important part of the testing procedure. While everyone will have substantial advance notice they are going to be tested early on, they will hopefully have no idea that they will be randomly screened at track. The possibility of a test will hopefully be enough of an incentive not to do anything. In order to keep this as an effective tool though, the hope is the testing remains, as the process continues, truly random.
Overall, I think this new policy is a positive step. It works to rectify the old, if we suspect you, we’ll test you, system (while still keeping it in place) and helps to move it forward, in line with other sports and other corporations. NASCAR can not afford for drivers to be racing while taking any drug, and for that matter any crew guy or official going over the wall while doing the same. It is dangerous and potentially deadly.
We’ll see how seriously NASCAR decides to take this in the weeks and months ahead. If this first step is any indication though, I am hopeful.