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Opinion: CARS Tour massively bungled the Brandon Setzer penalty

Glen Starek | CARS Tour

Talk about fixing a problem with more problems…

That’s exactly what the CARS Tour did on Tuesday with the decision to suspend Brandon and Dennis Setzer for the remainder of the season while also fining the father/son duo $425 each for their involvement in a post-race fracas with Kyle Busch Motorsport crew members on Saturday night at Hickory Motor Speedway.

It wasn’t just the decision to punish the Setzers that drew the ire of the racing community, but also how the entire process was handled in the public sphere.

First, a Facebook post went live shortly after 5 p.m., detailing the extent of the post-race penalties. Then a story about the penalties appeared on this website. Then, sometime around 7:30 p.m., the penalty post was deleted.

Furthermore, a point of contention from fans and drivers was that it was hypocritical for CARS to suspend Setzer for the entire year, given that it had used footage of the fight for promotional purposes in the days between the incident and the suspension.

However ….

To be fair, the suspension isn’t as heavy-handed as it sounds when said out loud. Setzer is not a full-time championship-chasing driver and had only competed in two of the first four races. Additionally, CARS Tour downsized their Super Late Model schedule from 13-to-9 events this season.

So realistically, Setzer was only given a five-race suspension, of which he was probably only planning to compete in two or three of them anyway.

But the penalty is also inconsistent with the two-race suspension given to Jake Crum and Annabeth Barnes-Crum for their South Boston fight with crew members aligned with driver Matthew Craig.

(Update: CARS Tour claim the Crums were given five-race penalties, which was never made public, and appealed down to three)

The entire thing is just a bad look for the CARS Tour — a series that I genuinely respect for what it has added to the short track landscape over the past three seasons. It’s admittedly a tough spot for owner Jack McNelly and director Chris Ragle to be in because on one hand, they can’t allow their events to be the lawless Wild West. But on the other, fans responded positively to the unfiltered passion shown by the competitors and CARS Tour officials exploited it with their marketing tactics.

So it made this entire thing even worse when a CARS Tour official removed all such marketing elements from their Twitter feed, including a “You make the Call” recap video and a retweet of reporter Andy Marquis’s photos of the fight.

Oh, and as of press time, the series never did re-post the penalty report to any of their social channels.

READ MORE: #FreeBrandon is rallying cry for drivers in defense of the Setzers

Look, the fight was good for the CARS Tour brand. It galvanized a growing fan base around either Brandon Setzer or KBM driver Raphael Lessard. This is what makes short track racing stand apart from NASCAR.

It’s raw, politically incorrect and very blue collar.

More than anything else, Setzer didn’t deserve anything more than what the Crums got for the start of this season. The Setzers are two of the most respected men in stock car racing and have a sterling reputation.

Brandon’s temper got the best of him, losing the lead in a late crash two weeks in a row, and he would probably be the first to admit it.

But the punishment here does not warrant the crime, especially for a first-time offender.

And the whole thing is made worse by a series that doesn’t know how to communicate its decision and severely misread their audience and its garage that is unanimously in support of the Setzers.

Brandon says he will appeal the penalty, and for the sake of appearances, here’s to hoping the CARS Tour a) makes a better decision and b) better communicates that decision.

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Matt Weaver is the owner and founder of Short Track Scene. Weaver grew up in the sport, having raced himself before becoming a reporter in college at the University of South Alabama. He is also the associate motorsports editor of Autoweek Magazine and its website, which allows him to cover the highest levels of the sport.

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