NASCAR comes to Indy with plenty of penalties on the mind

INDIANAPOLIS – NASCAR comes to Indy this weekend for a showcase of their new Next Gen car in the Mecca of racing. They also enter with a problem – penalties.

There’s been a lot levied lately including some major ones stemming from last weekend at Pocono.

Last Saturday, Petty GMS Racing received a pair of L-1 penalties to both cars. The No. 42 Chevrolet of Ty Dillon and the No. 43 Chevrolet of Erik Jones were both found to be in violation of Sections 14.6.5.E of the NASCAR Rule Book (rocker box assemblies).

As a result, both teams lost 35 owner and 35 driver points and both crew chiefs (Jerame Donley and David Elenz) were ejected. 

A day later, Joe Gibbs Racing had 2 cars disqualified despite a top two finish for each in Sunday’s race. It was revealed in the post race inspection that the fascia on the front end of Denny Hamlin’s race winning No. 11 Toyota was altered. Same with 2nd place finisher Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota. 

It’s the first time since 1960 that NASCAR took away a win as for the 4th straight week now, we’re discussing penalties or the lack thereof. 

3 weeks ago it was Noah Gragson’s penalty from Road America. 2 weeks ago it was a no call on Christopher Bell’s lost wheel on pit road in Atlanta. Last week we’re discussing another lost wheel on pit road, but this time resulting in a penalty.

Last Wednesday, NASCAR ruled that the No. 2 Ford team from Team Penske would be penalized from their lost wheel during the Ambetter 301 from the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Austin Cindric hit pit lane after the conclusion of the second stage. Once he left his stall, the left front wheel came off and rolled down the rest of pit lane.

The infraction fell under the NASCAR Rule Book Sections and (loss or separation of an improperly installed tire/wheel from the vehicle). As a result, competition officials issued four-race suspensions to crew chief Jeremy Bullins, plus crew members Curtis Thompson (front tire changer) and Patrick Gray (jack).

That got people talking. Why is this any different than Bell’s?

NASCAR’s vice president of officiating and technical inspection, Elton Sawyer, said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Tuesday that the No. 2 team’s infraction came under different circumstances.

“The amount of speed that the tire is carrying down pit road, did it impede another competitor — all of those things go into the decision-making and obviously the distance that one tire traveled on pit road, the 20 car versus what the 2 car was significantly different,” Sawyer told SiriusXM. “So although the optics are a loss of wheel on pit road, the two scenarios are quite a bit different. We’ll continue to dissect that and look at it. Again, we don’t want to over-officiate, but tires coming off is a huge safety concern and we just have to make sure that we’re handling that correctly. So we’ll continue to have dialogue internally … but they are two different situations for sure.”

Granted, I get his notion but I don’t like the gray area here. If one is a penalty then the other should be or vice versa.

JGR decided to not appeal the process and will take what NASCAR levied on Sunday. How do they respond this weekend at Indy on a type of track (road course) that they’ve largely struggled on this season.

On Tuesday? The biggest one of all.

NASCAR officials issued an L2-level penalty to the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports team on Tuesday, penalizing the team 100 driver points and 100 owner points following the NASCAR Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway.

The penalty comes under Sections 14.1 C, D and Q as well as Sections 14.5 A and B in the NASCAR Rule Book. Those rules apply to the body and overall vehicle assembly rules surrounding modification of a single source supplied part.

Crew chief Blake Harris has additionally been fined $100,000 and suspended from the next four NASCAR Cup Series championship points events. If driver Michael McDowell and the team win one of the five remaining races in the regular season and/or qualifies for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, the team will also be docked 10 playoff points.

McDowell was credited with a sixth-place finish at Pocono Raceway following the Sunday disqualifications of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, who initially took the checkered flag first and second, respectively, before failing post-race technical inspection. McDowell’s car and the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet piloted by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were randomly selected by the sanctioning body to be taken back to the NASCAR R&D Center for further inspection.

NASCAR officials released a more stringent penalty structure for the 2022 Cup Series season in January, introducing a list of deterrence options on a three-tiered system — from L1 to L3.

Following the March race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the No. 6 RFK Racing team was handed a near-identical L2 penalty for modifications made to the rear fascia of Brad Keselowski’s Ford.

Penalty options for an L2 infraction include:

  • Points deductions: 75-120points
  • Playoff points deductions: 10-25 points
  • Suspension of one or two crew members for 4-6 races
  • Fines: $100,000-$250,000

“To make sure that all of those things stay above board, there’s going to have to be a culture shift from the way that the teams and NASCAR, for that matter, have done business,” NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller said in January when announcing the new penalty structure. “So this deterrence model has more meat in it, more meaningful penalties, but I think we all thought that it was time for this with the introduction of the new car.”

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