Front Row Motorsports drops appeal of Pocono penalty, Keselowski notes NASCAR could hand out even more penalties

NASCAR has had a rash of penalties lately. Pocono though set it in motion with manipulation. The top 2 finishers from the NASCAR Cup Series race received DQs which as a result, for the first time in 62 years, the winner was disqualified for a Cup race. During that same race weekend, NASCAR took 2 random cars back to the R&D Center and 1 of the 2 was found to have manipulated stock parts as well.

The JGR penalty was extreme in a sense that Denny Hamlin lost out on 5 crucial playoff points. He’d have 17 playoff points instead of the 12 that he’s sitting on now. It also gave Chase Elliott as a result of 5 playoff points instead for the win taking him up to 25. If Hamlin had kept the win, he’d only be trailing Elliott by 3 in the playoff point category. Now, he’s 12 points behind.

He’d in a way rather have the L-2 level penalty that Michael McDowell’s No. 34 Ford team from Front Row Motorsports was facing. They at least got to keep their finish but was penalized 100 points and as a result had their crew chief, Blake Harris, serve a 4 race suspension.

Hamlin could live with those so long as he got to keep the win and the bonus points that go along with it. FRM initially appealed the penalty to allow Harris to be at the track last weekend in Indy. Now, they’ve dropped the appeal and will take their lumps.

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FRM indicated in a statement that the team informed NASCAR that the organization has accepted the penalty and that “the team has made internal changes in its build practices to ensure the issues leading to the penalties will not happen again in the future.”

The four-race suspension for Harris will go into effect beginning this weekend at Michigan International Speedway.

Chris Yerges, lead engineer for the No. 34 team, will take over as the interim crew chief starting with Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 (3 p.m. ET, USA, MRN) at the 2-mile Michigan track. Just four races remain in the Cup Series regular season, and McDowell ranks 26th in the driver points and will have to fight for a win without his main crew chief.

That’s the 2nd large penalty handed down this year in the sport. Brad Keselowski’s No. 6 Ford team had a similar penalty after the spring Atlanta race this past March.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 17: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #6 Kohler Generators Ford, celebrates in the Ruoff Mortgage victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Bluegreen Vacations Duel #1 at Daytona at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Keselowski’s RFK Racing team was docked 100 points and fined $100k too. At the time, Keselowski was against the penalty saying that they just did what they had to do and at the time there was still a fight to get parts. The piece in question was damaged so they fixed it to put back on the car.

NASCAR deemed that process illegal which is why the team lost the appeal. In wake of these recent infractions now, Keselowski says that he feels a little bit of a sense of relief from the fact that the penalty that was handed out to them at Atlanta was in some form replicated to more than them now too.

The 2012 series champion feels like now that he’s on the ownership side of things too, that the garage needs a jolt. While the JGR penalties were a little extreme, Keselowski feels like that’s what’s needed right now to shift this garage and for teams to stay within the boundaries that they’re allowed to work in.

“I feel like you could probably make arguments that some teams’ penalty could have been adjusted higher or maybe even lower, for sure,” he says. “But the reality is the garage is going through a reset with respect to cutting out the games, and that’s a good thing for us as a sport.

“I personally think the sport needs more penalties and that NASCAR needs to be handing them out like candy right now to get control of the garage, because we’ve been playing a lot of games for a lot of years. The games have to stop. The games cost a lot of money and those games come directly at the expense of being able to afford to do things that we’d like to be able to do, or just to be able to afford to race. So, looking at that, the easiest way for NASCAR to stop those expenses is to stop the games.”

Keselowski says that when you look at the aero departments of these companies and engineering departments that are spending tens of millions of dollars to engineer parts and work on, NASCAR has really tightened down on the rules. Most of those departments he says that are working so hard on those things are forced to make a choice between doing something that might be illegal or not really having a big role in the success of the race team.

“Although I love our engineers and want to see them for a long time, we also have to be a viable business, so there are some compromises there that we have to be careful with, “he continued. “As a sport, the easiest way to control the costs is just to dole those penalties out like candy when anybody gets outside the box and we’re playing those games.

“I know after our issues at Atlanta, we went through our entire company and said no more games. Nothing goes on with these cars. Period. And that’s a rapid culture shift, and there’s a lot of people inside our own company that didn’t like it. But the reality is NASCAR is setting precedent that needed to be set that we support being set, that are important to the future of our industry and its viability. I support NASCAR.”

Cheating has always been a part of NASCAR though so these penalties need to be enough to make teams can’t notice. I mean this is where crew and car chiefs make their money is to working in these gray areas and playing on the edge of the tolerances.

In the past, they’d push the envelope until being caught then worked hard to find advantages in other areas until they’d get caught and so on. You had to. If you were well inside of those lines, you were too far off to vie for wins and by not winning, you didn’t have a job long.

With racing being so much closer these days, the smallest of margins of a legal car from a slight illegal car can be the difference between 1st and 30th.

Another aspect to this is, some of the smaller teams couldn’t afford to get caught so they would show up more legal and well within the lines of a legal car and it cost them finishes. With a Next Gen, teams haven’t been able to find that limit yet as they’re just trying to learn this car first. As the season has gone on, teams have started to play around more and NASCAR is putting down the iron fist to nip it in the bud now.

That’s why we’ve seen so much parity so long and why NASCAR and owners like Keselowski hope it remains this way. Keselowski says you need to make these penalties so often and so severe that it puts the fear to go outside of the box any further.

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