NASCAR comes down hard on the 41 team, why I think they had to

For the 2nd straight week, NASCAR officials came down hard on Stewart-Haas Racing. Last week, Kevin Harvick’s team was fined $100k, crew chief Rodney Childers suspended for 4 races and Harvick losing 100 points for an L-2 infraction for a parts manipulation at Talladega.

The car passed pre-race inspection but was one of the two random cars taken back to the R&D Center afterwards. It was there that I’ve heard they found an issue with the rear deck lid. SHR has appealed the penalty and waiting on the hearing.

This Tuesday was another massive penalty. NASCAR penalized the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford team for its actions in Sunday’s Cup Series Playoffs race at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course.

The team was penalized under Section 5.5 of the NASCAR Rule Book, which requires competitors to race at 100% of their ability and takes action against competitors who intend to “artificially alter” the race’s finishing positions. Other rule book sections cited in Tuesday’s penalty report fall under the headings of member conduct.

Driver Cole Custer and No. 41 crew chief Mike Shiplett were each fined $100,000, and Shiplett was suspended indefinitely. Competition officials also issued 50-point deductions to Custer and the team in their respective driver and owner standings.

SHR will also appeal this penalty too. That’s $300k in fines they’re facing with 2 crew chiefs out and a dark cloud surrounding this organization.

Custer’s No. 41 Mustang appeared to slow in the final lap of Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400, impeding the path of a handful of other cars while allowing SHR teammate Chase Briscoe to slip through at the entrance to the backstretch chicane. Briscoe advanced to the next round of the playoffs by a two-point margin — that pass for position on Custer did not alter the points standings for the final transfer spot which is why they didn’t come down even heavier because if Custer’s action was the sole reason to why Briscoe advanced, then they’d have laid down the gauntlet. However, Briscoe didn’t need Custer’s spot to do so.

NASCAR officials indicated post-race that they would conduct a review of the final-lap data, video and radio transmissions after Sunday’s race. Competition officials also said that the findings and potential penalties would not alter the postseason field, which was whittled from 12 to eight title-eligible drivers after Sunday’s event.

Scott Miller said the reason for this stiff fine is that they have proof that it was manipulation because Shiplett told Custer he had a flat to slow down when in fact, Shiplett couldn’t see the car from that vantage point and had no data to reflect on the pit box that Custer had a flat tire.

“The data was pretty telling, and then we got to the audio and had the crew chief telling the driver that ‘I think you’ve got a flat, check up, check up, check up’ when he couldn’t even see the car or have any idea whatsoever that the car might have a flat. Pretty telling as to what went on there. That coupled with the data and the video … nothing contradicted that that was done deliberately by those individuals. We were forced to react.

“We can’t have teams manipulating the finishing order. Certainly on super-high alert in the playoffs. Had this been the determining factor in (Briscoe) in making it in to the Round of 8 or not, our reaction certainly would have been bigger.”

Where this is different than say Chase Elliott vs. Kevin Harvick in Bristol last year is that Elliott wasn’t told to hold Harvick up but rather took it upon himself to do so on track. This result from last weekend had intention behind it.

“I don’t believe anybody told Chase Elliott to block Kevin Harvick so that Kyle Larson could win,” Miller said. “That was a driver taking things into his own hands. Sketchy? Yes, but premeditated to alter the results of the race? Don’t think so. Quite a different situation there.

“Involvement over the radio and instructions over the radio that they could not even be construed as anything else. Those are the things that you can’t overlook. 

“Could we call it teamwork? Yes, teams work together, they draft together and do all kinds of things together and work as a team, but blatantly pulling over and changing the finishing order on the last lap is what makes it over the top and especially with instructions from the pit box.”

Another reason why they had to come down hard on this was because what would stop a team from committing a similar violation at either Martinsville or Phoenix to help a teammate out? If you don’t penalize it now, it’s setting the precedent that you can’t turn the other way later. Hence the hefty penalty.

However, I wonder how well this will be received. Harvick and his crew chief aren’t happy.

I get it. I truly do. But these are 2 separate incidents and where do we draw the line? You can bring a point from many things in the past and find some sort of parallel to the present. At what point do we acknowledge that this was by intent, stop saying ‘yeah but’ and call a spade a spade.

Briscoe didn’t need the spots but he got them via a rogue teammate trying to help. That’s a fact. You can’t dispute that any further. But to stake claim as ‘yeah but what about…’ just stop.

NASCAR got this right by the penalty and by not taking Briscoe out in wake of this. You have to set a precedence but I wonder if it was enough.

What stops a team of having code words to work around this in the future?

This can get messy and already is.

NASCAR also issued a $5,000 fine to Kaulig Racing crew chief Alex Yontz after the team’s No. 10 Chevrolet was found with one unsecured lug nut after Saturday’s Xfinity Series race. Landon Cassill drove the No. 10 Camaro to a 10th-place finish at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

Officials also assessed an indefinite suspension to Eric Woods for a violation of the sanctioning body’s Substance Abuse Policy (Section 4.1). Woods was most recently listed on team rosters as the hauler driver for Big Machine Racing in the Xfinity Series.

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