NASCAR nailed five Cup crew chiefs for modifying the hood louvers on their Next Gen cars prior to last weekend’s race at Phoenix Raceway.
The single source vendor supplied part from Dallara was confiscated off the Nos. 5, 9, 24, and 48 Hendrick Chevrolets during inspection following practice on Friday. One day later, NASCAR inspectors impounded the radiator duct from the No. 31 Kaulig Racing Chevy after discovering discrepancies in pre-qualifying inspection.
On Wednesday, NASCAR suspended the crew chiefs from each of the five teams for the next four Cup races and fined them $100,000 for violation of 14.1 C&D&Q Overall Assembled Vehicle Rules; 18.104.22.168.A Radiator Duct in the NASCAR rulebook.
Each team and driver were assessed with the loss of 100 points and 10 Playoff points. The respective crew chiefs receiving suspensions and fines were Cliff Daniels, Alan Gustafson, Rudy Fugle and Blake Harris for Team Hendrick and Trent Owens for Kaulig Racing.
Prior to Wednesday’s penalties, HMS had three drivers and teams in the top five in the Cup standings. Alex Bowman (No. 88) led the points followed by two-time winner William Byron (No. 24) in fourth-place followed by Kyle Larson (No. 5) in fifth.
NASCAR Cup Series director Elton Sawyer made it clear via teleconference on Wednesday that while there is a process for teams to submit alterations to certain pieces, the modifications made to the louvers on the Hendrick and Kaulig Chevys had “not been approved.”
“From time to time, we’ll capture parts,” Sawyer said. “We’ll bring them back and as we continue to investigate and look at parts and compare parts, it was obvious to us that these parts had been modified in an area that wasn’t approved. This is a consistent penalty with what we went through last year with other competitors—the 6 (Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing, the 34 (Front Row Motorsports).
“So we felt like to keep the garage on a level playing field, the competition level where it needs to be, all the dialogue that went around this car last year working with the owners on what the deterrent model should be, we were put in a position that we did feel like there was no other way but to write a penalty.”
Hendrick Motorsports announced its plans to appeal and released the following statement outlining its argument:
“We are disappointed with today’s decision by NASCAR to issue penalties and have elected to appeal based on a variety of facts that include:
• Louvers provided to teams through NASCAR’s mandated single-source supplier do not match the design submitted by the manufacturer and approved by NASCAR
• Documented inconsistent and unclear communication by the sanctioning body specifically related to louvers
• Recent comparable penalties issued by NASCAR have been related to issues discovered during a post-race inspection
“For the March 19 NASCAR Cup Series event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, our organization has made the strategic decision not to request deferral of personnel suspensions. Team rosters for this weekend will be updated as soon as substitute crew chiefs are determined.”
NASCAR also suspended Stewart Haas Racing crewmen Ryan Mulder (front tire changer) and Sean Cotten (jackman) for the next two races after the wheel came off of the No. 10 Ford driven by Aric Almirola at Phoenix on Sunday. The safety infraction falls under Sections 8.810,4 A&C: Loss or separation of an improperly installed tire/wheel from the vehicle.
After Denny Hamlin confessed on his podcast “Actions Detrimental” to intentionally wrecking Ross Chastain on the final lap of the United Rentals 500 at Phoenix, NASCAR fined the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota for just that. Under “Behavioral” infractions, Hamlin violated Sections 4.4: NASCAR Member Code of Conduct: B. - Attempting to manipulate the outcome of Race or championship. Wrecking or spinning another vehicle, whether or not that vehicle is removed from Competition as a result. And D. - Actions by a NASCAR Member that NASCAR finds to be detrimental to stock car racing or NASCAR.
Hamlin was fined $50,000 and loses 25 driver points. He was running sixth on Lap 310, prior to the final caution, and finished 23rd after colliding with Chastain. During his Monday podcast, Hamlin described the situation:
“I’m about to get passed by everybody behind me who’s on fresh tires,” Hamlin said. “I’m about to finish in the mid-teens. And I said, ‘You’re coming with me, buddy.’ I let the wheel go and I said, he’s coming with me…I’ve said for a while, well, you’ve got to do something to get these guys’ attention, whatever. And I said it.
“I think Ross doesn’t like it when I speak his name in the media and when I have this microphone. But I told him, ‘I have a microphone and I’m going to call it like I see it. And until you get a microphone, you can say whatever you want about me.’
"But the fact is, while I’m sitting here talking, I’m going to call things the way I see it and sometimes, I’m going to have to call myself out which I’m the dumbass that lost as many spots as he did, but at the time, well, I said I’m going to finish (expletive) and I’m just going to make sure that he finishes (expletive) right here with me.”