The Frontstretch: NASCAR On the Right Track With Penalties by Amy Henderson -- Wednesday February 14, 2007

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NASCAR On the Right Track With Penalties

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Wednesday February 14, 2007


Penalties, penalties everywhere at Daytona. NASCAR handed down a total of five of them on Tuesday and Wednesday, the most severe coming late Wednesday afternoon when the sanctioning body announced a penalty against the team of driver Michael Waltrip following a strange substance in the intake manifold in both pre- and post-qualifying inspection. NASCAR confiscated the Toyota Camry, and when the substance appeared a third time, levied suspensions, point fines, and a monetary fine on crew chief David Hyder.

Just to recap, on Tuesday, four crew chiefs were suspended for unapproved aerodynamic modifications, including all three top wrenches for Evernham Motorsports. Rodney Childers (Scott Riggs) and Josh Browne (Elliott Sadler) were suspended for two races and fined $25,000. In addition, both drivers and Evernham lost 25 owner/driver points for violations found prior to qualifying.

Kenny Francis and Robbie Reiser, who head the teams of Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth, were both suspended for four weeks and fined $50,000 for their aerodynamic work, which was discovered after the cars had made their qualifying runs. The drivers and car owners, Evernham and Jack Roush, were also penalized 50 points.

However, the Michael Waltrip Racing organization was hit the hardest for violations of the NASCAR rulebook, sections 12- 4-A (actions detrimental to stock car racing), 12-4-Q (car, car part components and/or equipment not conforming to NASCAR rules) and 20-15.2C (gasoline must not be blended with alcohols, ethers or other oxygenates), after an oxygenating substance was found in their intake manifold. NASCAR officials noticed the substance when issuing the team's carburetor restrictor plate and confiscated the manifold. The substance was found again, the car impounded, and when it appeared a third time, both Hyder and the team’s Vice President of Competition were escorted from the Speedway on an indefinite suspension. Waltrip and his wife Buffy (listed as owner of record) were docked 100 points, and Waltrip will have to race a backup car in the Gatorade Duels on Thursday. Hyder was slapped with a $100,000 fine, the largest in NASCAR history, and will likely be fired from his position with MWR.

NASCAR said in 2006 that they were going to take a hard line on rule bending, and they did so, beginning with the Daytona 500, when the No. 48 car, driven by Jimmie Johnson, was discovered with an illegal aerodynamic enhancement. Crew chief Chad Knaus was escorted from the track to begin a four-week suspension, coupled with a fine. No points were taken then, but NASCAR chose to ramp up the punishment this year when some teams were not deterred by the severity of last season's penalties (Johnson won the Daytona 500, anyway) by adding a point fine. It was the next logical move in stopping teams from having an unfair advantage on race day, and a fair move. NASCAR clearly did the right thing in these aero-tampering cases.

Then came the engine violation. Fuel additives have always been, in the sanctioning body's eyes, the worst offense of them all. Historically, you just don't want to mess with fuel or tires. If aerodynamic modifications are an "unfair advantage," messing with fuel is outright cheating. At first glance, Waltrip and Company were hit hard and fast for their indiscretion. But NASCAR did NOT ramp up the punishment for this type of violation in the manner they did for the others. In 2000, Jeremy Mayfield's car was found in post-race inspection with a performance-enhancing fuel additive still in the tank. Mayfield's crew chief, Peter Sospenzo, was suspended and fined, and Mayfield was docked 156 points – the difference
Between first and last place on the track. Still, 100 points could set the stage for Waltrip's entire season, considering his position with the Top 35 rule that was not in effect in 2000. Not driving for one of the “locked in” teams that finished within the Top 35 in 2006, Waltrip has five races to put the car in that elite group while qualifying in on speed for each one, hoping to guarantee himself a starting spot by race six. Now, should Waltrip miss the Daytona 500, his team could head to California with negative owner's points – a deep hole to climb out of, ensuring his struggles to qualify each week would continue indefinitely.

Don't get me wrong; working the grey areas between black-and-white rules has been a part of NASCAR since the first race of the series, when the winner had the win stripped for a rules violation. It's a team's job to try to find an advantage anywhere they can, and a long-standing part of the sport. But when they step over that thin line, they stand to gain points over teams that have completely legal racecars. Aerodynamic modifications constantly toe that line, and fuel additives long jump over it. To NASCAR's credit, they have done what they have said they would in these instances, and with the exception of the point fine against Waltrip, they have been fair and consistent. Wake up, crews – now, NASCAR is watching!

The one place where NASCAR has missed the boat is in Daytona's unique qualifying process. All the teams except for Waltrip's have locked-in status via the Top 35 rule; if NASCAR really wanted to send a message, that status should be stripped for the other four cars, forcing those teams to earn a spot the way the non-locked teams have to in the Gatorade Duels. THAT would send the teams a much stronger message; let them race in with a legal car, and if they can't, give that starting spot to a legal car instead. What a way to be fair and effective.

Still, if nothing else this Speedweeks, NASCAR has sent a strong message that rule bending will not be tolerated on any level and swiftly and strongly punished when discovered. Only time will tell if the punishments will serve as the deterrent they're meant to be. In the meantime, the teams involved this week are now at a distinct disadvantage. Whether they can overcome that disadvantage is up to them…but they have only themselves to blame for their problems.

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Bob Meredith
02/15/2007 07:14 AM

You have to be joking!! NASCAR took a hard line with Chad Knaus?? More like a slap on the wrist with a wet noodle. He actually fabricated a mechanism to raise or lower the rear window to gain an aerodynamic advantage. Compare this to the 9 & 17 cars where the holes were found prior to qualification. The teams were told to tape over the holes. Robin Pemberton made the statement that it is not known what, if any, advantage the holes provided. After qualifying, the tape is gone and NASCAR is horrified and “cracksdown” on cheating. Why not make the teams close the holes permanently if they were so advantageous? This sounds like arresting someone on the premise that you know that they did something, but you are not sure what they did.

02/15/2007 07:58 AM

If they really wanted to get their point across, NA$CAR would’ve had Waltrip and company pack up their equipment and head back home in addition to the other penalties they assessed them.

02/15/2007 09:47 AM

Nascar is out of whack. The penalties that were just handed down are not even consistant. How do they justify penalizing Riggs and Sadlers teams 25 points and suspensions when they were going through tech? Before they went on the track? And then to take away only 100 points from Waltrip? Fuel tampering is a serious, conscious effort to cheat! The precedent of Mayfields earlier penalty of 151 points wasn’t even matched. Where was the escalation, consistancy, deterent there? The car, owner, and crew chief should have been banned from the race. Waltrip, driver, still should have been allowed to race a different car, but this hypocracy is blatant. Who cares if it was Toyota, Chevy(they would have been penalized 2 pts), Dodge, or Ford. It wasn’t the manufacturer(don’t know for sure) who cheated. Maybe this is the type of thing that has gone on in the garage for years, and the folks in the garage know this as “common knowledge” so now that Nascar is cracking down it is what is catching the teams off-guard. Nascar blew it the severity of the #10 & #19’s penalties were too severe and the #55’s not hard enough. What’s your response to this?

02/15/2007 10:38 AM

The one consistent thing with NA$CAR is the inconsistency with the rule enforcement.

02/15/2007 11:08 AM

I agree with the earlier poster who said that the penalites assessed against the 10 and the 19 were idiotic. Supposedly all they did was to drill holes in bolts used to keep the spoiler on the trunk, something they claim that they have always been doing. What Waltrip’s team did seems like cheating to me, and the penalites are appropriate. However, it appears that the other 4 teams were more victims of overzealousness, but for the sake of convenience, the so called “media” aka any idiot with a web site, lumps them in with Waltrip and goes out and calls the 10, 19, 9, and 17 teams “cheaters”.

02/15/2007 08:30 PM

Amy, It seems NASCAR will tolerate some rule bending after all seeing the 24 had trouble passing post race inspection. Seems once again that NASCAR can’t get a handle on their rules or their punishments. The 24 keeps the win yet gets moved to the rear of the field for the 500. What sort of message is that exactly? Could just about hear the conversation now from a NASCAR official to the #24 team: “Yeah, we found something wrong with your rear shocks in the way the spacers were installed which allows the rear of your car to drop but it sure looks unintentional to me…so here is what will can keep your win although you may have actually gotten that win from your car running an inch lower than everyone else but we’ll move you to the rear of the field..that seems fair..oh, by the way, did you see those guys that didn’t cover up a few holes on their sheetmeal or the guys that bolted their spoilers down with bolts that had holes in them..(just like they did last year but we didn’t see that as a problem then..), those guys thought they could fool us..”. I’m not for or against one team more than another but doesn’t this last deal with the #24 seem different than the other teams..(except the #55 which is a big non-no). For NASCAR to get upset with things like spoiler bolts or holes in the panels on the cars you’d think they would be equally bothered by spacers allowing the car to drop..which on face value sounds like a brillant idea if your a crew chief or a driver. We’ve seen it before and will see it again but I’ve never understood the concept of failing post-race inspection but are allowed to keep the win, even non-points races.

02/16/2007 09:47 AM

I am not a Jeff Gordon fan, but I do have to stand up and say NA$CAR needs to be consistant. By what I have seen, they have punished Jeff for no reason, so they say. If he cheated, he needs to be fined like everyone else. If he didn’t cheat, he needs to get his spot back….not be put in 42nd. NA$CAR’s wishy washy bullcrap is getting old!


Contact Amy Henderson

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