The Frontstretch: Penalty Day Reaction: Oil Pan Infraction by Beth Lunkenheimer -- Wednesday June 22, 2011

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Penalty Day Reaction: Oil Pan Infraction

Beth Lunkenheimer · Wednesday June 22, 2011


Yesterday, NASCAR announced the penalties assessed to all three Joe Gibbs Racing teams for unapproved oil pans found on the No. 11, No. 18 and No. 20 cars prior to the first practice session at Michigan International Speedway on Friday.

Mike Ford, Dave Rogers and Greg Zipadelli, Crew Chiefs for the No. 11, No. 18 and No. 20 respectively have each been fined $50,000 and placed on probation through December 31st under Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing), 12-4-J (any determination by NASCAR officials that the race equipment used in an event does not conform to NASCAR rules detailed in Section 20 of the NASCAR rule book, or has not been approved by NASCAR prior to the event), and 20-5.5.4A (oil pan, failure to submit component).

Denny Hamlin won Sunday’s race at Michigan after his car was one of three found with an unapproved oil pan before the drivers even hit the track.

Additionally, Car Chiefs Chris Gillin (No. 11), Weslet Sherrill (No. 18) and Jason Shapiro (No. 20) along with Jimmy Makar, Senior Vice President of Racing Operations have been placed on probation until December 31st.

JGR officials have said they will not appeal NASCAR’s ruling.

“We received NASCAR’s ruling today with regard to penalties for having oil pans on our cars that had not been submitted for approval prior to going through inspection on Friday,” JGR officials said in a statement. “Although the parts were not illegal, we did not follow the proper submission for approval process. We will not appeal NASCAR’s ruling.”

Frankly, I can’t blame them for not appealing the penalties. For a team like Joe Gibbs Racing, a penalty that didn’t involve points isn’t worth giving the NASCAR Appeals Board another chance to look at. But did NASCAR make the right call in this situation?

In a word, yes. Because the violations were found prior to qualifying and the race, there was no performance advantage to be gained throughout the racing weekend, and therefore no reason for a points penalty. And besides, it’s about on par with other violations found at that point during the weekend.

Take Peter Rondeau, crew chief for Regan Smith’s No. 78 for instance. A violation was found under sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing) and 20-2.3A (improperly attached weight) during practice. And in that case, the fine was simply $25,000.

Compare that to Kyle Busch’s No. 18 that was found too short following a third-place finish at Pocono. In that instance, the failure to meet minimum height requirements during race conditions gave NASCAR reason enough to dock the driver and owner six points, or the equivalent of a ninth-place finish.

Then there’s the unapproved weight found on Regan Smith’s No. 78 car back at Auto Club Speedway in March. The penalty? $25,000 for violating Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing) and 20-2.3A (improperly attached weight). And if that’s not enough, take a look back at last season when Jimmy Elledge, crew chief for the No. 83 team was fined $25,000 after a violation was found during practice at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last July.

Having said all of that, there’s no doubt in my mind that there could have been a performance advantage to each car thanks to a lower center of gravity caused by the extra weight in the oil pans. However, it’s hard to issue a penalty based on a “what if” since none of the cars hit the track with the unapproved part.

In fact, it’s something my husband and I discussed earlier Tuesday afternoon. He argued that because of the weight difference — the unapproved pans weighed 25-30 pounds compared to the typical four to five pound weight—there was clearly an intent in hopes of grabbing an advantage. And like all sports debates do to us, it sparked a discussion, one that in the end we came to an agreement on — you can’t prove intent even though there was such a large weight difference.

Simply put, NASCAR got the penalty call correct. Now had the part in question been found in post-qualifying, I would have expected to see the times for all three drivers disallowed, and I would have expected a points penalty if it was found in post-race inspection. Anything more than a monetary fine and probation would have been unfair to the teams that clearly didn’t get anything more out of their cars since the illegal parts were found long before it would give them an edge over the competition.

Contact Beth Lunkenheimer

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06/22/2011 04:19 AM

JGR call themselves a very Christian people? My xxs. They are just like the rest of the other Christian people —cheat, lie, and steal.

Bill B
06/22/2011 07:48 AM

Hmmm, remember when…. Please review your history before writing an article. There are lots of instances that are very similar where points were taken. Check out Sonoma 2007. Tell me how that was different from this.

06/22/2011 08:31 AM

I think Gibbs “intent” has to be questioned. They brought three cars with unapproved parts intending to race them knowing full well that the parts were on the car. Gibbs knows the approval process NASCAR has in place. If it had been one out of the three teams caught then maybe it was an oversight. this was a blatant attempt at circumventing the rule book.

doug from eastern NC
06/22/2011 08:46 AM

And Dale Jr was caught with the same infraction but was dock a 100 points.

06/22/2011 12:53 PM

This to me seems more than what the #24 and #48 got caught for at Sonoma, flaring some fenders. When that happened they were not allowed on the track for practice. Then they were docked points and crew chiefs were suspended for 6 weeks! How is this different from that situation? The #24 and #48 were found before any racing, they fixed the cars then were allowed to race. But then they were hammered with penalties.

06/22/2011 01:56 PM

How can the #18 crew chief Dave Rogers, be put on probation twice? He was already put on probation the week before for the car being too low.

Sue Rarick
06/22/2011 02:07 PM

The oil pan was not against any regulation ….other than it wasn’t approved….The Hendricks cars were out of spec.

06/22/2011 02:43 PM

@Liz what does this have to do with being a Christian? I guess you just hate all people who claim to be Christian. In regards to everyone saying well what about other instances, that had a different outcome. Do you know how long this article would be if every incident since 2007 had to be listed c’mon. I agree the penalty should have been more. But like she and her hubby agreed on, “You can’t prove intent.”

doug from eastern NC
06/22/2011 03:15 PM

I doesn’t matter what the intent was. Breaking the rules is breaking the rules

Bill B
06/22/2011 03:25 PM

Define “out of spec”. That was the incident to which I was referring in 2007 at Sonoma. Supposedly the cars were in spec – the fit the template and technically there was nothing wrong with them. As I said NASCAR’s stance was that they didn’t break the rule as it was written but what they did went against the spirit of the rule which was basically to not make any modifications to the body whatsoever.
Well in this case the the oil pan was not supposed to be messed with without prior approval either.
Your “out of spec” argument is full of crap that was not what happened.

06/22/2011 03:27 PM

@Doug Touche, you are correct. And this brings up another topic, I’ve always thought the lighter the car, the faster it will go. Hence my driver not running so well this year as he’s had a few to many BK Whoppers. So why add weight to a car. Is the weight really going to give someone an edge by pulling the car down closer to the track, over someone who has a lighter car?

Bill B
06/22/2011 04:00 PM

NASCAR makes the team add weights to the car (usually behind the driver seat) so that no one has a weight advantage. (I’m sure they’re no all exactly equal but pretty close).
So if you put weight at the bottom front of the car as opposed to the middle at driver level, you lower the center of gravity. In this case it isn’t the weight that matters it’s where it’s distributed. Lowering the center of gravity and weighting the car at the front apparently has some benefit. Maybe something as small as two-tenths of a second but given the fact that they will spend a million dollars in the wind tunnel to gain a tenth of a second, putting heavier oil pans on the car is pretty cost effective (if you don’t get caught).

06/22/2011 04:19 PM

Bill, Thanks for the enlightenment. Makes much more sense to me now.

06/22/2011 05:03 PM

@Bill…Sonoma 2007 according the research I did was an illegal modification…not a part that wasn’t approved by NASCAR. And keep in mind there have been quite a few rule changes since then (and the COT was VERY new then).

@Doug…big difference between an illegal part and one that wasn’t approved by NASCAR. That’s why that comparison wasn’t made. Junior was caught with an illegal part…the JGR cars were just busted with ones that weren’t approved by NASCAR.

Tom Dalfonzo
06/22/2011 08:41 PM

Everything that Brian France, Mike Helton, John Darby, etc. has done to NASCAR over the last decade falls under Section 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing) of the NASCAR rule book.

I say throw away the rule book and let the teams and crew chiefs run wild. Engineering creativity could be great for NASCAR.

06/24/2011 09:15 PM

Who really gives a rats ass?

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