NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Penalty Day Reaction: Oil Pan Infraction

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).

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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”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/14353/

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