Every once in a while, it seems that the head office of NASCAR gets a little something stuck in their craw, and they decide to make a federal case out of a particular violation of the ever changing rules book. This past week, they suspended three crew chiefs in the Sprint Cup Series. Brian Pattie of the No. 16 team was suspended for two races and fined $50,000 for unapproved body design found during post-race inspection. Randall Burnett from the No. 47 team and Tony Gibson out of the No. 41 garage were both issued P3 penalties which included missing yesterday’s Pocono race. Both teams violated the rule involving having five lug nuts secured at the end of the race.
What strikes me odd about the suspension of crew chiefs when lug nuts are missing or inappropriately attached to the vehicle, is that six months ago, NASCAR couldn’t care less if the lugs were even present. Now, teams are being materially penalized in a manner that could very well negatively affect their overall performance over an issue that the sanctioning body didn’t think mattered in the least before some drivers started squawking.
That age old consistency issue continues to lurk in the background of our sport, doesn’t it?
On Monday, when Brad Keselowski brought his No. 2 Team Penske machine down pit road for some tires during the Axalta “We Paint Winners”400, he was shown the black flag. Why? The quick answer is his Jackman made some “unapproved body modifications” to his Ford. During the replay, you could clearly see the pit crew member slam his body into the sheet metal panel directly in front of the right rear wheel well. The result was a sizable ding in the door, which could improve the performance of the car.
So, they had to bring the Miller machine back down pit road and pop out the dent as best they could. Once the panel was more in keeping with its original shape, they were gestured to return to the track.
My problem here is that clearly the No. 2 car no longer met the specs of the inspection bay, and got into that shape through tampering by a crew member. Somehow taking more hammers, pop rivets and power tools to a highly technical design didn’t seem like it was actually restoring the shape of the car to competition ready. In fact, the pit road penalty ultimately resulted in Keselowski crossing the checkers in third-place. No…not much of a penalty at all.
Upon further reflection, both door panels on the No. 2 machine were crushed in a similar manner at the conclusion of the Vegas race where Bad Brad actually won.
So, let’s put these two penalty stories into perspective:
1.) Miss a lug nut that nobody was missing at the beginning of the season and lose your competitive advantage on top of the pit box for a race.
2.) Actively sculpt your car into a shape during the race that side-steps the inspection process, wave a magic wand over it with a NASCAR official watching you and finish third–or possibly win.
I am usually struggling to keep up with the masters of the NASCAR series, but I am truly baffled by their latest decisions. While the current progressive penalty system appears to be crafted in a manner that is fairer to the competitors than the old whimsical manner of the good ol’ days, what is considered worthy of a penalty in the first place remains as elusive in explanation as ever.
How long do you think it will take before a jack man carving holes in the side of the car will result in a real penalty? Years? Minutes? One just never knows these days.
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