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(Photo: Amy Henderson)

Did You Notice?: NASCAR Penalties Are Affecting the Championship

Did You Notice? … The number of penalties handed down in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this season? Joe Gibbs Racing was the latest to get hit hard Tuesday after three of their cars had splitter violations discovered in Michigan pre-race inspection. That led to $25,000 fines and one-race car chief suspensions for the teams of Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Erik Jones.

In a year where NASCAR inspectors have laid the hammer down, how are those penalties being distributed? Here’s a look at who’s lost points for MENCS violations 15 races into the season.

2018 POINTS LOST THROUGH NASCAR PENALTIES

Chase Elliott – 45

Clint Bowyer – 20

Kevin Harvick – 20

Kyle Larson – 20

Daniel Suarez – 20

In a year where teams have also disregarded appeals, how are these consequences affecting the playoffs? The impacts, for the most part, have been minor, with the exception of Elliott. Restoring those 45 points would put him a comfortable 80 above the cutline right now instead of just 35. It’s made a disappointing year that much more difficult for him as a trio of Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets (add Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman) remain on the playoff bubble.

The point penalties for Bowyer and Larson are inconsequential; they’ll both be playoff bound with plenty of room to spare. Suarez, meanwhile, without his incident would still be 46 points outside the playoffs; the No. 19 Toyota has been too inconsistent in 2018 to be a postseason contender.

But it’s Harvick’s penalty, one that put an asterisk on his win at Las Vegas, that spurs another topic. The winningest, most dominant driver this season also lost seven crucial playoff points that could be a factor if the playoffs get wacky just before Homestead-Miami in November. He’s also far from the only championship-level driver that’s been hit with some type of violation (remember, like the JGR trio to start this article, not every inspection issue comes with a loss of points).

Add in fines and lugnut violations and suddenly, you have a laundry list of drivers getting hit.

2018 PENALTIES & FINES

Hendrick Motorsports

Chase Elliott (2) – $100,000

Joe Gibbs Racing

Daniel Suarez (1) – $50,000

Denny Hamlin (2) – $35,000

Kyle Busch (2) – $35,000

Erik Jones (1) – $25,000

Stewart-Haas Racing

Kevin Harvick (2) – $60,000

Clint Bowyer (1) – $50,000

Kurt Busch (1) – $10,000

Team Penske

Ryan Blaney (2) – $20,000

Joey Logano (2) – $20,000

Furniture Row Racing

Martin Truex Jr. (2) – $20,000

Richard Childress Racing

Austin Dillon (2) – $35,000

Chip Ganassi Racing

Kyle Larson (2) – $60,000

Roush Fenway Racing

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2) – $20,000

Front Row Motorsports

Michael McDowell (1) – $10,000

Premium Motorsports

Joey Gase (1) – $10,000

If you’re counting at home, that’s 12 of the 16 drivers currently in playoff position who have been busted on the weekly penalty report. Only Johnson, Bowman, Brad Keselowski and Aric Almirola have been able to stay squeaky clean. That quartet, by the way, has a grand total of zero victories between them this season.

It’s just not a good look for the sport to have this many fines and penalties handed out over the course of the season. Getting busted for speeding on pit road is one level. It’s a call hard to “see” for the NASCAR fan sitting in the stands, but at least you see it unfold live over the course of a race.

All these other issues, from splitter violations to rear window problems, call into question the legitimacy of race cars. You don’t want the topic of conversation to constantly center around whether the top contenders are playing by the rules. And these lugnut fines? Are they really necessary? It doesn’t appear to be preventing the problem as they’re happening on a near-weekly basis. There’s certainly incentive to keep all the lugnuts on your tire; it’s called totaling your race car after slamming into the outside wall.

So I think, in the end, these penalties are a bit of a mixed bag. Sure, for all the frustration surrounding their frequency, the postseason picture hasn’t been affected all that much. But the negative perception these penalties are creating has been intensified by the frequency at which they occur each week.

Hopefully, like with the All-Star Rules package, NASCAR officials and teams can get together and fix a problem that really needs addressing for 2019. (And we didn’t even get into teams failing pre-qualifying inspection at an alarming rate). More efficient inspections, perhaps more of a gray area and a better way to explain penalties are needed so that a Tuesday report doesn’t cloud what a fan saw just two days earlier.

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off….

  • It’s notable NASCAR had its first MENCS television increase of the season Sunday. Michigan’s overnight was a 2.2, a 10 percent increase over 2017 and the final numbers will inch higher. Sure, the race was on FOX Sports 1 last year instead of big FOX but considering the way this year has gone, I’m sure everyone will take it and run. What will be interesting is whether these numbers (now very similar to NBC’s portion of the regular season) have bottomed out or whether a new network next month can stop the bleeding. Can you say Dale Earnhardt Jr.?
  • Bob Pockrass reported Tuesday that BK Racing’s trustee was in negotiations to sell the team. If that happens, both the charter and the car would be preserved under different ownership. Gray Gaulding, after feuding with previous owner Ron Devine, has quietly had a decent year driving the team’s lone entry, the No. 23 Toyota. His 30.2 average finish is up a tick from where the car ran last year and he’s earned two top-20 results in 15 races. More importantly… how much will this team sell for? A backmarker organization still owns one of the 36 spots on the grid and the sale price is incredibly noteworthy at the time this entire sport is undergoing a valuation.
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About Tom Bowles

Tom Bowles
The author of Bowles-Eye View (Mondays) and Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 30 staff members as its majority owner. Based in Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild.

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6 comments

  1. Until they actually start suspending teams for the weekend and taking away playoff eligibility the pentailes dont mean anything.

  2. Throw out the nit-picky rule book, the templates and the laser inspections. Throw out the idea of parity. Let the teams have a gray area in which to experiment. And NO Tuesday penalty reports. The race ends at the checkered flag. Any car that passes pre-race inspection is deemed legal for the race. This week, 3 JGR cars failed pre-race inspection and were penalized by being sent to the back of the field. That is reasonable. None of those teams was docked any points post-race and that is also reasonable.

    I wonder what NASCAR would do if their Homestead champion’s car failed post-race inspection? Announce a new champion on the Wednesday after the season is over? No way will you ever see that!

    • I’d bet $100 that the champions car does not get inspected (at least with the usual fervor) after the Homestead race. Anything wrong at that point (unless it’s so obvious everyone can see it) gets swept under the rug. No way NASCAR would piss on their own parade.

  3. The tone of this article seems to be that its the inspections rather than the illegality of the cars thats the problem. And while we constantly hear the prophets of doom talking about the dire straits of Nascar racing the willingness of the major teams to pay fines give the lie to that.
    If anything nascar should tighten up on the illegal cars and find a way to put a stop to it. Or, perhaps the RTA could buy Nascar and they can do what they want.

  4. I agree with your comments about increasing the gray areas in which teams can work. Opening up the ability for teams to find an advantage is good for the smaller teams. Penalties were made cut and dry so they could be made at the time of the infraction…there is no need to wait until Tuesday to announce it. And also, disqualify cars at post-race tech if illegal. Take away the trophy. Expunge the team’s participation in the event from the records. Every local race track does that…and I for the life of me don’t understand Nascar’s position. And “wanting everyone to know who wins when they leave the track” is no longer an excuse with social media and the myriads of TV and radio shows. The gag reflex that the word ‘encumbered’ created should give Nascar a good indication on what the public thinks of this sham. I loved the sport when is was less of a show and more of a sport. I guess 40% of the former audience agrees with that.

  5. It’s funny when they fine the crew chief $50,000. Nobody thinks the crew chief pays the fine, do they? But if NASCAR fined the team, it would seem insignificant.