Change to NASCAR’s post-race penalties long overdue

NASCAR’s inspection process will take on even greater significance in 2019

With the season-opening Daytona 500 set to roll this Sunday, there will be a very different feel to this upcoming racing campaign in regard to the way penalties are handed down at stock car racing’s highest level. NASCAR officials recently announced sweeping changes regarding the punishments to be levied for infractions found during post-race tech inspections. These changes will be implemented throughout the 2019 schedule.

Most noteworthy was the revelation that wins by teams and drivers whose car is found to be outside regulations will be taken away. Those cars will be disqualified with the offending driver and team receiving last place points and money as its punishment for the determined violations. The second place driver and car will be elevated to the win with all other drivers in the field also being lifted by one position.

Previously, teams would be allowed to keep wins but often faced points reductions and/or fines along with suspensions for some crew members when post-race failures were discovered.

Along with the loss of wins, offending drivers and teams will be stripped of playoff points and stage points earned in that particular race as well as the automatic berth or advancement in the NASCAR Playoffs if applicable. The sanctioning body will no longer hand out penalties two and three days after a race as has been the case in recent years. Post-race inspections are expected to be completed at the track approximately 90 minutes following each race with the winner being officially declared at that time.

These harsher penalties apply to Level 1 and Level 2 infractions found during post-race inspections.

L1 penalties concern areas of minimum heights and weights, the Laser Inspection Station, gear ratios, and flagrant lug nut violations.

As an example, Kevin Harvick’s win last fall at the Texas Motor Speedway in which he was penalized by the taking away of his automatic berth in the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway was judged as an L1 infraction when irregularities were found with the Stewart-Haas Racing car’s rear spoiler. According to the new rules, not only would there have been suspensions and fines but the win would have been erased for the No. 4 car.

Harvick was also handed an L1 penalty following his win last spring at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway when an abnormal bowing in the car’s rear window was discovered. The braces meant to hold the rear window in place were found to be constructed of the wrong metal.

Kevin Harvick and his Stewart-Haas Racing team had two separate L1 violations in 2018

L2 penalties involve more egregious infractions concerning tampering with the three “no man’s land” technical areas of tires, engine, and fuel. Major safety violations, the use of telemetry or traction control, plus breaches of the testing policy also fall under the L2 designation.

L2 penalties apply to areas in which the argument that a mistake was made to cause the infraction would not be plausible.

This policy brings the top level of stock car racing in line with those that have already been enforced by numerous short track racing series for years. As someone who has covered a great many short track races, I have witnessed wins being taken away from drivers for infractions such as the car not making the required weight, for tires that were tampered with, and the wrong type of fuel being used. NASCAR teams could now face those same types of penalties.

This new policy could be particularly crucial going into the 2019 season when new rules will be instituted for the use of aero ducts on the cars for races on most tracks over one mile in length and tapered spacers meant to reduce engine horsepower to approximately 550. Without stiffer penalties in place, teams might have been more willing to risk finding ways to circumvent the new regulations. Now, such actions would bring about the most severe of repercussions.

Of all the penalties a team might have to face, the worst would be the phone call they would have to answer from a sponsor spending millions of dollars who wants to know why a win and playoff berth was taken away from the car bearing their company’s logo. That, more than anything else, will cause car owners to emphasize to their crew chiefs that their cars must be able to pass post-race inspections.

This is a change that has been long overdue. It just looked silly for drivers and teams to keep wins while having points and money stripped away. If a car isn’t legal, it should not be declared a winner. And furthermore, the riddance of announcements two and three days after the checkered flag has waved is a good move. The only news made in the midweek should be about upcoming races, not those in the past.

NASCAR has caught up with many other forms of the sport and it’s about time.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association

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