During the winter leading up to the 2019 NASCAR season the sanctioning body announced that it would begin taking wins and finishing positions away from cars that failed post-race technical inspections. It had been decades since the last time a car and driver had been hit with such a penalty under NASCAR’s watch but this season promised to bring about changes in the way rule violations would be handled. In more recent times, it had been common practice to issue fines, points reductions, and even suspensions to crew members when violations were found even though the winner’s trophy did not change hands.
Furthermore, post-race technical inspections had been somewhat of a marathon affair as cars would be taken from the race track to NASCAR’s R&D Center in the Charlotte area for more intense scrutiny which often led to announcements of penalties that often came as late as Tuesdays or Wednesdays following events held on the previous weekend.
The whole situation proved to be a confusing, and sometimes meaningless, process.
Along with the off-season announcement that finishing positions would be stripped along the purse money and the points that accompany those results, those who run the sport also vowed to clean up the entire inspection process in that penalties would be known by the end of the evening on race days. No longer would a 25-point reduction or a $50,000 fine be levied on a Wednesday when the most recent race had slipped from the sports world’s news cycle and slipped into oblivion among those who might not keep up on a daily basis.
But up to this past weekend no Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver and team had been made to face the wrath of the sanctioning body. Yes, there had been disqualifications during the 2019 racing season. Perhaps most prominently, Denny Hamlin was hit with the most severe of repercussions following what appeared to be a NASCAR Xfinity Series victory at Darlington Raceway back on Labor Day weekend. And, popular Ross Chastain had an apparent NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series win erased following his receiving of the checkered flag at Iowa Speedway. Others such as A.J. Allmendinger and Christopher Bell have also been denied quality results during this season’s campaign.
But even with all of that, no MENCS car and driver had been DQ’d in 2019 … until this past weekend.
The Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Erik Jones failed its run through at the optical scanning system following the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway. NASCAR officials were primarily concerned with the No. 20 car’s rear alignment, which could be skewed to gain an aerodynamic advantage.
Jones had finished fourth in that race and had seemingly pulled himself back into contention among those hoping to advance to the next round in the NASCAR Playoffs following a disappointing 36th place effort the previous week in Las Vegas. That top-5 finish and its accompanying points have now been wiped away.
The most significant revelations regarding the Jones penalty are that NASCAR showed it will not only issue harsh punishments to Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams but that it will issue those sanctions during the playoffs. And more, those who are among the championship contenders are not above reproach.
If nothing else, team owners, crew chiefs, drivers, and other team members were definitely put on notice as a result of the recent disqualification. A playoff participant on what is perhaps the sport’s most high profile team was hit as hard as has ever been the case in this sport … at least since the Chase/Playoff era began.
Which is better to explain to sponsors who have spent millions hoping to have a car that makes a deep run into the championship battle – Our team was disqualified and knocked from contention? Or, Our team simply wasn’t fast enough to move on? Teams must now decide whether or not it’s worth the risk to push deep into the gray area to get a win or to advance to the next round of the playoffs and run the risk of the ultimate penalty.
NASCAR delivered a strong and necessary message on Saturday night in Richmond.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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