Don’t Blame the Damaged Vehicle Policy for Team Mistakes

Without a doubt, many if not all NASCAR Cup Series teams have, during this week, conducted reviews and refresher courses regarding the Damaged Vehicle Policy first implemented in 2017 and later tweaked by the sanctioning body. Two teams that looked to be in contention for a win in the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway were eliminated from competition because of failure to meet the guidelines laid out by the DVP.

Under those guidelines, a car deemed to be damaged by NASCAR following an incident must be repaired so that it can make a minimum speed established by officials prior to the race. When damaged, the team has six minutes make repairs and get the car back on the track. At the time of its involvement in an accident, a damaged vehicle clock is started to time the work being done by the crew. Once that clock counts down to zero, time is up and the car must be retired from the race if those repairs have not been completed.

Further, all work on a damaged car must take place on pit road. If the car is taken to the garage area, it is automatically retired from the race.

After returning to the track within the allotted six minutes, the car has three consecutive green flag laps to demonstrate that it can make the minimum speed which has been communicated to the teams by NASCAR officials.

NASCAR informs the spotter and crew chief that their car has been placed on the Damaged Vehicle Policy clock so the team knows that from that moment they have six minutes to meet the minimum speed requirement. As someone who listens to radio communications during most NASCAR races, I can assure you that the teams know their car is on the clock and actively keeping track(typically by the spotter) of how much time they have left.

All of that brings us back to the Coca-Cola 600.

Chase Elliott led laps in the Coca-Cola 600 before his car was retired

Chase Elliott led 86 laps of Sunday’s race, all during the first half of the event. However, he was involved in an incident that resulted in a caution on lap 188. At that point, the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was put on the clock. The Alan Gustafson-led crew worked on the car under those yellow flag conditions.

Almost immediately after the racing action resumed, another caution flag was displayed for a multi-car crash. The No. 5 had not yet met minimum speed, and thus, had not cleared the clock. When the car returned to pit road for additional repairs, the clock restarted. Eventually, time ran out with the car still sitting in its pit stall.

Had Elliott’s crew stopped working and sent him back out before the countdown reached zero, he would have still had three consecutive green flag laps to make minimum speed. But since they allowed time to run out, the car was eliminated from the race. Either the damage was too great to be repaired within the allotted six minutes or the crew did not do a good job of knowing the rule and managing the clock.

But the most glaring mistake made by a crew regarding the Damaged Vehicle Policy took place just after Elliott’s elimination.

Bubba Wallace appeared to be on his way to a good finish

The top-10 running 23XI Toyota of Bubba Wallace was involved in the previously mentioned lap 193 multi-car wreck. Although the damage to the car was not particularly significant, it was deemed damaged enough by NASCAR to be put on the clock and the crew chief and spotter were notified of that.

Repairs on the No. 23 car were completed with time still remaining on the clock. However, the car had yet to make minimum speed. Knowing that a stage break would be coming soon after the green flag was waved, the Bootie Barker-led team sent their driver onto the track with instructions to lay back so as not to get involved in another mishap.

Barker stated later that he thought since there was still time left on the clock they did not have to immediately make minimum speed. That is not the way NASCAR saw it. The fact of the matter was the car was on the track for three consecutive green flag laps without reaching the minimum speed.

The fault for the elimination of those cars does not lay with the rule. As a matter of fact, the Damaged Vehicle Policy rule is a good measure that keeps slow cars that are out of contention off the track. Ultimately, the blame has to be placed on the team, as Barker admitted.

People tend to want to blame the rules when things don’t go their way, but it is the responsibility of crew chiefs and other team members to know how the rules work whether they believe them to be good rules or not.

As presumed at the beginning of this piece, NASCAR teams have no doubt been reviewing the Damaged Vehicle Policy for clarity this week.

Please consider also reading:

Turn 2 Blog: Coke 600 chaos, Indy 500 red flag, and Denny Hamlin’s title chances

Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.

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