NASCAR dropped the hammer on one particular driver and one particular team this past week and they should have. In both cases, either a clearly stated rule was violated or an unwritten no-no in which the sanctioning body had already established a precedent was committed. Without strong penalties, rules, whether written or not, have no teeth.
Unless you have been in complete seclusion for a week, you probably already know that Chase Elliott will be sitting out this weekend’s Enjoy Illinois 300 at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis. The decision to suspend the sport’s most popular driver and 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion came in the aftermath of last Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 when it was determined that he intentionally hooked the car being driven by Denny Hamlin sending the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota into the wall head on.
Series officials determined last season after an incident involving Bubba Wallace and Kyle Larson at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that the penalty for violating the “unwritten” rule of hooking another car in the right rear and sending it into the outside wall would be a one race suspension. There was no way NASCAR could do anything other than bench Elliott after he did the same thing Wallace did last year.
Of course, part of the issue with Elliott is the fact that he has already missed six races this season because of a snowboarding accident that resulted in significant leg injuries. With little chance of making the NASCAR Playoffs based solely on points, the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet pilot has to win at least one race if there is to be a shot at a second title in 2023. Any race missed takes away an opportunity for a win, and thus, a chance for accomplishing that ultimate goal.
But the fact of the matter is that Elliott had to be suspended. Not doing so would have brought claims of favoritism or giving in to the popularity of certain star drivers while hitting the less popular with stern penalties. Sanctioning bodies of any sport must maintain the perception that their rulings are based on rules and precedents and not on cheers or other factors.
In another situation from earlier this week, the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford team of Chase Briscoe was hit with the biggest penalty in the history of the sport when it was discovered that the underside of that car did not meet regulations.
A whopping $250,000 fine and a 120 point deduction were the result of NASCAR finding what it deemed to be a counterfeit part on the underwing of the machine. For its part, SHR has stated that the mix up was the result of a quality control issue and that it will not appeal NASCAR’s ruling.
Since the introduction of the NextGen car, NASCAR has made it abundantly clear that modifications to parts that are supposed to be supplied by single-source vendors will not be tolerated. This judgement clearly demonstrates that point.
There have been other instances this season of teams such as Hendrick Motorsports and Kaulig Racing having had modified parts found. In those cases, fines, point reductions and suspensions were issued(with some being overturned or reduced in the appeals process). That apparently will not be the case here.
If NASCAR is serious about maintaining the integrity of this car, the penalties have to be severe enough to get that point across.
I am not necessarily in favor of single-source parts suppliers and all the sameness of the NextGen, but if that’s what NASCAR wants, they have to take significant action or else there is no point in having rules. The same can be said for on-track conduct. I know the popular thing to say is something like “let the drivers police it themselves” but there has to be a Sheriff who is in charge of upholding the law whether it be with driver conduct or the integrity of the car.
NASCAR’s penalty of the two Chases was has it should have been.
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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