NASCAR Must Make an Immediate Change or Risk Complete Castration
Rick Hendrick’s guys pantsed NASCAR, which isn’t even pretending that the decision by an appeals panel to keep fines and suspensions in place is an adequate penalty for Hendrick Motorsports. The winningest team in Cup Series history succeeded in overturning points penalties on Wednesday, leaving the governing body as toothless as the front row of a pro wrestling crowd.
And it’s almost certainly going to get worse a week from now when Kaulig Racing goes before an appeals panel.
Hendrick Motorsports’ win leaves NASCAR steamed
A National Motorsports Appeals Panel reversed 100-point penalties to all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers and zapped 10-point playoff penalties. The three-member panel upheld four-race suspensions and $100,000 fines for crew chiefs.
The punishment followed NASCAR’s confiscation of hood louvers from the four Hendrick Motorsports Chevys following practice on March 10 at Phoenix. The restoration of points lifts a major burden drivers Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson faced in making the playoffs and then surviving transfer races en route to the Championship 4. It also strengthened William Byron’s position following a strong start to the season, and the restoration of owner points will help HMS with season-ending bonus money.
“Today’s outcome reflects the facts, and we’re pleased the panel did the right thing by overturning the points penalty,” owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement.
Not surprisingly, NASCAR had a different perspective:
“We are pleased that the National Motorsports Appeals Panel agreed that Hendrick Motorsports violated the rule book,” NASCAR said in a statement. “However, we are disappointed that the entirety of the penalty was not upheld. A points penalty is a strong deterrent that is necessary to govern the garage following rule book violations, and we believe that it was an important part of the penalty in this case and moving forward.
“We will continue to inspect and officiate the NASCAR garage at the highest level of scrutiny to ensure a fair and level playing field for our fans and the entire garage.”
We likely won’t learn the appeals panel’s rationale
The panel hearing Hendrick Motorsports’ appeal of the NASCAR penalties consisted of truck/trailer retailer Kelly Housby, former racing marketing executive Dixon Johnston, and former driver Bill Lester, who competed in the Craftsman Truck Series from 2000-07 and made a few starts in the Cup Series.
The members rendered what amounted to a split decision by agreeing that Hendrick Motorsports broke the rules regarding single-source parts but reversing what nearly all observers regarded as the most important part of the penalty.
The reasoning remains a mystery since panels hand down decisions without an accompanying explanation. The reasoning possibly had to do either with the fact that the HMS cars did not qualify or race with illegal louvers or a lack of clarity over modifications NASCAR permitted when teams reported issues with parts from the single-source supplier.
If the latter is the case, it doesn’t bode well for NASCAR when Kaulig Racing presents its appeal to another panel on behalf of driver Justin Haley next week.
NASCAR must make an immediate change
The burden of proof on initial appeals falls upon NASCAR, and that looks problematic for the governing body when the Kaulig Racing appeal is heard next week. Whereas NASCAR confiscated both louvers from each Hendrick Motorsports car, it took only one from Justin Haley’s No. 31 Chevy.
That strongly suggests the louvers were not identical when they arrived in the Kaulig shop. It’s why the governing body risks seeing all its penalties against the team overturned, which would be a huge blow.
The Hendrick victory already leaves NASCAR in a bad spot. There has been concern about the quantity and quality of single-source parts since the debut of the Next Gen car last season. Parts go directly from the supplier to the teams, who bear the burden of determining if they adhere to technical specifications.
It will be expensive, but NASCAR needs to open a warehouse near its R&D facility in North Carolina and become the parts distributor. That will mean taking on the role of inspecting parts when they arrive from the manufacturer and then delivering them to the teams when they’re ordered.
In a sense, that’s an extension of the appeals process since it requires NASCAR to prove the parts are good and that any subsequent changes were made by the teams in pursuit of a competitive advantage. That’s the way it needs to be, or NASCAR risks repeated setbacks in appeals.
Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at [email protected]