NASCAR Was Wrong to Penalize Cole Custer For His Last-Lap Move at the Charlotte Roval
Non-NASCAR Playoffs driver Cole Custer found himself in the heart of the post-race conversation Sunday in the Round of 12 elimination race at the Charlotte Roval for an incident that has resulted in penalties that have been applied inconsistently, at best.
Custer has long been out of the playoff picture with no wins and a 20.8 average finishing position that has him 25th in the points standings. His Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Chase Briscoe, however, was in an intense fight for his playoff life on the overtime restart Sunday.
Chase Briscoe charged through the field on the overtime restart
Briscoe entered Sunday’s race tied for ninth with Austin Cindric in the playoff standings, 12 points behind Daniel Suarez for the eighth and final spot to advance to the Round of 8.
He was 11 points below the cutline when the field took the green flag for the final time Sunday on an overtime restart. Briscoe had just pitted for fresh tires and spent the next two laps gaining positions and capitalizing on the good fortune that came his way.
Cindric held the eighth and final transfer spot but wrecked in the backstretch chicane on the first lap after the restart. Reigning Cup Series champion Kyle Larson had problems earlier in the race that left him five laps down in 35th, and Christopher Bell took the lead from Kevin Harvick en route to a victory in what was a must-win race for Bell and the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team.
All that left Briscoe 11th in the race and tied with Larson for the eighth playoff spot as he worked the backstretch for the final time. Custer was ninth at the time and slowed entering the chicane, which blocked both Austin Dillon and Erik Jones, allowing Briscoe to scoot past into ninth and protect his position.
Briscoe finished in ninth and two points ahead of Larson for the final spot in the Round of 8.
NASCAR has fined Cole Custer and his crew chief $100,000 each
Briscoe will keep his spot in the next Round of the playoffs regardless, but NASCAR issued a statement after the race saying it would review the last-lap move by Custer to determine if the sanctioning body should penalize Custer for the block on the final lap.
And following that review, NASCAR has fined Custer and crew chief Michael Shiplett $100,000 each, citing Section 5.5 of the Rule Book, which, according to NASCAR.com, “requires competitors to race at 100% of their ability and takes action against competitors who intend to artificially alter the race’s finishing positions.”
Fifty driver and owner points have also been deducted from the No. 41 team.
In addition, Shiplett has been suspended indefinitely.
Custer said after the race that he thought he had a flat tire going down the backstretch.
Many similar blocks have gone unpenalized before
Even if Custer’s block was intentional, which is likely the case, NASCAR was wrong to have issued a penalty in this situation. Yes, it might have affected the outcome of the playoff standings, but these types of situations have happened many times in NASCAR’s postseason history.
NASCAR most famously penalized Michael Waltrip Racing after the 2013 regular-season finale at Richmond Raceway when Clint Bowyer intentionally spun out to cause a caution that allowed teammate Martin Truex Jr. to reach the playoffs.
Team Penske also allegedly tried to cut a deal with Front Row Motorsports to help Joey Logano reach the playoffs in the same race.
This was not an intentional wreck, nor did it deliberately force NASCAR officials to display the yellow flag. Custer’s block was more similar to something nearly all drivers have done at superspeedways. Teammates routinely block for each other in those races when the entire field is racing in a pack.
Team Penske owner Roger Penske even admitted in 2014 that he instructed Logano to help Brad Keselowski win the playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway so both drivers would be in the Round of 8.
“(We told him) whatever you can do today to get the 2 car (of Keselowski) in the winner’s circle, that’s what you need to do,” Penske told The Sporting News. “I think he obeyed orders pretty well.”
Even the Round of 12 elimination race this year at Bristol Motor Speedway had some questionable actions from various teams.
23XI Racing driver Ty Gibbs pulled into the garage area with a steering problem when he was only four laps from passing JGR and fellow Toyota driver Kyle Busch when Busch was still in contention to move on to the next Round. Logano also ended his race early with suspension problems, with teammate Ryan Blaney still trying to fight for a transfer spot.
That was after Chase Elliott held up Kevin Harvick in the final laps the year before at Bristol to allow his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Larson to make the pass for the win.
NASCAR determined all of those situations after the 2013 Richmond incident did not warrant penalties. The Custer-Briscoe situation shouldn’t have been any different.
Stats courtesy of Racing Reference