Unhappy About Penalty Reduction, NASCAR Sent Hendrick Motorsports a Not-So-Subtle Message After Richmond
NASCAR has rules for a reason. They’re explicitly stated in the extensive rule book. And when those rules are broken, the sanctioning body does just that, sanctions violators for their transgressions.
Hendrick Motorsports was the latest to test the boundaries by modifying single-sourced supplier parts, and, as a result, NASCAR levied a hefty penalty against all of its teams, including a monetary fine, the suspension of crew chiefs, and docking of points. However, the punishment was dramatically reduced on appeal, and the teams had all of their points restored.
That reversal understandably upset NASCAR officials, as it effectively took away the most consequential portion of the penalty. On Sunday after Richmond, the governing body seemingly showed its displeasure with the decision in a single move that sent a not-so-subtle message to the sport’s winningest organization.
Hendrick Motorsports penalty reduced
Since the introduction of the Next Gen car last season, NASCAR has made it clear that it will not tolerate any modification of single-sourced supplied parts. Just ask Brad Keselowski, Michael McDowell, and Kevin Harvick. They all felt the governing body’s wrath with massive penalties last year.
Hendrick Motorsports was the first organization to find itself in the crosshairs in 2023 after Phoenix when NASCAR doled out an L2 penalty that included a $100,000 fine and four-race suspension for each of the four team’s crew chiefs, plus docking the teams and drivers 100 regular-season points and 10 playoff points.
Last week, the National Motorsports Appeals Panel ruled on the penalty and upheld the combined $400,000 fine and crew chief suspensions, but rescinded the most significant portion of the punishment, and restored all the points.
Penalty reduction produces mixed reactions
Unsurprisingly, Hendrick Motorsports was happy with the three-member panel’s decision.
“I don’t know that we should have ever had the points taken away, to begin with,” HMS Vice Chairman Jeff Gordon told Racer.com. “But it’s been a good week. It’s been really stressful trying to prep for an appeal and not knowing what the outcome is going to be.
“We’re certainly happy the appeals committee came to that conclusion, but at the same time, we feel like we laid out enough information there that it shouldn’t have ever happened, or even the monetary side of it and the crew chief side of it. We were really hoping we were going to get all of that back.”
NASCAR had a mixed reaction.
“We are pleased that the National Motorsports Appeals Panel agreed that Hendrick Motorsports violated the rule book,” the organization 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.”
NASCAR sends Hendrick Motorsports message after Richmond
That last part of NASCAR’s statement shows where the sanctioning body stands and how it will be undeterred moving forward. After Sunday’s race, which Kyle Larson won, officials followed through, and interestingly enough, the randomly selected cars taken back to the R&D center for a more thorough inspection belonged to a pair of Larson’s HMS teammates, William Byron and Alex Bowman.
While NASCAR hasn’t yet made an update to the rule book, most expect it to happen at some point, including some language that will make it difficult for the appeals panel to rescind the points penalty and effectively take away the teeth of the punishment.
Until that happens, HMS officials might expect their cars to receive additional scrutiny in the future, including a few more trips to the R&D center.
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