The White Zone: ‘It’s the same old, same old situation’ with penalties in NASCAR

by Tucker White On Tue, May. 15, 2018

LAS VEGAS - MARCH 04: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's for Pros Chevrolet, goes through inspection prior to the start of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil Las Vegas 400 presented by Jiffy Lube at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 4, 2018 in Las Vegas. Photo: Robert Laberge/Getty Images

Another Tuesday has come and gone. Another set of penalties have been dealt out by NASCAR. Another crew member has been suspended for the next few races. Another fine has been handed to the crew chief. Another points penalty has been handed out. Another encumbered, I mean L1, penalty (yes, because it’s so different from “encumbered”) was bestowed upon a driver. Another tainted finish that’s allowed to remain in the record. We’ve repeated this process too many times to count, yet teams continue breaking the rules. In the words of Mötley Crüe, “It’s the same old, same old situation.”

If you haven’t heard yet, NASCAR handed Kyle Larson’s team an L1 Penalty for an improper rear window brace. Basically, the brace that holds up the rear windows didn’t conform to NASCAR standards. His fourth-place finish in last Saturday night’s KC Masterpiece 400 at Kansas Speedway is “encumbered,” meaning the playoff point he earned from winning the second stage can’t be used in the Playoffs. Along with a $50,000 fine to crew chief Chad Johnston, car chief David Bryant will serve a two-race points. Larson’s fourth-place finish, however, remains cannon.

It’s not the first time this season that a team has been busted for this exact same thing. Kevin Harvick was hit with an L1 Penalty for this exact same thing, after his victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Chase Elliott was hit with an L1 Penalty for this exact same thing, after his 11th-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway. Just last week at Dover International Speedway, Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez were hit with an L1 Penalty for the exact same thing.

Something about NASCAR’s system for deterring penalties isn’t working.

I’ll give NASCAR credit, however, that they acknowledge it, as Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice-president and chief racing development officer, told Mike Bagley and Pete Pistone yesterday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

“It’s become really the equivalent of a Kris Bryant (Chicago Cubs third baseman) coming to the plate with a bat you can’t use,” O’Donnell said. “The umpire says ‘you can’t use that,’ comes back with a bat you can’t use, the umpire says it again and then the third time says ‘you can’t make your plate appearance.’ Then the batter runs to the media and says, ‘I can’t believe they did this.’ At some point it’s frustrating on our end and at some point we’ve got to get the teams to be able to show up and get through tech inspection. It’s the same every week and it’s one of those things that most teams are able to do it.”

With that being said, however, what did NASCAR expect? Their system for deterring penalties is weak, at best. I pointed this out two years ago, when I said that NASCAR’s reluctance to strip drivers who fail post-race inspection of their finishing position incentivizes this, and it’s taken them until the last 24 hours to accept that the current process isn’t deterring anybody.

NASCAR’s insistence on not disqualifying drivers with cars that can’t pass post-race inspection is the textbook definition of insanity.

NASCAR, your penalties have no teeth. Teams don’t take it seriously, because what they lose in penalties is a drop in the bucket. The finish stays in the record, they keep the prize money and just move onto the next race, where they’ll probably make up those lost points.

You want this insanity to stop? Disqualify drivers who’s car can’t pass. Take the finish, points, money and wipe them from the cannon, like they weren’t even there that weekend.

And I’m sorry to those who show up for the race, as NASCAR always falls back to, but why is the insistence that Little Timmy leaves the race knowing who more important than the integrity of the rules? I understand that teams will always push the boundaries, but there’s a massive difference between working in the gray area and outright breaking rules that can’t be interpreted in any other way.

As long as teams don’t take it seriously, then the rules have no integrity.

My suggestion, adopt the approach used by 5-Flags Speedway Technical Director Ricky Brooks: If the car isn’t legal, it gets disqualified.

That’s my view, for what it’s worth.


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