NASCAR will keep handing out fines and taking away points in the national championship, but it doesn’t seem to keep race teams from cutting corners with the rule book.
The discovery of 20-pound oil pans on all three Joe Gibbs Racing cars last week at the Michigan International Speedway is another example of teams trying to find a competitive edge. All three crew chiefs – Mike Ford for Denny Hamlin’s team, Greg Zipadelli for Joey Logano’s team and Dave Rogers for Kyle Busch’s team – were fined $50,000 each and placed on probation until the end of the year. Also, the three car chiefs were placed on probation, as well as the company’s vice president of racing operations, Jimmy Makar.
Although teams know NASCAR is getting tougher with its penalties, it doesn’t seem to stop them from bending the rules. In fact, for Busch’s team it marked the second week in a row it’s felt the wrath from the sanctioning body.
Rogers was fined $25,000 a week earlier and Busch was docked six championship points after his car failed post-race inspection at Pocono, Pa. NASCAR said the left-front bumper was too low.
“They are just pushing the edges of the envelope,” Carl Edwards said. “It is unfortunate they got caught two weeks in a row but it is good for us because NASCAR will be watching those guys harder and paying attention to their cars a little more. That is good for the rest of us.”
Edwards’ team hasn’t always played by the rules, either. He won at Las Vegas in 2008, but NASCAR found the oil tank reservoir was open to help create more downforce. His team was fined $100,000 and crew chief Bob Osborne was suspended for six races.
At some point, NASCAR hopes to reach a level of punishment that will keep teams from trying to cheat. In the case of the three Gibbs cars, it’s clear the company tried to add weight to the lower front area of the car. A normal oil pan weighs about two or three pounds. By using a heavy oil pan, the three Gibbs Toyotas could gain some traction for the front tires.
The sanctioning body didn’t say the oil pans weren’t illegal. It didn’t like the fact the unique part wasn't submitted for approval.
The Gibbs group now understands that. But will it keep them from trying something new?
“It makes you cringe a little bit,” Tony Stewart said. “I mean you realize that NASCAR has to keep a tight fit on the rules and I don’t know exactly what it was so it’s hard to comment on it but you know that NASCAR has to make their stance on it and the teams have to make their stance on it, but at the end of the day I like to have a sanctioning body like NASCAR that is going to make sure that things go the way that they are supposed to be and that they aren’t pushing it too far.”
The biggest infraction caught by NASCAR – and many agree more things make it on the track than get caught – was an oversized engine for Carl Long at Charlotte, N.C., in 2009. He was fined $200,000 and suspended 12 races.
Another significant penalty was $100,000 fine, 150 points and a six-race suspension for crew chief Shane Wilson after NASCAR said the framework on Clint Bowyer’s car was modified after it went through the inspection process.
Michael Waltrip’s car was found with an illegal fuel additive at the Daytona International Speedway in 2007; Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon’s teams were fined $100,000 each and their crew chiefs were suspended in 2007 for six races after their front fenders were manipulated to fit the body templates and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., was fined $100,000 and suspended for six races in 2007 for using illegal rear wing mounting brackets.
One reason why teams seem to be risking sanctions is NASCAR’s policy of not taking victories away. Series founder Bill France once told his inspectors that fans had the right to know who won when they left the track. The last thing he wanted was to change the winner afterwards.
The only time a winner had a win stripped was in 1955 after Glenn “Fireball” Roberts won a race on Daytona Beach, but inspectors found an illegal engine modification. Tim Flock eventually was awarded the victory.
Hamlin knows his team will be watched closely for the rest of the year, but that won’t keep JGR from trying to find a winning edge.
“We continue to evolve our cars and things like that through the course of a season. It’s just, all teams do,” he said. “And usually when you have something new, a new part, sometimes you submit it and sometimes you don’t and I feel like this is probably one of the parts NASCAR wants you to submit. That’s probably the biggest issue they had with it is that you showed up at the prom with a different date.
“It’s just one of those instances where they were just kind of caught off guard I think.”
And it probably won’t be the last time it happens.