Friday, April 17, 2015

COMMENTARY: What The National Motorsports Appeals Panel's Ruling Means, And What It Doesn't

There were no clear-cut winners in Thursday's National Motorsports Appeals Panel hearing involving Richard Childress Racing.
RCR was sanctioned by NASCAR for allegedly altering tires on the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet driven by Ryan Newman at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Cal. last month. Crew chief Luke Lambert bore the brunt of those sanctions, sustaining a $125,000 fine, a six-race suspension and being placed on NASCAR probation through the end of the calendar year. Tire technician James Bender and team engineer Philip Surgen received six-race suspensions and probation through December 31, while Newman and team owner Richard Childress forfeited 75 driver and owner points, respectively.

Yesterday’s ruling reduced the point and financial penalties, however, because the NASCAR rule book includes “no written explanation of what constitutes a post-race inspection.”

In a nutshell, here’s why the panel ruled the way it did.

Lambert’s $125,000 penalty was actually two fines in one; a $75,000 sanction for committing a P5 infraction and an additional $50,000 for an infraction discovered in post-race inspection. Childress and Newman’s 75-point penalties were similar; 50 points for a P5 rules violation and an additional 25 points for failing a post-race inspection.

Lambert, Newman: Penalties reduced
Sources say that in testimony heard by the panel yesterday, NASCAR admitted confiscating Newman’s tires during the running of the Auto Club 500 on March 22, rather than after the race. RCR’s appeal centered on the premise that a mid-race tire confiscation does not constitute a true “post-race inspection,” despite the fact that the tires underwent a third-party examination in the days following the event.

That lack of specificity was enough for Appeals Panel members John Capels, Hunter Nickell and Dale Pinilis to rescind all penalties related to post-race discovery.

The remaining sanctions -- a $75,000 fine for Lambert and 50-point penalties for both Childress and Newman – still fall within the range of sanctions mandated by NASCAR for a P5 rules violation; albeit at the lowest end of the scale.

“I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to present our facts to the Appeals Panel, and I appreciate their consideration of those facts in making the decision to reduce the fine and reduce the points penalty,” said Lambert after yesterday’s decision was rendered. “However, I am disappointed in the decision not to completely overturn the penalty based on the facts that we presented today.”

In a written statement, Childress said his team is examining its options and has not decided whether to make a final appeal to the sport’s Chief Appellate Officer. NASCAR has declined to comment on the decision, citing RCR’s right to file that additional appeal.

While yesterday’s decision may have reduced the penalties assessed to Richard Childress Racing, it did not exonerate them of wrongdoing. To the contrary, after viewing evidence presented by both the race team and NASCAR, the Appeals Panel confirmed that a P5 rules violation was indeed committed.

We don’t yet know how RCR altered its tires, and we won’t until a final appeal is either heard or declined. But yesterday’s Appeals Panel ruling gives a clear indication that Richard Childress Racing did violate NASCAR’s “Holy Trinity” by tampering with tires, engines or fuel.   

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