Monday, February 11, 2019

COMMENTARY: NASCAR "Changes The Culture" With New Penalty Structure


For the first time in decades of NASCAR racing, crime no longer pays.

NASCAR announced last Monday that effective immediately, winning cars that fail post-race inspection with a Level 1 or 2 infraction will be stripped of their victory and placed last in the finishing order. The offending team will forfeit all points, prize money, stage points, playoff qualification and other benefits of the win, with the second-place finisher inheriting the victory.

The announcement ended a baffling era in the sport’s history where drivers could win with illegal race cars, but forfeit only a portion of their ill-gotten gains.

“We are changing the focus and changing the culture,” said NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell. “If you're not legal, you don't win the race.”

O’Donnell said teams have known for the last six months that the sanctioning body was moving in this direction, and that every team owner was in favor.

“We are tired of being the `We’ll work with you’ guys,” said NASCAR Sr. Vice President of Competition Scott Miller. “We need for these things to not be a story. We have to stop all of this.”

Under this new system, the winner, second-place finisher and a random car will undergo a 90-minute, post-race NASCAR inspection at the track, rather than being taken to the NASCAR R&D Center as in past seasons. When found to be in violation of the rules, the offending team will be sanctioned on the spot, eliminating the need for additional mid-week penalties. NASCAR also said that crew chief and car chief suspensions will be unlikely, going forward.

Very few drivers commented publicly on NASCAR’s announcement prior to their arrival in Daytona Beach, but a handful of crew chiefs spoke in favor of the change.

Childers: "I'm in favor."
“I’m in favor of it,” said Stewart Haas Racing crew chief Rodney Childers, who was suspended by NASCAR for an illegal rear spoiler on driver Kevin Harvick’s Ford late last season. “If I know for sure that nobody else is working outside the rules, I don’t have to do it, either.”

Whether or not NASCAR is required to overturn a victory this season, the mere threat will hopefully be sufficient to change the culture of the sport. No longer will NASCAR be known as the sport where everybody cheats and nobody cares. No longer will we be forced to explain to casual and non-fans how a competitor can drive a blatantly illegal race car to Victory Lane, then keep the win. We will also no longer spend Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday on pins and needles, waiting for the weekly round of penalty announcements that – more often than not – eclipsed the weekend’s racing as the number-one topic of water cooler conversation.

Last week’s announcement marks the end of a policy first implemented by NASCAR founder Bill France, Sr. in the early 1950s. At that time, France believed that fans should leave the track knowing who won the race, no matter what might occur in the post-race tech line. In today’s internet-based world, however, information travels at the speed of light, allowing fans to learn of post-race technical violations before making it to their cars in the speedway parking lot.

NASCAR’s “no DSQ” policy was an outdated relic from a day gone by, and made NASCAR the only motorsports sanctioning body on the planet unable to inspect its cars in a timely fashion, and unwilling to invoke a competitive death penalty on those who break the rules.

“Inspection is going to be open all the time,” promised NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller last week. “We will be inspecting cars all the time, (not) just during the official inspections. When we find something wrong… if you bring illegal parts and we make you take them off, you’re going to be issued an L1 penalty right there at the race track.

“We have to stop this. We tried to do it a little softer, but it didn’t work. So we’re going to try a new approach. You can’t unload your car with illegal stuff on it – period.”