Whatever Denny Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing team did to the rear suspension of the cars he won with last week at Darlington won’t happen again.
NASCAR told teams Friday at Richmond that it will seek the strongest penalty currently available for a specific rear suspension violation after seeing a rules infraction trend developing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series.
Starting now any penalty associated with the Section 20.14.2 Rear Suspension I-4 portion of the NASCAR Rule Book found in post-race inspection will be elevated to the maximum L1-level penalty.
The maximum penalty includes: an encumbered finish, the loss of 40 driver and owner points, a $75,000 crew chief fine ($40,000 in the XFINITY Series) and the suspension of both the team’s crew chief and car chief from the next three championship points events.
Three violations of the Section 20.14.2 Rear Suspension I-4 rule were discovered during post-race inspection following Darlington weekend. The race-winning No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Monster Energy Series team, along with the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity Series team and No. 22 Team Penske Xfinity Series team, all were issued penalties.
Denny Hamlin won both the Monster Energy Series and Xfinity Series Darlington races, in the No. 11 and No. 18, respectively. Joey Logano drove the No. 22 Xfinity Series car to a runner-up finish.
NASCAR said they were seeing trends that show teams are spending significant effort attempting to gain an advantage in this “particular area”, and it believes an increase in penalties will curtail those actions. What that particular area is, still isn’t clear, but Hamlin said Friday that he accepted the penalties.
“I know personally, it had nothing to do with winning the races,” Hamlin said. “I’d won five other races at that track well before that. I’d love to line ’em up again. That track is special to me. It was a special weekend all in all. It took something that was super positive and turned it into a negative pretty quick.”
“Yeah, I think it fits. I think we can talk about taking wins away in the future. I think it’s definitely a possibility. As long as it’s the same for everyone, I think that’s key. Make sure that when someone else is in there with the same violation, it gets the same penalty and treatment even if it’s in the Playoffs. I think that’s what makes me nervous – is that in the Playoffs? Is NASCAR going to do the same things when so much is on the line? Obviously, it’s negative publicity for everyone involved. so, I just hope that it’s the same. I’m fine with taking wins away. Nothing wrong with that.”
Hamlin was also adamant that the team was not trying to cheat.
“How many wins does Richard Petty have? 200?” he said. “One of those was with a big block, so does he really have 199? I mean, listen, my advice to those who say this or that is all the old school fans have been watching NASCAR forever, your driver cheated at some point in their career and they got away with it. The difference is is it was inches, not thousandths. They didn’t measure that stuff back then. “
“It’s just a tighter box that we live in today. The engineers and the crew chiefs are so smart, they fight for that little bit because they know it can make the difference in the smallest of deficits on the race track. I’m going to tell my crew chief to keep fighting for every inch, square inch of that car to be the best. But, you know, it makes no difference to me. I know I could line up with IROC cars at Darlington and I’m going to have an advantage there.”