NASCAR makes massive update to its penalty system

(Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

NASCAR will come down hard on infractions found prior to a race in all three of its top three touring series starting this season. The sanctioning body announced updates to the 2017 rulebook Thursday and among the big changes is the discontinuing of the P1-through-P6 penalty system put in place in 2014.

The new system instead uses Levels 1 and 2 and infractions under each level can result in a loss of points and suspension of a crew chief or crewmember. The new focus will also now be on pre-race inspections. Penalties found pre-race can be punished by a loss of practice time, to a loss of a lap or laps during a race.

“Our goal was to be able to, more like football or basketball or any sporting event to where we could officiate and police within the event,” Elton Sawyer, NASCAR Vice President of Officiating and Technical Inspection told NASCAR.com. “I think the real message is that we want to get these infractions, the smaller infractions, we want to get them corrected at the race track.

“It’s very similar to a 15-yard penalty. If you can get three 15-yard penalties and you can still win the game or drive down and score a touchdown, then good for you. If we can issue these penalties and you lose pit selection or you start at the back or a drive-through (penalty), and you can still come back and win the race, well then we feel like what that infraction was, the penalty fits the crime.”

Sawyer said the rationale for the new policy is to try and give out penalties closer to the time the offense occurs.

“The Tuesday penalties, they wouldn’t necessarily go away,” Sawyer told NASCAR.com. “We’re hoping that we don’t have to write those penalties. That’s not what we look forward to. We want all the positive storylines to be around the excitement of the race, and as the stewards of the sport — or the umpires, if you will — we want to kind of be in the background. But we have a role and responsibility in this as well to make sure it’s a level playing field for all.”

Another change is to pre-race inspection procedures when teams are forced to make corrections. Prior to this season, if a team needed to make corrections in order to pass an inspection station they could move the car to the side, make the changes then be re-inspected at that station. Now teams will be forced to take the car back to the team’s assigned garage stall then repeat the entire inspection process over again.

“I think it’s fair to say that if we make them go back to the garage, then that’s a central location for all cars to be fixed,” Sawyer told NASCAR.com. “They know they have to come back through every station again, so it does put the deterrent back on the teams and puts the responsibility back on the teams to present their vehicles in compliance with the rule book.”

Other changes from Thursday’s updates to the rule book:

• The penalty structure for violations that rise to the L1 or L2 level were unveiled, subject to enforcement at the following event(s):

L1 penalties concern areas of minimum heights and weights, the Laser Inspection Station (LIS), gear ratios, and flagrant lug nut violations where 17 or fewer are properly secured. L2 penalties involve more egregious infractions concerning tampering with the three “no man’s land” technical areas of tires, engine and fuel. Major safety violations, the use of telemetry or traction control, plus breaches of the testing policy also fall under the L2 designation.

Penalty options for all three NASCAR national series call for the deduction of 10 to 40 points for L1 violations and 75 points for L2 infractions. In the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, L1 penalties call for crew chief or team member suspensions for 1 to 3 races, plus a $25,000 to $75,000 fine. L2 penalties in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series come with a six-race suspension and fines ranging from $100,000 to $200,000.

The disciplinary action is scaled back in the other two national series. In the NASCAR XFINITY Series, L1 penalties will result in the same one- to three-race suspension range, but with fines from $10,000-$40,000. L2 violations in XFINITY events also come with a six-race suspension guideline, but a $50,000-$100,000 range for fines.

In the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, L1 penalties carry a one- or two-race suspension with fines from $5,000 to $20,000. L2 infractions will result in a four-race suspension with monetary penalties of $25,000 to $50,000.

• Specific penalties were outlined for lug-nut and LIS violations in the Monster Energy Series.

LIS infractions discovered after Coors Light Pole Qualifying will result in a team’s time being disallowed. Post-race, the violation falls under an L1 heading with a three-race crew chief suspension, a $65,000 fine and the loss of 35 championship points.

Teams with one improperly attached or missing lug nut post-race are subject to a $10,000 fine. That fine doubles and includes a one-race suspension for the crew chief if two lug nuts are improperly attached or missing. If three or more lug nuts are in violation of the rules, the penalty rises to the L1 level with three-race suspension for the crew chief, a $65,000 fine and the deduction of 35 championship points.

• “Encumbered” finishes — a rules concept introduced before the Monster Energy Series’ playoffs last year — will remain in effect this season for post-race L1 and L2 violations. The rules allow a victory to stand in the event of an infraction, but a winning team will be stripped of the benefits associated with the win.

• The list of pre-race penalties within a race weekend at the series directors’ disposal, in order of increasing severity: Loss of annual “hard card” credential, loss of practice time, loss of pit selection position, tail of the field penalty, a green-flag pass-through on pit road after the initial start, a green-flag stop-and-go in the pits after the start, and lap(s) penalty.