Drivers react to Hendrick penalty amendment: ‘A break in the system’

Pole Award winner, Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, (L) and Front Row winner, Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, pose for photos after the the Busch Light Pole at Daytona International Speedway on February 15, 2023 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

The National Motorsports Appeals Council amended NASCAR’s penalty to give Hendrick Motorsports its points and Playoff points back this past week. At Richmond Raceway Saturday, it wasn’t just Hendrick drivers talking about it.

Certainly, Alex Bowman who is restored as the points leader with the move, ahead of Trackhouse’s Ross Chastain was talking.

“It feels good to be leading the points, but we’re six weeks in. We just need to keep maximizing every race,” Bowman said.

He says his approach hasn’t changed: “every week, it’s just maximizing as much as we can.”

And he said he had no expectations of a successful appeal, and just took that off his mind.

“I just focused on doing the best I can each week, getting back the points that we had lost,” Bowman said.”

Hendrick teammate William Byron has moved up into third. It’s the second time a penalty appeal has worked in his favor, the first time being at Texas last year, when the panel gave him his points back after being penalized for intentionally wrecking Denny Hamlin under caution.

He doesn’t expect to get lucky a third time, though: “I think they were two unique situations.”

As for whether he’s surprised about the points: “Yes and no,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting much, I’d kind of moved on.”

He said he was racing more cautiously at COTA to prioritize points, too: “I felt like a solid top-five was good. But here we are, back where we were before” in the points lead.

“It was tough to think how we were five Playoff points down, that was the big thing,” he emphasized, not the money. “Two race wins worth of Playoff points down, that was tough.”

Some of the other drivers emphasized the impact of the successful appeal, too. Kyle Busch called it a “break in the system,” with NASCAR not being able to impose the penalty deterrents it wants to. For its part, though, NASCAR says it will continue to take points as a penalty.

“A points penalty is a strong deterrent that is necessary to govern the garage following rule book violations,” the sanctioning body said in a statement, “and we believe that it was an important part of the penalty in this case and moving forward.”

As for the crew chief suspension, Hendrick Motorsports already started before the appeal was decided, drivers had different views. William Byron said that crew chief Rudy Fugle was instrumental in holding the organization together. But Denny Hamlin feels that a crew chief can do at least as much away in the team’s data center as at the track. In fact, it might even help the team.

When his crew chief Chris Gabehart was away after a penalty when the team lost a tire at Dover in May of 2022, Hamlin said, “He told me he actually had a better view with all the analytics and the technology.”

Alex Bowman was even happy to have his old crew chief back. Blake Harris replaced longtime Hendrick crew chief Greg Ives atop the box this year after Ives retired from the crew chief position at the end of last season, but in a substitute role Ives has been back calling races with this penalty.

“I think Greg’s done a great job, it’s been fun working with Greg again,” said Bowman.

One other team was penalized, though. Kaulig Racing’s no. 31 car, driven by Justin Haley, was also penalized, and the appeal has not yet been heard. Kaulig racer AJ Allmendinger says he’s hoping the panel will come to the same conclusion, but he’s not certain.

“You never know how these things play out,” he said, “considering that it’s a different panel each time. Like Hendrick, it’s the points side that’s important to us at Kaulig. We’re hopeful that it should be the same for us.”

Corey Lajoie has a somewhat different perspective. He was knocked out of the top sixteen in points by the four Hendrick drivers return despite a strong start to his season.

“It’s a little disheartening,” Lajoie admitted. “But they made their case, and it doesn’t change how we race. We feel like we can win anyway, at a speedway like Daytona, Atlanta, or Talladega. We feel like we need to go win anyway.”

Owen Johnson