NASCAR admits mistake, won’t penalize Truex, Johnson, tweaks rules, does the right thing

NASCAR has been using a Laser Inspection System (LIS) since 2013. (Getty Images)
NASCAR has been using a Laser Inspection System (LIS) since 2013. (Getty Images)
NASCAR has been using a Laser Inspection System (LIS) since 2013. (Getty Images)

NASCAR not only admitted they made a mistake Wednesday, the sanctioning body eliminated a somewhat gray area for the remainder of the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.  NASCAR executives announced Wednesday that the penalty system for post race inspections will now only involve cars that are found by the Laser Inspection System (LIS) to have “egregious” or infractions that are way out of bounds.

The previous P2 and P3 level penalties have been eliminated and moving forward any car found to be outside the limits will be subject to a P4 penalty.  The limit to be warrant a P4 violation however will be over double of what constitutes a P2 or p3 violation.  The new rule will apply to the Xfinity series, which also use the LIS, but not for the Truck series which does not.

The announcement began with the statement that NASCAR will not penalize the teams of the No. 78 driven by Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 48 driven by Jimmie Johnson for failing post race LIS inspection last Sunday after the opening race of the Chase. The cars both failed two trips through NASCAR’s Laser Inspection Station (LIS) during post race inspection.

NASCAR officials said their dilemma came when they began discussing possible penalties for Sunday’s infractions.  Their determination was that a points penalty given to a team trying to move to the next round of the Chase would have different effects than a team that is already locked into the Round of 12.  Truex locked himself into the Round of 12 with Sunday’s win.

“This was the most fair decision we could get to,” NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell said in a teleconference Wednesday evening,. “Those penalties will not have the same impact on the competitors, based on the Chase format and the increased emphasis on win bonuses.”

The LIS platform has been used to give a precision measurement of a cars’ chassis since the start of the 2013 season.  Prior to that teams were found trying to gain an advantage by “skewing” the body of the car. Violations of the Laser Inspection focuses on the car’s rear toe measurements on each side.

“The use of the LIS platform in post-race was really driven by the industry,” O’Donnell said. “We had everyone collaborating to create the appropriate deterrent penalties if there was a violation. As we headed toward the Chase, we were asked to further develop an enhanced deterrent for the Chase. … The important development was the new language surrounding the concept of an encumbered win.”

Previous LIS violations have been classified a P2 penalty resulting in either a 10- or 15-point deductions during the regular season.  However, prior to the first Chase race, NASCAR updated its rules.

Under the new penalties, teams who win a race in the Chase could be stripped of the advantages of the win that includes automatic advancement to the next round.  NASCAR officials were quick to say that the violations on the LIS will have to be “significant”, meaning further out than any team has been this season thus far and would rate a P4 level penalty. The new rules also specify that a minimum of 17 lug nuts, out of 20 (5 each wheel), must be present post race. The new penalties for those violations remain the same.

Sunday evening NASCAR officials said the violations for Truex and Johnson found after the race at Chicagoland did not meet a violation that could result in an “encumbered finish” meaning the win would not count towards automatic qualification to the next round of the Chase.

Now for teams in the Sprint Cup Series, the first violation could result in an “encumbered” finishing position, the loss of 35-championship driver and owner points, as well as a three-race suspension and $65,000 fine for the crew chief, a P4 level penalty.  However, NASCAR officials were quick to say that the violations on the LIS will have to be “significant”, meaning further out than any team has been this season thus far.

During the regular season NASCAR officials said that teams wanted the post race inspection in order to ensure that winners and others weren’t too far out of line with a rear end skew. The tolerance needed to warrant a P2 level penalty however was around .001 inches.  Other teams complained that this tolerance was too close; that in the normal course of a race, contact with other cars, or even the wall, could result in a violation.  NASCAR was in sort of a box. After all the winner of Sunday’s  race as well as a six time champion were both “illegal” .

The team of Truex issued a statement later in the week saying they would accept any NASCAR penalty, but said their violation was a result of on-track contact.

With Wednesday’s announcement, NASCAR showed that they can adapt to a changing situation, that in the opinion of many is a gray area. Moving forward fans can still have confidence that cars are legal and on a level playing field.  With the new specifications, a car that does fail the LIS will be considered to have an unfair advantage, and will be penalized accordingly.  It’s highly unlikely that a car that is out of tolerance under the new specs will have won a race, or gotten to that condition through incidental on-track contact.

NASCAR tries to imagine every scenario they may encounter during a season, however, as they showed when a scenario arises that may seem unfair, they can and will ensure the racing is still fair to fans and its competitors.  They also showed they are human and not afraid to admit their mistakes.

“This one’s on us,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition. “We didn’t foresee this.”

There were penalties announced Wednesday.  The No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford of Aric Almirola, and the No. 16 Roush-Fenway Racing Ford of Greg Biffle, both had lug nuts missing post race.

The No. 14 of Stewart-Haas Motorsports and raced by Tony Stewart, failed pre-race template inspection three times.  The team was given a written warning and a loss of 15 minutes of practice time.

The No. 10 and 41 of Stewart-Haas Motorsports and raced by Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch respectively both failed pre-race LIS inspection twice.  Both teams were given written warnings.

The cars of Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Johnson and Alex Bowman failed pre-race template inspection twice and received warnings. The warning for Elliott, who is in the Chase, is the team’s fourth meaning they will lose their pit stall selection for this weekend’s race at New Hampshire.

In the XFINITY Series, the No. 2 team of driver Paul Menard was warned for failing pre-race template inspection three times.

Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Camping World Truck Series team was hit with a P2 penalty for having tailgate inspection height measurements outside NASCAR allowed tolerances. The No. 18 crew chief Wes Ward was fined $6,000 and the team docked 10 owner points.

The full penalty report issued Wednesday can be found here.

Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.