NASCAR penalizes Hendrick, Kaulig Racing and driver Denny Hamlin

AVONDALE, ARIZONA - MARCH 12: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, leads the field on a pace lap prior to the NASCAR Cup Series United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix Raceway on March 12, 2023 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

NASCAR penalized each of Hendrick Motorsports’ four Cup Series teams, along with the No. 31 team of Kaulig Racing, with L2-level penalties on Wednesday for unapproved parts modifications last weekend at Phoenix Raceway. Each crew chief was fined $100,000 and suspended for four races, and each team was further penalized with the loss of 100 points and 10 playoff points.

The penalties occurred after NASCAR confiscated the hood louvers from all five cars before Sunday’s race at Phoenix Raceway. The Hendrick teams involved were the No. 5 Chevrolet driven by Kyle Larson, the No. 9 of Josh Berry (subbing for the injured Chase Elliott), the No. 24 of William Byron and the No. 48 of Alex Bowman; the No. 31 of Justin Haley was the Kaulig team involved. The respective crew chiefs fined and receiving suspensions were Cliff Daniels, Alan Gustafson, Rudy Fugle and Blake Harris for Hendrick and Trent Owens for Kaulig.

The NASCAR Rule Book section specifically referenced for the penalties was Sections, which deals with how the radiator duct is assembled. The teams were found with unapproved modification of a single-source vendor-supplied part.

NASCAR permitted the Hendrick teams to use the hood louvers for a 50-minute Cup Series practice session on Friday at Phoenix, but then took the louvers back to the R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, for further examination. Hendrick replaced the louvers, and all four cars passed technical inspection before Sunday’s race at Phoenix.

Hendrick’s William Byron went on to win the race, his second victory in a row and the sixth Cup triumph in his career. All the other Hendrick cars also finished in the top 10, with Larson coming in fourth, Bowman in ninth and Berry in 10th.

Before the penalties, Bowman was atop the Cup Series standings with 154 points and had top-10 finishes in all four races this season. Byron was fourth in the standings, and Larson was fifth, while Berry continued to fill in for the injured Elliott, who underwent surgery on March 3 for a broken left leg and is expected to miss six weeks.

The hood louvers — which you can see on this Next Gen 3D model — are openings or vents in the hood that serve as a release point for ducts that transfer air out of the radiator. The system is intended to decouple engine performance from aero performance, offsetting the practice of teams taping off air intakes and placing undue pressure and heat strain on the car’s engine.

– In other penalties announced Wednesday, Denny Hamlin was fined $50,000 and lost 25 driver points for violating Sections 4.4 in the NASCAR Member Code of Conduct, which cover – attempting to manipulate the outcome of the race or championship; wrecking or spinning another vehicle, whether or not that vehicle is removed from competition as a result; and actions detrimental to stock car racing or NASCAR.

– The No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford driven by Aric Almirola also got hit with a safety violation for the loss or separation of an improperly installed tire/wheel from the vehicle (Sections A&C). Crew members Ryan Mulder and Sean Cotten were suspended for two races.

NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition Elton Sawyer said that as they investigated the parts taken from Hendrick and Kaulig from this weekend it was obvious they had been modified in an unapproved area leading to the penalties.

“This is a consistent penalty with what we went through last year with other competitors,” Sawyer said. “So we felt like to keep the garage on a level playing field, the competition level where it needs to be. All the dialogue that went around this car last year, working with the owners on what the deterrent model should be, were put in a position that we didn’t feel like there was no other way but to write a penalty.”

Sawyer stressed that what they saw had crossed a line.

“There is components as we have approved working directly with the industry and the garage and a process to do that,” he said. “This area was not approved. We felt like the communication line between NASCAR and the garage was done properly. And obviously they were outside the boundaries.”

As for the Hamlin penalty, that stemmed from an incident Sunday during the final restart of the race, when Hamlin made contact with driver Ross Chastain sending both cars into the wall. Hamlin, finished 23rd, Chastain 24th.

Monday Hamlin spoke about the incident on his podcast that debuted earlier this year. He and Chastain have a history and Hamlin said that in Sunday’s incident he deliberately took out Chastain.

Sawyer said that each time drivers have issues among themselves each situation is different.

“The way we look at these situations is they’re all individual, right?” he said. “They’re unique to themselves. And when you look at this one this past weekend, we would’ve viewed that as a recent incident.”

He added NASCAR is delighted that Hamlin has his own podcast but:

“When you start admitting that you have intentionally done something that would compromise the results of the end of the race, then that rises to a level that we’re going to get involved,” he said.” There’s, there’s no there’s no other way to look at that. We’re going to get involved in those situations. We’ve been consistent in the past with that, and we will be consistent going forward.”

Hendrick later said it will appeal the penalties, releasing the following statement: “On Friday at Phoenix Raceway, NASCAR identified louvers on our race cars during voluntary inspection 35 minutes after the opening of the garage and prior to on-track activity. NASCAR took possession of the parts approximately four hours later with no prior communication. The situation had no bearing on Saturday’s qualifying session or Sunday’s race.

“We are disappointed with today’s decision by NASCAR to issue penalties and have elected to appeal based on a variety of facts.” The team then listed the following things:

– Louvers provided to teams through NASCAR’s mandated single-source supplier do not match the design submitted by manufacturer and approved by NASCAR

– Documented inconsistent and unclear communication by the sanctioning body specifically related to louvers

– Recent comparable penalties issued by NASCAR have been related to issues discovered during post-race inspection.

No word from Kaulig Racing or Hamlin on whether they would appeal their penalties.


Greg Engle