NASCAR Wednesday toughened penalties for teams that fail post race LIS inspections and have missing lug nuts. The new rules seem aimed at those teams among the 16 in NASCAR’s 10-race Chase championship which begins this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. However the new rules will be applicable to the entire field.
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. The Chase format in the Sprint Cup series consists of three rounds of three races; a win in each of those rounds guarantees a team advancement to the next. The final four teams at the last race of the season in Homestead then compete for the title with the highest finishing driver declared champion. Positions not gained by victories are determined based on points standings at the conclusion of each segment.
Other advantages include tiebreaking implications.
The lug-nut rule came into affect earlier this season after teams were found to be gaining an advantage on pit road but installing fewer than five lug nuts per wheel. Teams found with fewer than five on each wheel were penalized with a crew chief suspension for one race and fines. Violations of the Laser Inspection focuses on the car’s rear toe measurements on each side. Previously violations post race were considered a P2 penalty with loss of 10-15 driver and owner points, along with fines.
Earlier Wednesday, the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 team was hit with a P2 penalty. The car, with driver Martin Truex Jr. finished third Saturday night. The Toyota failed post race inspection laser inspection (LIS). Chief Cole Pearn was fined $15,000, and the team was assessed a loss of 10 championship owner and 10 championship driver points. The points however were deducted before the reset for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Truex remains seeded sixth in the 16-driver Chase field with 2006 points based on his two regular season race wins.
Now for teams in the Sprint Cup Series, the first violation will 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. However, NASCAR officials added that instead of one lug nut loose or missing out of all 20 as has been the case, three of the 20 lug nuts (five on each of the four wheels) will have to be missing; meaning a team that has less than 18 total lug nuts will be in violation and eligible for the new stronger penalty. In addition, the violations on the LIS will have to be “significant”, meaning further out than any team has been this season thus far.
Under the rules announced Wednesday, one missing or loose lug nut will result in fines but no suspension; two missing will result in a fine plus a one race suspension, and three missing lug nuts will call for the new harsher punishment.
“The changes are made to assure that we have a level playing field and make sure that there’s not a carrot out there for the team to have excessive violations when it comes to lug nuts and the LIS post-race measurements,” Scott Miller, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition, told NASCAR.com.
“As we worked with those penalties during the season we realized we probably needed to have a little bit more in place as Chase time rolled around.
“The Chase obviously changes a lot of scenarios for both NASCAR and the teams; it’s ramped up the intensity and there is a lot of scrutiny, as there is every week on everything (involving) technical infractions. This is really just a matter of us putting something in place so that should something happen, we have a means to effectively deal with it.”
Miller noted that the “encumbered finish” is already a part of the NASCAR rulebook. “This just adds a little bit of definition to how we will use it moving forward,” he said.
Since the new lug nut rules gone into effect, no less than five teams have been found in violation during post-race inspection and crew chiefs have been suspended most notably,those of drivers Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch of Stewart-Haas Racing and Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing.
The LIS platform has been used to give a precision measurement of a cars’ chassis since the start of the 2013 season. Prior to those teams were found trying to gain an advantage by “skewing” the body of the car.
This season several Sprint Cup Series drivers and teams have been penalized for failing the LIS portion of the post-race inspection process. Teams included, Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 Chevrolet, Matt Kenseth, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota, Brad Keselowski, Team Penske No. 2 Ford , Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing, Ryan Newman, Richard Childress Racing and Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing.
The bulk of those failures this year have centered on rear toe alignment.
Should an infraction involving post-race LIS or lug nut inspection occur during the championship race at Homestead the finish of the team found to be in violation will not count toward the determining the series champion, or for any other positions that might be determined via tiebreakers.
Both the Xfinity and Camping World Truck series are debuting modified Chase formats this season. For those series, the log nut penalties will be the same, with the crew chief fine reduced to $20,000. The Xfinity series uses the LIS, the Truck Series does not.