Stewart-Haas Racing penalized by NASCAR for counterfeit part used at Charlotte

CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA - MAY 29: Chase Briscoe, driver of the #14 Mahindra Tractors Ford, pits during the NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 29, 2023 in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by David Jensen/Getty Images)

Stewart-Haas Racing was hit with the most severe penalty NASCAR can issue Wednesday after NASCAR found a counterfeit part in the team’s No. 14 Ford.

The No. 14 was raced to a 20th place finish Monday at Charlotte and was one of the cars taken post-race back to NASCAR’s R&D Center for a teardown which is where the infraction was discovered.

As a result, NASCAR issued an L3-level penalty, the most severe punishment under the sanctioning body’s deterrence system. The No. 14 team has been docked 120 points in both the owner standings and driver standings for Chase Briscoe; an additional loss of 25 playoff points should Briscoe and the team qualify for the postseason; and a $250,000 fine and suspension in the next six points races to crew chief John Klausmeier.

NASCAR said the team violated multiple sections of the NASCAR Rule Book. That includes Section 14.1F, which prohibits counterfeiting a Next Gen single source vendor-supplied part, along with Section 14.6.A Underwing, and 14.6.3B Engine Panel Assembly.

The engine panel assembly rule specifically notes that the engine panel NACA duct must be used and must remain unobstructed.

NACA ducts are single-source supplied parts for the Next Gen car and may not be modified or counterfeited. The NASCAR Rule Book spells out the location for these ducts, on the left and right-side windows, which are used to help cool the car.

Tightening the ducts, or counterfeiting/modifying the size of the ducts, can help a team create more downforce on the race car.

“After inspecting the 14 car here at the R&D Center and a deep investigation,” NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Elton Sawyer said meeting with reporters shortly after the announcement said. “We found the engine panel NACA to be counterfeit. That’s a significant penalty. It’s an L3 penalty. It’s not something that we have seen in the past. But we did find it on the 14 car, and we assessed the penalty to the to the team.”

Sawyer said they weren’t expecting to find a counterfeit part and hinted that it could have been an isolated incident within the team.

“To be honest, I was a little surprised that they would go down this path” he said. “And then again, talking with the race team, they’ve got some process and procedures within their race shop that they feel like they need to button up. And they will.

“So yeah, we were a little surprised just knowing and them knowing as well, the severity of it, and that it would rise to an L3 penalty you know, modifying the single source part as we’ve seen, that falls into an L2 bucket. But when you counterfeit apart it, it falls into a bucket with engines and, and messing with tires and things and fuel that, you know, is just not going to be tolerated.”

Sawyer said inspectors found that the opening for the NACA vent wasn’t there.

“Obviously the NACA not be in there would be a major performance enhancement,” he said. “So anything that you would do around that area would be some gain, you know, or they wouldn’t have done it.”

Had NASCAR not taken cars back to R&D for inspection there is a chance the team might have gotten away with it. Sawyer said the procedures for determining which cars will be taken back to R&D post-race won’t change.

“I think we periodically, we’ve shown that we would obviously bring cars back,” he said. “I think once the garage gets a sense that in a rhythm of what we may do or may not do again; it’s a culture that has been in our sport, up until the last couple of years in the introduction of the Next Gen car.

“I think we have to continue to keep the garage a little bit off balance there. So if, if we need to bring more cars home we will do that. We, again, our part of this has the sanctioning body is to keep a level playing field for all the competitors, and that’s what they expect us to do, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”

A L3-level penalty is reserved for the most intense of instances, including but not limited to:

  •     Counterfeiting or modifying Next Gen Single Source vendor supplied parts and/or assemblies.
  •     Engine infractions not meeting the rules.
  •     Engine performance enhancements
  •     Altering/modifying tires and/or fuel
  •     Violating the Vehicle Testing Policy

All penalties at the Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 areas spell out ranges of punishment in the NASCAR Rule Book for points, playoff points, suspensions and fines.

Those meted out to the No. 14 were the minimum for an L3-level violation as stipulated in the rule book.

The impact of Wednesday’s penalty will shake up NASCAR’s postseason picture considerably.

Briscoe was the first driver out of the field following Monday’s Coca-Cola 600, just four points behind Alex Bowman on the bubble.

The loss in points drops Briscoe from 292 points to 172, placing him 31st in the standings and facing a postseason path that almost surely must include a win over the final 12 races in the regular season.

Joe Gibbs Racing rookie Ty Gibbs (-15) now slides up to the last spot out, followed by Trackhouse Racing’s Daniel Suárez (-20), Spire Motorsports’ Corey LaJoie (-38) and Team Penske’s Austin Cindric (-42).

The team later said they would not be appealing.

“We had a quality control lapse and a part that never should’ve been on a car going to the racetrack ended up on the No. 14 car at Charlotte,” said Greg Zipadelli, chief competition officer for Stewart-Haas Racing in a statement. “We accept NASCAR’s decision and will not appeal.”

Greg Engle