NASCAR deals hefty penalties to Hendrick, Denny Hamlin
NASCAR’s proverbial hammer came down on Wednesday.
The sanctioning body announced that it has dealt out penalties to seven different Cup Series teams for their respective transgressions after Sunday’s Cup race at Phoenix. Those penalties include substantial ones to Hendrick Motorsports, Denny Hamlin and Aric Almirola.
The Hendrick cars — that’s the No. 5 team (Kyle Larson), the No. 9 team (Chase Elliott/ Josh Berry), the No. 24 team (William Byron) and the No. 48 team (Alex Bowman) — were each found guilty of the “unapproved modification to a single-source vendor supplied part,” per NASCAR’s penalty sheet.
The penalty referred specifically to the modification of Hendrick cars’ hood louvers, the vents in the hood that help transfer air out of the radiator. Hendrick’s hood louvers were seized on Friday this past week after league officials discovered they had been modified. Hendrick cars then had their hoods replaced and were allowed to compete in Sunday’s Cup race — but the hood louvers confiscated Friday were taken back to NASCAR’s R&D center in Concord and were subsequently deemed illegal.
As a result, each team had their crew chiefs fined $100,000 and suspended from the next four NASCAR Cup Series points events, and each driver was assessed a loss of 100 driver points and 10 NASCAR playoff points. That $400,000 to one team is the largest combined fine to one organization in NASCAR history.
Each team also contributed to a 100-point deduction in the owners’ standings. That means that Hendrick Motorsports was deducted 400 owner points.
“This isn’t unchartered waters,” Elton Sawyer, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, told reporters on Wednesday afternoon. “From time to time, we’ll capture parts, we’ll bring them back. And as we continued to investigate and look at parts and compare parts, it was obvious to us that these parts had been modified in an area that wasn’t approved.
“This is a consistent penalty with what we went through last year with other competitors — the 6, the 34 — so we felt like to keep the garage on a level playing field, the competition at a level where it needs to be ... we were put in a position that we felt like there was no other way but to write a penalty.”
Sawyer did not detail what areas of the hood louvers were modified.
Hendrick Motorsports was in the middle of a pretty remarkable stretch. Byron has won the past two races, and Larson has been in the position to win the past two as well. Elliott hasn’t been behind the wheel of the No. 9 car — a snowboarding
accident caused a broken tibia in his left leg earlier this month and has him sidelined for another five weeks or so — but his replacement, Berry, notched a Top 10 at Phoenix.
Sawyer used the term “disappointed” when describing the modifications.
“I think we’ve made it very clear, from the very start of this project with the Next Gen car,” he added. “Again, as I alluded to earlier, working directly with the garage, the owners, and what the determined model needs to be — it’s NASCAR’s responsibility that we uphold that.”
Justin Haley’s No. 31 team was also found guilty of the same transgression as the Hendrick cars were. His crew chief, Trent Owens, was fined $100,000 and suspended from the next four Cup races, too — and Kaulig Racing and Haley were each assessed 100 team and driver points, respectively.
Teams can choose to appeal these penalties within three business days of them being levied, per a NASCAR spokesperson. None have announced it would do so by this article’s online publication.
Hamlin’s podcast gets him in trouble
The No. 11 car was also penalized after Sunday. Hamlin’s infractions, per NASCAR, include “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 by a NASCAR member that NASCAR finds to be detrimental to stock car racing or NASCAR.”
The action in question occurred late in the Phoenix race, when the No. 11 car was dropping in the field and appeared to nudge Ross Chastain and prevent the No. 1 car from a good finish, too. Hamlin finished 23rd; Chastain finished 24th.
The move seemed void of blatant intention on first glance. But the next day, Hamlin explained on his new podcast — ironically titled “Actions Detrimental” — that his run at Chastain was intentional.
“I’m about to get passed by everybody behind me who’s on fresh tires,” Hamlin explained on the podcast episode entitled “I’m Ready To Move On.” The title refers to his seasons-long-standing beef with Chastain. “I’m about to finish in the mid-teens. And I said (to Chastain), ‘You’re coming with me buddy.’”
“I think the way we look at these situations is, they’re all individual,” Sawyer said. “They’re unique to themselves. And when you look at this one this past weekend, we would’ve viewed that as a racing incident.”
Sawyer said that NASCAR is “delighted” by Hamlin’s podcast and how it interacts with the fans, “but when you start admitting that you’ve 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.”
Almirola loses wheel
Amid all this craziness, Almirola got penalized for losing an improperly installed tire/wheel from the vehicle. The No. 10 team will therefore have two crew members — Ryan Mulder and Sean Cotten — suspended for the next two Cup Series events, per this year’s rule book.