Reaction: No. 31 Penalty Repeal Sends Mixed Messages


Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Talk of tire tampering had been going on since the beginning of the season. As a result the sanctioning body thumped on the invisible rule book sternly stating that tires were considered safety equipment and should not be tampered with and any team caught doing that would get the full wrath of NASCAR’s new supposedly “transparent” penalty system.  Drivers like Denny Hamlin came out in support of NASCAR’s tire edict saying that tire tampering should garner indefinite suspensions. Fans clucked that it would only be a matter of time before someone was found to have been tampering with their tires.

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On March 31st, 2015 the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing team was indeed charged with P-5 penalties as a result of tires taken from the race at Auto Club Speedway. And the penalties NASCAR assessed the No. 31 team were severe:

  • Crew Chief Luke Lambert was fined $125,000 ($75,000 plus $50,000) fine, given a six-race suspension and probation through Dec. 31
  • James Bender (tire technician) and Philip Surgen (race engineer) were also suspended for six races and on probation through Dec. 31; and the loss of 75
  • Car Owner Richard Childress was fined 75 (50 plus 25) championship car owner.
  • Driver Ryan Newman was fined 75 (50 plus 25) championship driver points.

Today the appeal of the penalties was heard  and considered by the appeals panel and this afternoon a decision had been reached on the appeal: While the six race suspension and probation through the end of the year stands for Lambert, Bender, and Surgen, monetary and points fines were reduced. The monetary fine was reduced to $75,000 and the points fine was reduced to 50 points for both driver points and owner points.

Talk about sending mixed signals.

NASCAR was staunch in their warnings to crews about tire tampering at the beginning of the season that they got not just the drivers but the fans all riled up and against the very idea that someone would be so bold as to tamper with the tires. Yet today the appeal gave the offending team back the one thing that hits them the hardest, the points.  While appeals happen behind closed doors and no one ever talks about what goes on in these meetings; NASCAR should stick by their initial stance. If the team was indeed caught tampering with tires including bleeding them in any fashion, the penalties should be severe and not eligible for the appeals process.  It makes NASCAR look like a patsy when the appeals board turns around and reduces the original penalty, especially the coveted points part of the penalty when they worked so hard to structure the season.

Teams are out there to get every single point they can and some will risk driver (and possibly fan) safety to get them. The new win and you’re in Chase format with knockout rounds has teams scrambling to get wins and points. It’s obvious that some teams will do nearly anything in their power to get them.  This is nothing new as it’s been going on since NASCAR’s inception and is not just because of the new playoff format. And while teams have always been pushing safety boundaries that doesn’t make it right. NASCAR needs to stand up and say “no” we will “not” accept this and then stick to their guns.

So what say you? Was NASCAR too heavy-handed with their penalty to begin with? Should penalties that impact the safety of driver, crew or fan be eligible for appeal? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.

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