One way to explain NASCAR’s confusing decision

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

NASCAR intentionally penalized the wrong crew member after Denny Hamlin lost a wheel during the Cup Series race at Dover Motor Speedway.

After NASCAR announced the penalties issued to the #11 Joe Gibbs Racing team of Denny Hamlin due to his lost wheel during the DuraMAX Drydene 400 presented by RelaDyne at Dover Motor Speedway, many fans simply wanted their decision to make sense.

The team violated Section of the NASCAR Rule Book, which discusses the separation of an improperly installed wheel, when the left front wheel of Hamlin’s #11 Toyota came off after a pit stop during Monday’s portion of the 400-lap race around the four-turn, 1.0-mile (1.609-kilometer) high-banked Dover, Delaware oval.

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As a result of the clear safety violation at the “Monster Mile”, NASCAR suspended crew chief Chris Gabehart and two additional crew members of the #11 team, jackman Derrell Edwards and front tire changer Blake Houston, for four races.

On the surface, the suspensions make sense.

But when confronted with a fact that Fox Sports’ Bob Pockrass pointed out after the announcement of these suspensions, one of the three makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Houston was suspended simply because he was listed as a front tire changer. He wasn’t the one actually responsible for the improperly installed left front wheel.

It was Mike Hicks, who was listed as a rear tire changer, who was responsible for the wheel that ended up rolling away as Hamlin left the pits. Even knowing this, NASCAR made the confusing decision to suspend Houston.

Technically, NASCAR has a right to do so, as there is no rule specifying who the two suspended crew members (in addition to the crew chief) must be in a case such as this one.

Still, one must naturally question this decision. If safety is really the main issue, why knowingly suspend an individual who had nothing to do with the violation at hand?

But as one prudent fan pointed out, this decision may go a bit deeper than simply who was “listed” as a front tire changer.

With the introduction of the Next Gen car this year, Joe Gibbs Racing have developed a new pit stop choreography that has been on display in recent weeks.

Could this be NASCAR’s way of discouraging teams from using it moving forward? Is it their belief that this new choreography is more likely to result in lost wheels, which have become somewhat of a theme in this new Gen 7 era?

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It is still a baffling decision, because it was clearly Hicks, not Houston, who had the issue that led to the violation, but perhaps there is a little something more behind it. But if there is, shouldn’t everyone be made aware of it, if safety is truly the top concern?