NASCAR’s bizarre decision confirmed; wrong person suspended

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

The National Motorsports Appeals Panel has upheld NASCAR’s decision to intentionally suspend the wrong person following an infraction at Dover.

Following the NASCAR Cup Series race at Dover Motor Speedway earlier this month, NASCAR penalized two teams for lost wheels. One of those teams was the #11 Joe Gibbs Racing team of Denny Hamlin.

They were officially penalized for violating Section of the NASCAR Rule Book, the section which discusses the separation of an improperly installed wheel.

A front left wheel came off of the #11 Toyota following a pit stop during the 400-lap race around the four-turn, 1.0-mile (1.609-kilometer) high-banked oval in Dover, Delaware. As a result, the crew chief and two crew members were suspended.

However, those suspensions, which were issued to crew chief Chris Gabehart, jackman Derrell Edwards, and front tire changer Blake Houston, were initially deferred, pending appeal.

But those suspensions have since been upheld by the National Motorsports Appeals Panel, which heard Joe Gibbs Racing’s appeal.

Gabehart, Edwards, and Houston have been suspended for the next four points races, meaning that this coming Sunday night’s All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway for $1 million is not included.

They will be ineligible for the race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 29; the race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway on Sunday, June 5; the race at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, June 12; and the race at Nashville Superspeedway on Sunday, June 26. They will be eligible to return for the race at Road America on Sunday, July 3.

But the most puzzling part of it all was the decision to keep the four-race suspension which was issued to Houston.

Houston wasn’t actually the tire changer who failed to properly install the front left wheel on Hamlin’s #11 Toyota. He was simply listed as the front tire changer, so he was the individual whom NASCAR chose to suspend.

As a result of the new pit stop choreography which Joe Gibbs Racing developed with the introduction of the Next Gen car, one which had been on display for several weeks prior to the race at Dover Motor Speedway, it was actually Mike Hicks who was responsible for the lost wheel.

However, because Hicks was listed as a rear tire changer as opposed to a front tire changer, he was not issued a suspension.

The rule does technically state that two additional team members are to be suspended for four races for this type of an infraction, but it doesn’t say which two. So it isn’t an absolute requirement that NASCAR suspend Hicks instead of Houston.

But if safety is really the top priority, why intentionally suspend an individual who didn’t commit the infraction and let the actual offender off without punishment?

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Some have suggested that NASCAR’s goal here is to discourage teams from utilizing the new pit stop choreography, and that is why this decision was made. But even if that happened to be the case, wouldn’t that have been made known ahead of time to teams if safety is indeed the number one concern?