NASCAR: Hendrick decision drops two drivers out of playoffs

Daniel Suarez, Trackhouse Racing Team, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Daniel Suarez, Trackhouse Racing Team, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

Two drivers who had been in the provisional NASCAR Cup Series playoff picture are now on the outside looking in after the Hendrick Motorsports decision.

After the NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway three weeks ago, all four Hendrick Motorsports teams — and their three active full-time drivers — were docked 100 points and 10 playoff points in the standings, and the crew chiefs of each of the four teams were suspended four races and fined $100,000.

The penalties were issued as a result of the fact that Hendrick Motorsports were found to have illegally modified the hood louvers on each of their four cars.

An unapproved modification of any single-source vendor-supplied part is deemed a huge violation in the Next Gen era.

NASCAR did not hesitate to crack down on teams found to have committed one last year, and they kept up that trend early on in 2023.

Following last Sunday’s race at Circuit of the Americas, Alex Bowman sat in 16th place in the point standings, William Byron sat in 22nd, and Kyle Larson sat in a 27th place tie.

Now Bowman leads with Byron in third place and Larson in ninth.

A three-person NASCAR appeals panel rescinded the points penalties issued to these three drivers and the four Hendrick Motorsports teams (No. 5, No. 9, No. 24, and No. 48), though they upheld the crew chief suspensions and fines to solidify their belief that the team did indeed break a rule.

Before these penalties were rescinded, Trackhouse Racing Team’s Daniel Suarez and Spire Motorsports’ Corey LaJoie occupied the final two spots in the provisional playoff picture, 18 and 13 points above the cut line, respectively.

But now they are both on the outside looking in, 13 and 18 points behind RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher, respectively, for the 16th and final spot.

Though Suarez and LaJoie, as well as the next seven drivers immediately in front of them in the standings, were passed by all three of these Hendrick Motorsports drivers, only Suarez and LaJoie — not a third driver — fell out of the provisional playoff picture.

One of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers had already been in the playoff picture thanks to winning, despite being outside of the top 16 in points following the initial penalty.

Byron had already clinched a playoff spot thanks to his two wins at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway, so he didn’t climb back into the playoff picture like Bowman, who had been 13 points below the cut line, and Larson, who had been 69 points behind, did. He was already locked in.

Additionally, Byron’s victory at Phoenix Raceway was not stripped when the penalties were initially issued, as nobody on the team competed with any illegally modified parts in that race.

Bowman and Larson are now 82 and 26 points above the cut line, which shifted up slightly when they shot up the standings following the panel’s decision.

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There is still plenty of time for the playoff picture to change, given the fact that 20 of the regular season’s 26 races remain on the upcoming schedule.