NASCAR: The huge penalty that could become meaningless

William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR playoffs (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR playoffs (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

William Byron is set to enter the round of 8 with more points than anybody, despite having been docked playoff points by NASCAR earlier in the year.

After the 100-point and 10-playoff point hood louver-related penalties issued to all four Hendrick Motorsports teams following the race at Phoenix Raceway in March were rescinded, NASCAR wasted no time in cracking down on Rick Hendrick’s team once again.

Following the April race at Richmond Raceway, William Byron and his No. 24 team, plus Alex Bowman and his No. 48 team, were docked 60 points and five playoff points due to greenhouse violations.

Byron, who remains in championship contention heading into the round of 8 of the playoffs, still has more playoff points than anybody with 41, giving him a five-point lead over Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. to open up the third round.

But without NASCAR issuing him that April penalty, he would have 48 — not just 46 — instead of 41.

In addition to the five playoff points which NASCAR docked him directly, he also lost two more because of where he finished in the regular season standings.

Thanks to his 60-point penalty, he finished in third place in the standings instead of second, so he scored an additional eight playoff points as opposed to an additional 10.

His series-high six wins have netted him five playoff points each, and his series-high eight stage wins have netted him an additional eight.

Playoff points are important because they are effectively extra regular points awarded to drivers ahead of each playoff round (except for the Championship 4). With all eight remaining playoff drivers having had their point totals reset to 4,000 to start the round of 8, Byron is set to start the round with 4,041 points.

Given the fact that we have seen razor-thin margins — and sometimes tiebreakers — decide who advances and who doesn’t, Byron has been able to mitigate this penalty thus far. But it could still come back to haunt him — even if he gets into the Championship 4.

Why? Because there are other implications that this penalty could still have which don’t pertain directly to Byron himself.

The driver who gained the two extra playoff points Byron lost was Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin, who would have finished in third place in the regular season standings instead of second had Byron not been penalized. Hamlin is set to enter the round of 8 with 32 playoff points instead of 30, putting him just nine markers behind Byron.

Let’s say that Hamlin advances to the Championship 4 — whether Byron does or doesn’t — because of those two extra playoff points, and let’s say he ends up winning the championship race over a totally unrelated Championship 4 driver — let’s say RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher — in second place.

Without Byron’s penalty, the championship would have gone to Buescher, since Hamlin would have already been eliminated. The highest finishing Championship 4 driver in the season finale is crowned champion.

There’s also a chance that Byron advances to the Championship 4 — and Hamlin also advances simply because of those two extra points.

So if Hamlin ends up winning the championship race ahead of Byron in second place, that penalty will have cost Byron a title, since Hamlin wouldn’t have gotten into the Championship 4 otherwise.

These scenarios may seem a bit far-fetched, but think about just how close some of the advancing/non-advancing margins have been over the years.

Yes, Hamlin himself was docked 25 points back in March due to admitting to intentionally driving Trackhouse Racing Team’s Ross Chastain into the wall at Phoenix, but that point penalty did not end up costing him anything in terms of the regular season standings. He was also not docked any playoff points.

Without the 25-point deduction, he still would have finished in second place because of Byron’s penalty, and he still would have finished in third behind an unpenalized Byron.

Next. All-time NASCAR Cup Series wins list. dark

The round of 8 is scheduled to get underway this Sunday, October 15 with the South Point 400, which is set to be broadcast live on NBC from Las Vegas Motor Speedway beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET. Byron won at Las Vegas back in March. If you have yet to start a free trial of FuboTV, do so now!