Race Weekend Central

Holding a Pretty Wheel: “Just” a Safety Violation?

While there have been rumblings in the past that NASCAR probation is not a hefty enough punishment for some of the infractions for which it’s been assigned, it might not be a good idea to test whether it has teeth with a second violation a week later.

Furniture Row Racing, I’m looking at you.

FRR crew chief Cole Pearn was placed on probation following a roof flap violation discovered while teams prepared for the Daytona 500.  Just a week later, the team failed another inspection in Atlanta… for a roof flap violation.

Um, oops?

Many expressed surprised that the initial penalty wasn’t more than a P2 slap on the wrist, but NASCAR chose not to make a bigger deal of it.  The second time, though, the sanctioning body couldn’t exactly turn a blind eye.  So, NASCAR penalized the team and driver Martin Truex, Jr. 15 points, levied some fines and suspended Pearn for a weekend.

The team is appealing the suspension on the grounds that there was no competitive advantage stemming from the issue at Atlanta.  At Daytona, the roof flap was found to not close properly, and having it just slightly open during a qualifying lap would provide an advantage by deflecting air off the car’s spoiler.  That’s not the case from Atlanta, where the shorter spoiler already removes downforce from the car and further reducing downforce would not be desirable.

(Photo: Nigel Kinrade NKP)
Furniture Row Racing has gone two-for-two on penalties to start the season. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade NKP)

“Due to the severity of the P3 penalty levied against Furniture Row Racing and its crew chief Cole Pearn today (Wednesday), the No. 78 Sprint Cup team has informed NASCAR it will appeal the decision. The infraction, which was immediately corrected following technical inspection at Atlanta Motor Speedway last week, was safety related and not competition related. We sincerely appreciate that NASCAR has an appeal process so we can review the level of the penalty,” FRR team president Joe Garrone said in a statement this week.

Which is exactly why the team got off light.

If anything, NASCAR needs to come down as hard — if not harder — on safety violations as on completion-related issues.  With the exceptions of engines (you don’t mess with engines.  Ever. The wrath of NASCAR will not be pleasant if you do), there is no area that should be more scrutinized than one that has to do with driver safety.

That’s not saying teams should be allowed to wantonly cheat.  But to say that interfering with something that could ultimately mean life and death to a driver (or a crewman, official or fan) is less serious than something that gives an advantage on the racetrack is absolutely unconscionable.

The purpose if the roof flaps on a racecar is to keep a car on the ground after it spins.  The rear bumper of the car is much higher off the ground than the front and the spoiler is no longer effective when the car is turned, and this allows air to get underneath the car, sending it airborne.  The flaps automatically deploy during a spin, creating enough downforce to keep the car on the ground most of the time. It’s a frightening situation when a stock car launches, and the end result can be serious injury to the driver and to fans if the car hits the catch fence in front of a grandstand.  While that’s a sight generally associated with superspeedways, they don’t have a monopoly on it.

Remember this one from Atlanta? Yes, the wing played a role, but if you think a car can’t get airborne at an intermediate, you are misinformed.


That FRR is putting more stock in a few points (which will be meaningless when the Chase reset happens, and if Truex misses the Chase by 15 points, he doesn’t deserve a spot anyway) is disheartening. Somebody should be ashamed.  I’m sure they don’t mean the points and suspension are actually more valuable than Truex or an innocent bystander, but that’s the way the statement comes across.

And it’s a big part of why the penalties should stand (though it would certainly be interesting if they were increased, something the appeals panel has the authority to do).

NASCAR let you off pretty light, Furniture Row Racing.  If anything, that should have been a longer suspension for Pearn, because bending the rules is one thing, but bending the rules on safety is something even worse. Perhaps it’s time to make violations involving safety equipment the equivalent of engine violations if NASCAR is as serious about safety as they say.

NASCAR had the opportunity to send a message, and it did.  However, the team’s callous reaction suggests that perhaps the sanctioning body was too lenient with its response.

About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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Biff Baynehouse

This just in: FORD conspicuously missing from this week’s penal ledgers …AGAIN! Rice-patty & Bow-tie cheaters, cheaters, pumpkin eaters!
I agree for the most, but my understanding is that the #78 flap mods (at Tona & Atl) did not effected safety (functionality of the flaps), so I would not site that as the prime reason for escalating the penalty schedule.
In my opinion (imo), the #78 suspension penalty is adequate, but this (suspension & points deducts) should be done on the first strike, not the second. In general, fabrication/inspection penalties should be more sever. The one that sticks in my craw is the tire sheading, fender bending, tank slapping barbarically excessive burn-outs victors do in Nascar. Are we all 3 years old? Prohibit that garbage! To make special post-race concessions for winners is to invite, enable & empower cheating!
Also, imo, the RCR crews knowingly used prohibited materials & installations means to support their car bodies This is blatantly cheating! This should be points & suspensions from the get go. To wrist slap willful derelicts with probation is to invite, enable & empower cheaters!
Another along these lines occurred in July of ’13. NASCAR declined to penalize 31 cars that altered roof flaps at Daytona (15 Nationwide & 16 Cup cars). Roof-flap spacers were [illegally] machined down to reduce weight. NO PENALTIES what-so ever & teams were only made to install new unmodified roof flaps before hitting track Thursday morning. These teams (Cuppers were: #1, #2, #9, #11, #13, #15, #16, #17, #18, #20, #21, #22, #43, #55, #56 & #99) were blatantly & knowingly cheating! Yet, not even so much as a wrist slap? Pfft! Please stop it!
Interesting irony ot that ’13 flap flap being, 8 of these Cuppers were Fords, including 6 cars from the Roof Flap Sub-assembly’s primary design engineer (3 owned by [16, 17, 99] & 3 associated with [9, 21, 43]), non-other than Jack Roush! Ha! Suck it up Cole! :-P

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