Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice?: Will 100 Points Against Hendrick Be Enough?

Did You Notice? … All four cars run by Hendrick Motorsports were penalized 100 points by NASCAR Wednesday (Mar. 15) for allegedly tampering with their hood louvers, confiscated during pre-race inspection at Phoenix Raceway.

The Nos. 5, 9, 24 and 48 teams lose 100 owner points while Alex Bowman, William Byron and Kyle Larson lose 100 driver points (Chase Elliott was not affected as he wasn’t entered at Phoenix due to his snowboarding injury). Each team also receives a $100,000 fine while their crew chiefs were hit with four-race suspensions. (Kaulig Racing’s No. 31 team was also hit with these parts modification-type penalties).

If your first reaction is anything like mine when this penalty came out, it’s “what the heck is a louver?” It’s not something I would think of right off the bat, even as a journalist and TV production person covering this sport since I was a kid. I always thought of louvers as being more decorative, right? I remember them on the back of Pontiacs growing up as a kid as a cool little extra design flare.

The Merriam-Webster definition of a louver is simple: it’s a series of slats provided with one or more slanted, fixed or movable fins, to allow for the flow of air. Think the slats on your air vent at home, allowing heat or air conditioning to come through. I’ve provided an example below of how they look on the hood of a Next Gen car.

NASCAR Cup Series
(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

That’s where NASCAR has focused its attention, feeling Hendrick has tampered with the part originally supplied in an attempt to gain some sort of competitive advantage. All you need to read is the word “air” in that definition and you can see why the sport believes there could have been a competitive advantage here, an accusation they’ve levied while applying the equivalent of a Class A felony charge to one of the sport’s legacy organizations.

“It was obvious to us,” NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Elton Sawyer said. “That these parts had been modified in an area that wasn’t approved. This was a consistent penalty that we went through last year with other competitors.”

See also
Hendrick Motorsports to Appeal Phoenix Penalty

HMS vehemently disagrees, coalescing their inevitable appeal around three specific arguments. For starters, they believed the louvers given to them don’t match the design given by the manufacturer or approved by NASCAR. Secondly, there was inconsistent and unclear communication given by NASCAR surrounding this part. Finally, recent comparable penalties given by the sanctioning body were based on post-race inspection. For reference, NASCAR confiscated these louvers before qualifying even started during the weekend at Phoenix.

It’s hard to see those arguments holding weight in kangaroo court (also known as the NASCAR Appeals Board). If the louvers didn’t match the design, why aren’t they incorrect on all other 32 cars in the field? Seems to me that if there’s a part that doesn’t look right on your car, isn’t it your moral and competitive obligation to inform not only the single-source supplier but NASCAR itself?

It’s hard to find the teeth behind any post-race inspection comparison either. Whether confiscated before, during or after the weekend, NASCAR’s stance on these single-source supplied is perfectly clear: DON’T TOUCH. That’s like saying hey, you caught us about to cheat but since you did really good detective work, we didn’t actually get to do it so there’s no need for any consequences here!

Yeah, that’s silly. If there’s any adjustment to this penalty going forward, it may stem from the second point surrounding unclear communication from the sanctioning body. It’ll be a while, if ever, before we get specifics on that, and you wonder how confident HMS really is on overturning these if they’re allowing one portion of the consequences (a four-race crew chief suspension for each team) to start this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Assuming it stands, where does HMS go from here? How much does it cripple an organization that’s been, hands down, the fastest over the first four races of 2022? They still went out and won Phoenix, Byron’s second straight victory as he combined with Larson to lead 83.5% of all laps run.

The two major penalties assessed during the regular season, 100-point hits to Brad Keselowski and Michael McDowell proved irrelevant: neither team was within striking distance to make the playoffs on points. But were there really enough competitive consequences there? All either driver needed was a win, at any track, and they would have found themselves competing for a championship come September.

The HMS cars, of course, have a far better chance to qualify on points. But if they’re as competitive as they seem during the rest of 2023? 100 points wouldn’t have been enough to keep Elliott from winning the 2022 regular season title. He still would have coasted into the garage by 30 over Joey Logano.

As for Elliott’s trio of teammates? They’d have needed to win to make it, 100 points making their climb that much harder. But is that really going to be a problem for an organization that posted four cars inside the top 10 at Phoenix? A team that’s led 54.2% of all laps run thus far in 2023 (the next closest, Trackhouse Racing, is at 10.1%).

All four cars from HMS were in the postseason stable comfortably by Dover Motor Speedway last May — less than halfway through the 2022 regular season. Based on that, it still feels like Elliott has the hardest hill to climb after his fractured tibia heals … and he’s the only one on the team who didn’t get penalized.

It makes you wonder if NASCAR’s deterrent is actually enough. With the playoffs becoming that important to NASCAR’s overall competition model, you may want to add in a disclaimer during the regular season (or postseason) you’ll need to win twice in order for victories to count toward playoff eligibility. It’s a way for them to raise the bar without invalidating previous wins (if they didn’t catch HMS cheating before Phoenix, they can’t just assume the answer was yes at Las Vegas Motor Speedway the week before without hard evidence).

See also
Dropping the Hammer: A Ross Chastain-Denny Hamlin Truce? Say It Ain't So

If HMS does prove to be guilty, deducting at least 10 playoff points makes advancing through a little more difficult. Assuming this incident happened last fall, it would have allowed Ross Chastain to keep that Mario Kart move in his back pocket at Martinsville Speedway; Elliott would have fallen six points behind Denny Hamlin and failed to advance into the Championship 4.

If these penalties turn out to be warranted (and again, it’s always hard to tell … NASCAR needs to continue to do a better job of explaining why and what is causing the penalty to be assessed, like how easy it is to see a holding call on NFL replay), I give them credit. It’s not easy to tattoo a scarlet letter on the equivalent of the sport’s New York Yankees the rest of the year. No matter what, HMS will be fighting the court of public perception in regards to whether they cheated on the way to winning another potential championship, adding to their own NASCAR record.

The bigger issue is taking a larger view of where the sport stands one month into 2023. So far, we’ve had … two straight fairly uncompetitive races saved by late caution flags and NASCAR overtime, an overall decline in lead changes as the Next Gen car appears to have hit some sort of aerodynamic snag in year two, the sport’s Most Popular Driver break a bone and get himself sidelined for six weeks and concern about declining TV ratings and how the races themselves are being covered.

Even some of the better on-track drama, between Hamlin and Chastain, revolved around weird contact late in the race at Phoenix where neither driver was truly in contention for the win. And once Hamlin admitted the contact was intentional, that resulted in this weird black cloud fine too.

Bottom line, these aren’t the storylines you want coming off a stake-in-the-ground, NASCAR-is-back 2022 season that landed far above expectations with the Next Gen car. No matter what happens here, I’m sure officials are hoping for a super competitive race at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend that turns eyes back toward the racetrack and away from the potential black eye everyone involved just incurred here.

Follow @NASCARBowles

About the author

The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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dawg

I think the loss of 10 playoff points is the more serious of the penalties. If Byron keeps winning in bunches, he can overcome it. But remember, every race he wins. means one less for his teammates. They can’t all come out of this smelling like a rose.

WJW Motorsports

Can’t imagine how low ones expectations would have had to have been to consider the next-gen car and last season to be anything short of an unmitigated disaster. IROC failed. If teams can’t build their own speed anymore, they will manufacture it (again – IROC failed) anyway they can. NASCAR went with the howitzer penalty like a prosecutor does, knowing it will all get plead down eventually. If I’m Rick, I double, triple and quadruple down and keep being super aggressive… I don’t give a rip if I’m -10000 in your silly little playoff thing – we’ll house everyone on track every week.

Steve R

With the playoff in NASCRAP now points mean nothing, just win and your in , points mean nothing

Bill B

Playoff points do matter. If you want to raise your probability of making the final four, the scale tips significantly in your favor if you have a pile of playoff points. I’m not saying it’s guarantee, but you can’t deny it helps, A LOT.

DoninAjax

“two straight fairly uncompetitive races saved by late caution flags and NASCAR overtime”

They were totally expected and necessary to maintain Brian’s vision for his product and the viewers can expect it to be repeated many times in the future.

Bill B

I personally don’t like the zero tolerance, single supplier, IROC vision that NASCAR has but “that’s the rules”. There is no room for any innovation and it produces a bland overall racing series. The penalty should stick until such a time where NASCAR announces a loosening of those parameters, you know, when hell freezes over.

I also agree that the second point in the planned defense (about the NASCAR prior approval of the car) is the only one that provides any leeway for interpretation. It almost sounds like the louvers were on the car when it was approved by NASCAR and they missed it. HMS then took that as an implied approval of a specific, one manufacturer part. Shame on them for taking the chance.

As for appraising the races thus far in the young season, I am totally unimpressed

WJW Motorsports

Agree with you, except that it is no longer a racing series, it is now a racing entertainment product. To your point about um, points above, the funny thing is points matter more than they ever did – in this winning is paramount system. Amuses me to watch a race and listen to the non-stop discussion of points. As far as the season goes, nothing that has been wrong so far can’t be corrected (in NASCAR’s eyes) by the demolition derby scheduled to happen this weekend. Hope nobody’s louvers get bent in the big one.

Last edited 1 year ago by WJW Motorsports
goblue

parts were never used in a race.nascar said go ahead and practice with them and then we’ll take them.

Michael Latino

Nascar is a money sport. So fining someone money is not the biggest problem teams or drivers face. If you want stuff like this to stop, make them miss the next race. Of if you’re worried about the sponsor keep the car in the race with a different driver. Nascar has no problem removing a crew chief or pit member as a fine. Time to be consistent. Let’s look at Denny Hamlin. He throws away fifty thousand dollars {more than my yearly retirement to crash Ross}. Money means nothing to him. He should miss a race or two.

.

gbvette

It’s been common practice in all forms of racing to punish the team and or crew, more than the driver, when a car was found illegal. The thinking has always been that the driver is paid to drive the car and is rarely responsible for how a car is built, or often even knows how it’s built or prepared. This isn’t always the case, but it often is part of how fines and penalties are considered.

Driver suspensions have usually been reserved for driving infractions.

goblue

the car was not illegal when it was raced only practiced which nascar okd to run

gbvette

Where did I say anybody “raced” an illegal car?

The previous poster suggested that maybe driver’s should be suspended when a car was found to be illegal, but the car should be allowed to race with a different driver. All I was doing was pointing out that when a car is found to be illegal, sanctioning bodies usually try to avoid penalizing drivers too harshly, or any more harshly then the team or crew. The thinking being that a driver drives the car and is rarely responsible for how it was built. Banning a driver and not the car, would clearly be more harmful to a driver then the team, even though most driver’s have little or nothing to do with how a car is built. Generally, drivers are suspended for their actions, not those of the crew.

Mike

What i find silly is that you dont know what louvers are. If you have watched the races the networks have covered this many times during broadcast. You must work from home. You would think if you are a knowledgeable reporter covering a sport for“years” you would know this

RCFX1

So the part was modified in a way that was obvious. It wasn’t a trim to get it to fit. We were shown what the tape on the 11 car looked like. With social media being what it is, show a photo of the louvers and the modification that was made. I know if they trimmed anything (even just a corner to make it ‘fit’ – they’re guilty). But then that wouldn’t have been so obvious. A little more transparency by Nascar would be nice.

Kevin in SoCal

Yes, its very interesting that NASCAR has not told us what the issue is.

BB

Two words, er…one name comes to mind: Chad Knaus

DoninAjax

So the “inspectors” found the louvers, which were in plain sight. What didn’t they find?

Bill B

A way to make a quick $500,000.

Jeremy

It’s Hendrick, so the point penalty will certainly be rescinded and possibly the fine will be reduced. But they’ll have to pay something in cash, but that’s it.

Bill B

I hope they don’t rescind the penalty and I have no problem with HMS normally. To me the penalty should stick because they should have know better. It’s been stated every which way,,,, don’t F with the parts.

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