Race Weekend Central

The Curious Case of HMS Louvers

On Wednesday (March 29), the National Motorsports Appeals Panel announced its decision regarding the penalty handed to Hendrick Motorsports after NASCAR confiscated louvers during the Phoenix Raceway race weekend. 

The governing body took the louvers believing that HMS had doctored what is a sourced part and not to be altered.

The original penalty came down like a sledgehammer for each car: $100,000 fine; loss of all four crew chiefs for four races; docked of 100 championship/owner points and the loss of 10 playoff points each. 

The penalty was meant to send an overwhelming message that tinkering with parts coming from a supplier was the ultimate no-no. The race teams did not get a slap on the wrist but a severe schoolyard thrashing. 

As is the natural order of events, HMS appealed. And today, the NMAP neutered NASCAR.

In what is an unlikely outcome, the NMAP found that HMS had altered the parts, finding them guilty, but rescinded the points penalties while keeping the monetary and crew chief elements intact. Aside from having all aspects of the punitive measures dropped, this outcome is about as good as it gets for HMS – which may be bad for everyone else.

See also
Daniel Suarez Fined $50,000 For Actions After COTA

To start, NASCAR looks weakened in its ability to levy penalties. 

Dropping monetary fines has been a common part of the usual process whenever NASCAR wants to tell a driver, team member, or team to take a time out. The points, however, have been the vital ingredient all along. Points place a driver in or out of the playoffs. 

Points matter in the end-of-the-year standings, which is tied to how season-ending monies are distributed. 

Alex Bowman jumped to first in the points standings by getting back his lost points. The season may be only six races old, but sitting in first goes a long way to claiming the regular-season championship, itself coming with a monetary bonus.

With the NMAP indicating that NASCAR was correct in going after HMS but wrong in how it penalized the juggernaut organization, it opened up a different set of issues. One of the first concerns would be that other teams might feel emboldened to work on single-source parts if they feel that the major retribution comes in the form of monetary fines.

They could even look at it in a pay-to-play way and think of it as remuneration.

But given that most teams are not cash-rich, this idea may be left to the bigger teams.

The bigger teams is part of the bigger issue here, and that is that the treatment HMS was given could be envisioned as favoritism. Just last year, Hendrick driver William Byron encountered a $25,000 fine and 25-point reduction for intentionally spinning Denny Hamlin. Through the same appeals process, Byron regained his points but saw the fine increase to $100,000. 

Whatever HMS is doing in its appeals must be magical because the team is adept at keeping its points while handing out checks from its healthy bank account. 

See also
NASCAR Lessens Hendrick Penalties

Favoritism in motorsports is nothing new, and maybe Hendrick is benefitting from being a stalwart. 

For example, after the 2019 Formula 1 season, Ferrari faced intense scrutiny over its engine and how it had been able to make horsepower. Over the winter of that year, the FIA and Ferrari reached an agreement that changed the team’s performance. While the Prancing Horse suffered through a miserable 2020 campaign, the big issue with the whole situation was that FIA basically tried to sweep the infraction under the proverbial rug.

The two sides agreed to keep the deal sealed and thus avoided further scrutiny from the other teams – even though Red Bull team principal Christian Horner rightly noted that the ordeal left a “sour taste” with him and that “there are races that we should have won last year, arguably, if they had run with an engine that seems to be quite different to what performance that they had last year.”

Staunch rival Toto Wolff agreed with Horner’s assessment but also remarked that “Ferrari is an iconic brand,” clearly insinuating that the Italian team might have benefitted from its legacy position. 

What was later discovered was that the FIA mandated that Ferrari use less fuel in 2020 to compensate for the unapproved engineering associated with the 2019 iteration of the ICU. Should another team have monkeyed around in this part of the car there is every reason to believe that the information would have been made public and that the offending team would have been penalized into the next millennium. 

For NASCAR, the appearance of Hendrick enjoying preferential treatment might not be as problematic is the fact that the louvers themselves are the center of the matter. Chad Knaus, Hendrick’s vice president of competition, pointed to this problem right after NASCAR took the louvers in question. 

On March 17, he said, “We in the garage — every one of these teams here are being held accountable to put their car out there to go through inspection and perform at the level they need to. The teams are being held accountable for doing that. Nobody is holding the single-source providers accountable at the level that they need to be to give us the parts that we need.”

The NMAP does not publish how it reaches its conclusions, merely the outcomes.  In this scenario, the NMAP may have found that Hendrick did alter the louvers – but only so that they would actually work with the car. The guilty verdict can be correct and the punishment wrong. If NASCAR is not properly policing the parts being supplied, then teams have little recourse but do what they can to make them work. 

Of course, maybe the reason that the points were given back but the fines stood and the crew chiefs ejected is because the offense came during, and cue Allen Iverson, “practice.” Yes, we’re talking about practice. 

Had the offending parts made their way to the track during the race, this story might be a different one, and NASCAR might look the solid, strong organization that it wants itself to be. 

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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19 Comments
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Bill B

I want a complete report from everyone involved:
How was the part received from the supplier?
What needed to be altered for the part to fit the car?
Would that provide an advantage?
How was this instance different from previous ones where the penalty was upheld?
Without these questions answered thoroughly, anyone from the outside can only conclude that there was preferential treatment given.

janice

when keslowski got busted last year at daytona they didn’t rescind any penalty after the appeal process.

what about the other team that got busted for the same thing as hendrick, did they rescind any of that team’s penalty? don’t recall seeing that.

Kicks

The appeal by the 31 team for 1 hood louver has not been heard yet.

goblue

they didnt race with illegal parts.nascar allowed them to practice with illegal parts.thats the difference.

janice

thanks i couldn’t remember.

Ray

They intended to raced if nor caught in prerace inspection
They also modified all same parts at their shop

John

Nascar should never have taken on the responsibility to design, source and provide quality assurance of parts for the cars. They are inexperienced in doing this tasks and should have engaged the OEM’s in doing so. In addition, they provided changed designs too late for suppliers to be able to supply parts to print in order to make the start of the season. That means you delay the implementation of the change…not delegate the responsibility of part quality to 36 teams.
Prior to Chad speaking up as you noted above, NO ONE in the garage dared to speak of this problem that has existed in the garage since the start of the Next Gen era.
As usual, there is insufficient information to know exactly what the part looked like or what changes were made. Molding parts from carbon fiber is not a simple job and does require time and iteration to develop. It is also evident that Nascar did not enlist OEM support to develop their cost estimates.
To fix this, Nascar needs to establish a quality leader to put together an actionable quality plan. If they already have one, they should be retrained. There are OEM templates that can be easily modified and there are quality templates that can be added to contracts. They can use the HMS fine money to hire an expert for 2 years to set it up.
Nascar has the best of intentions in doing this project, but it lacked some of the expertise required. They have OEM partners that stand to benefit from the project’s success. With a recession looming, its a good time to enlist their support in providing personnel to help adapt their expertise to this program.

Chris

What I’m curious is that Chad had stated earlier that with the louvers installed they were unable to close the hood so they needed to alter them. Why, at that point did Chad and the team not call someone from NASCAR and say that there was a problem with the louvers? Additionally, I’d like to think that as we see these shops full of cars that they could’ve swapped to a set that did fit from a car not going to the track? Finally, what are the chances that Hendrick got the bull of this poor fitting louvers (which still begs the question of why not swap them for the ones that did fit from another car).

I can’t say that anything that they did to get the louvers to fit gave any sort of advantage but it does look a bit odd.

I totally agree that NASCAR should have never been in the business of supplying parts (just like they shouldn’t be involved in track ownership, even if it’s through another family owned business.

Problem I see these cars is that we are basically watching the IROC series and we know how that turned out.

DoninAjax

Like I wrote before, It will always be the same result.

“Making penalties stick against Teflon Rick is impossible”

Shocked

This poorly written piece is biased, she probably slept with Logano once…

Eric

So HMS had to modify the louvers as suppled to get them to fit the hoods, but after the louvers in question were confiscated by NASCAR, HMS fit new louvers to all their cars in the short time before the race, without modifying ether the louvers or the hoods.
Does this make sense to anyone?

Last edited 1 year ago by Eric
Kevin in SoCal

I didn’t hear, did they get new louvers from the supplier, or did they have more in the truck that fit?

That *IS* a very good question.

Echo

Best question yet Eric, Ava should follow up on that question and so should every writer attending the races. Not just the one based in Hawaii. Write Pockras and ask him, he won’t look into it too hard I bet.

Bill B

This question needs to be answered by someone. If there is truly an investigative reporter out there, they need to find out.

Dave

I’ve been thinking this the entire time and I’ve heard no one else mention it.

TiminPayson

Hendrick wrote a few checks. Anyone surprised?

DoninAjax

Don’t you mean a few MORE checks? It must be quite a source of income for NA$CAR from Mr. H and Toyota.

Kevin in SoCal

Isn’t that a conflict of interest? How can NASCAR take bribes from both Chevy teams and Toyota teams and manipulate the races for them? Hahah

DoninAjax

One team one week and the other the next. Besides, we’re talking NA$CAR here.

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