Race Weekend Central

Fire on Fridays: There’s a Louvers’ Quarrel in the Greenhouse

In perhaps the most noteworthy body modification penalty since the introduction of the Next Gen car, NASCAR slapped Hendrick Motorsports and Kaulig Racing with massive penalties following Phoenix Raceway.

NASCAR confiscated all of the hood louvers from all four Hendrick cars, as well as one singular louver from Kaulig Racing, attached to Justin Haley’s No. 31.

The penalties, as expected, were massive. All five teams affected lost 100 driver and owner points (except Chase Elliott’s No. 9, who was exempt from the driver penalty as Elliott has been out with a broken tibia), as well as 10 playoff points. All crew chiefs were placed under a four-race suspension and fined $100,000 – which means Hendrick was fined a grand total of $400,000, the largest single-penalty fine for a team in NASCAR history, surpassing Michael Waltrip Racing’s $300,000 fine following the outcome of Spingate in 2013.

The penalties practically nullified both of William Byron’s wins thus far on the season, took Alex Bowman out of the points lead, and left Haley deep on the negative side of the point standings. All four Hendrick teams found themselves lower than 20th in points as well.

As is typical protocol with penalties, both teams appealed the penalties. Hendrick had its appeal heard first, on March 29, where the penalty was heavily amended to the point where the only thing that was left standing from the original penalty was the fines and suspensions to all four of its crew chiefs – any point values lost were restored, giving Bowman the points lead back and elevating Byron and Kyle Larson back into the top 10 in points.

This gave Kaulig some hope heading into its appeal on April 5. However, in a surprising turn of events, the National Motorsports Appeals Panel upheld every aspect of the penalty handed down to Kaulig, with the exception of points, but even that was a small victory – instead of 100 driver and owner points lost, the panel decided to dock the team 75.

See also
Hendrick's Nos. 24, 48 Cup Teams Penalized After Richmond

What?

Sure, the three-person panel who heard both teams’ appeals were made up of completely different people, but the precedent of the appeal was set when Hendrick got its penalties greatly amended, and it’s no less than egregious that Kaulig didn’t get somewhere near the same penalty.

To start, the penalties itself didn’t seem equal. All of Hendrick’s teams had both louvers confiscated, whereas Haley’s No. 31 only had one. Therefore, it seems fair that whatever penalties were handed down to Hendrick was cut in half for Kaulig. $100,000 fine for the crew chiefs? Then issue a $50,000 fine for Trent Owens, Haley’s crew chief. 100 driver and owner points gone from the teams? Then theoretically, Haley should have only lost 50. How did NASCAR come to the conclusion to penalize the No. 31 as harshly as any of the Hendrick teams despite having only one louver confiscated instead of both?

Which leads to the second issue of outcome of appeals. The three panelists who heard Kaulig’s appeal differed from those who heard Hendrick’s, but when Hendrick’s penalty amendment was announced, the precedent was set for Kaulig’s appeal process. The three panelists handling the Kaulig appeal should have looked at Hendrick’s appeal and made an appropriate decision that may not have replicated, but at least resembled, the amendment that Hendrick got.

With Kaulig’s penalty amendment, it means that Kaulig was penalized much more harshly than Hendrick for the same infraction, despite one louver being confiscated instead of both. Kaulig president Chris Rice announced shortly after the decision came out that the team would take the appeal to the final appeals officer, which maybe doesn’t happen if the penalty is either amended to Hendrick’s penalty, or if Hendrick doesn’t get as big of an amendment to begin with.

Currently, Haley only gains 25 points back and is now tied in points with Jimmie Johnson, who has failed to finish both races he has started this season. Hendrick is on the fast track to have all four cars in the playoffs while Haley won’t even have a shot.

But not so fast.

On April 6, NASCAR announced that Byron and Bowman’s cars, who had been sent to its research and development center for a more complete tear down after the race at Richmond Raceway, had been found to have a modified greenhouse, resulting in L1 penalties that left both teams with a loss of 60 driver and owner points, five playoff points, and both crew chiefs fined $75,000 and suspended for two races (it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out, as this penalty means the interim crew chiefs would be suspended). However, the suspensions won’t begin until after Bristol Motor Speedway, as the penalty came out much later in the week than normal.

NASCAR itself wasn’t too happy with the outcome of the louver appeal, so perhaps it could have chosen two Hendrick cars randomly to go to R&D to try to find something wrong with the cars. Sure, the penalty wasn’t as great as the louver penalty, but it was still probably big enough for NASCAR’s satisfaction.

Hendrick put out a tweet saying that it would take next steps (on whether or not to appeal) after Bristol. If Hendrick were to file (and essentially win) another appeal, despite Kaulig’s penalty barely being amended, the integrity of the sport, as well as the National Motorsports Appeals Panel, should be called into question. What makes Hendrick different from Kaulig in the sense that Kaulig essentially deserved a greater punishment than Hendrick? Is it because Hendrick is a bigger name among NASCAR teams than Kaulig?

How does NASCAR deal with the appeals panel? Elton Sawyer went on Sirius XM after the Hendrick appeal was heard and expressed his displeasure with the decision to amend the penalty.

If Kaulig gets the penalty it does and then Hendrick wins another appeal, how does NASCAR go about handing down penalties for modification? RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports were handed body modification penalties last season, and both stood after appeals. How is Hendrick’s penalty any different? If anything, Kaulig’s amendment was more than what RFK and FRM received last season, so Hendrick’s amendment probably made RFK and FRM irate as well as Kaulig.

The inconsistency of the appeals panel, especially this early in the 2023 season, will be of note as the season goes on should another modification penalty occur. But after the chaos that has ensued the past few weeks, let’s hope it doesn’t.

About the author

Frontstretch.com

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. 

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

2 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
DoninAjax

RFK and FRM use Fords.

Ed

While I can’t speak to the Kaulig penalty, HMS rigorously documented the issue and multiple conversations with the OEM, Chevy, and NASCAR. That’s what made the difference for them.

Share via