NASCAR hammers Hendrick team for unapproved louvers (Update)

— Hendrick Motorsports Statement —

On Friday at Phoenix Raceway, NASCAR identified louvers on our race cars during a voluntary inspection 35 minutes after the opening of the garage and prior to on-track activity. NASCAR took possession of the parts approximately four hours later with no prior communication. The situation had no bearing on Saturday’s qualifying session or Sunday’s race.

We are disappointed with today’s decision by NASCAR to issue penalties and have elected to appeal based on a variety of facts that include:

• Louvers provided to teams through NASCAR’s mandated single-source supplier do not match the design submitted by the manufacturer and approved by NASCAR
• Documented inconsistent and unclear communication by the sanctioning body specifically related to louvers
• Recent comparable penalties issued by NASCAR have been related to issues discovered during a post-race inspection

For the March 19 NASCAR Cup Series event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, our organization has made the strategic decision not to request deferral of personnel suspensions. Team rosters for this weekend will be updated as soon as substitute crew chiefs are determined.

March 15, 2023 

–by Mark Cipolloni–

How dumb can you get trying to change a single source vendor supplied part and think NASCAR won’t catch it?

Seriously, you come to a race with your own designed front hood louvers?

After the deterrence structure that was put in place with the advent of the Next Gen car in the Cup Series last season, NASCAR made clear – no changes unless previously approved – they they try a stunt like they did in Phoenix.

NASCAR penalized each of Hendrick Motorsports’ four Cup Series teams, along with the No. 31 team of Kaulig Racing, with L2-level penalties on Wednesday for unapproved parts modifications last weekend at Phoenix Raceway. Each crew chief was fined $100,000 and suspended for four races, and each team was further penalized with the loss of 100 team and driver points and 10 playoff points (with the exception of the No. 9, which did not lose driver points because it had a substitute driver who earns Xfinity Series points).

The penalties occurred after NASCAR confiscated the hood louvers from all five cars before Sunday’s race at Phoenix Raceway. The Hendrick teams involved were the No. 5 Chevrolet driven by Kyle Larson, the No. 9 of Josh Berry (subbing for the injured Chase Elliott), the No. 24 of William Byron and the No. 48 of Alex Bowman; the No. 31 of Justin Haley was the Kaulig team involved. The respective crew chiefs fined and receiving suspensions were Cliff Daniels, Alan Gustafson, Rudy Fugle and Blake Harris for Hendrick and Trent Owens for Kaulig.

The NASCAR Rule Book section specifically referenced for the penalties was Sections, which deals with how the radiator duct is assembled. The teams were found with unapproved modification of a single-source vendor-supplied part.

Bowman, Byron and Larson had been in the top five in points (Bowman had been the points leader). They all fall outside the top 20 in the standings after losing 100 points.

Hendrick Motorsports said in a statement: “We are disappointed with today’s decision by NASCAR to issue penalties and have elected to appeal based on a variety of facts.”

Elton Sawyer, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, said the severity of the penalties was in line with the deterrence structure put in place with the advent of the Next Gen car in the Cup Series last season. Sawyer referenced other L2-level penalties handed down last year to the No. 6 RFK Racing team and the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports team for unapproved modifications of a single-source supplied part.

“We, from time to time, will capture parts, we’ll bring them back,” Sawyer said in a Wednesday afternoon video conference with reporters. “And as we continue to investigate and look at parts and comparing parts, it was obvious to us that these parts had been modified in an area that wasn’t approved. This is a consistent penalty with what we went through last year with other competitors — the 6, the 34. So we felt like to keep the garage on a level playing field, the competition level where it needs to be, all the dialogue that went around this car last year working with the owners on what the deterrent model should be, we were put in a position that we did feel like there was no other way but to write a penalty.”

Hamlin also Hammered

Denny Hamlin was fined $50,000 and lost 25 driver points for violating Sections 4.4 in the NASCAR Member Code of Conduct, which cover – attempting to manipulate the outcome of the race or championship; wrecking or spinning another vehicle (in this case Ross Chastain), whether or not that vehicle is removed from competition as a result; and actions detrimental to stock car racing or NASCAR.