NASCAR: GEICO 500 Qualifying

NASCAR Cup Series driver Michael McDowell and the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports team were handed an L2-level penalty on Tuesday due to an improperly modified part on the vehicle that finished sixth at Pocono Raceway in July.

Modifying a part that came from a single source vendor is not allowed, as NASCAR referred to Sections 14.1 C, D and Q of the NASCAR Rule Book. The infraction was discovered after NASCAR took McDowell's car back to their Research & Development Center in Concord, N.C. following Sunday's race.

The penalty includes the deduction of 100 owner points and 100 driver points. Crew chief Blake Harris was fined $100,000 and will serve a four-race suspension. Additionally, if McDowell qualifies for the postseason, the team will also be deducted 10 playoff points. McDowell was 20th in the standings and had accumulated 447 total points following the Pocono race. After the penalty, he is now 26th and has 347 points.

Front Row Motorsports appealed the penalty, allowing Harris to serve as McDowell's crew chief for Indianapolis. After finishing eighth at Indy, the team announced Tuesday that they were dropping their appeal, saying in a statement that they have made changes to their build process "to ensure the issues leading to the penalties will not happen again in the future". Chris Yerges, the team's lead engineer, will serve as interim crew chief while Harris serves his suspension.

At the Atlanta Motor Speedway race in March, Brad Keselowski and the No. 6 RFK Racing team also received a similar L2 penalty for a similar infraction. The team appealed the penalty, but was unsuccessful in doing so.

In January, NASCAR released a stricter penalty structure for the 2022 Cup Series season. This structure has a three-tiered system that goes from L1 to L3. 

Per NASCAR, penalty options for an L2 infraction include:

  • Points deductions: 75-120 points
  • Playoff points deductions: 10-25 points
  • Suspension of one or two crew members for 4-6 races
  • Fines: $100,000-$250,000

The penalty to McDowell's team was the third major penalty issued by NASCAR for technical infractions stemming from the Pocono weekend. On Saturday, NASCAR issued an L1-level penalty against both Petty GMS Racing cars after discovering an impropriety in the team's rocker arm assemblies.

Then, Pocono winner Denny Hamlin and second-place finisher Kyle Busch were disqualified after NASCAR officials discovered in post-race inspection that both Joe Gibbs Racing cars had extra layers of vinyl on the lower fascia, giving their cars an aerodynamic advantage against NASCAR specifications. The Gibbs teams did not appeal the penalty, and third-place finisher Chase Elliott was awarded the victory.

The massive penalty against Front Row Motorsports puts a major damper on what has been the best season of Michael McDowell's career. The 37-year old veteran driver and 2021 Daytona 500 champion has shattered his previous career-high for top 10 finishes with nine so far, and his average finish of 16.1 is the very best of his career. McDowell's best finish so far is a third at Sonoma in June.