NASCAR announced Wednesday a number of penalties stemming from the most recent Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway. Most notable is an L2-level penalty assessed to all four Hendrick Motorsports teams for unapproved parts modifications. NASCAR assessed a similar penalty to Kaulig Racing.
Following practice on Friday, NASCAR confiscated the hood louvers belonging to all four Hendrick Motorsports cars, as well as the No. 31 Kaulig Racing car, which were then brought back to the sport's Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. According to the sanctioning body, the teams were found to have illegally modified a part which deals with how the radiator duct is assembled.
As a result, the following penalties were handed out:
- All four Hendrick Motorsports teams and the No. 31 Kaulig Racing team have been penalized with the loss of 100 owner points and 10 playoff points
- Crew chiefs Cliff Daniels, Alan Gustafson, Rudy Fugle, Trent Owens and Blake Harris have all been fined $100,000 and suspended for the next four Cup Series races
- Drivers Kyle Larson, William Byron, Justin Haley and Alex Bowman have all been penalized 100 driver points and 10 playoff points
According to Bob Pockrass of Fox Sports, the $400,000 combined fine to Hendrick Motorsports makes it the largest one ever assessed to a single organization in the history of NASCAR (though the sanctioning body has issued larger individual fines to teams in the past).
Hendrick driver Chase Elliott, who is recovering from a leg injury suffered in a snowboarding accident, was not subject to penalty, nor was substitute driver Josh Berry, who does not earn Cup Series points.
Hendrick Motorsports cars have won the past two Cup Series races with William Byron, but the confiscation of their hood louvers marked a major concern by the end of last weekend. However, Hendrick Motorsports announced Wednesday that they would be appealing the penalties, saying in a statement that the louvers provided through NASCAR's supplier did not match the design submitted by Chevrolet and approved by NASCAR.
In making their appeal, Hendrick cited "Documented inconsistent and unclear communication by the sanctioning body specifically related to louvers" as well as the fact that recent comparable penalties have been related to issues discovered in post-race inspection as opposed to pre-qualifying inspection. The team has opted not to ask for a deferral of crewmember suspensions, announcing that Kevin Meendering (Larson), Tom Gray (Berry), Brian Campe (Byron), and Greg Ives (Bowman) would serve as interim crew chiefs.
Kaulig Racing also announced an appeal on Thursday, saying that NASCAR only confiscated one of the two louvers on Haley's car, "showing inconsistencies in the parts provided to teams" and providing no competitive advantage. Unlike Hendrick, Kaulig will ask for a deferral of Trent Owens' suspension until after the appeal hearing.
Beyond NASCAR's penalties for technical infractions, the sanctioning body also penalized driver Denny Hamlin after he admitted on his podcast that he intentionally put Ross Chastain in the wall on the final lap while racing for position.
Hamlin claimed that once his car pushed up the track in turn one and he realized he was going to lose position, he decided to let go of the wheel and pin Chastain -- who had been running to his outside -- into the wall to take him back through the field with him. As a result, Hamlin has been penalized 25 driver points and fined $50,000 for "wrecking or spinning another vehicle, whether or not that vehicle is removed from competition as a result."
Hamlin and Chastain have had a number of on-track run-ins over the past year, including incidents at Gateway, Atlanta and Pocono -- and of course the Hail Melon at Martinsville where Chastain used a wall ride to beat Hamlin for the final spot in the Championship 4.
The two also came together during the Busch Light Clash at the L.A. Coliseum in February, with Chastain spinning Hamlin.
Hamlin claimed that Phoenix was not retaliation for any past incident, and he admitted that he cost himself and his team positions in doing it anyway because his car ended up getting pinned against Chastain's. The two spoke on pit road after the race, with Hamlin recounting that he wanted Chastain to take accountability for past incidents and that he did not want to have any further issues racing with him.
"He came up to me and he says 'I guess I deserved it?' And I said, 'Yeah, I think so,'" Hamlin said. "I'm not gonna sit here on this podcast and ever lie to you guys and say 'Well, this is an accident' when it's not. It wasn't an accident, I meant to put him in the fence, but I didn't mean to screw my team in the process.
"... We talked and I think that we are in a better place where I think we're willing to put the past behind us. And I think that we're gonna judge each other from this point forward, and I think that's the fairest way to do it."
Hamlin had initially stated that he would not appeal the penalty, but reversed course in a tweet on Friday.
"What happened on Sunday was common hard racing that happens each and every weekend. There was also no manipulation of the race nor actions detrimental to the sport," Hamlin said.
The final team included in NASCAR's swath of penalties was the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing team, which was assessed a safety violation after an improperly installed wheel fell off of Aric Almirola's car at Phoenix. Crew members Ryan Mulder and Sean Cotten have been suspended for the next two races.