RACING

NASCAR penalty must be severe for next-gen violations

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  • Denny Hamlin became the first NASCAR Cup driver to be stripped of a victory and also disqualified since Emanual Zervakis’ victory at Wilson (NC) Speedway on April 17, 1960.
  • The DQ marked only the second time in NASCAR history that winning and runner-up drivers have been disqualified.
  • Automatic week spoke to NASCAR On NBC analysts Jeff Burton and former NASCAR Cup driver and NASCAR Cup crew chief Steve Letarte, respectively, about the controversy.

    If there was ever a theme song for NASCAR’s new Next Generation car and last Sunday’s disqualification of winner and runner-up Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, it’s MC Hammer’s “You Can’t Touch This.”

    That’s the message NASCAR asks all of its teams, and one that NASCAR On NBC analysts Jeff Burton and former NASCAR Cup driver and NASCAR Cup crew chief Steve Letarte agree on.

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    Kyle Busch, left, and Denny Hamlin bore the brunt of NASCAR’s biggest race day penalty in more than 60 years.

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    Hamlin became the first driver to be stripped of a win and also disqualified since Emanual Zervakis won at Wilson (North Carolina) Speedway on April 17, 1960, when Zervakis was found to have an illegal fuel tank ( the victory went to Joe Weather).

    And if you add Busch to the Hamlin mix, Sunday’s DQ marked only the second time in NASCAR history that winning and runner-up drivers have been disqualified. The only other time that happened was on December 11, 1955, at Palm Beach (Florida) Speedway when winner Joe Weatherly and runner-up Jim Reed were denied their finishes. Herb Thomas took the win.

    Information about Zervakis and Weatherly/Reed was discovered by Ken Martin, Director of Historical Content, NASCAR Productions.

    Burton spoke with Automatic week about the Hamlin/Busch incident, while Letarte’s comments aired Monday on NASCAR Motormouths on Peacock. Here are the highlights of each of these interviews:

    “The whole thing is that NASCAR and their teams have worked together to create this new race car concept that improves racing and also helps control some costs,” Burton said. “So to do that, they created this process, and one of the things is, ‘Hey, if you buy these parts and pieces from the vendors and you can’t touch them, you can’t modify them in any way.” And for that to work, you have to enforce it. Because if you don’t enforce it, if you let it go and you let people start touching it, then everybody going to start touching it. And now you’re back where you were.

    jeff burton nascar

    Jeff Burton.

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    “So there’s no choice but to make the appeal, there’s no choice but to make the punishment harsh. We can debate and argue all day about what should be the penalty, but it has to be severe, it has to be significant. No matter what has been done to it, you cannot touch it. There is an approval process that you must follow if a repair is to be made due to supply issues. But other than that, you can’t touch it. And everybody knows somebody was going to push it – it’s just a culture, a culture of tolerance, which means if we have 10 thousandths of an inch of tolerance, we have to find a way to get 11 (thousandths) But that’s not the game: you have a tolerance and you have a no-touching rule, and so it’s just a culture that needs to change. Gibbs (Joe Gibbs Racing) is not a cheater. It’s just that you need to change a culture based around, here’s how we are going to have to control this car.

    “If NASCAR and the teams want the concept of this car to work, there’s no choice. No matter what NASCAR does, there’s going to be people who say, ‘I didn’t like it, or I ‘like it.’ owners, drivers, NASCAR, they’ve all agreed that we’re going to do it that way, and anything less would be a mistake.

    Burton said NASCAR has no choice but to keep the current inspection process as is, and if teams are found to be in violation of the rules, even if the violation occurs during the championship race of end of the season in Phoenix and could affect the champion and winner of the race, teams know the risk vs reward element.

    “They have to be (maintaining the rules even in the championship race). Years and years ago, Bill France (Sr.) said that when the fans leave the track, they should know who won the race,” Burton said. “Now we know why he said that. You have to build a system where owners or teams aren’t going to end up in that situation (of being DQ’d). The team needs to understand what an incredibly bad image it would be for them and the sport to manipulate something you know you can’t do. It’s one thing to find yourself in a situation of tolerance and then accidentally go over it because you’re pushing too hard. This one is really not excusable.

    Cars cross the inspection line ahead of a race earlier this season at Kansas Speedway

    Cars cross the inspection line ahead of a race earlier this season at Kansas Speedway

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    Even if Hamlin and Busch were safe in the playoffs, this issue raises questions. If Joe Gibbs Racing wasn’t looking for an illegal advantage, then why did it happen in the first place?

    Burton has a theory.

    “Teams are always working to find speed, they’re always working to be as quick as possible, they’re always working within the system to find the rhythm,” Burton said. “And teams are constantly testing NASCAR, right? They’re just doing. It’s not the sport of 30 years ago anymore. You have these huge corporations that have these processes, and you have these specialists, and you have who knows who made the decision to do this (put the tape on Hamlin and Busch’s cars)?

    “You don’t know for sure that even the team leader knew this happened. You don’t know who did it, but they do it internally. They’re not going to share this with us, and they shouldn’t either. But there was a time when the team leader made all the decisions. Well, that’s not the case anymore. By playing the hypothetical, someone could have made a decision that didn’t didn’t quite understand the magnitude of that decision, because you could step into your own bubble and not really understand what’s going on out there in the world, how big that might be.

    “That’s why I say it’s a culture change. Right now, every team comes back and has a conversation with all the people, all the targets, whatever it takes to make it work and say, ‘ Alright, here’s what Ears wide open, pay attention, these are the ramifications. And that’s what it will take. »

    Lately, Automatic week asked Burton if NASCAR has given penalties so hard this year, including Hamlin and Busch, Brad Keselowski and Michael McDowell’s No. 34 team earlier this week, to possibly set an example for other teams who might consider trying to bend the rules.

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    “They weren’t penalized for making an example of it, but they are (an example of what can happen),” Burton said. “NASCAR didn’t just randomly say, ‘Hey, we’re going to penalize these guys so we get everyone’s attention. The teams made a decision that penalized them and NASCAR must make the decision. Even in McDowell’s situation, he probably won’t win the race at Pocono. He’s not driving for a team that has the funding, he’s not driving for a team that’s usually in contention to win a race at Pocono. You need to have their attention too. That’s why they got caught. They turned out to be a fluke (car sent back to the NASCAR R&D center for a complete teardown after the race). They returned to the R&D center, where a car is completely torn apart. »

    As for Letarte, he went straight to the NASCAR rulebook when discussing the violations and penalties handed out to Hamlin and Busch this week on the NASCAR America Motormouths program on Peacock.

    “You may not install additional parts, modifications to existing parts, to affect the aerodynamic properties of the vehicle,” Letart read. Then he added: “In my opinion, as silly as it sounds, it’s just a piece of tape, but if you’re not allowed to do anything, a piece of tape is something. thing, especially under vinyl, I don’t have a real problem (with DQs).

    steve letarte nascar

    Former NASCAR crew chief Steve Letarte currently works for NBC as a NASCAR analyst.

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    When asked if the Hamlin/Busch penalty was more egregious than other penalties in NASCAR history, Letarte recalled the last time a race winner was disqualified, in 1960.

    “If you look at the last 62 years of NASCAR, that infraction would be a minor infraction,” Letarte said. “But if I look at the last five or six months of NASCAR and the Next Gen vehicle, how it’s created, how there are these single-vendor parts, in my mind, over the last 62 years, this n “It’s not an anomaly on the radar. But if I zoom in on this season, it’s a big problem on the radar and an intersection for NASCAR and that’s why the penalty was what it was.

    Letarte was quick to point out that picking up a win is a much bigger blow to a team than, say, fines or team leader suspensions.

    “A win is worth more than it has ever been,” Letarte said. “Not to discount the wins of the past. But the system, the points, the playoffs, the buckets that fill up even knowing how sponsorships and manufacturers work now…those trophies are way different than the latter.

    Will the penalties imposed on Busch/Hamlin, McDowell and Keselowski inspire the team leaders to push the limits?

    Letarte replied, “If I’m still a team leader, I’m still looking for all the advantages. But now I know where to look. If I have to have this piece, but can mount it however I want, then we have to be smarter. I can’t change the room. “But what if I bend it? “You can’t bend it. You have to spread it through your people who worked on the old cars. ” Do not even think about it. Don’t even test to see if it’s better. We don’t want to know if it’s better. It is a development process that must change.

    Follow Automatic week contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

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