News broke earlier today that the #6 team of Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing had been handed a series of penalties by NASCAR for purported illegal parts modifications following an inspection at NASCAR’s R&D center. While NASCAR did not explicitly state what the violation was, it was reported by Bob Pockrass that the violation “had to do with the body at the rear of the car.”
The steep penalties assessed to the team – which can, and likely will be appealed – are as follows:
– 100 driver and owner points
– 10 playoff points
– $100,000 fine and four race suspension for crew chief Matt McCall
NASCAR hasn’t handed out a penalty quite this severe since Michael Waltrip Racing’s 2013 intentional spin incident involving Clint Bowyer & Martin Truex Jr., where NASCAR docked 50 points from all three MWR drivers (stripping Truex of his playoff spot), and fined the team $300,000. All of that was completely understandable – it was an on-track incident that directly impacted the playoff field. That is not the case with this most recent penalty.
As was mentioned above, NASCAR did not explicitly state what the violation was, but unless it was one that directly impacted driver safety, I have a hard time believing that a penalty this steep is justified. To me – and I imagine any RFK fans out there – this reads as NASCAR dropping the proverbial hammer on the team and making an example of them. This is them trying to send a message to all of the other teams that they will not tolerate any kind of modifications, big or small. NASCAR was clear that they would not tolerate any bending of the rules from the start of the season – this is them trying to prove that.
Is that right or wrong? Does the punishment in fact fit the crime? It’s hard to say for sure without knowing exactly what the nature of the modification was, but I’m leaning towards “no”. Whatever the modification was it’s pretty clear that it didn’t really help the car much. This is a car that came home in 12th place, and was never really in the discussion for a finish much better than that. While I doubt we will get much more specific information, it would certainly be nice to know what exactly was modified. If it was a safety issue, the penalty – while still incredibly steep – is at least defensible. If it wasn’t, then it’s simply too much.
The 6 car has been running like a fringe playoff team as it is – they have speed, but the car has looked out of control at times as Keselowski tries to adjust to the new racing. They were likely to have trouble making the playoffs anyway, but now with a 100 point penalty a playoff berth will be all but impossible based on the pace they’ve had without a win. And even if he does snag a win and get in, a 10 playoff point penalty will be a major handcuff. As it sits right now, the penalty drops Keselowski from 16th in points, all the way down to 35th.
This penalty can be viewed as a double edged sword for the sport. While it is almost certain to reduce the likelihood of teams trying to bend the rule in the future, “making an example” out of individual teams doesn’t read well, and is a huge blow to a team that has desperately been trying to improve over the last few years. NASCAR came down very hard here, a good bit too hard in my mind – but we’ll see if more information comes out that really justifies it.