NASCAR has answered a question that has lingered since the trip to Phoenix Raceway. The sanctioning body has announced massive penalties for all four Hendrick Motorsports teams, as well as one of the Kaulig Racing teams.
On March 15, NASCAR announced that these five teams had violated Sections 188.8.131.52.A of the Rule Book by making unapproved modifications to a single-source vendor part — hood louvers. This resulted in L2-Level penalties for all five teams.
Alex Bowman, William Byron, Kyle Larson, and Justin Haley have all been docked 100 driver points and 10 playoff points each. Their teams also lost 100 owner points each. The No. 9 team only lost 100 owner points given that Josh Berry is not running for Cup Series points.
Additionally, all five crew chiefs received $100,000 fines. Rudy Fugle (No. 24), Trent Owens (No. 31), Cliff Daniels (No. 5), Blake Harris (No. 48), and Alan Gustafson (No. 9) will all miss the next four points-paying races while serving suspensions.
This $400,000 penalty for Hendrick Motorsports is the largest issued to a single-car team in NASCAR history. It tops the $300,000 issued to Michael Waltrip Racing back in 2013.
Following practice at the Arizona track on March 10, NASCAR officials confiscated hood louvers from the No. 5 of Larson, the No. 9 of Berry (injury replacement), the No. 24 of Byron, the No. 31 of Haley, and the No. 48 of Bowman. These pieces went back to the R&D Center for further examination.
As a release from NASCAR states, the louvers “are openings or vents in the hood that serve as a release point for ducts that transfer air out of the radiator. The system is intended to decouple engine performance from aero performance, offsetting the practice of teams taping off air intakes and placing undue pressure and heat strain on the car’s engine.”
The Drivers Have an Uphill Battle
The expectation is that all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers will win races and reach the playoffs. Byron has already secured his spot with consecutive wins at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway. There is also optimism surrounding Haley in his second full-time season in the No. 31.
The top-30 in points rule is no longer in place, so a win should be enough to secure a spot in the playoffs. The bigger challenge will be making it through each round and making a push for the championship four. The playoff points serve as a buffer.
Byron earned 10 playoff points with his two wins, and he added another three through stage wins. This put him in line for a top-10 finish in the regular-season standings, which would have only added more playoff points to his total. Now, he will have to attempt to gain more after losing out on 10 and dropping out of the top five in the standings.
Bowman sits in a worse position. He left Phoenix as the points leader. He didn’t have a win, but he was the only driver with top-10 finishes in every single race. Now, however, he drops to roughly 23rd with negative-10 playoff points. Wins will now become even more important for him as he attempts to return to the playoffs.
The same goes for Larson. He missed out on two different wins due to cautions, and he missed out on a spot in the playoffs. Now he has lost 100 points and his lone playoff point, which knocks him out of fifth place in the standings.
Of course, Haley sits in the worst position. He was 24th in the standings after the trip to Phoenix Raceway with 60 points, and he had no playoff points. Now, he has negative-40 points and negative-10 playoff points, which dropped him to the bottom of the standings.
The Penalty Affects Elliott the Least
The L2-Level penalties add a significant hurdle to the campaigns of Byron, Bowman, Larson, and Haley. As of March 15, they will have the smallest effect on Elliott’s season.
The reason is that NASCAR did not take away 100 driver points from Elliott. He is out of the No. 9 Chevrolet for six weeks after fracturing his tibia in a snowboarding accident, so he was not in control when NASCAR confiscated the hood louvers.
The No. 9 lost 100 owner points, which means it will be hard-pressed to contend for the owners’ championship. However, Elliott keeps the 49 points he earned during trips to Daytona International Speedway and Auto Club Speedway.
Prior to the penalty report, Elliott was 29th in the Cup Series standings. Now, he will move up three spots while Byron, Larson, and Haley all drop below him. Bowman will still be ahead of Elliott by five points.