Hendrick Motorsports’ points penalties have been overturned.
NASCAR penalized each of Hendrick’s four cars 100 points and 10 playoff points after the Phoenix race weekend because of issues with the louvers on the hoods of the cars before the race. HMS immediately appealed the penalty and an appeals panel ruled Wednesday that the points penalties should be overturned.
Hendrick said that NASCAR had examined the louvers on the cars “during a voluntary inspection” shortly after the garage opened for the weekend at Phoenix and before the cars had been on track. It said that NASCAR then confiscated the louvers four hours later.
“We are grateful to the National Motorsports Appeals Panel for their time and attention,” a statement from Rick Hendrick said. “Today’s outcome reflects the facts and we’re pleased the panel did the right thing by overturning the points penalty. It validated our concerns regarding unclear communication and other issues we raised.”
The current Cup Series car is largely composed of parts from single-source vendors. The cars that teams race on Sundays are made of the same components from the same suppliers. Previously, NASCAR’s biggest teams built many of their own parts.
The louvers on the HMS cars were from the same supplier that other teams use and Hendrick has contended that the parts themselves were the reason for the penalty from NASCAR. Hendrick vice president of competition Chad Knaus said days after the penalty was announced that the parts suppliers needed to be held accountable if teams were being held accountable to build cars that pass inspection.
“We in the garage — every one of these teams here are being held accountable to put their car out there to go through inspection and perform at the level they need to,” Knaus told reporters on March 17. “The teams are being held accountable for doing that. Nobody is holding the single-source providers accountable at the level that they need to be to give us the parts that we need. That goes through NASCAR’s distribution center and NASCAR’s approval process to get those parts and we are not getting the right parts.”
While the appeals panel sided with Hendrick and voided the points penalties, it kept the suspensions for the teams’ crew chiefs in place and also kept the $100,000 fine for each team because of the infractions.
In a statement, NASCAR said it was happy that the appeals panel determined that Hendrick violated the rule book but expressed its dismay with the decision.
“We are pleased that the National Motorsports Appeals Panel agreed that Hendrick Motorsports violated the rule book," NASCAR said in a statement. "However, we are disappointed that the entirety of the penalty was not upheld. A points penalty is a strong deterrent that is necessary to govern the garage following rule book violations, and we believe that it was an important part of the penalty in this case and moving forward. We will continue to inspect and officiate the NASCAR garage at the highest level of scrutiny to ensure a fair and level playing field for our fans and the entire garage.”
While the $400,000 in fines is significant, the 400 points and 40 playoff points are much more significant, especially when playoff advancement can be determined by a single point. Getting the points penalties wiped out entirely is a massive win for Hendrick and a blow to NASCAR’s penalty process once again.
Just last season, NASCAR attempted to penalize Hendrick driver William Byron after the playoff race at Texas for his intentional spin of Denny Hamlin under caution. Byron wasn’t penalized at the time of his bump of Hamlin because NASCAR officials simply didn't see the incident. So the sanctioning body penalized him 25 points after the fact.
Hendrick appealed that penalty and got the points penalty rescinded while the fine was increased to $100,000 through the same appeals process that went in its favor on Wednesday.
The rescinding of the penalties Wednesday also means Alex Bowman takes over the points lead with 226 points. Bowman was 85 points back of points leader Ross Chastain before the appeal. Byron’s points total increases to 197 and Kyle Larson’s points total increases to 170. Chase Elliott still has 49 points after he’s missed the last four races because of a leg fracture he suffered while snowboarding before the third race of the season.