Are NASCAR viewers catching penalties at rates similar to PGA Tour viewers?
During and after Kevin Harvick’s dominating win at Las Vegas on Sunday, where he led over 200 of the race’s 267 laps, some folks noticed a dip in Harvick’s rear windshield. The windshield appeared to be bowed in on the top right side, seemingly allowing the car to get more downforce on the right-rear section of the spoiler. More downforce to that part of the spoiler at a track like Las Vegas would mean more speed in the corners.
You can see the dip here.
But here’s a great shot of the back of Harvick’s car as he’s celebrating his win. It all looks good, as do pictures of Harvick’s car from his win at Atlanta a week earlier.
Viewers weren’t the only ones who noticed what was happening to Harvick’s car at Vegas. Chase Elliott had an in-race conversation with crew chief Alan Gustafson about what he saw from Harvick’s car.
Elliott, coincidentally, was penalized at Chicago in September after a crew member added tape to the spoiler of his car for more downforce. Elliott finished second in that race and the internet was sent into a tizzy after a crew member was seemingly massaging Elliott’s spoiler in the background of a post-race interview the driver did.
After speculation that NASCAR fans on the internet caught Elliott’s team cheating, NASCAR penalized Elliott’s team 15 points. Is this a similar situation just a few months later? We’re not so sure.
As Dale Earnhardt Jr. noted on his podcast — and played in the clip above — teams are always trying to find aerodynamic advantages on the bodies of their cars. He talked about how teams have been able to manipulate the roofs of the cars at tracks like Daytona and Talladega to make the roof flaps pop up slightly on the straightaways. That punches a bigger hole through the air for the draft.
“I think what we’re seeing out of Harvick’s car in those pictures is new in that space which makes it so interesting to everybody who sees it,” Junior said.
Public theories about Harvick’s windshield have included that he’s able to manipulate it via the trackbar adjuster inside the car or that air pressure pushed the windshield down at speed, meaning it popped back up when the car wasn’t facing stiff aerodynamic downforce.
Harvick’s crew chief Rodney Childers told ESPN on Tuesday that a brace broke on the rear windshield mount approximately two-thirds through the race on Sunday and the brace breaking would not have provided the team an aerodynamic advantage.
While we have no reason to doubt Childers’ word, it’s also worth looking at Harvick’s car during the first stage — the first third of the race. The windshield doesn’t appear to look significantly different than it does in images from later in the race.
NASCAR drivers and teams are constantly studying the cars of their rivals in an attempt to figure out the latest tips and tweaks they’ve learned. Teams knew what Elliott’s team was doing at Chicago far before fans who thought they caught the No. 24 team in the act did.
That nanny state could be a big reason why the No. 4 team’s ability to get the rear window — if it wasn’t a broken part like Childers said — to bend in like that could fall far more into the bucket of “advantage within NASCAR’s rules” vs. “blatantly cheating.”
Why? If Harvick’s team had found a secret to speed that visually distorted the car so much, common sense dictates it was (at least they thought) a legal secret. Why else would you risk the scrutiny of your peers and those watching to have a win and the points that come with it taken away?
It’s one thing to have your car fail post-race inspection after a win for an issue that no one can see without looking under or inside the car. It’s another to fail it for an infraction that was blatantly obvious to anyone paying close attention.
Harvick’s car passed post-race inspection, by the way.
“If anybody watching NASCAR America or in NASCAR believes that Rodney Childers is that big of an idiot to do something that he can’t get back — that he’s going to go out and just blatantly throw it out there — that’s not Rodney Childers,” Kyle Petty said on NBCSN on Monday.
Since he won the race, Harvick’s car was taken to the NASCAR Research & Development Center for further inspection. If there was something with the rear window assembly to make the car more aerodynamically efficient against NASCAR rules, we’ll likely find out Wednesday after the car is torn down. NASCAR could easily agree with Childers and
On the chance what Harvick’s team did isn’t a penalty or a broken part, it’s necessary to compliment the team on its ingenuity. And remember that imitation is the the best form of flattery because there will be a host of other Cup teams trying to get their windows to do what Harvick’s did at California in two weeks.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.