NASCAR’s 2022 penalties fall into three categories.
The most common pre-race penalties are failing inspection, switching to a backup car or making unapproved adjustments.
In-race penalties are issued to drivers and crew on pit road (such as speeding and too many crew members over the wall) and on-track penalties such as yellow line violations and running over the choose box.
Post-race violations may stem from an incident during the race, like a loose wheel, or they may arise from post-race inspections, either at the track or at NASCAR’s Research & Development Center.
Penalties can significantly impact a driver’s race. With racing as close as it was in 2022, every penalty matters. That’s why I pulled together every penalty issued by NASCAR in the 2022 season to determine who made the most — and the fewest — mistakes.
NASCAR issued a total of 808 penalties in the 2022 season, but not all of those penalties are mistakes.
Crew chiefs often choose to pit before pit road is open when the penalty for doing so is less important than getting the car to the pit box. That may be because the car is damaged, or the driver is running so far back in the field that it won’t make much of a difference.
I eliminated all pitting before pit road is open. I also axed any penalties issued on the same pit stop. If you pit while pit road is closed, it doesn’t make much difference if you send more people over the wall than allowed when the car arrives.
Following the same rationale, I removed penalties issued on pit road where the offending car went to garage.
Different sources often cite different penalty numbers, depending on what they include. The graphic below shows my breakdown of the 2022 Cup Series penalties.
Once the 406 intentional penalties are subtracted, that leaves 402 unintentional penalties.
Of the unintentional penalties:
102 (25.3%) were levied pre-race. That’s down from 2021, when there were 128 pre-race penalties.
273 (68.0%) were imposed during races. That continues a downward trend from 317 last year and 337 the year before
27 (6.7%) were imposed after races.
Of the 402 unintentional penalties, 188 (46.8%) are attributable to drivers. The crew gets the blame for 204 (50.7%). I couldn’t definitively pin the remaining 10 penalties on either group.
Unapproved adjustments comprised 67.6% of all pre-race penalties. Going to a backup car and inspection failures tie for a distant second with 10.8% each.
The table below compares 2022 pre-race penalties with prior years. Recall that the 2020 season was interrupted by COVID, which changed the practice, qualifying and inspection timelines.
Inspection failures significantly declined this year, no doubt aided by the uniformity of single-source parts. Unapproved adjustments continued rising. Two rained-out practices at Atlanta likely kept the backup car count a little lower than it might be otherwise.
I consolidated in-race penalties to maintain a manageable number of categories. For example, ‘equipment related’ includes penalties for throwing or tossing equipment, equipment over the wall too early, equipment interference, etc.
Drivers incurred 163 (59.7%) of the 2022 in-race penalties, as shown in the pie chart below on the left. The remaining 101 in-race penalties assessed to crew members are shown on the pie chart on the right side.
Speeding on pit road comprised the largest driver contribution, with 122 citations. Speeding accounts for almost 75% of driver penalties.
The top pit-road speeder in 2022 was B.J. McLeod, who was nabbed 11 times in just 29 races. Of full-time competitors, Corey LaJoie notched eight speeding penalties and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. seven. Rounding out the top five were Truex with six and Daniel Suárez with five.
Equipment-related penalties account for more than one-third of the total penalties incurred by pit crews. Crew member(s) over the wall too soon comes in second, and too many crew members over the wall follows in third place. Note that tire violations in this graph do not include loose wheels.
Kyle Busch’s No. 18 team was the most penalized during race with a total of eight penalties. Ty Dillon’s No. 42 team had six in-race penalties while the teams of Suárez (five), Cody Ware and Denny Hamlin each had five.
Joe Gibbs Racing had the most crew penalties with 19 across four cars. Hendrick Motorsports, with the same number of cars, had only eight crew penalties.
There were only 27 post-race penalties; however, post-race penalties tend to carry heavier consequences: fines, points penalties and suspensions.
I counted 15 loose-wheel penalties in 2022, although additional loose wheels were caught before they became penalties. It will be interesting to see if that number goes down next year as familiarity with the new wheel increases.
The series also racked up four behavioral penalties, two disqualifications, three L1-penalties and three L2 penalties.
The graph below shows the total penalties — pre-, in- and post-race — for drivers who ran all 36 races and finished the season in the top 30. If you’re interested in more detailed information, you can find it in my post on buildingspeed.org.
Busch and Hamlin make the top of this list, with 18 total penalties for Busch and 16 for Hamlin. Both JGR drivers had four speeding penalties. Busch’s crew had four equipment penalties while Hamlin’s had three. Both drivers had a loose-wheel penalty during the season. Both were disqualified at Pocono. But where Busch accounted for only four of the team’s 18 penalties (22.2%), Hamlin generated six of 16 (37.5%).
The least-penalized drivers of 2022 are the teams of Logano, Blaney and Chase Briscoe. Each team had four penalties.
Logano’s crew got one penalty and the other three were pre-race penalties due to needing a backup car twice and one case of unapproved adjustments. Logano had no driver penalties in 2022.
Blaney, however, had three speeding penalties. His team takes the blame for a loose wheel. Briscoe’s team split the penalties evenly between driver and crew.
Elliott finished the year with five penalties total.
These numbers show that making mistakes definitely hurt a driver’s chances of winning. But not making mistakes doesn’t guarantee success, either.