It’s clear Kevin Harvick publicly believes his team’s penalty at Las Vegas — a penalty partially for his car’s bowed rear window — is something that was “confusing” and done at least partially because of the attention the rear window received.
Harvick is right, the penalty sheet NASCAR issued on Wednesday is confusing. It listed one L1 infraction and one 20-point penalty in addition to a fine for crew chief Rodney Childers and a two-race suspension for car chief Robert Smith. The penalty Harvick received was actually a combination of two infractions.
One was for the rear window. The other was for incorrect rocker arm attachments. The parts were not aluminum. But the two unrelated infractions looked to be combined into one penalty via the NASCAR penalty sheet.
Here’s Harvick’s explanation of the penalty and his defense of the window issue in full from the first question of his Friday media availability. We’ll break it down below.
“As you look at the penalty itself it is very confusing,” Harvick said. “I think as you look at all the chatter that was created on social media afterwards — the whole findings of the whole thing started with the roof braces not working in the car which are non-mandatory braces that exist in the back of the roof. That is what squished it down. The window bracing itself, there were no issues with. When you look at the perpendicular bar, there is no specific way it says it has to be connected. Ours is connected. As you look at the bracing itself, there was no issue with that. The roof caved in, pulled the back and top of the window down, and that is really the root of the social media outrage that came after the race. The car passed all the optical scanning station inspections and everything after the race. The car was built to tolerance.”
“The scary part for me is the fact that we went far enough to find something on the car at the NASCAR R&D center. They could find something wrong with every car if they took it apart for a whole day at the R&D center. The side skirt material is on us. That rule was put into place February 18th and it should have been aluminum but ours was steel. That is really kind of the meat of what gave them the ability to actually get the fine to where it was meaningful enough to appease everyone on social media. When you look at that, instead of explaining it correctly with the roof bracing that failed and explaining that there was probably 20-some cars in the field that you could call that same penalty on for the bracing and windshield attachment. If you really want to go through pictures. That is a slippery slope.”
“We saw a lot of pictures pop up from previous years and previous events and same events this year of window bracing failures, which we didn’t have. Windows not attached to the bracing. It is what it is. I can tell you how we have dissected it from a team standpoint. We go from here. I have seen this – you look at golf and the fan officiating and the chaos that it caused. I think you see some of the repercussions of finding a penalty that was big enough to make the car sufficient to have a fine big enough to appease everybody. That didn’t work in golf. It won’t work here. I think as you look at it, you have to take it and move on and you just deal with it and go forward.”
• What Harvick terms a roof brace is what crew chief Rodney Childers terms a window brace. We’re not going to try to parse the difference in the terms. Here’s what Childers said on SiriusXM about the penalty.
“Basically we had a rear window brace fail and NASCAR mandates we run a certain T-bar in the back glass and that T-bar is actually pretty strong … The bottom of the glass got stiffened up and the T-bar is stiff and then the center brace that holds that T-Bar is what bent and failed,” Childers said. “And the T-bar is what ends up being stronger than the back of the roof at that point and it pulled the back of the roof down.”
The NASCAR rule regarding rear windshields states that “Installed rear window braces and supports must keep the rear window glass rigid in all directions, at all times and all NASCAR templates must fit correctly.”
Notice how it says “at all times.” Yes, Harvick is right in that his car passed post-race inspection. But the broken part seems like it would be easily discoverable when the car’s torn down at the research and development center.
Stewart-Haas has yet to decide if it will appeal the penalty.
• NASCAR’s rulebook doesn’t judge for intent, either. If a failed brace — something we think would be easily discoverable in a teardown — caused the window glass to not be rigid at all times, a penalty is still applicable, right?
NASCAR has given penalties for broken parts before, even as teams have contended they don’t provide explicit advantages. Joey Logano was penalized after his win at Richmond a year ago for a rear suspension violation. The team contended — much like Harvick — that it didn’t affect the win and the performance of Logano’s car. But again, intent isn’t taken into consideration.
It’s also worth noting that NASCAR takes a random car from every race back to the research and development center. The random car is rarely (publicly) penalized after its torn down.
• Harvick was also asked straight-up if the penalty happens without social media pressure. The first words out of his mouth? “I don’t think so.”
While we understand how social media can be a convenient excuse for nearly everything in the world today, it’s not the most logical in this case. Teams and manufacturers have photographers stationed around tracks for the sole purpose of taking pictures of competitors’ cars. Teams then go and look at those pictures to see what advantages rivals may have and both Fox and NBC played audio this week of Chase Elliott and his crew chief Alan Gustafson noticing the bowed-in window during the race.
Imagine the things rival teams notice when reviewing post-race photos that fans at home don’t see. While NASCAR fans noticed Elliott’s spoiler tape penalty last fall — a penalty first noticed by other teams — and Harvick’s window penalty this week, there may be some recency bias at play here regarding the perceived influence of outside observers. Teams are noticing others’ advantages and possible infractions far before the public is.
Unlike golf, NASCAR has never had a phone line for fans to call in infractions. If the sanctioning body can’t rationally react and do its job when a possible rulebook violation is noticed by its fans, how can it govern with all of the lobbying that goes on both publicly and privately by its participants?
Besides, was anyone reasonable actually calling for Harvick’s team to be penalized and calling them filthy cheaters? Most of the reaction we saw this week praised the team’s ingenuity because of the possible aerodynamic advantage it created. With the NASCAR rulebook being less-than-open in many technical areas, teams have to constantly be creative in finding advantages over others. Because with all of those cameras from other teams, advantages don’t last for very long.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.