NASCAR has confirmed that a new penalty structure and appeals process will be rolled out for 2014, the latest in a series of major initiatives overhauling the sport for the coming season which has already seen new approaches to qualifying and to the Sprint Cup Chase play-offs.
Tuesday's announcement unveiled a revamped 'deterrence system' designed to make the penalty and appeals process more transparent to teams and fans alike. It introduces a system of six different levels of penalties, with fines and point deductions increasing as infractions become more severe and a provision for repeat offenders.
"We sometimes put ourselves in tough spots with penalties not being listed in the rule book," acknowledged Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president of racing operations. "Our goal is to be more effective, fair and transparent."
"We believe the new system is easily understood and specifically lays out exactly what disciplinary action will be taken depending upon the type of technical infraction," said NASCAR's vice president of competition Robin Pemberton. "More importantly, we believe we have strengthened our system to ensure even more competitive racing.
"It'll be evident to them when they take their calculated risk where they're going to wind up," he added.
The new system introduces a first level that is a simple warning for minor, first-time infractions. While there is no penalty at this level, the warning will nonetheless be made public - something that has not happened in previous years.
The first level of penalties - dubbed P1 - would be for repeat warnings issued to a team and could see them given the last choice of position on pit road, practice/qualifying time deductions, a delay in the technical inspection line, being singled out for post-race inspection or the loss of team parking passes.
P2 would be for hollow parts, expired safety certification, improper installation of a safety feature or a minor bracket/fastener violation. Punishment will be the loss of 10 points and/or a fine of between $10k and $25k, and/or a one-race crew member suspension plus probation.
P3 is for the use of unauthorised parts, parts that fail their intended use, a coil spring violation or other measurement failures and could see a team lose 15 points and incur a $20k-$50k fine and/or a one-race crew member suspension plus probation.
Devices that circumvent NASCAR templates, measuring equipment or introduce unapproved added weight will be met with a P4 penalty, which will see a 25 points deduction plus a $40k-$70k fine and a three-race crew member suspension plus probation. If the infraction is found during post-race inspection, then the penalty increased by ten points and an extra $25k.
A P5 penalty is for additives in the oil, oil filter, air filter or anything that affects normal airflow over the car's body. The penalty in this case is a 50-point loss and a fine of between $75k-$125k fine plus a six-race crew member suspension plus probation. Again, the penalty increases if the infraction is found after the race itself, increasing by 25 points and $50k. Moreover, if the infraction has resulted in a race win in the meantime then it will not count toward making the Chase under the new system announced last week.
The most severe level of penalty, P6, is reserved for anything affecting the engine, modifying the pre-certified chassis, traction control or affecting the electronic fuel injection system. Teams deemed to have done so will lose 150 points and be slapped with a fine of between $150k and $200k with suspensions and probation for six race crew members. If the infraction has contributed to race win then that victory won't count toward the Chase or toward manufacturer points.
"This is a more transparent and effective model that specifically spells out that 'X' infraction equals 'X' penalty for technical infractions," explained O'Donnell.
At the same time, NASCAR also announced changes to the appeals procedure for 2014 with the three-person appeals panel no longer drawing on representatives of track operators. The sanctioning body said that this was to avoid potential conflicts of interest where a venue were relying on the PR support of drivers or teams that were also involved in a dispute under consideration.
"We have probably put some people in some tough spots in the past," O'Donnell admitted. "You won't see national series promoters as part of that panel and you'll see more industry experts participate in that role in the future."
In a further change to the first round of the appeals process, teams will be able to see the presentation made to the panel by NASCAR where before both sides argued their case separately and only came together in the same room in the second and final round of appeals, if invoked.
In addition, former General Motors executive John Middlebrook has been replaced as the Chief Appeals Officer, with the president emeritus of Gulfstream Aerospace Bryan Moss taking over as the final decision on penalty disputes.
Early in 2013, NASCAR had been left somewhat embarrassed when penalties issued to Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske Racing were both significantly modified by Middlebrook at the final stage of the appeals process. In total, Middlebrook reduced or overturned five of six cases that were sent to him as chief appellate officer.
However, O'Donnell stressed that Middlebrook was not being replaced because of dissatisfaction on the part of the sanctioning body. "I wanted to clearly state that Bryan's appointment is not a result of recent appeals outcomes or because of the changes to the Chase," he said. "John did a great job for us, but Bryan will take over as the final appeals officer.
"We believe the Appeals process allows a fair opportunity for our NASCAR Members to be heard, and have penalty disputes resolved by an impartial, relevant group of people with the ability to handle the complexities inherent in any appeal," continued O'Donnell on Tuesday. "This system has been tailored specifically to fit the needs of our sport."