16 April 2015
NASCAR: RCR infraction upheld, but penalties reduced
The National Motorsports Appeals Panel has upheld NASCAR's finding of tyre tampering by Richard Childress Racing, but has slightly reduced the penalties.
Richard Childress Racing has failed in its appeal to overturn penalties for tyre tampering imposed on Ryan Newman's #31 team last month.
However the three-man National Motorsports Appeals Panel did give RCR some slight relief by reducing the fines and points deductions that the team had originally been handed - although the six-race suspensions of three key team personnel remain.
NASCAR had determined that RCR had tampered with the race tyres used by the #31 car at the recent Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. The sanctioning body said that tests carried out by both NASCAR and an independent testing facility had confirmed that the team NASCAR had violated the rule stating that it is illegal to use "any device, modification, or procedure to the tyre or wheel, including the valve stem hardware, that is used to release pressure, beyond normal pressure adjustments, from the tyre and/or inner shield."
In essence, it's understood that RCR manipulated their tyres by bleeding air out, most probably by putting a small hole in them. Bleeding air from the tyres can increase the grip during an on-track stint, counteracting the natural loss of grip that would be expected from tyre wear and the build-up of air temperatures.
NASCAR deemed this a P5-level penalty - only one down from the most severe type of infraction, and the first time that any team has been accused of such a serious breach of NASCAR's rules since the new system of handling penalties was introduced at the start of the 2014 season.
A basic P5 penalty means a loss of 50 driver and owner points and a minimum of a $75,000 fine. If the infraction is detected after the race then the penalty increases by 50 points and $50,000.
Following a six-hour hearing and a one-hour deliberation at NASCAR's Research and Development Center in North Carolina, the Appeal Panel upheld NASCAR's findings of tyre manipulation but disputed that the infraction had been discovered post-race, as the tyres were actually confiscated mid-way through the running of the Auto Club 400 on March 22. In the Panel's view, NASCAR rules regarding post-race inspections were not sufficiently defined to cover this circumstance.
"The Panel amends the original Penalty levied by NASCAR because there is no written explanation of what constitutes a post-race inspection," said the official announcement from the Appeal Panel. "Therefore the Penalty elements added under Section 18.104.22.168.3. are removed and the Penalty adjusted."
The decision means that RCR now face a 50-point loss in driver and owner championship points rather than 75, and a reduction of crew chief Luke Lambert's fine from $125,000 to $75,000, the basic P5 sanctions. However Lambert still faces a full six-race suspension from Sprint Cup competition, as do the team's tyre technician James Bender and team engineer Philip Surgen. The trio will also be excluded from taking part in next month's All-Star exhibition event.
"I'd like to say I'm thankful today to have had the opportunity to present our facts to the appeals panel," said Lambert in a statement released after the Appeal Panel decision was announced. "I appreciate their consideration of those facts in making the decision to reduce the fine and reduce the points penalty based on the decision and the facts that were presented.
"However, I am disappointed in the decision not to completely overturn the penalty based on the facts that were presented today," he added. "At this point in time, we're going to consider our options and discuss as a group what we're going to do moving forward. I'll have no further comments."
RCR can still take their appeal one stage further, with a final appeal to Final Appeals Officer Bryan Moss. A decision is expected to be announced before this weekend's race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
"I'd like to thank the Appeals Panel for taking the time to hear our appeal today," said team owner Richard Childress. "While they decided to reduce the penalties to the minimum penalties for a P5 violation, I am disappointed that the entire penalty was not overturned given the facts we presented.
"We are still discussing our options and have not yet determined whether to appeal the penalties to the Final Appeals Officer." he added.
In any case Lambert, Bender and Surgen have all elected to start their suspensions with immediate effect, meaning that Todd Parrott will take over as Newman's crew chief for the Food City 500.
As a result of the reduction in the points penalty, Newman climbs back up from 24th to 20th position in the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship points standings. However the penalty still means that Newman will likely have to win a race to make it into the post-season Chase title decider, rather than making it through purely on points as he did last season.
Circle Sport also wins reduction in penalties
Earlier in the week, Circle Sport had been more successful in its appeal against a heavy penalty for an illegal and incorrectly mounted rear truck trailing arm and assembly kit discovered on Brian Scott's #33 car during pre-practice inspection at Fontana.
The infraction meant that the team was given a P4 level penalty which meant that crew chief Richard "Slugger" Labbe was fined $50,000 and handed a three-race suspension, while team owner Joe Falk was docked 25 owner points.
Falk had said that the penalty was too harsh, and pointed out that the rules governing the rear suspension were changed the following week which would have made the mounting within the rules.
The National Motorsports Appeals Panel in large part agreed with the team, but also upheld NASCAR's complaint that the team had used aluminium rather than sheet metal in the construction of one of the parts.
As a result, the panel reduced the penalty to a P2 status, which means that Falk only loses 10 owners points and Labbe's fine has been reduced to $20,000. Labbe is still on probation through to the end of the year and remains under a three-race probation, of which he has already served two at Martinsville and Texas meaning that he will be absent again this weekend at Bristol but able to return to duty at Richmond the weekend after next.
Circle Sport also has the right to appeal the decision to to the National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer in accordance with Section 15 of the NASCAR rule book if it so wishes.
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