NASCAR has a major problem on its hands and it stems from their own actions and seemingly lack of consistency when it comes to doling out punishments for its competitors.
The latest example is the penalty for the driver of the No. 41 Cole Custer after he appeared to block Austin Dillon and Erik Jones on the final lap of the race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course in order to secure his teammate, Chase Briscoe, a position in the Round of 8.
Heading down the back stretch and going into the chicane, Custer appeared to slow down and brake early holding up both Dillon and Jones as Briscoe darted by all of them on the inside and on to a 9th place finish. Meanwhile Custer would end up finishing 24th.
Following the race, NASCAR announced they would be reviewing Custer’s actions, but their review would have no impact on the competitors who made it into the Round of 8.
A statement noted, “NASCAR is reviewing data, video and radio transmissions from the 41 car following its incident on the backstretch during the final lap.”
“NASCAR will communicate the results of the review early this week. Any potential penalties would not affect the Round of 8 field,” it concluded.
NASCAR has found that Custer was guilty with NASCAR.com reporting he and his “team was penalized under Section 5.5 of the NASCAR Rule Book, which requires competitors to race at 100% of their ability and takes action against competitors who intend to ‘artificially alter’ the race’s finishing positions.”
NASCAR fined both Custer and his crew chief Michael Shiplett $100,000 and Shiplett was suspended indefinitely. They also issued a 50-point penalty to Custer and his team in both the Driver and Owner standings.
What might surprise some is that despite fining Custer and his crew chief NASCAR.com notes “Briscoe had qualified for the playoffs’ Round of 8 without the benefit of Custer’s block.” So how did they rule he was artificially altering the race when they determined his block didn’t even aid his teammate in qualifying for the Round of 8?
Scott Miller, NASCAR Senior VP of Competition, explained the penalty despite Custer’s block seemingly not actually affecting the finishing positions according to NASCAR, “When we got to the audio, and had the crew chief telling the driver that, ‘I think you got a flat (tire). Check up, check up, check up,’ when he couldn’t even see the car or have any idea whatsoever that the car might have a flat, obviously pretty telling as to what went on there.”
He added, “That coupled with the data and the video and all the rest of the things that we looked into, well, that was the bulk of the things … nothing contradicted the fact that was done deliberately by those individuals, so we were certainly forced to react, and you saw their reaction today.”
Miller continued to explain, “We can’t have teams manipulating the finishing order. Certainly on super high alert for the playoffs, and had this been the determining factor in the 14 making it into the Round of 8 or not, our reaction certainly would have been bigger.”
Miller’s explanation is completely tone deaf given how he and NASCAR ruled when it came to William Byron, who intentionally wrecked Denny Hamlin under caution with NASCAR determining during the race that Hamlin would not be allowed to return to his 2nd place running order.
On top of that they claimed they had no eyes on Byron spinning out Hamlin despite the organization literally having in-car cameras for every driver.
NASCAR initially fined Byron $50,000 and docked him 50 points. However, that ruling was altered to just a $100,000 fine and no point penalty. That point penalty reversal was key in Byron qualifying for the Round of 8 as he only finished 11 points ahead of Kyle Larson.
There is clearly an argument that Byron not only artificially altered the race results by wrecking Hamlin, but he also put Hamlin at risk of injury by intentionally wrecking. And as we have seen this year, there appears to be a much higher risk for injury especially concussions as Byron’s teammate Alex Bowman has been out of his car since Texas and Kurt Busch has been out since Pocono
NASCAR has a major trust issue on their hands whether they see it or not. Not only do they have a trust issue, what’s to stop teams and drivers from continuing to artificially alter races and outcomes if all they are getting is a $100,000 fine.
Before anyone points to the indefinite suspension, what exactly does that do? Numerous crew chiefs have been suspended throughout this year and it doesn’t seem to affect the performance of their cars or how they race because they are still able to communicate with the team even if they aren’t at the track.
What do you make of NASCAR’s penalty to Cole Custer and the No. 41 Stewart-Haas team?