NASCAR issued penalties to the Stewart-Haas Racing team on Tuesday after their No. 41 car was involved in a last-lap incident during Sunday’s race at Charlotte’s ROVAL. The race was the cut-off point for NASCAR’s Round of 8 in which 4 drivers were eliminated from the Playoffs. One of those drivers was defending series champion Kyle Larson, who was eliminated, while Stewart-Haas driver Chase Briscoe was able to fight his way to the next round on the final lap.
Briscoe needed to gain some places in the closing laps to head into the next round. On the final lap, Briscoe moved forward and passed just enough cars to earn enough points to move on. As the peloton headed towards the backstretch chicane, Custer appeared to drive up and block those behind as Briscoe passed him below.
On NBC Sports broadcast analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. said, “Cole Custer, throwing a block at everybody.”
Briscoe would indeed gain enough places and Kyle Larson was eliminated, while Briscoe moved on to the next round.
“I knew the 3 (Austin Dillon) had literally destroyed me two rounds before and I wanted to give it back to him because I was so mad and I just knew I had to go,” Briscoe said. “It’s a tough place for guys who aren’t in the playoffs.
“The 43 (Erik Jones) I kind of put him in a really bad position and I put myself in a bad position too, but I was just pushing him around because I had to go there knowing every place was going to do the difference.
“My team came on the radio and told me I was at a point and it was the 43 car I had to pass, so I kind of pushed it away and then the 3 passed us both, then I had my back straight away to do a Hail Mary and luckily someone grabbed it and I was able to move on.
About 90 minutes after the finish, NASCAR released a statement:
“NASCAR is reviewing data, video and radio transmissions from Car 41 following its last-lap straightaway incident,” the statement read. “NASCAR will release the results of the review early this week. Any potential penalties would not affect the Round of 16 field.
This review ended on Tuesday.
Cole Custer was fined $100,000, while crew chief Mike Shiplett was fined $100,000 and suspended indefinitely. NASCAR said the violations stem from Sections 4.3.A; 4.4.C & 5.5: NASCAR Member Code of Conduct/NASCAR Rulebook Performance Obligation.
NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller met with the media shortly after the sanctions were announced. He said officials looked at the data shortly after the race and the data was quite telling.
“The 41 (Custer) slowed sharply… on the back immediately blocking the 3.
“The 14 (Briscoe) went through the 41 and the 3. So obviously with all the data that we have now, the data coming from the car for the breaks, you know, the steering, the throttle and all the audio that we dug into all of this and, and obviously found things that we felt like we had to react to.
Miller said the biggest sign was a radio transmission from crew chief Shiplett.
“When we got to the audio and the crew chief said to the driver, ‘I think you have a health check, health check, health check’ when he couldn’t even see the car or have any inkling that the car might have a dish quite obviously quite indicative of what happened there.
Miller added that it was clear Custer didn’t have an apartment, using video and car replays to confirm that.
“There was nothing to contradict the fact that it was done deliberately by these individuals,” he said. “So we certainly had to react.
“Today we cannot have teams manipulating the order of finish.”
According to Miller, after the race they determined that Custer’s action had no bearing on whether or not Briscoe made the Playoffs.
“If that had been the determining factor in the 14, whether to qualify for the knockout stages or not, our reaction would probably, well, certainly, would have been greater. The 14s qualified for the knockout rounds without it But if that hadn’t been the case and all 14 would have qualified for the Playoffs…we would have had to react even stronger.
In 2013, driver Clint Bowyer, who raced for the now defunct Michael Waltrip Racing, was accused of intentionally going in circles and causing a warning at Richmond Raceway that ended up putting two of the three teams in the Chase while the Playoffs were then called. NASCAR later investigated and discovered that the team had intentionally orchestrated the rotation.
In the aftermath, Jeff Gordon was reinstated, an MWR executive was suspended, one of the team’s main sponsors left, and the team eventually folded.
Miller pointed out that this case was different, that while removing Briscoe from the playoffs was an “early” option once it was determined he would have advanced without the move, it was taken off the table.
“We definitely spent a lot of time, listened to all 14 radios, and there was not a word during the race about teammates or anything on car radio 14 throughout the race,” said said Miller. “They were, concerned and keeping the driver informed, of how the points were going wild at different points in the race.
“The only chatter they had on their radio was about what kind of points they were on with regards to the current running order, but nothing that we could even remotely point to as being some kind of outrageous conversation on the radio. .”
The Stewart-Haas Racing team said shortly after the penalties were announced that they would appeal. Recently William Byron and the Hendrick Motorsports team appealed a penalty Byron was handed down for spinning Denny Hamlin on bail at Talladega. The appeal committee doubled the fine but rejected the points deduction awarded to Byron who advanced to the next round of the Playoffs last Sunday.