Revamped penalty system specifies sanctions
February 04, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
No more guessing what penalty a technical violation might bring -- under a revised and stratified system unveiled Tuesday by NASCAR, specific offenses will now carry specific sanctions, ranging from a loss of practice time for minor infractions to 150-point deductions for the most serious.
NASCAR's revamped Deterrence System classifies six different levels of penalties, with fines and point deductions increasing as infractions become more severe. The structure also allows the sanctioning body to hit repeat offenders with a multiplier that could increase penalties by 50 percent. The new system brings with it a new Final Appeals Officer -- Bryan Moss, president emeritus of Gulfstream Aerospace, who replaces former General Motors executive John Middlebrook as the final decision on penalty disputes.
"It's never our intent to penalize, but in order to keep the playing field fair for everyone, we recognize that strong rules need to be in place," said Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's executive vice president for racing operations. "We certainly believe we've done a good job governing the sport in the past, but always believe we can get better and benefit everyone involved, especially as we went out and talked to the industry. The new Deterrence System is going to provide a clear path for our competitors to fully understand the boundaries while shoring up some gray areas which may have been in existence, again, all in an effort to be as transparent as possible."
Under NASCAR's former penalty system, there were no specific sanctions tied to certain offenses. Series executives hinted a new deterrence model was coming last year, when the series rolled out plans for a wide-ranging transformation of its competition model. The changes, which come on the heels of discussions within the industry, will be incorporated into the 2014 rule books for all three national series. The revised system is for technical infractions only, with behavioral offenses still handled on a case-by-case basis.
"We believe the new system is easily understood," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition, "and especially lays out exactly what disciplinary actions will be taken depending on the type of technical infraction."
Initial appeals will still be heard by three members of the National Motorsports Appeals Panel, although going forward that body will consist of fewer race track operators and more experts with technical backgrounds. The final arbiter is now Moss, a Georgia Tech graduate and motorsports enthusiast, who has worked in a variety of capacities within the aerospace industry since starting out with Lockheed's engineering administrative group in 1966.
"Really, when we talked in the industry, his business credentials we believe are impeccable," O'Donnell said. "A strong background in engineering and research, and as you all know, the sport is going more and more toward engineering. … We felt like he was the right choice for this position."
During his tenure as final appeals judge, Middlebrook made a habit of amending NASCAR sanctions -- most famously overturning a 25-point penalty to Jimmie Johnson and six-week suspension to crew chief Chad Knaus for alleged body modifications made to the No. 48 car prior to the 2012 Daytona 500. O'Donnell said Moss' appointment is "not a result of recent appeals decisions." Changing the appeals board, though, reflects the more technical nature of the sport and the desire to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
"I think when you look at a track operator, as an example I would use Brandon Igdalsky at Pocono, who comes in, does an appeal, and he sits on the Penske appeal and tells you the day before that, 'Boy, you're putting me in a tough position, I've got an IndyCar race and I need Roger to do a promotion for me, why did you put me on this?' We hadn't thought through some of those things," O'Donnell said. "I think it'll certainly be very similar to substance abuse, where you have the industry experts we'll pull from the right people, and we'll pull from folks … with that engineering and technical background as the sport becomes more and more innovative."
The new Deterrence System allows for a warning, and then escalates through six categories of penalties, with the sanctions growing more severe with each step. The lowest level of offense, or "P1," brings penalties ranging from a loss of track time during practice to community service. In the Sprint Cup Series, the P2 and P3 levels carry point penalties and/or fines and suspensions, ranging from deductions of 10-15 points, fines from $10,000-$50,000, and crew chief or other team members sidelined for one or more races. Penalties at those levels also carry probation for six months or through the end of the calendar year.
The highest levels of penalties -- P4, P5 and P6 -- are all-inclusive, involving point deductions, fines, suspensions and probation. A P4 infraction would bring the loss of 25 driver and owner points, a fine of $40,000-$70,000, and a three-race crew chief suspension. At P5, the penalties increase to 50 points, fines of $75,000-$125,000, and a six-race suspension. The highest level of penalty, P6, carries a 150-point deduction along with a fine of $150,000-$200,000, and a six-race suspension to the crew chief.
The new system also allows NASCAR to come down hard on repeat offenders. If a team is penalized, and later that same season is busted for another infraction at the same level or higher than the previous offense, the subsequent penalty increases by 50 percent.
NASCAR has issued warnings before, but they've been informal and not made public. That will change now, with the emphasis on getting cars through inspection on time due to new inspection and qualifying models. The scale of violations escalates through P2 offenses such as hollow components and bracket violations, P3 offenses such as unauthorized parts or coil spring violations, P4 offenses such as unapproved additional weight or devices that circumvent templates, P5 offenses such as oil additives or devices that effect normal air flow, and P6 offenses such as engine modifications or use of nitrous oxide.
Major infractions also bring probation for six months or through the end of the calendar year. NASCAR also reserves the right to tack on additional sanctions such as extra fines and point deductions, or -- for the most egregious offenses -- the loss of bonus or manufacturer points gained in the course of an event. The revised system is the same for all three national series, although potential monetary fines top out at $100,000 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and $50,000 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
NASCAR has taken away bonus points before -- it did just that to Carl Edwards' team in 2008, after an oil tank violation was found on the winning No. 99 car at Las Vegas. Taking away a victory from a race team later found guilty of a major penalty remains a step the sanctioning body is hesitant to take.
"That's always a topic of discussion, and at this point in time we always feel that when the fans leave the race track they know who won the race, and so right now we just will take away that opportunity for seeding or advancement based on wins if somebody violates the rules," Pemberton said.
"And this part of it isn't new. We have leveled a penalty against a team a few years ago … and they weren't allowed to carry those points over for seeding into the Chase. So it's not new. It's in print now. People can see it. And they'll understand that part of it. You know, it's always an age‑old question, why you don't take away the win, and the timing right now is we're going to move forward like we have over the 65 years, and we will address things on a year‑to‑year basis and see where it takes us."