NASCAR introduced rules updates for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs on Wednesday, giving competition officials the power to issue more stringent rulings on technical infractions involving post-race laser inspections and lug nuts.
The developments were announced just days before the series visits Chicagoland Speedway for Sunday's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM), the opening event in the 10-race Chase playoffs.
Similar clarifications, where applicable, will also be in place for the inaugural Chase events in NASCAR's XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series, which get underway in two weeks, at Kentucky and New Hampshire, respectively.
The updates allow NASCAR officials to strip race-winning teams of the benefits associated with a Chase victory, which include the automatic advancement into the next elimination round and any tiebreaker implications, should those teams fail the post-race lug-nut check or the post-race Laser Inspection Station (LIS) platform.
Previously, lug-nut infractions have resulted in a one-race suspension and a fine for the crew chief while LIS failures have carried a point deduction in the drivers' and owners' championship points, in addition to the crew chief fine.
Going into the Chase, post-race failure of the LIS platform now will be deemed a P4 level penalty if a vehicle's rear toe measurements exceed the allowed measurements on both sides.
In the Sprint Cup Series, the first violation would result in an encumbered finishing position, the loss of 35 championship driver and owner points, as well as a three-race suspension and $65,000 fine for the crew chief.
In the XFINITY Series, the penalties would be the same, but the crew chief fine would be $20,000.
The LIS platform is not a part of the NCWTS inspection process.
The penalties will be the same as those for an LIS infraction if a vehicle is found to have 17 or fewer lug nuts in place following the completion of the event (in Sprint Cup, XFINITY or Camping World Truck).
"The changes are made to assure that we have a level playing field and make sure that there's not a carrot out there for the team to have excessive violations when it comes to lug nuts and the LIS post-race measurements," Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, told NASCAR.com. "As we worked with those penalties during the season we realized we probably needed to have a little bit more in place as Chase time rolled around.
"The Chase obviously changes a lot of scenarios for both NASCAR and the teams; it's ramped up the intensity and there is a lot of scrutiny, as there is every week on everything (involving) technical infractions. This is really just a matter of us putting something in place so that should something happen, we have a means to effectively deal with it."
Miller noted that the "encumbered finish" is already a part of the NASCAR rule book. "This just adds a little bit of definition to how we will use it moving forward," he said.
NASCAR officials cracked down on lug nut penalties with new rules this spring, making sure the wheel is securely fastened on all five studs at a pit-road checkpoint after the race. At least five teams have been found in violation during post-race inspection, including those of drivers Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing) and Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing).
The LIS platform has been used to measure cars' chassis with precision since the start of the 2013 season. The majority of failures this year have centered on rear toe alignment.
Six Sprint Cup Series drivers and teams have been penalized this year for failing the LIS portion of the post-race inspection process -- Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 Chevrolet (Dover); Matt Kenseth, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota (New Hampshire), Brad Keselowski, Team Penske No. 2 Ford (Michigan), Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet (Darlington), Ryan Newman, Richard Childress Racing No. 31 Chevrolet (Darlington) and Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota (Richmond).
Miller said he expects the rules to remain in place for the 2017 season as well.
LIS failures during pre-race inspection result in written warnings, with the potential for lost track time after a team's fourth violation.
Should an infraction involving post-race LIS or lug nut inspection occur during the championship race at Homestead for any of the three series, the finish of the team found to be in violation would not count toward the determination of the series champion, or for any other positions that might be determined via tiebreakers.
Busch is the defending Sprint Cup Series champion while Harvick was the first to win a title under the current Chase format, which debuted in 2014.
These latest changes were made in collaboration with industry partners. "It should be no surprise to anybody where we landed," Miller said.
"As we convened with some of the team principals and competition guys, it became pretty obvious that we needed to do something like this."