Cole Custer No. 41 Ford drives around right turn at Charlotte
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

NASCAR penalizes Custer, No. 41 SHR team after Charlotte playoff race

NASCAR officials penalized driver Cole Custer and his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford team Tuesday for their actions in Sunday’s Cup Series Playoffs race at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course.

The 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. Other rule book sections cited in Tuesday’s penalty report fall under the headings of member conduct.

Custer and No. 41 crew chief Michael Shiplett were each fined $100,000, and Shiplett was suspended indefinitely. Competition officials also issued 50-point deductions to Custer and the team in their respective driver and owner standings.

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A spokesperson for Stewart-Haas Racing indicated that the team will appeal. On Wednesday, Greg Zipadelli — SHR’s chief competition officer — released a statement through the team’s social media platforms, saying: “Stewart-Haas Racing denies any wrongdoing and will vigorously defend its personnel against these allegations in its appeal with NASCAR.”

Custer’s No. 41 Mustang appeared to slow in the final lap of Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400, impeding the path of Austin Dillon and Erik Jones while allowing SHR teammate Chase Briscoe’s No. 14 Ford to slip through at the entrance to the backstretch chicane. Briscoe advanced to the next round of the playoffs by a two-point margin.

NASCAR officials indicated post-race that they would conduct a review of the final-lap data, video and radio transmissions after Sunday’s race. Competition officials also said that the findings and potential penalties would not alter the postseason field, which was whittled from 12 to eight title-eligible drivers after Sunday’s event.

Scott Miller, NASCAR Senior VP of Competition, said Briscoe had qualified for the playoffs’ Round of 8 without the benefit of Custer’s block. But he also said that analysis of the car’s data combined the egregious nature of Shiplett’s directives from the No. 41 pit box forced NASCAR officials to step in.

“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,” Miller said. “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.

“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 said a suspension for Custer was among the punishments that competition officials discussed, but he added that his actions didn’t rise to the level of a “super-flagrant” offense. “We did consider that,” Miller said, “and we opted not to, just kind of because of the past precedent that we’ve set for sitting drivers down and didn’t feel like this completely fit into the bucket.”

In a Wednesday morning appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Miller added that decisions made on previous incidents held some sway in the Roval review, but that calls or non-calls in past situations — whether it be aggressive blocking, retaliation or instances of coordinated teamwork — were not the determining factor.

“The way that we have ruled on a past situation is always something that we consider, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that however we ruled on any other situation in years past, whether that be last year, five years ago or 10 years ago, doesn’t make what happened at the Roval OK,” Miller told SiriusXM. “And if we did not react to what happened at the Roval, it would be a serious dereliction of our responsibility to the rest of the competitors, the OEMs, the fans, and everything else. So there are probably some situations in the past that we might wish we had back, but in no way, shape or form does any past ruling change the fact that what happened at the Roval was wrong, and we had to react to it.”

Miller also said Tuesday that officials reviewed data and radio transmissions from the No. 14 team of Briscoe, saying that no damning evidence was found.

“The only chatter they had on the radio was about kind of where they were points-wise with the current running order,” Miller said, “but nothing that we could even remotely point to as being any kind of scandalous conversation on the radio.”

NASCAR also issued a $5,000 fine to Kaulig Racing crew chief Alex Yontz after the team’s No. 10 Chevrolet was found with one unsecured lug nut after Saturday’s Xfinity Series race. Landon Cassill drove the No. 10 Camaro to a 10th-place finish at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

Officials also assessed an indefinite suspension to Eric Woods for a violation of the sanctioning body’s Substance Abuse Policy (Section 4.1). Woods was most recently listed on team rosters as the hauler driver for Big Machine Racing in the Xfinity Series.