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March 15, 2023

NASCAR gives Hendrick Motorsports, Kaulig Racing L2-level penalties

NASCAR penalized each of Hendrick Motorsports’ four Cup Series teams, along with the No. 31 team of Kaulig Racing, with L2-level penalties on Wednesday for unapproved parts modifications last weekend at Phoenix Raceway. Each crew chief was fined $100,000 and suspended for four races, and each team was further penalized with the loss of 100 team and driver points and 10 playoff points (with the exception of the No. 9, which did not lose driver points because it had a substitute driver who earns Xfinity Series points).

The penalties occurred after NASCAR confiscated the hood louvers from all five cars before Sunday’s race at Phoenix Raceway. The Hendrick teams involved were the No. 5 Chevrolet driven by Kyle Larson, the No. 9 of Josh Berry (subbing for the injured Chase Elliott), the No. 24 of William Byron and the No. 48 of Alex Bowman; the No. 31 of Justin Haley was the Kaulig team involved. The respective crew chiefs fined and receiving suspensions were Cliff Daniels, Alan Gustafson, Rudy Fugle and Blake Harris for Hendrick and Trent Owens for Kaulig.

The NASCAR Rule Book section specifically referenced for the penalties was Sections, which deals with how the radiator duct is assembled. The teams were found with unapproved modification of a single-source vendor-supplied part.

Elton Sawyer, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, said the severity of the penalties was in line with the deterrence structure put in place with the advent of the Next Gen car in the Cup Series last season. Sawyer referenced other L2-level penalties handed down last year to the No. 6 RFK Racing team and the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports team for unapproved modifications of a single-source supplied part.

“We, from time to time, will capture parts, we’ll bring them back,” Sawyer said in a Wednesday afternoon video conference with reporters. “And as we continue to investigate and look at parts and comparing parts, it was obvious to us that these parts had been modified in an area that wasn’t approved. This is a consistent penalty with what we went through last year with other competitors — the 6, the 34. So we felt like to keep the garage on a level playing field, the competition level where it needs to be, all the dialogue that went around this car last year working with the owners on what the deterrent model should be, we were put in a position that we did feel like there was no other way but to write a penalty.”

RELATED: Watch Elton Sawyer on L2 penalties

Hendrick Motorsports released a statement saying it would appeal the penalties but would not request to defer the suspensions. A Thursday update to the entry list provided the names of each of the four substitute crew chiefs for the upcoming race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Kevin Meendering will crew chief the No. 5 car piloted by Larson; Tom Gray will work with Berry on the No. 9 team; Brian Campe will crew chief the No. 24 car with Byron; and Greg Ives returns to the pit box to crew chief the No. 48 car with Alex Bowman.

Kaulig Racing announced in a Thursday statement it will appeal its L2 penalty and will request deferral of crew chief Owens’ suspension until after the appeal hearing.

NASCAR permitted the Hendrick teams to use the hood louvers for a 50-minute Cup Series practice session on Friday at Phoenix, but then took the louvers back to the R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, for further examination. Hendrick replaced the louvers, and all four cars passed technical inspection before Sunday’s race at Phoenix.

Chad Knaus, Hendrick Motorsports VP of competition, spoke to reporters Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, saying he was “really disappointed we’re in the position we’re in right now.” He said that the violation emerged from a voluntary inspection at Phoenix the previous weekend.

“You have a mandatory safety and a mandatory engine inspection. Everything else beyond that is up to the teams,” Knaus said. “We typically choose to go ahead and put the car in for the voluntary inspection, so NASCAR has the opportunity to say, ‘hey, we don’t like this or maybe you need to tweak that,’ or whatever may be, and that’s been pretty much the standard cadence. I don’t know that there’s too many teams that usually go through the voluntary inspections don’t get told, ‘hey, you need to kind of work on this a little bit before you show back up tomorrow.’ “

Hendrick’s William Byron went on to win the race, his second victory in a row and the sixth Cup triumph in his career. All the other Hendrick cars also finished in the top 10, with Larson coming in fourth, Bowman in ninth and Berry in 10th.

Before the penalties, Bowman was atop the Cup Series standings with 154 points and had top-10 finishes in all four races this season. Byron was fourth in the standings, and Larson was fifth, while Berry continued to fill in for the injured Elliott, who underwent surgery on March 3 for a broken left leg and is expected to miss six weeks. After the penalty, Bowman dropped to 23rd in the standings, Byron 29th and Larson 32nd.

The hood louvers — which you can see on this Next Gen 3D model — are openings or vents in the hood that serve as a release point for ducts that transfer air out of the radiator. The system is intended to decouple engine performance from aero performance, offsetting the practice of teams taping off air intakes and placing undue pressure and heat strain on the car’s engine.

In other penalties announced Wednesday, Denny Hamlin was fined $50,000 and lost 25 driver points for violating Sections 4.4 in the NASCAR Member Code of Conduct, which cover – attempting to manipulate the outcome of the race or championship; wrecking or spinning another vehicle, whether or not that vehicle is removed from competition as a result; and actions detrimental to stock car racing or NASCAR. He indicated Friday on social media that he intends to appeal the penalty. | READ MORE

Competition officials also issued a safety violation for the loss or separation of an improperly installed tire/wheel from the vehicle (Sections A&C) to the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford driven by Aric Almirola. Crew members Ryan Mulder (front tire changer) and Sean Cotten (jack) were suspended for two races.

The Cup Series will be on track at 11:35 a.m. ET on Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway for Busch Light Pole Qualifying (FS1, PRN and SiriusXM Radio).

RELATED: Full Atlanta schedule