What happened: NASCAR announced it will take wins away from cars found to be illegal after races. It will complete postrace inspection entirely at the track — within 90 minutes of the checkered flag — and strip the trophy, points and money of a winner who got to victory lane by cheating. The second-place car will then move up and be named the winner, while the cheating team would be scored last.
What it means: NASCAR got tired of being bullied by its own race teams, and officials are finally doing something about it. Over the past few years, as NASCAR attempted to crack down on those who choose to intentionally break the rules, the sanctioning body was often the one who came away looking foolish. For whatever reason, everyone blamed NASCAR — not the cheating teams — when a driver didn’t pass pre-qualifying inspection or was given an encumbered win on a Wednesday after the race.
NASCAR was trying to police the garage but instead let itself get walked all over by teams with various levels of explanations and excuses for what they’d done. And while we all know crew chiefs will continue to push the limits in order to find speed, there’s a big difference when it comes to blatantly breaking the rules. Now, the days of teams getting off with relatively little damage after cheating are — thankfully, mercifully, blessedly — over.
Kevin Harvick had two encumbered wins last year that would have been disqualified under the 2019 rules — including one in Round 3 of the playoffs. He made the final four anyway, which would not have happened had the win and points been stripped entirely.
Teams might not like this change, but the solution is pretty simple. Don’t want to get embarrassed? Don’t want to be labeled as a cheater? Don’t want your sponsor to be upset? Then don’t break the rules!
News value: Ten! Even though officials hinted at this possibility last fall, this marks a total culture shift when it comes to penalties. NASCAR previously found ways to take everything but the win away in various forms of midweek punishments (hence the whole “encumbered” thing), but officials realized it didn’t go far enough. Given NASCAR hasn’t stripped a win since 1960, this is pretty big news.
Three questions: Which team will be the first to have a win taken away? What will the scene be like at the track when that happens? Will this serve as an actual deterrent, or will teams still try things anyway and just hope they don’t get caught?
Selected previous columns about taking the win away: