News Analysis: NASCAR now has giant balls, will take wins away from cheaters

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:

Sept. 30, 2007

Sept. 19, 2016

Sept. 6, 2017


Nothing feels good about Kevin Harvick’s post-Vegas penalty

Welp, here we go again.

Kevin Harvick’s dominating Las Vegas win was ruled encumbered on Wednesday. Technically it wasn’t “encumbered” because NASCAR got rid of that term in the offseason — but the result is the same.

The No. 4 car’s rear window was not rigid at all times, as the rulebook states it must be, and the rocker arm panel extension was the wrong kind of metal (it is supposed to be aluminum).

So Harvick lost all seven playoff points he earned at Vegas. On top of that, the team also lost car chief Cheddar Smith for two races, Rodney Childers lost $50,000 from his wallet and Harvick lost 20 points in the standings.

That’s a lot of losing, but the team kept the win. NASCAR tradition, right? That’s what they say, anyway. So SHR will cash the check and display the trophy alongside all the others, and Harvick will go down as the winner in the history books.

Normally, this is the part where I would argue Harvick should be stripped of the win. An illegal car should not be able to keep a victory, and it looks bad when NASCAR allows this to happen.

When I asked readers about this last September, most agreed.

But I’m not going down that road this time, for a couple reasons.

First, diving back into the same argument over and over is just…exhausting. Second, this instance seems a little different than some of the others.

Harvick’s car has been so fast over the last couple races, it seems hard to believe a dented rear window could have contributed that much speed. Did it help? Probably. Was it the reason he won? Admittedly I have a lack of technical knowledge here, but I would argue no.

Same goes for the rocker arm panel extension. Was having it made out of steel instead of aluminum why Harvick won? Seems highly unlikely.

Still, for the sake of being consistent with my own stance (illegal cars should not win!), I guess NASCAR should probably have taken the victory away.

But…ugh. I just can’t get fired up about this one. In this case, stripping the win would have felt like sending someone to jail for a broken tail light.

I suppose NASCAR had to do something, and the something is better than nothing, but maybe it should come down to either doing nothing or taking away everything.

Otherwise, it feels half-assed, and I’m not sure how outraged we’re all supposed to be here.

Sigh. I’ve come to really hate weeks like these.

News Analysis: Denny Hamlin’s Darlington sweep ruled encumbered

What happened: Both of Denny Hamlin’s wins last weekend at Darlington Raceway came while his team was breaking the rules. After further investigation at its R&D Center, NASCAR found Hamlin had two encumbered victories at Darlington — for similar violations in the rear suspension. On the Cup side, Hamlin lost 25 points (meaningless) and the five playoff points he got for the win while crew chief Mike Wheeler received a two-race suspension and a $50,000 fine. To make matters worse, the runner-up driver in the Xfinity race — Joey Logano — also had an encumbered finish.

What it means: NASCAR penalties are not tough enough. Encumbered finishes by race winners are becoming more frequent, which means teams must not fear the consequences like they should. Even though he loses the playoff points, Hamlin gets to keep both of his wins despite his team basically cheating. That looks terrible, but this will never change until NASCAR starts to take the win away — which should have been the policy for a long time now. It’s also ridiculous to think Cup drivers not only made the Xfinity race a bore-fest (until the last lap), but they were whooping the Xfinity regulars by driving cheated-up cars the whole time. What a joke!

News value (scale of 1-10): Six. It should be a lot higher, but this is sadly becoming more commonplace. For example: Hamlin has two Xfinity wins this year and both were encumbered finishes. After you get beyond the headlines, these penalties are relatively hollow.

Three questions: When will NASCAR start taking the win away from illegal cars? When will NASCAR start taking the win away from illegal cars? When will NASCAR start taking the win away from illegal cars?

News Analysis: Joey Logano’s win at Richmond ruled encumbered

What happened: NASCAR discovered a major infraction on Joey Logano’s  winning car during post-Richmond inspection at its Research and Development Center, resulting in a huge penalty for the No. 22 team. Logano’s victory was ruled “encumbered,” which means he cannot use it to qualify for the NASCAR playoffs this fall, nor does he get the five playoff points for it. In addition, Logano was docked 25 regular season points and crew chief Todd Gordon was suspended for two races and fined $50,000.

What it means: This is the first time since the “encumbered” term entered the NASCAR lingo last fall that it’s really had playoff implications. This will be a key moment if Logano somehow misses the playoffs (unlikely) or turns out to need those five playoff points sometime this fall (more likely). Logano still gets the trophy and is the official winner of the race, just without the playoff benefits.

News value (scale of 1-10): Eight. This is pretty big, but you know what would be bigger? If NASCAR did the right thing and actually stripped the win entirely. Why should an illegal car still be allowed to keep the win? I’ll never truly understand that.

Questions: How much longer can NASCAR refuse to take the win away, especially when the race winner’s car is illegal enough for this severe of penalty? Is there any chance Logano’s championship hopes will be affected by this, or will he just shrug it off? Did NASCAR officials find this by chance, or were they looking for it?

This is a screenshot from the NASCAR rulebook. NASCAR said Logano’s team violated No. 6 on the list above. (From NASCAR rulebook)