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Is it prudent to abide by the axiom, “Rules are meant to be broken”, especially if it comes with repercussions? Well, some might agree, but for others, it is an absolute no. However, can the same be asserted for a sport like NASCAR, given its bootlegging history? Nevertheless, very few sports like NASCAR have been able to withstand the tests of time and reach an unfathomable pinnacle that has gradually lent itself to the consciousness of its countrymen.

Every sport ebbs and flows. The same can be asserted for NASCAR. The sport in its 75 years has transformed with leaps and bounds. Amidst this chain of evolution, what has remained riveting is the sport’s rules and penalties. While many agree that the fattening of the rulebook has added to the dynamics of the sport, for many it is nothing less than an unnecessary evil. To understand the change of rules and thrash it upon the drivers and their brass, it is time to delve deeper.

When Kyle Busch fell victim to NASCAR’s Next-Gen stringent rules

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A motorsports enthusiast would have considered Formula 1’s Esteban Ocon being slapped with three consecutive penalties, during the Bahrain Grand Prix, the most stringent a racing authority could be. Well, think again, and take a look into the world of stock car racing.

With the rolling of the Next Gen car, the NASCAR authorities made sure that the teams in the paddock could maintain parity among themselves and could not skirt around the rulebook of the sport. As a result, a stratified system of penalty was brought into force depending on the level of infractions. In an interview with NASCAR.com Steve O’Donnell, the Vice President of NASCAR, asserted,It used to be ‘let’s see what we can get away with and go racing. That’s not the case with this car. We’ve built this car to try and make it as fundamentally sound as possible in collaboration with the teams and then really put it on teams, and drivers and pit crews to go out there and win races.”

Owing to this, it’s time to take a deeper look, at how various laws and penalties played out in the past few years. The foremost is the Next-Gen grill tape rule. Before the advent of Next Gen cars in 2022, teams were allowed to use tapes on the grills of the cars. This helped with the aerodynamics and the downforce of the car and prevented the car from overheating. However, with Next-Gen cars, coming to action, authorities banned the use of tapes on the grills.

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The first driver who fell victim due to the breach of this law was JGR’s Kyle Busch, during the race at Richmond. NASCAR waved the black flag at Lap 345 after the pit crew members mistakenly put tape on the grill, instead of the brake duct. Ben Beshore, the former crew chief of Busch exclaimed to RACER.com, We missed putting brake tape on and that’s what happened. I didn’t think it would stick, to be honest. I thought it would fall off and it wouldn’t be a problem because the grilles are…wire and big fat openings […]”

Ross Chastain baffles the NASCAR world with his Indy Road Course antics

The other time when Busch was thrashed with a penalty, in the 2022 Cup Series season was during the race at Pocono. However, this time it was not just Busch who felt the wrath of the authorities but also his former teammate and the driver of the #11 Toyota, Denny Hamlin. Both Hamlin and Busch had secured P1 and P2 respectively but were relegated to 35th and 36th, after the post-race inspections. 

The reason stated was again the use of tape in the front fascia, which is a part of the car’s nose and directly attaches to the splitter of the car. The extra use of vinyl in the car “affected the aero of the car.” Owing to this, HMS’ golden boy Chase Elliott was selected as the winner, while JGR’s Director of Competition, Wally Brown apologized for the mistake. He told Racing America, “The added pieces were 2 inches wide and 5 ½ inches long with a thickness of 0.012 inches and installed under the wrap. This change in our build process was not properly vetted within our organization and we recognize it is against NASCAR’s rules. We apologize to everyone for this mistake, and we have made changes to our processes to ensure that it does not happen again.”

One of the most memorable and heartbreaking penalties in the 2022 Cup Series season was Ross Chastain facing a 30-second penalty during the race at Indianapolis Road Course race. Instead of partaking in the wreck carnage and the infamous braking zone on Turn 1 in the final restart of the race, the Trackhouse Racing driver chose the access road as the escape route to finish second, behind Tyler Reddick.

However, it did not take long for Chastain to fall back to the 27th position after the authorities slapped a 30-second time penalty on the driver. Speaking about his on-track antic in the post-race interview, Chastain claimed as published by Kickin The Tyres, I didn’t do it maliciously, I didn’t do it preemptively, we didn’t plan for that. With three cars to my right and everybody running into each other, and I was turning in, I couldn’t see how we could make it.”

Kevin Harvick’s 2018 Cup Series proves to be a nightmare

The 2018 Cup Series was an absolute nightmare for the 2014 Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick. The driver was slapped with two different penalties, one that resulted in Harvick being ousted from the playoffs.

In the spring race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Harvick was docked with 20 driver points and 7 playoff points, while the team was penalized with 20 owner points. The reason being the infringement of the rear window brace violations. The authorities stated that the rear window glass must be rigid in all directions, however, Harvick’s car failed to abide by it. Furthermore, the panel extension was not made of aluminum, which had been stipulated by NASCAR.

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The other time Harvick faced the brutal charges of the authority was during the playoff race at Texas and lost his ticket for the final championship race at Homestead-Miami. Although the SHR driver had notched a victory, after leading for 177 of the 337 laps, was stripped of his win and a 40 points penalty. The reason being the modification of the spoiler design in the car, to offset the right and help the car aerodynamically.

Scott Miller asserted the fact that NASCAR believed that the team had manufactured the spoiler instead of acquiring it from the authority-sanctioned vendor. Greg Zipadelli, the Competition Director of SHR in a statement expressed, as per Speedway Digest, We work tirelessly across every inch of our racecars to create speed and, unfortunately, NASCAR determined we ventured into an area not accommodated by its rule book. We will not appeal the penalty. Instead, we will direct our immediate focus to this weekend’s event in Phoenix and control our destiny on the race track.”

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With that being said, these rules help the authorities and the teams to function in tandem, without acquiring unnecessary advantages. Which incident was the worst of the lot, let us know in the comments.

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