Penalties for Kyle Busch, Paul Menard teams show crew chiefs are getting desperate as they try to make the Chase
First, NASCAR on Tuesday handed down penalties to the No. 18 team for a rules violation at Michigan International Speedway. A weight was improperly attached on Kyle Busch's No. 18 Toyota during Saturday's practice session. Crew chief Dave Rogers received a $25,000 fine and was placed on probation until Oct. 3. Car chief Wesley Sherrill received probation for the same amount of time. Busch did not lose any points in the standings, so his Chase hopes are still alive, but he needs to pick up his game these next three weeks to make it.
Then, the biggie came. The No. 27 car of Paul Menard, who hasn’t finished in the top-5 since winning the Brickyard last year, was busted in post-race inspection at MIS.
The No. 27 team was found to be in violation of Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing); 12-4K (race equipment that has been previously certified or previously approved by NASCAR for use in an event, pursuant to sub-section 8-12, has been altered, modified, repaired or changed in any manner. Intentionally modifying frame rails for the purpose of deceiving NASCAR’s inspection gauges) of the 2012 NASCAR Rule Book.
The reaction was pretty harsh: Crew chief Slugger Labbe has been fined $100,000, suspended from NASCAR until Oct. 3 and placed on probation until Dec. 31. Car chief Craig Smokstad has been suspended from NASCAR until Oct. 3 and placed on probation until Dec. 31, while crew member Grant Hutchens has also been suspended from NASCAR until Oct. 3 and placed on probation until Dec. 31. Driver Paul Menard and owner Richard Childress have been penalized with the loss of 25 championship driver and owner points.
What does this all mean? Well, as I read it, teams are taking risks to boost their chance of winning and making the Chase, even though the consequences often take the teams in the opposite direction. If you get busted, you’re going to have an adverse effect on your team, without a doubt.
The 18 car infraction might have been accident, though with the Gibbs teams’ past history of cheating I wouldn’t be surprised if it was intentional. And while I know Slugger Labbe is just trying to help Menard return to Victory Lane, he just screwed himself and the team up with this little move. I wouldn’t be surprised if they get rid of him altogether after something like this. It's not like his driver's lighting up the track, so he may have been on thin ice already.
Just goes to show, when the heat is on and everyone is battling for Chase berths, stupid ideas pop into people’s heads, and sometimes they act on them.
And with this Chase so close and so many guys battling for those two transfer spots and just three races to go, I wouldn't be surprised if more teams get busted for pushing the gray areas (or even the clearly black areas) too far on their cars.