We’ll know shortly whether Hendrick Motorsports’ appeal will result in reduced or rescinded penalties following the parts controversy at Phoenix Raceway. Such an outcome would remove the stigma of what’s been billed as the biggest penalty in NASCAR history. Realistically, it isn’t a contender the biggest penalty unless Kyle Larson or Alex Bowman misses the playoffs.
Michael Waltrip Racing and a scandal a decade ago was the “hold my beer” moment leaving all other incidents playing for second on the list of big penalties. That controversy booted a driver from the playoffs and began the demise of an entire Cup Series team.
The real penalty for Hendrick Motorsports comes in the playoffs
The combined $400,000 fine to the crew chiefs in charge of the cars driven by Kyle Larson, William Byron, Alex Bowman, and Josh Berry over hood louvers on the Hendrick Motorsports Chevys set a NASCAR record.
Another component of the penalty, and the one that will hurt Hendrick Motorsports more, is the 100-point penalties in the regular season and 10-point penalties in the playoffs to Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, and William Byron.
Byron is somewhat inoculated even if the penalties aren’t overturned or reduced via the appeal. With two race victories and three stage wins, he’s already in the playoffs and on the positive side of the ledger in playoff points. However, the 100-point hit could keep him from snagging additional playoff points with a top-10 showing in the regular-season standings.
Larson and Bowman haven’t won yet, so the penalties are more problematic for them. However, they drive for Hendrick Motorsports, the best Chevy team in a season in which the manufacturer is 4-for-4 in race victories.
Larson and Bowman must make it into the playoffs and overcome the 10-point playoff penalties, which could be a huge obstacle to advancing if they’re not winning races after Labor Day.
The Michael Waltrip Racing penalties were a bigger deal
Whereas this week’s penalties might keep Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson out of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, shenanigans at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 7, 2013, got a driver booted from the playoffs.
The Federated Auto Parts 400 was the final race before the playoffs, and there was a battle between Jeff Gordon of Hendrick Motorsports, Ryan Newman of Stewart-Haas Racing, and Martin Truex Jr. of Michael Waltrip Racing for the final spot.
On Lap 394 of the scheduled 400, MWR’s Clint Bowyer suspiciously spun out his No. 15 Toyota while Newman was leading. Newman and Gordon pitted under the caution but lost spots on the restart. Brian Vickers of MWR made a questionable pit stop that helped Truex pick up positions, and MTJ ultimately finished third, two spots ahead of Newman. When Truex and Gordon finished the day tied in points, Truex captured the last playoff spots via the tiebreaker.
NASCAR was having none of it. It fined MWR $300,000, a record at the time, and docked all three MWR teams 50 driver and owner points. That was enough to move Gordon into the playoffs in Truex’s place.
Michael Waltrip Racing lasted just two more seasons
NAPA Auto Parts began sponsoring Michael Waltrip as a driver when he joined Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2001, and the company transitioned to Martin Truex in 2010. Looking to distance itself from the scandal at Richmond, NAPA executives did not renew the partnership with Michael Waltrip Racing for 2014.
NAPA resurfaced in 2015 with Jimmie Johnson at Hendrick Motorsports, and losing that lucrative deal marked the beginning of the end for Waltrip’s organization. MWR had to release Truex from his contract in 2014, and co-owner Rob Kauffman announced midway through 2015 he was folding the team.
As bad as the situation at Hendrick Motorsports looks for now, Rick Hendrick is a millionaire many times over. Folding his team in response to a $400,000 fine isn’t remotely close to a possibility.
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