There is plenty to sort through when looking at the penalties handed down to the 11 team after failing post-race inspecting after the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis. When navigating crime and punishment as it is met out by NASCAR, there often is.
Nobody will say in this post that punishment handed down is insignificant. Two valuable members of Denny Hamlin’s team will be out of commission for six weeks. Two men- crew chief Darian Grubb and car chief Wesley Sherrill- can’t do their jobs, at least not in the capacity their accustomed to for one-sixth of the season, including a critical stretch leading up to the Chase. Grubb is one of the best, as evidenced by his work with 2011 champion Tony Stewart, and he won’t have that bird’s eye view that he typically has.
Most critical of the penalty point out this won’t likely knock Hamlin out of the Chase as this doesn’t strip him of that now-more-than-ever valuable win at Talladega. With a loss of 75 points, Hamlin plummets from 11th to 21st, a big fall, but by no means catastrophic. Should the infraction cost the 11 team a Chase berth? That’s debatable; in other words, messing with a firewall constitutes a potential safety hazard, and it obviously creates a big-time edge for a team finishing third after qualifying 27th on a track where passing is at a premium.
I’m not sure I can go that far in penalizing the 11 team. The offense is serious, Joe Gibbs Racing has an undeniable history of fracturing the rules, but levying the harshest of penalties may be a bit extreme. It seems that should be reserved for the most extreme offenses. Is messing with a firewall serious? Yes. What is a most extreme offense? It’s kind of like when they asked a congressman about defining pornography. He said he couldn’t really define it, but he knew it when he saw it.
In my humble opinion, you can’t take away Hamlin’s win, because the infraction didn’t occur in that race. Could the monetary fine to the team be steeper? Taking all the team’s winning from the race may be a viable option. The points? At least in Hamlin’s case, it doesn’t matter much with the new Chase qualification format. The suspensions for Grubb and Sherrill appear to be right in line in light of NASCAR history. The “X” factor is how the sponsors react to this controversy. Think NAPA’s relationship with Michael Waltrip Racing, or what Kyle Busch nearly lost with M&M’s after his blowout a couple of seasons ago. That would hurt worse than anything NASCAR could do, and again, this is not to suggest that is what FedEx should do.
From here, it seems hard to argue with the penalty. Those directly with the car’s setup get hit with time lost and income lost. The driver and team ownership- culpable, but less so- get hit, but a lesser extent. Within the current structure of NASCAR, the punishment fits the crime. It will definitely hinder any momentum gained with the strong run. Under an older points system, this would have played out differently. Under last year’s rules, Hamlin may have still been able to get by his win and likely finish in the top 20- not necessarily easy, but certainly doable for Hamlin and JGR. Of course, under a different set of rules, the penalties may have been different too.
The bottom line is gets a strong body blow, but by no means will this be a fatal hit. Others will still to try to bend the rules, that will always occur in a sport where pushing the envelope has been going on since Day One. For Hamlin and the 11 team, this gains them a reputation none of them want.