Upon further review, Joey Logano’s victory on Sunday at Richmond International Raceway was aided by a rules violation, NASCAR announced on Thursday.
The short-term headache is Logano’s – he’ll have to win again to qualify for the playoffs – but the long-term ordeal belongs to Team Penske, which has now found itself on the wrong side of the rules twice this season.
Logano was given NASCAR’s most severe penalty, as his victory in the Toyota Owners 400 was deemed “encumbered.” The series doesn’t take away victories, but the statistics from the win won’t count, and crew chief Todd Gordon is suspended two races and the team was fined $50,000.
The violation isn’t a new one in the Penske garage, which fields three teams in the Monster Energy Cup series. Logano’s teammate Brad Keselowski had his crew chief suspended three races earlier this season for a similar infraction (Keselowski finished fifth in the race in question).
Both teams were penalized for making illegal adjustments to their rear suspension, trying to move the right rear further back than the left rear to better handle turns.
NASCAR sets limits for how far teams can tweak their cars, and both Penske teams found themselves on the wrong side of that line – whether intentionally or as the result of natural in-race shifting.
Series star Dale Earnhardt Jr. called the Penske drivers out on the same issue last month. He said the drivers were swerving their cars after the race to try to bring the parts back into compliance before they entered the inspection station.
NASCAR began policing the maneuver and penalizing teams practice time for attempting to swerve immediately after a race.
Video from Sunday’s race in Richmond shows Keselowski swerving immediately after the race, though Logano does not. Both teams work out of the same garage in Charlotte, N.C., though only Logano’s car was penalized for infractions after Sunday’s race.
Team Penske said in a statement it would not appeal the decision (Keselowski’s punishment from earlier this season remains under appeal).
Earnhardt, one of the series’ most outspoken drivers, said NASCAR’s decision to deem Logano’s victory “encumbered” was a “terrible choice of word.”
The bulky phrase is an attempt to keep Logano’s name in the record books while also stripping him of the benefits of victory.
It was Logano’s only victory of the season, so he will lose his playoff spot as a result, and must re-earn it by winning a race at another track this season. If Logano makes the playoffs, he will not receive the bonus points that come with winning at RIR. In addition, there is a loss of 25 driver points and 25 owners points.
According to NASCAR, the exact rule that was broken was: “The truck trailing arm spacer/pinion angle shim mating surfaces must be planar and must be in complete contact with corresponding mating surfaces at all points and at all times.”
Modifying the part enhances a driver’s ability to move through the corners of the track. NASCAR gives winning cars a follow-up inspection at its R&D Center in Concord, N.C. – that’s where Logano’s car infraction was discovered.
“We understand and accept the penalty that was communicated to us today by NASCAR following last weekend’s victory by the No. 22 car at Richmond,” Team Penske said in a statement. “We are disappointed by the notice, however, we do not plan to appeal the penalty. The No. 22 team remains focused on competing for wins as we work towards the NASCAR Playoffs and a Championship.”