Denny Hamlin’s team hit with big penalties after Brickyard infraction

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After Denny Hamlin finished third in Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis, NASCAR found some issues with several of the rear firewall block-off plates on Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

The plates are meant to keep fluids, smoke, and fire from entering the driver’s compartment but if airflow is provided through the plates, it can help the car’s aerodynamics.

Two days later, NASCAR has dropped the hammer on the 11 crew for the post-race infraction, which goes under a P5 penalty in the 2014 NASCAR rule book. The P5 penalty covers:

Approved parts that fail or are improperly installed to fail in their intended use of great importance (e.g.; rear wheel well panels that fail and allow air evacuation in the trunk area; oil box cover that fails and allows air evacuation in the driver compartment; shifter boot cover that fails and allows air evacuation through the floor pan).

Per Section 12-4.5B of the rule book, the minimum P5 penalty includes: A loss of 50 driver and owner’s championship points; a fine of $75,000-$125,000; a six-race suspension; and probation through the end of the calendar year for all suspended members, or for a six-month period following the issuance of the penalty if the period goes across two consecutive seasons.

However, since the No. 11’s infraction was found in post-race inspection, the P5 penalty tacks on an additional docking of 25 driver and owner’s championship points and an additional $50,000 fine.

With all of that said, here’s the damage.

Hamlin’s crew chief, Darian Grubb, has been suspended for the next six Sprint Cup races as well as fined a total of $125,000 ($75,000 under the original P5 penalty plus an extra $50,000 post-race fine). In addition, Hamlin’s car chief, Wesley Sherrill, has also been suspended for the next six Cup races.

NASCAR has also docked both Hamlin and team owner J.D. Gibbs 75 driver and owner’s championship points respectively (50 under the original P5 penalty plus an additional 25 post-race points).

The infraction violates multiple sections of the NASCAR rule book. In addition to the usual “actions detrimental to stock car racing” in Section 12-1, violations include:

Section 20-2.1 – Car body must be acceptable to NASCAR officials and meet the following requirements:

  • K – Any device or ductwork that permits air to pass from one area of the interior of the car to another, or to the outside of the car, will not be permitted. This includes, but is not limited to, the inside of the car to the trunk area, or the floors, firewalls, crush panels and wheel wells passing air into or out of the car;
  • L – All seams of the interior sheet metal and all interior sheet metal to exterior sheet metal contact point must be sealed and caulked. This includes, but is not limited to, floors, firewalls, wheel wells, package trays, crush panels and any removable covers;

20-3.4 – All references to the inspection surface in sub-section 20-3.4 have been determined with the front lower edge of both main frame rails set at six inches and the rear lower edge of both main frame rails set at eight inches. For driver protection, all firewalls, floors, tunnels, and access panels must be installed and completely secured in place when the car is in competition;

20-3.4.5 – A rear firewall, including any removable panels or access doors, constructed using magnetic sheet steel a minimum of 22 gage (0.031 inch thick), must be located between the trunk area and the driver’s compartment and must be welded in place. Block-off plates/covers used in rear firewalls in place of blowers, oil coolers, etc., must be constructed of 22 gage (0.031 inch thick) magnetic sheet steel. Block-off plates/covers must be installed with positive fasteners and sealed to prevent air leakage. Carbon fiber or aluminum block-off plates/covers will not be permitted.

As a result of the 75-point docking, Hamlin now slips from 11th to 21st in the Sprint Cup standings. However, he is still in position to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup thanks to his spring win at Talladega.

In a statement released this afternoon, JGR said it would appeal the Brickyard penalties but that both Grubb and Sherrill will begin serving their suspensions starting with this weekend’s GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway.

MRTI: Barber Recap

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The weekend at Barber Motorsports Park for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires was a tale of two completely different days.

Saturday was a picturesque Spring day for Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, with bright sunshine and temperatures above 70 degrees. Sunday, however, was much cooler and wetter, with rain hitting both the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights races.

Still, the packed weekend for both series produced plenty of drama, and each now sees its championship picture beginning to take shape.

Major stories to surface from the weekend at Barber for both series are below.

Indy Lights

  • Pato O’Ward has been, by a considerable margin, the fastest driver after four races in 2018. A winner of three races – which easily could be four if not for a mistake while leading Race 2 in St. Petersburg – and a polesitter for two, O’Ward has asserted himself as the early-season man to beat in the title chase, leading Santi Urrutia with 110 points to 94. O’Ward already has big-league championship to his name – he was a co-champion of the Prototype Challenge class in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship last year, and he is poised to add to that in 2018.
  • Victor Franzoni is starting to get his arms around the IL-15. Last year’s Pro Mazda champion gets better with every race, and he earned his first Indy Lights podium in Race 2 at Barber, finishing second. It would hardly be a surprise if Franzoni breaks into the win column soon.
  • Aaron Telitz’s run of hard luck continued in Race 1 on Saturday, as he was collected by a spinning Dalton Kellett and retired from the race with a damaged right-front. That meant through three races, Telitz had completed a combined four corners. Race 2 finally produced a clean day for the 2016 Pro Mazda champion, as he ran all the laps on his way to finishing fourth.
  • Colton Herta scored a double-podium at Barber, with finishes of second and third. Sitting on 83 points, he is 19 back of leader O’Ward. He’ll need to break into the win column to make up ground, but consistently finishing on the podium will also help his efforts, and prevent O’Ward from making big leaps away from him.

Pro Mazda

  • Although he might be disappointed to miss out on sweeping the weekend, Parker Thompson has lots of reasons to smile leaving Barber, as he overtook Rinus VeeKay for the championship lead by four points, 102 to 98. Thompson has had two strong weekends to open the Pro Mazda season, with finishes of second, fifth, first, and second after four races. He and VeeKay have emerged as possible title combatants after the opening two weekends.
  • Speaking of VeeKay, the 17-year-old Dutchman had a quiet weekend at Barber, with finishes of fourth and fifth after lacking pace in qualifying – he qualified seventh and ninth for Race 1 and Race 2. After dominating at St. Pete, VeeKay’s lack of pace was somewhat puzzling, though it could be indicative of a Pro Mazda field that is deep with talent. Expect him to rebound at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in May.
  • Oliver Askew’s troublesome start to the 2018 season only got worse at Barber, with finishes of seventh and 12th on a weekend in which he never factored into the outcome. The struggles of him and Cape Motorsports is mystifying given their prowess in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda on their way to winning the championship last year. Getting into championship contention at this point is a tall task – he is 46 points behind Thompson – but righting the ship will be priority No. 1 for him and Cape heading to Indianapolis.
  • Harrison Scott enjoyed a great rebound after struggling in St. Pete, where he finished ninth and 12th. He took his first Pro Mazda podium in Race 1, finishing second, and then survived a chaotic and rainy Race 2 to take his first victory. The successful weekend also vaulted him into fourth in the championship.
  • David Malukas has also put together a solid season through four races, with finishes of seventh, second, third, and fifth. The BN Racing driver sits third in the championship, and may well end up challenging for race wins soon.

All three series of the Mazda Road to Indy will be in action at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course during the weekend of the INDYCAR Grand Prix (May 11-12), with USF2000 returning after a two-month break following the season opener in St. Petersburg.

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