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.

New study surveys drivers’ opinions on crashes, concussions, more

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Auto racing safety has continued to improve through the decades, but the sport remains inherently dangerous, according to a new survey.

At the close of 2018, a new organization called Racing Safety United emerged with the intention of reducing drivers’ risk of being harmed.

RSU is made up of more than 30 members including former NASCAR Cup Series competitor Jerry Nadeau, two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie, NHRA team owner Don Schumacher and motorsports journalist Dick Berggren.

One of RSU’s first initiatives was to determine what current drivers thought of racing safety. The organization developed a 14-question survey and promoted it on select motorsports websites and forums. 

Participants were given the opportunity to disclose their identity or remain anonymous, and those who provided contact information were entered to win a $500 prize (for anonymous participants, the prize funds would be donated to a motorsports charity). 

More than 140 individuals participated in the survey over the course of 12 months. Below are the results of the survey:

Driver status

The vast majority of survey participants (60%) were amateur racers, while 26% of the participants were classified as Semi-Pro/Professional racers. The remaining 14% consisted of other individuals involved in the sport such as team owners and crew chiefs. 

When asked how frequently they race, 58% of driver respondents averaged 10 or more times per year on track, while 42% averaged 10 times or less.

The top five tracks respondents said they raced most often: Road Atlanta (21 votes), Watkins Glen (17 votes), Virginia International Raceway (16 votes), Mid-Ohio (16 votes), and Road America (13 votes).

Vehicular damage, injuries common

Over a third of respondents said they had been injured while racing, and almost two-thirds sasid they had suffered severe vehicle damage while racing

Driver error was cited as the top cause of vehicle damage (42 mentions), followed by concrete walls (26 mentions), mechanical failures (24 mentions), and other drivers (19 mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for better driver training/coaching, energy absorbing walls, and more technical inspections.

Almost a quarter of drivers said they had experienced racing-related concussions, and nearly half the respondents said one or multiple concussions would affect their decision to race in the future. 

Drivers primarily influenced by peers 

Roughly half the drivers said they would consider adopting new safety equipment if influenced by another driver (51 total mentions) and/or if recommended by a sanctioning body (47 total mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for drivers to become safety advocates and educate other drivers and for sanctioning bodies to mandate safety equipment. 

Drivers concerned with concrete walls

Approximately three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said they believed certain race tracks were more dangerous than others. Nearly half the drivers surveyed believe that concrete walls were the primary cause of damage to drivers and vehicles. 

Drivers willing to help

Just more than three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said that they would be willing to join a safety alliance to advocate for safer tracks. Two-thirds of drivers said that they also would be willing to contribute to a motorsports safety fund.

Click here for the full results of RSU’s survey

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